A Digital Mittelstand for Africa

There are two paths before us:

I believe that entrepreneurs must choose a path towards one of two worlds…


A “Silicon Valley” World

A recent article in The Economist points out that during the Industrial Revolution thousands of people, not having any capital of their own for machinery, laboured at low wages for others - and so the rich became richer while the poor become poorer.

Today, thousands of young people work insane hours for little or no pay as entrepreneurs, in the hopes of being acquired by a larger company.  Those that do will become moderately wealthy, while others will fail and return to jobs with corporates.  Big companies will acquire the best technologies from the winners, who need their capital, and will go on to become even richer - accelerating the emergence of a world where 1% of the population owns 40% of the wealth, as in America today.

In this world “investors have won, and their dealings with the entrepreneur class now look far more like the dealings between management and labour.

An Accelerator in 1820

An Accelerator in 1820

Is this the world we want?  In this world entrepreneurs exist only to create innovations that larger companies will exploit to create an even more inequality in our society.  There is only a top and a bottom - with wealth concentrated at the top with a few, and most people labouring at the bottom.  If we are to avoid this we need to create…


A “community of craftsmen” world

There is another possibility.  In this world entrepreneurs build small, highly profitable companies by solving real needs in the world.  They take pride in being “master craftsmen” who provide a series of innovative solutions to pressing problems.  They form a prosperous middle-class that makes a vital contribution to society.

Is this possible?  Well the fourth-largest economy in the world, Germany, is built on just such a network of small, highly skilled companies called the Mittelstand.  These companies are typically privately owned and are often family businesses with an apprenticeship model, which produces highly skilled workers.


Economic and business historians have been increasingly giving Mittelstand companies more and more credit for Germany's economic growth. These small companies employ 70% of all employees in private business in Germany, and contribute to Germany being the world's second largest exporter. They focus on innovative high value products and are leaders in various worldwide niche markets.

While the Mittelstand companies in Germany operate in the industrial realm, I believe we can build a Mittelstand of “digital companies” for Africa.  To do this we will need to focus not on developing “hits” and making millions but on developing people and companies, not on exit strategies but on long-term growth, not on ‘successes’ but on creating a vibrant community of entrepreneurs working…



The Warrior's Way Masterclasses

Your idea is doing very well - customers love your product and you're working madly to scale development, support, funding...

But how are YOU doing?

Are you stressed, tired, anxious, battling to juggle priorities and keep everyone happy? Imagine instead being calm, organised, poised and at ease with everyone...

Last year my masterclasses helped you to build your idea. This year my masterclasses will give you stepping stones to become a ChangeWarrior - someone equipped with the skills to change the world.

You will learn about the warrior's worldview, the warrior's path for changing the world, and the practices that will lead you into a deeper, more holistic world and a better way of achieving your goals as an entrepreneur.

Want to talk about your life or your idea?  then stay for an hour afterwards for the "Coffee with Neil" session where you can talk in depth with me and the others.

Join us for the first masterclass, brought to you as ever for free by Microsoft BizSpark, on

  •  Wednesday 18th February in Johannesburg
  •  Tuesday 24th February in Cape Town

Details - at Microsoft's offices in Jhb | Cape Town, from 2 to 4.30pm - please book, by RSVPing to v-fennyb@microsoft.com

Next Generation Mindmapping with MindMeister

I've been using mindmapping forever for all my creative work - drafting my KoiTips, designing workshops, keeping notes on mentoring sessions, keeping track of ideas.

For years I've used XMInd, a superb program with a stunningly elegant user interface (download the free version here).  But it doesn't have an iPad version* and it's hard to share maps with others.  (*you can access XMind maps on the iPad via iThoughts but it's not ideal)

So I've been exploring the next generation of mindmapping, and it's very exciting.  The new approach is cloudbased, making it easy to access your maps from any device - and easy to share them with others, and even collaborate in realtime on the same map.

So, here is a quick map all about MindMeister, the mindmapping service I'm using.  You can drag the map, zoom in and out, expand and collapse topics, and share it with others via the social sharing buttons.  (For the best experience, click on the up-arrow icon below the map to maximise the map to full screen ).

I'm excited how this opens up a whole new easy, engaging and interactive way of publishing and sharing ideas and information.

Mindmaps have always been a great way to capture and organise ideas - now they become a powerful way to easily share these ideas as well.  And unlike blogs and other web tools, this way of sharing is immediate and effortless - you change something in one of your public mindmaps and it is instantly live for the world to see - this is a whole new way to publish...