We are chatting to leaders in the FinTech space about what their teams are doing to adjust to the “new normal” and how they’re making the most of the opportunities that are currently available to them. In this fireside chat, we spoke to Malan Joubert, Co-founder of OfferZen, who was involved in the founding of SnapScan, Luno and Root.
Here’s the video, podcast and transcript from this event.
Transcript of the video:
Alex Hanson (00:11):
Welcome, welcome. We’re just waiting for a couple of more people to join the session. We’ve got about 61 people and it’s climbing quite quickly. Maybe while we wait for more people to join, I hope you guys are feeling pumped and ready for the session. My name’s Alex Hanson and I’m the events coordinator at OfferZen and I’m just going to be leading you guys through the initial welcome and just explaining some housekeeping. Malan, Cands, I don’t know if you guys want to turn your videos on so people can see your faces in the meantime.
Alex Hanson (00:46):
There we go, their beautiful faces. So just to jump in, some housekeeping before we actually start the session. Just note this is a webinar format that we’re using, so you guys can see us, but we can’t see you. Not creepy at all. There’s also a Q&A feature at the bottom in the webinar format where you can please pose all your questions to Malan and we’ll try our best to get to it throughout the session. Just to note, we’re also going to be turning on your mics so you guys can ask the questions directly to Malan, make it a bit more personal.
Alex Hanson (01:21):
There is also a chat feature at the bottom. Please, please, please feel free to use this, engage, banter, and share any useful links that could help during the session. Also to note, if for some reason you drop off, please join via the same email link you received. Also, we’re going to send you guys some feedback post-event. Please, please feel free to share any thoughts, feedback, and your general experience for the event.
Alex Hanson (01:47):
Before we jump into the Q&A session, as mentioned while we wait for some more people to join, we’re about 82 at the moment, we’re going to have just a little poll to kind of gauge who the audience is at the moment. You guys will see on your screen a little pop-up will appear. Feel free to tackle those questions. We’ll give you guys about a minute just to go through it, share your thoughts with us. Candice, Malan, I don’t know if you guys can see the answers, but feel free to comment as it goes along.
Alex Hanson (02:22):
Okay, so it seems like microservices. Oh, wait. No, it’s changing very quickly.
Malan Joubert (02:31):
I can’t see… Oh, no. I can only see questions.
Alex Hanson (02:35):
Oh, it’s because you’re a panelist. So you’re just going [crosstalk 00:02:38]
Malan Joubert (02:38):
I don’t have … Okay, I see the poll. It doesn’t work.
Alex Hanson (02:42):
I mean, it’s close. It’s monoliths versus microservices. It’s quite close there. Wait, now it’s changing. Nevermind. I feel like I shouldn’t comment.
Candice Grobler (02:51):
Alex Hanson (02:54):
It seems like most people in the audience get requests to build their app ideas very, very, very often. You guys must be popular within your friend groups. You have all the ideas.
Candice Grobler (03:07):
I love how visual studio is just totally winning out though, as the favorite code editor right now.
Alex Hanson (03:13):
Yeah. Jetbrains is coming along, but not that close yet.
Malan Joubert (03:19):
Microsoft is great at tooling. You can say a lot about them, but they are amazing at tooling.
Candice Grobler (03:26):
I think it also says a lot about what the devs in the room are using at the moment, like Microsoft.
Malan Joubert (03:31):
Alex Hanson (03:33):
Okay, banking. Oh, we’ve got some FNB. FNB is winning. Investec close behind. It’s nice to see and there’s a lot of others.
Malan Joubert (03:45):
What the heck is Coder? I don’t even know Coder.
Alex Hanson (03:47):
These are what people have told me, have suggested. We got some Notepad++ for the win. Okay. I’m going to give it another 10 seconds. About 70 of you guys have voted. Make sure to get your answers in.
Candice Grobler (04:05):
Wow. We’re up to 103 people. That’s nice.
Alex Hanson (04:09):
And it’s just climbing. Okay. Awesome. I think we’re going to leave it at that. We don’t want to take too much time into the Q&A, so I’m just going to end the poll. For those of you guys, just for the answers, so it seems like efficient microservice was the winner. Microservices were the winner. Too many of you guys have received requests to build app ideas. Favorite code editor, the winner is Visual Studio Code. Nice there.
Candice Grobler (04:44):
By 55%, which is pretty impressive.
Alex Hanson (04:47):
Yes, that’s quite impressive. Then the main banks, it’s kind of split across but it seems like FNB is the winner over there this week, which is quite cool. Okay, awesome. If I just go next. So now that we’re about 106 people and I’m sure we can expect … Oh, I see that it’s climbing. I’m not even going to comment on the number anymore.
Alex Hanson (05:10):
I’m going to hand it over to Candice. Candice is the events producer/extraordinaire at OfferZen and she’s going to be handling the Q&A session with Malan. So Candice, I’m going to hand it over to you and I hope you guys all enjoy the session.
Candice Grobler (05:26):
Awesome. Thanks, Alex. So hey, everybody. Thank you so, so much for joining us tonight. I’m very, very excited to officially introduce Malan, who was very involved at the founding of FinTech companies, Snapscan and Luno, although right now his focus is very much on OfferZen and he was recently partnered with Investec to start making programmable banking really a reality for the South African tech community. Hello, Malan, officially and welcome to our
Malan Joubert (06:00):
Candice Grobler (06:00):
… virtual fireside chats. To get us started, for those of us who don’t quite know too much about you yet, could you give us a brief introduction as to how you got into this absolutely crazy, wild world of tech?
Malan Joubert (06:18):
Just to clarify, do you mean startup-y businesses or programming?
Candice Grobler (06:26):
Both. I think that could be very interesting to the audience to know.
Malan Joubert (06:31):
Okay. I think mostly, if any of you guys … I think UCT said a similar thing but when Stellenbosch University had an INET key, it was called back in the day, which enabled you to access said internet and my friend’s dad worked at the university so he had one of these magical access things.
Malan Joubert (06:51):
Our holy grail was coding a key logger to steal his login credentials for that. That was one of the first software projects I did, so basically internet access was the thing and then building robots.
Candice Grobler (07:07):
Malan Joubert (07:10):
Basically those two things, access to internet and robots was my primary driver in life at school and because of the robots thing, I did quite a lot of embedded stuff, Assembler, C, all of that kind of stuff and that is mildly related to sort of low level coding and security. I realised literally my logic went, “I want to build robots.”
Malan Joubert (07:40):
To do that, it seems you need money because the parts are expensive so I probably need to do business things and the embedded stuff was close-ish to security, so started building security things and sort of that converted at some point into business things. Then that escalated into more the tech startup thing, but that’s basically goal function was build robots. First step was collect money.
Malan Joubert (08:08):
It’s basically like Underpants Gnomes strategy of startups and that was basically how I got in.
Candice Grobler (08:16):
Awesome. I love that. Underpants Gnomes, that’s an interesting concept. I haven’t actually heard about it before. I’m assuming it’s- [crosstalk 00:08:24]
Malan Joubert (08:24):
It’s from South Park. If you go “South Park Underpants Gnomes”.
Candice Grobler (08:28):
Okay, cool. I’ll definitely check that out. Do you want to maybe tell us a little bit about what your team is focusing on right now? About your team and the kinds of problems OfferZen is solving.
Malan Joubert (08:45):
Right. Some of our team are you- [crosstalk 00:08:48]
Candice Grobler (08:48):
Malan Joubert (08:48):
… doing events things. That’s a bit of a cheat today. Mostly what we’re doing, for those that don’t know, is trying to from a developer perspective, helping people who code software get connected to cool jobs, careers, problems, to build things. On the company side, the flip side of that is helping build awesome tech teams. The one thing that might not be obvious to people is humans and software developers don’t change jobs that frequently, so most of the stuff we do is actually something like this, which has nothing to do with changing jobs or getting a job, it’s more like learning about building software and cool things. Quite a lot of our focus goes into that, in case you guys were wondering.
Candice Grobler (09:45):
Awesome. Can you also maybe paint a brief picture about the kind of thing that you are personally focusing and caring about right now? Especially - [crosstalk 00:09:55]
Malan Joubert (09:55):
Candice Grobler (09:56):
… now during this time.
Malan Joubert (10:00):
I’m spending a reasonable amount of time actually reading up and trying to figure out the economics of COVID and what has happened in previous times like this. Let’s say in the Great Depression, which I think is unfortunately one of the comparisons. Trying to figure out what will happen, maybe. Knowing what will happen is hard but finding smart people who seem to have a good idea of what’ll happen and reading about that. Trying to do things like that and also talking to people in our community and our customers to figure out how they are seeing things, where they’re struggling and then building out, for OfferZen, what we can do to help our community and ourselves get to how the world’s going to end up. I don’t quite know if anything’s going to be easy in these times but at least in a less painful way.
Candice Grobler (11:06):
Okay, and - [crosstalk 00:11:06]
Malan Joubert (11:06):
Which is new for me. Economics stuff is quite new for me, so that is an interesting world.
Candice Grobler (11:12):
What are you doing to make sure that you’re looking at the right sort of resources and learning the right stuff versus focusing on the wrong stuff?
Malan Joubert (11:24):
The one really good bit of advice I saw was from Patrick Collison from Stripe, on that. His thing was, if you want to learn about a thing try and go for the source material, the original reference, and ideally something that’s been proven out. Let’s say an example is in management in technology companies. It’s Intel’s CEO’s book, High Output Management, is a pretty safe bet because Intel is a technology company that has survived for decades. A lot of things that came afterwards were based on that idea.
Malan Joubert (12:04):
For example, a thing that’s more questionable is … Let’s say you want to learn how to build a business looking at WeWork a year ago. It isn’t obvious if it’s a good or bad thing. It’s turned out to be a bad thing but not enough time has passed to know if you should be learning lessons from them. Taking the root thing helps a lot. I try and think about that a lot. An example, an economics thing … I’m actually reading, it’s the longest book ever, it’s taking me forever but I’m working through Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, which is a few hundred years old, but has stood the test of time. That’s the one trick is just go to the source, the original source. The other thing is just finding … it’s easier to judge if someone else is super smart. Much, much easier than to be smart yourself, so trying to figure out who seems smart in this thing and just asking them. People will tend to be pretty friendly or they can just blog and you can just read it. Those two, figure out who the smart people are and what they’re learning from and look at the source references. Both of those seem to work pretty well.
Candice Grobler (13:11):
I love that. Especially, I always find people are actually way more friendly online if you reach out than you expect them to be. You can definitely get that kind of help.
Malan Joubert (13:22):
Yeah, I agree. You’ve got to dig … if you guys don’t know, Candice has to, every now and then, try and find people to come to a conference in South Africa and pinging people all across the world. It’s interesting, if you just email someone with a handwritten email, people respond and come all the way to South Africa.
Candice Grobler (13:41):
Definitely, it blows my mind. [crosstalk 00:13:43]
Malan Joubert (13:43):
Not anymore I guess,[inaudible 00:13:43] but when they can get airline tickets.
Candice Grobler (13:46):
Yeah, eventually. At least online now. Also, to the same point that you’re saying, what we’re focusing on at OfferZen. Based on the changes, what is the team’s focus or priority right now to keep the business alive and thriving?
Malan Joubert (14:16):
We’re thinking about it … at least I’m thinking about it on three levels. The first most important thing was … it’s sort of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for a company. The most important thing is, let’s call it safety and security, which can mean physical security, health, psychological safety, all of those things. Everyone being okay, if you will. Going fully remote is quite a shock. What we did is, we’re fortunate enough that we had remote work weekly. We had a remote day a week, so we were used to that. We realised lockdown was going to happen so actually before it happened to us we started going full remote. Things like that helped us for the initial shock to not be so bad.
Malan Joubert (15:03):
Helping people to make sure everyone’s got proper internet, things like that. Making sure that your team still are connected, people feel connected, things like that was step one. Making sure that everyone was okay, because you can’t do much if you’re not okay. We’re almost a hundred people at OfferZen. I think we’re 93 on the team now. It’s quite a lot of people to just make sure everyone’s okay. The next step is then to be, let’s call it effective. Just being able to do your job, the normal stuff you do in this new reality, and do it well, keep connected, all of that. I think our team has done a super great job and everything. Being able to do the basics, being able to execute. The thing I was saying now, earlier, around looking at where we think things are going to be and how to get there. That’s the third thing. The first being okay, then being able to execute, and then deciding, “Okay, where are you going?” That’s how I’m thinking about it.
Candice Grobler (16:18):
Why in that exact order? What is the impact of focusing on those things in that way?
Malan Joubert (16:29):
I think it’s obvious that you want to be secure first, or safe right? That’s easy to say, first do that
otherwise you can’t do much. I think you could argue you should first have a plan right before you do things, but practically I’ve found it’s very demotivating to not be able to just do things firstly. Just being able to say, “Cool. Starting off, we just do our business as usual in this new setting.” That’s really good for the first step, which is sanity and health and everything. That helps there. The other reason for it is on some level it’s not like the world is changing in an instant. It’s different but a lot of the old things are still around. Our community… there’s things we need to do there. We’ve got customers. They want things from us. We need to support them. We have a job to do. Step one is do it, and then look at what is changing. That’s at least how I’ve been thinking about it.
Candice Grobler (17:30):
How does it impact the team, having this sort of plan? Even though, like you say, it’s hard to have a plan, but this way of thinking. How have you seen it impact the way people work and show up?
Malan Joubert (17:45):
I think in general, obviously having a plan is nice. People like certainty and direction. If you think how many people were shouting at our president just like, “Hey, tell us what the plan is.” We like to know what the thing is, it’s human nature. I think often the trick is balancing wanting a plan with the fact that things change. There’s that nice … everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face. I think it’s a Mike Tyson quote. Ideally you want to have the idea that there is a plan. You do a lot of planning, but the plan itself can change and adapt.
Candice Grobler (18:32):
Awesome. Thank you. I love that way of thinking.
Malan Joubert (18:35):
It is definitely Mike Tyson, cool.
Candice Grobler (18:39):
Yeah. I think Anne has it up in the office somewhere where you can see it. Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face. I wanted to ask, especially now with all the changes and uncertainty, there are obviously a lot of people who are a little bit scared and a little bit worried. I know you talk a lot about the opportunities. What sort of opportunities do you see going forward for the tech and maybe even the FinTech community specifically?
Malan Joubert (19:18):
Okay, so predictions are hard, right?
Candice Grobler (19:19):
Malan Joubert (19:19):
What is safe to say … I think the fact is that before COVID hit, companies were moving to more and more digital or tech-enabled things. More automation, more online services, blah, blah, blah. So, there was a trend there. The way I’m thinking about is to say … there’s some small completely new things that’ll happen now. Vaccine research is going to skyrocket, let’s say. There’s some whole new types of things that are coming, but I think overall, I’m thinking of COVID as a fast forward button for digital transformation. I’m basically thinking, what digital trends were already in motion? What happens if they get accelerated? That’s basically how I’m thinking about it.
Malan Joubert (20:14):
Let’s say remote work was a trend. I don’t think everyone’s going to be working remotely a year from now, but definitely more people than before, sort of on an exponential curve. I think it’s things like that, that I’m thinking. What is going to be accelerated? It’s such rapid acceleration that it really looks like, in some sectors, a whole new thing, whole new opportunities.
Malan Joubert (20:41):
I think financial services is probably a good example where regulation and things have held things back for quite long. COVIDs just running over that. I’ve had so many dealings with banks and insurance companies where they always insist on, what they call, wet ink signatures. It’s a stupid example but the lawyers, they firmly believe that if it’s not a pen on paper signature it’s not valid. Ironically you could fax it and then it’s still okay but suddenly that is okay. First time ever, suddenly we’re able to use HelloSign to sign proper agreements with a bank and it’s all okay. It’s a small example but I think those kind of things are happening now. Actually, added up all those small things make quite a difference. Obviously on a macro scale, let’s say Root is … I had a chat with Louw. He was on here a week before yesterday. He said the retailers in South Africa, their shops are closed or have been closed for a while, but they’re accelerating their trends to digital services that they’re selling quite a lot. Root’s helping them on some of the insurance offerings, on all of the things they can. They’re moving much faster to that, multi-year timelines are shrinking down to literally weeks. I think that’s an example of what I’m guessing is going to happen.
Candice Grobler (22:09):
Okay. [crosstalk 00:22:10]
Malan Joubert (22:09):
Or is happening actually.
Candice Grobler (22:11):
How do you make sure … especially when things are changing so fast and they are so uncertain and you can’t really make a plan, how do you make sure to take these opportunities when they hit your doorstep?
Malan Joubert (22:29):
I’m not sure if you have to make sure you take them. That’s maybe the one contrarian view. First step is just being okay and being able to function, right? The other thing … The one nice thing with technology is it’s like a game that’s rigged, but in your favor. It’s like gambling at a casino, but in your favor in that statistically you’ll win if you keep playing and trying things. Generally, success in a technology-enabled business can be really big. You only need to get lucky or win once. It’s okay if you miss some things as long as, or you pick things that don’t quite work out. You at least once have to, or very infrequently have to get things right.
Malan Joubert (23:18):
That’s kind of counter intuitive but I think in a time like this it’s easy to go … firstly panic, trying not to die and then on the other side panicking because you’re missing all of the opportunity. I think it’s more like picking a single thing that you believe in, that will be impactful if it works out, and putting in that effort. If it doesn’t work out, setting yourself up so that you survive that. You can try the next thing and have that patience. At least that’s why I try and do. The specific things I try or guess are generally wrong. That’s about the one thing I’m sure of is that I’m
Candice Grobler (23:53):
Malan Joubert (23:54):
… wrong on a specific thing, but over time and trying enough things, it seems to even out.
Candice Grobler (23:58):
I love that. It also very much applies to the growth mindset of seeing what you can learn from the things you do and learning from that to inform your next decision.
Malan Joubert (24:10):
Yeah, I think that’s a really important point. You don’t want to come away empty handed. You don’t have to have a victory but you do want to have learning.
Candice Grobler (24:17):
Malan Joubert (24:19):
Yeah, I think that was actually Nelson Mandela’s thing. It’s either I win or I learn.
Candice Grobler (24:27):
Awesome, okay. We’re almost out of time for our interview portion of this evening, but before we dive into audience questions, I thought it would be nice if you could share one thing that you’ve realised in your career about what it takes to win in the tech industry.
Malan Joubert (24:46):
To win? The one thing is, it generally doesn’t require you to beat anyone, which is not that … It’s a positive sum game I think, because you’re making new things. That’s maybe one thing that’s not, at least it wasn’t obvious to me initially. There’s a lot of business as war type analogies and thinking and strategy books. That’s one thing, winning in business, it’s a positive sum game so it doesn’t have to be at the expense of someone else, and generally you can build a better business if you’re not trying do it at the expense of … is like one thing. I think in terms of the most useful thing I’ve learned or realised for myself is that curiosity is a pretty good hack for many of the aspects.
Malan Joubert (25:35):
It’s a good hack for shyness, it’s good hack for sales surprisingly. It’s a good hack for coding and learning. I definitely underrated curiosity and the idea that you can nurture that as a personality attribute or have it or whatever you want to call it. That’s the one thing, [inaudible 00:25:54] go back and I’d write myself a little manual. Try to be more curious and then a few steps on how, this is how you cultivate that habit. It feels like it’s pretty close to a panacea. Solving all your problems in building tech businesses.
Candice Grobler (26:12):
It’s so cool. I wish there was a machine like that, that you could just send it back to yourself in time and teach yourself these lessons. Okay, cool. I think it would be really cool if we could open up the Q&A to the audience, but I think some people joined after the initial explanation. I just want to ask everybody, if you have some questions please will you pop them in the Q&A. If you look at the bottom of your screen, there’s a Q&A portion. If you could just pop them over there and then we’ll get through them and I’ll maybe unmute you if you want to be unmuted to ask your question to Malan. I think Anthea, you had a question. Let me just unmute you quickly. Who would you like to answer or ask your first question there? Anthea, you just need to unmute yourself.
Malan Joubert (27:01):
There are many interesting questions here.
Candice Grobler (27:10):
Yes, there are. Okay, Anthea seems to be having - [crosstalk 00:27:17]
Malan Joubert (27:19):
Am I allowed to pick random questions and just answer them, is that okay?
Candice Grobler (27:22):
You’re more than welcome to. Yes, you can do that. Just read them out loud so people know which one you’re answering.
Malan Joubert (27:31):
I think the one thing that’s interesting, so I’ll just pick Anthea because you started picking her. How do you approach prototypes in the FinTech area when there are more strict regulations, as well as expectations from users? I guess that’s the standard thing because if you’re working with people’s money, they get sad if you lose it, or angry, or the government gets sad/angry at you. That’s the basic problem with financial services is … firstly, often screw ups can be very costly, slash, can kill you. The other part of it is some things you just can’t do. Legally, you’ve got to spend a lot of time on the regulation side. One way that I found to do prototypes is to be comfortable with the idea that you cannot safeguard everything. An example is … let’s say with Root actually.
Malan Joubert (28:38):
You’re processing insurance premiums and it’s pretty complicated and the stakes can be really bad and you can lose money. The thing we did that was … the way the team approached it which I thought was pretty good, is they said, “Okay. Let’s take a pool of money and put aside.” It wasn’t that much money. It was less than one person’s single month salary, and they put it and said, “Okay, that is a pool of money we put in an account.” Instead of trying to make sure we’re not making any mistakes, we build a few similar systems that just monitor totals. Effectively rate limiting for risk.
Malan Joubert (29:16):
Make sure that at any given time the total risk in the system is less than that money. That often proves much much easier to build than an entire very safe system. We did a similar thing with SnapScan. We just want to put, I call it an envelope. Put an envelope on the risk or money at risk and that can buy you a heck of a lot of time. You often find the money you risk, A, you almost never lose it. And B, even if you lose it, it still tends to be a lot cheaper than the time it would take to do it properly. I think ethically, you don’t want to, you shouldn’t, must never do that with your users’ money. It’s a nice way where you can take risks but it’s on you in a bounded way, and not on your users. That’s the one trick I’ve learned is a risk envelope. Put a pool rate limit risk or volume through the system. That works surprisingly well. Okay.
Candice Grobler (30:19):
Awesome. Should we - [crosstalk 00:30:23]
Malan Joubert (30:23):
Joshua asked, “Would you say your initial success at the beginning was due to programming skills or due to business acumen?” There was a lot of failure before any form of success. Firstly, it’s the initial failure due to lack of both. I think in terms of hidden success, it’s probably more useful to be able to make something, i.e. programming skills. At least for me I found it more useful than the business side. Once again, you can sort of short circuit the business side with curiosity. I found that’s a pretty good hack. I would think my initial stuff was more on the ability I’ve got to be able to make something, then just some smart business sense. I’m not sure I have that now, certainly didn’t have it then.
Candice Grobler (31:21):
Could you maybe give an example of that? An example of where being curious has been really useful to you, instead of having this business acumen?
Malan Joubert (31:36):
What’s an example?
Candice Grobler (31:40):
Sorry to put you on the spot.
Malan Joubert (31:42):
No, no, no. I’m trying to think of what’s a good example. There are many examples and it’s hard to pick one. Let me just randomly pick one. With Root, originally we had no plans to do anything in insurance. Someone from MMI, Metropolitan and Momentum, like Jonathan who’s now at Root, asked me a bunch of questions around trends in insurance and what not. I ended up, I was just pretty curious about how he’s thinking about it and what they’re doing. Just being curious about it eventually led down the whole path that became Root. It wasn’t like we had this plan of disrupting the insurance industry or anything like that. It was curiosity that eventually became a plan. It wasn’t a plan at all really. I think you can pretty much say that of any of the businesses, at least, I’ve been involved in, it starts with curiosity.
Candice Grobler (32:45):
That’s a great example.
Malan Joubert (32:49):
Someone, Jeff asked us. “Still do any coding or is your time spent mainly running businesses? And if you still code, is it mainly prototyping?” I think it has been really, really really long since I’ve put in a pull request at OfferZen, like absurdly long. I think that makes me a little bit sad. But I definitely realised being … it’s pretty irritating from the development team’s point of view if you’re half in the team. So, you’ll write code but you’re not there to maintain it, and if you’re doing other things. That can get really irritating. So I realised: don’t do that. If I do spend time coding it’s generally not for work. Might be a little script here or there but it’s definitely never production, product stuff, at this point. I think you can be a CEO and do that, but then you need to make sure you’ve got allocated time, properly boxed, for that. It’s a lot, just stuff on my own, if I play around evening or a weekend type side project stuff.
Candice Grobler (33:53):
Masuud had an interesting question there asking, “What is the best way to get hired by a FinTech company? Is there a specific programming language that would benefit you in learning, like Python?”
Malan Joubert (34:16):
I think in terms of specific programming languages, I don’t know off the top of my head, there is … It’s going to depend on the kind of work you do or want to do. Let’s say Python is probably not a bad idea at all if you’re interested in data science work. Which is a big aspect at many FinTech companies, but a lot of them also use Java back ends. I would almost work backwards from the thing you want to be doing. At least that’s how I learned programming languages.
Malan Joubert (34:49):
Generally I had a problem I wanted to solve or a project I wanted to build and then went backwards to do it. An example is, for OfferZen we wanted to build a thing and on a whim I decided it’s a good opportunity to learn Ruby and Ruby On Rails framework. That was my excuse to learn Ruby On Rails. I don’t know if that’s great career advice. I think it’s a good way of learning things. You can also, if you want to check out stuff, you can check out on OfferZen website, we’ve got a list of companies so you can actually go to a company and see what tech stacks they use. That’s one thing, and these will say we’ve got some surveys out that says what they do. Or just ask them. If they’ve got job ads out, ping the recruiter and ask them how they think about it.
Malan Joubert (35:39):
Someone asked if I ended up building a robot. I did. I built a whole swarm of them. I built five. Five little track robots.
Candice Grobler (35:49):
What did they do?
Malan Joubert (35:50):
They kind of drove around. They were named after the characters in the movie Bladerunner. It was really around being a swarm, and trying to figure out how they can, in a decentralised way, make decisions. Which, oddly enough, I try to apply at OfferZen in terms of having distributed decision making and autonomy. A lot of that comes from building robots. A lot of the robot stuff I did was copied off how insects collaborate. Swarm theory, boids, that kind of stuff.
Candice Grobler (36:29):
I love how you get the ideas from nature to make tech. Okay - [crosstalk 00:36:41] Do you have one?
Malan Joubert (36:45):
Oh, there’s so many questions, yikes.
Candice Grobler (36:46):
Yeah, there are tons of questions. I can just pick one from - [crosstalk 00:36:51]
Malan Joubert (36:50):
Wesley asked thoughts on Bitcoin halving. I have no idea. Honestly, there’s Bitcoin, the protocol which makes sense to me. Bitcoin, in turns of the community and stuff. It’s never made sense to me since the start. I just have no idea how to predict what on earth that community will do and what the price will do. I don’t know. I am getting really interested though on the new proof of stake, fully programmable through and complete blockchain stuff that’s coming out now, that is looking very interesting.
Candice Grobler (37:34):
Awesome. Mike [inaudible 00:37:38] also had a question. He said, “What do you think the scope for creating tech business opportunity is, from rehashing existing business processes using rubbish tech versus newly invented unicorn solutions? What’s the scope for creating a business out of that?
Malan Joubert (37:58):
Wait … give me just, this is hard.
Candice Grobler (38:00):
It’s Mike [inaudible 00:38:01].
Malan Joubert (38:01):
Yeah. Creating tech business opportunities from rehashing existing … If I understand the question correctly, I think that as a developer I’ve often overrated the importance of the tech complexity or elegance. You can get surprisingly far with pretty dumb tech stuff, at least initially. I’m trying to thinkL what are good examples? A lot of shiny tech businesses get a lot of press, but there’s an absurd amount of true value created in the world in pretty boring stuff that’s mildly tech-enabled. It’s not like rocket science level things. There’s obviously a place for really deep tech as well. I think it’s increasingly becoming a basic sane business process, business idea, enabled with robust non-funky tech. [inaudible 00:39:09] whatever doing it’s thing just solving the problem rather than going nuts.
Candice Grobler (39:17):
Awesome. Here’s another one that I can ask you. I’m not sure who sent it. It’s a weird number but, "Malan, how do you rate the quality of our South African developers? With the current exchange rates are there opportunities to offshore our skills remotely? We don’t have people packing up and leaving.”
Malan Joubert (39:37):
That is a good question. The one nice thing with South Africa and the rand, our currency. We get sad. South Africans get very sad if the rand devalues but it does mean effectively, whatever we export we get paid a lot more for it. That’s pretty cool. It’s a pretty cool feedback loop. We definitely have high-quality developers. I think that’s easy to say. You can point out many many examples. One of my favorites is probably AWS. All the initial stuff was done in Cape Town and they have a very large team in Cape Town and they’re growing it. It’s a nice example, I think there are many. Definitely the tech is world class. I suspect that that opportunity for, call it, exporting our skills, is increasing. Whether we sell our time, do remote work for effectively contracting dev, or whether it is that we build technology products that are sold overseas. I think it’ll be both.
Malan Joubert (40:56):
Oh, hey Michael. I think it’ll be both. Definitely that arbitrage has increased. Like we’re a super high quality skill. When we’re not in lockdown it’s an awesome place to live, all of that stuff. I think that will increase quite a lot. It has, that is a trend that will increase.
Candice Grobler (41:23):
Awesome. I really like this question from Jason Wallace. He said, “How do you spend your day and how do you split your time between OfferZen and other stuff?”
Malan Joubert (41:35):
At the moment my day is quite hectic. Let me just see what my calendar looks like, then everyone can learn how I spend it. I spend my day indoors, that’s a start.
Candice Grobler (41:46):
Malan Joubert (41:49):
If I look at today. So it’s mostly OfferZen. I had a meeting with an advisor for an hour and a half in the morning. Basically trying to figure out a lot of the questions we were asking now. Specifically on, how do we generate more foreign income for development income, self-development income in South Africa, like what’s a strategy around that. Then I did preparations for a sync up with the office of the presidency. Then I chatted with our finance team around some of the international expansion work we’re doing. Then our meeting, then the actual presidency brief, then prep for this, so that was my day. I have a check in with Philip, my brother slash co-founder after this, till eight o'clock.
Malan Joubert (42:50):
That is mostly OfferZen stuff and it gives you a rough idea of my day. I try, and every now and then, as much as I can schedule slots in where I can do reading or thinking or stuff. Which today, didn’t have that much time for.
Candice Grobler (43:08):
Why do you try and do that? What’s the benefit in taking that time for yourself?
Malan Joubert (43:14):
Everyone knows the benefit. We want to learn. It’s more, how do you justify taking that time? It’s like, yeah, it’s useful. Okay, how do you do that in the week? I find I just have to make it a habit. In the moment, I find it very hard when things are burning to go back. I mostly think about, how do I make it easier to do?
Malan Joubert (43:44):
Let’s say, I have a list of things ready to read, a book. I try and set up slots for that. So those are …
Candice Grobler (43:56):
Awesome. So I think we have time for one last question? Do you want to find one that you think will be fun?
Malan Joubert (44:04):
There’s a question from Lydia, “Which FinTech companies are winning in our current context? Why them and what are they doing differently?” That is a really really interesting question because it’s not that obvious to me. I didn’t predict well. Some obvious things like e-commerce does well. That seems to be, so if it’s an e-commerce thing, that does well. That also means FinTech companies that enable that, in whatever way, do well. What I’ve seen is, the tech companies that enable funds to be managed, are doing well now because of increased volatility in the market. There’s more of a requirement there. That’s a less intuitive thing.
Malan Joubert (44:51):
Any type of FinTech thing related to share trading, forex, any of those things globally, seems to be doing well. I think any FinTech company that allows offline, real world things to go digital is going to do well. Practically, I know Root is insanely busy. They’re just trying to keep up with all of the people phoning them. They’re not special in that sense. Anyone doing that kind of facilitating that fast forward button. Anyone that’s at the other end of that fast forward button is probably doing well at this point.
Candice Grobler (45:30):
Awesome. Thank you. Okay, I’m afraid that’s all that we actually have time for tonight but I want to just - [crosstalk 00:45:38]
Malan Joubert (45:38):
Maybe one important thing. Ryan is asking, “Who’s the person running the Investec initiative and how do we contact him?” It’s actually a her. Her name is Devina and she’s Head of Digital at Investec. Ryan, if you want, you can drop me an email and I can figure out what you want to do and I’ll try and make sure you either get connected to Devina or whoever. I’ll just put it in there. Cool.
Candice Grobler (46:08):
Awesome, thank you so much. Also, thank you so much Malan, for taking the time out of your very very busy schedule to chat to all of us today.
Malan Joubert (46:18):
Candice Grobler (46:20):
I think it was a very interesting conversation and it was really nice to find out more about you and your background. I also just really want to say thank you to everyone in the audience for joining us today. I think it was nice. Really really cool engagements and really awesome questions. I’m so sorry we didn’t get to them all but hopefully we can make a plan with them sometime in the future to get them answered. I also just want to take the opportunity to thank Investec for being our sponsor tonight and making it possible for us to really gather together and really have this conversation. And I also just want to let you all know that right after the webinar closes, you guys will get a notification to give us some feedback. Feedback is really really important to us for making these events better and we really want all your opinions about how we can really bring the events that you really need. Thank you everybody, and we hope to see you at our next event.
Malan Joubert (47:22):
Cheers peeps! Thanks so much.
Candice Grobler (47:23):
Thank you guys, bye.