Sunday, September 30, 2012

Torn between Cape Town and SF Bay Area

The only job I have ever worked in South Africa was as a packer for Woolworths for a few weeks in high school. I have taken all the opportunities I can to combine work with travel. In the past, that was for internships. A year ago I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area "permanently". Sometimes I'm asked "why?" but more frequently I am asked when I'm moving back and why would I move back.

I came here to work for Facebook, a position one simply cannot find in South Africa. I have since moved to mobile gaming startup Loki Studios. I am learning so much. Just yesterday I was at a growth hacks conference, where I learned a huge amount about customer acquisition, a topic I doubt I would have picked up had I stayed in Cape Town. I meet awesome people all the time. Just yesterday I met a couple guys, including the CTO, of Scalr and we had amazing exchanges of stories about how they founded the company by having the project outsourced to them in Ukraine and how they want to move everyone here. I love my job. I get to work on so many different projects, working very closely with everyone in the team, learning about things I would otherwise not have dug into, but which will probably be very useful down the line. I have some great friends here. The weather is great. The beer is fantastic. I get to travel to so many exciting places nearby, although I haven't done much there yet.

So then, would I move back to Cape Town? Absolutely! I feel I am in the interesting position, where the benefits of being here and in Cape Town are roughly equal. I have quite openly stated that I want to start a startup some time soon. The local startup atmosphere and move to Loki have accelerated that plan. So I've been talking to lots of people about where I would do it. My thinking right now is that when I feel it's time to start up, I'm going to head back to Cape Town.

The way I see it, Cape Town is a pretty great place to start a startup. At least, for me. That last part's crucial. Living expenses are in Rands, while revenue is still in USD. The startup community has reached the point where you're no longer lonely. My friends and family are there (nothing against my friends here, but I've known my SA friends way longer). I don't have to worry about US immigration. Possibly the biggest factor though: I have a large network of excellent software engineers there, I'm known and trusted far more there. I know far more people in Cape Town that both I would want to work with them and they would want to work with me. The friends / friends-of-friends hiring seems crucial to early success.

Those are the biggest factors. What about funding though? It's terrible in South Africa. Lately I've been discussing ways of dealing with the problem. Local seed funding would be great, but there's not much going around so one can't rely on it. I would far prefer to be in a position (idea dependent) where I can bootstrap, at least to begin with. I'm learning of various ways to keep the option open to get funded by US investors. It seems they really want the business operations to be run in their neighborhood. That doesn't include the engineering effort though. So it might make sense to move that back here. Problem is I've heard of a couple experiences where that has turned the company from tech-driven to business-driven, which I'm not happy about. So I'm still thinking there. I've also been hearing of ways to get an L1 visa after a year, and various other possible solutions around the immigration problem if you start outside the US.

So the way things are looking, that packing job might be the only ever job I take in South Africa.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cape Town Tech Communities

For the past 8 years I've been doing all sorts helping the Cape Town tech community in many ways. Lately, I've been using my experience and connections to help spur some life and energy into existing communities, getting them to do stuff. It can feel like talking to a brick wall at times, but the times when it results in new activity or reigniting an old group make it so worth it.

I often hear people say there's not enough going on in the local tech scene, and my response usually is that they're oh so wrong. I've come to realise just how fragmented the tech scene is. There are small groups that go off in a corner, and new people rarely find out about them. So here's a list of what I'm aware of going on in Cape Town. If you see a community you like, go join them. If you find a gap, don't bitch about it: form one! If you need help with that, I'm more than happy to help and I'm sure Jonathan Hitchcock will offer help too.

Architecture Meetup Facebook Group and Google Group
Cape Town iOS Meetup
NodeCPT (Google Group)
Cape Town Joomla! User Group
Drupal South Africa Community
#hackSTB (demos of what people have built in Stellenbosch)
UCT Developer Society (#breaktherules, #talkwithbeer, etc.; targeting students)
Maties Developers (Media Lab Monday talks, #HackSTB, etc.; targeting students)
codebridge (host networking events, talks, etc.)
Maties Computing Club
The SiliconCape events page and StartupDigest newsletter are good sources of events gathered from all over, with more focus on entrepreneurship and startups

I'm sure there are groups I've left out. Please tell me about them (in the comments or tweet me) and I'll add them. There are some semi-private groups I've purposefully left out: they're semi-private for good reason, so don't blabber about them.
No more bitching about the lack of activity in Cape Town, please?