Lala kahle, Madiba

The first time I heard the words "lala gahle" was as a 5-year-old when my grandmother (known as "Gogo" to me and my siblings) put me to bed at night. She grew up on a farm in Zululand in what is now Kwa-Zulu Natal, and spoke Zulu before she could speak English. After quizzing her on the meaning of the foreign bed-time message,  she explained that she was wishing for us to sleep or rest well, just as her Zulu nanny had done for her when she was young. 

This post is titled "Lala kahle" as Madiba was born to a Xhosa clan and kahle is the Xhosa equivalent of the Zulu gahle

I've felt a lot of emotion today. Since waking to the news of Mandela's passing, he's dominated my thoughts. I got to work early and stuck up the poster (below) of his iconic face at the entrance to our office block. We put up a live-stream of a Mandela tribute to run all day and emailed the GetSmarter team to wish them well during the period of national mourning. Productivity is at an all-time low, but it doesn't matter. Today is a day like no other.

photo (11).JPG

I found myself thinking about everything that is good in my life. I called my wife to tell her I love her. My mother phoned and I lingered a little longer than usual on the call. People in the office are more understanding, more tolerant today than they usually are. I get a sense of deep unity across the world's social networks today.

And the day after his departure it feels wrong to be thinking about anything other than what is incredibly good in our lives. What we can be thankful for. Such is the impact of Nelson Mandela's life.

Madiba, your example of what it means to be a great man will live with me forever. I hope it lives with others too - specifically our country's leaders, but equally importantly anyone who dares to achieve greatness. 

Sleep well, Madiba.

Lala kahle.

P.S. Nando's said it well:



We sleep for 36% of our lives. I want to understand more about sleep!

Six months ago, I wrote about my Jawbone UP and the personal analytics I was getting by wearing a bracelet-like pedometer. The UP was a size too small for me and, because I was interested in trying a new gadget anyway, I bought the FitBit Flex to extend my exploration into the world of personal analytics. 

Since getting the Flex, I started reviewing my sleep patterns each night and quickly had two general insights:

  • If I get less than 6 hours sleep a night, I operate at a low level of energy the next day and feel a little groggy. If I get more than 7 hours sleep a night,  I operate with a lot of energy. It's obvious that more sleep, in general, will lead to more energy, but now I know the approximate quantity of sleep I need to operate at optimal energy. 7 hours is what I need to aim for and this helps me plan.
  • If I drink more than 2 units of alcohol after work, I sleep deeply for about 3 hours, and then report restlessness for the remainder of my sleep. Less than 2 units and there is no noticeable impact on my sleeping patterns.

So, with a little more personal interest in sleep, I searched for a TED Talk on the topic and found Russel Fosters' "Why do we sleep". I know we sleep a lot, but he reports that we spend 36% of our lives asleep. That's a lot of time!

And cultural attitudes to sleep have changed. Shakespeare wrote "Oh sleep, oh sleep. Nature's soft nurse". I get the sense of floating in a cloud just reading that line. Fast forward to a few decades ago and Margaret Thatcher was quoted as saying "Sleep is for wimps!" Who's right? I don't care, but I am interested in understanding why we sleep.

So, why do we sleep? Foster says there are three reasons:

  1. Restoration;
  2. Energy conservation; and
  3. Brain processing and memory consolidation

With 7 or more hours sleep a night, I know that I feel restored and have high levels of energy. If I have a speech to give or tough work to do, preparing for it a good few days ahead of time, and with decent sleep in between, my memory is sharper. I always prepare a day or two beforehand rather than on the day when I can't rely on sleep to help consolidate my preparation.

Here's a graph showing last night's sleep. After a heavy week, compounded by a shoulder injury that has resulted in many restless nights, my body welcomed the 8 hours and 20 minutes asleep. Although I can see how the shoulder pain had me awake three times to change position, this was a good night's rest.


Last night's sleep pattern, from my FitBit Flex

Last night's sleep pattern, from my FitBit Flex

Although I have a better understanding of my sleeping patterns and what causes a good or poor night's sleep, I know i'm just scratching the surface. Diet, exercise, stress, mood and so many other factors play important roles in how we sleep. And if i'm going to spend 36% of my life in that state, i'm going to continue to explore what gets me the best night's sleep possible.

I spoke at Speech Night at my Alma Mater, Rondebosch Boys' High School

I had the privilege of speaking at Speech Night at Rondebosch Boys' High School, my alma mater, on the 9th of October. 

This is the 2nd last day of school for the Matrics (Grade 12s) and Speech Night exists to honour the Matrics who have achieved academically, culturally and in sports, as well as host a guest speaker, whom the school hopes will give the boys an inspiring message - some guidance for their future.

It was an honour to be asked to speak, so I put a decent amount of effort into prepping for the talk. As most of the guys will have their drivers license by the end of their Matric year, I decided to use the analogy of driving a car to relate some of the messages I wanted to deliver. It was fun to work through the last 14 years of my life and tease out themes I felt I could talk on with authority.

I ended up talking about two aspects of their future: 

  1. The decisions they make; and
  2. their hunger to learn. 

I had fun.

Here's the base of my speech. It turned out slightly differently as I included some portions ad lib from the night's events. 


RBHS Speech Night

Good evening everyone.

Mr Chairman, Principal Simpson, Teachers, Parents, and Rondebosch Gentlemen.

To the Matrics:

14 years ago I sat in your position. I was 18, and today I’m 32. And when I say today, I really mean today because it’s my birthday. It’s a privilege for me to be talking to you on my birthday.

So, 14 years ago. My matric dance was behind me; final exams around the corner; and the excitement of my future ahead of me.

For your final exams, I wish you strength and focus. Your future is the topic of my talk this evening. And, for the day after your matric dance… I hope you had a healthy supply of Essential and Myprodol.

Tonight is one of several events that mark the end of your time at Rondebosch Boys’ High School. And while you’ll cease to be a student in a few weeks time, you’ll always be a Rondebosch Boy.

So, who helped you earn this title of being a Rondebosch Boy? And what does it mean to be one?

Exceptional teachers are the key driver of performance at schools: academically, culturally and in sports. Their influence on you is now in you.

Your peers - your friends - have impacted you, as you have impacted them. How much you wish to be influenced by them in the future will be determined by a decision you make: how much of whom do you see next year? And in the years after that.

Your parents, who made it possible for you to be here. You need only travel 10km away from Table Mountain for a sober reminder of what schooling you might have had if you were less privileged. Your parents, most importantly, have helped shape you into who you are.

Your teachers, your peers, and your parents have all played crucial roles in your development to date.

But what about you?

Samuel Carstens, Jonathan Prest, Michael Klopper, Robbie Blake, Graham Geldenhuys, Umar Kagee, Riaz Sader, Shakeel Arieff, Khanyo Ngcukana.  That’s a list of just 9 of 158 Rondebosch Matrics sitting here tonight.

You have obviously played the central role in who you have become.

And yet today signals a shift in the responsibility of who has influence over your life. In the next few weeks you’ll bid farewell to your teachers; you’ll say cheers to many of your mates; and some of you, if you’re studying away from home or have travel plans, will say goodbye to your parents. For a time at least.

You’ll be more in control of your life than you have ever been before. For those of you going to University, you’ll decide whether to attend lectures or not. I recommend it, by the way. For those of you going straight into the working world, you’ll decide whether or not to give it your best, and if you show up at all. If you go travelling, you’ll decide where to go, and what to see.

The sum total of each and every decision you make will be the single greatest determinant of your future. Will you make mistakes? Definitely. Will you get lucky? For sure. Will you learn many lessons the hard way? Without a doubt. But I’d like to suggest that if you take your decisions seriously – if you know that your decisions matter - you’ll give yourself the best opportunity of thriving in this world.

Like the driver of a car, who makes regular, incremental corrections to their steering as they drive to stay on the right side of the road, so too will each decision you make build on your previous decisions to catapult you to your future self. To your future destination.

Too many poor decisions, and you’ll run the risk of veering off the road. If you make thoughtful decisions, you’ll find yourself enjoying the ride and the views along the way.

But I don’t wish to be alarmist. You needn’t agonize over each and every decision you make. In the same way that you automatically correct your driving after going over a small stone in the road, you’ll make decisions on “auto pilot” for many aspects of your life. But when you come to a T-junction, or a fork in the road; this is the time when your decisions matter most. There are undoubtedly some decisions you’ll need to make which are more important than others. Only you will know what those decisions are.

Here’s the good news. You’ve had the best preparation available today. That’s what it means to be a Rondebosch Boy. I repeat, and this obviously also applies to the Grade 11s and 10s here tonight: you’ve had the best preparation available today. And that’s what it means to be a Rondebosch Boy.

What you do with this platform - what you do once you have matriculated - is what I’d like to talk about tonight. And i’d like to focus on two aspects of your future:

  • The decisions you make; and
  • Your hunger to learn. 

I matriculated in 1999. I guess that kinda makes me an old ballie now. I was 18 and although I was hugely excited about the next year, I also remember being quite anxious. I came back from Plett Rage, tired, and ready for the next phase of my life.

My mock exam marks were good enough to be accepted to UCT’s Business Science programme. I was set… I would attend 4 years of University and then get a job in software development at a computer company. You see, the internet had only been around for a few years and there was a lot of hype around the computer industry. I thought it was a safe bet and was ready to begin the next phase of my life.

But in a last-minute decision, I decided to join 3 of my mates who were going to London for a Gap year instead of going straight to University. The idea was simple: we’d work for 6 months and save enough money to go travelling around Europe for 3 months.

It took me 3 weeks to make up my mind. And although it meant leaving a girlfriend behind in Cape Town, I knew it was the right decision - for me. I had heard from older friends who had returned from a Gap year that they had built confidence; had awesome experiences; and learnt a lot about themselves. This really resonated with me at that point in my life.

It was a 1-way highway, and there were no u-turns for kilometers ahead! And so… I was off.

My time in London took me way out of my comfort zone. I had to get a job to earn money for rent, food and nights out. And, of course, to save for our trip around Europe. For the first time, I didn’t come home to my parents each night.

The breakup with my girlfriend didn’t last long. Everyone had just started to buy cellphones, and I was no exception. As I worked and saved money for our trip around Europe, I spent a lot of my savings calling home. This meant that by June I didn’t have enough money to go travelling. In a desperate attempt to earn money, I ended up starting my first business building websites.

I remember that time like it was yesterday. I had 450 GBP to my name and I thought to myself “What can I do to earn a large amount of money very quickly?” I could play guitar, but busking in Covent Garden wasn’t going to cut it. And amputating my small left toe for medical trials seemed like a pretty poor decision considering how much I enjoyed playing sports.

No, building websites was the most sensible choice. I had heard that other people were earning upwards of GBP 500 per website, and so this was my decision.

I spent 180 GPB on a colour printer, and 100 GBP on envelopes and stamps. The rest of my money would get me by for another 6 weeks.

So where did I start? Well, I needed to sell myself as a website designer, and as my father was a Lawyer, I thought I would sell to Lawyers. I printed and mailed letters to every Lawyer in the London phone book. I still remember sitting outside the local post office licking and sticking stamps on 900 personalized envelopes. As the locals walked past this 18-year-old with a laptop on the pavement licking stamps, I wasn’t sure if they wanted to give me a Pound for begging, or buy me a Coke to replenish the saliva in my mouth.

I proudly called the web design business Sam Paddock & Associates. But, of course, I had no official associates. I justified this to myself as the truth because I would count all the people who were helping me learn how to design websites as my Associates. It was a push.

I hadn’t studied web design or business. I had just a basic understanding of how to build websites, but this would be the first time I had built a website for a client and received money in exchange. I had to learn very quickly how to give them what they wanted, and fortunately I had Google to help me learn. I must have used Google 2,000 times that year to help me find articles and connect with people who could help me learn how to do what I needed to do to build websites. I also used the internet to learn how to write up invoices, submit tax returns and a host of other functions. That was back in the year 2000. It’s truly incredible what learning resources the internet now makes available to anyone with an internet connection.

In fact, i’ve built a business that offers online courses, and this is just a small drop in the ocean of what’s available online.

Selling websites and then learning how to build them was both exhilarating and hugely stressful at the same time. I eventually managed to sell and build 3 websites for GBP 500 each, and I finally had enough money to go travelling with my friends. It felt like Christmas in August!

I packed my bags and joined 3 of my friends on a 3-month trip around Europe.

It’s amazing where your decisions lead you. If I hadn’t had a girlfriend in Cape Town, and spent all my money calling home, I would never have considered starting a business so that I could go travelling. This first taste of my own business, combined with several other decisions I made over the next few years, undoubtedly led to my role as a businessman today.

Am I saying that you should take a Gap year? No, not at all. My decision to take one was very personal to me. I was a bit of a mommy’s boy, and going overseas helped me experience real independence for the first time. This is not the case for everyone. I knew it was important for me to do, and so I changed my plans.

What I am saying is that your decisions matter. They count. Each and every one of them influence who you will become. Know this, and take decisions in your life seriously. When you come to a fork in the road, can you see what happened when other people went down the left road? And the right road? Knowing this will give you a pretty good indicator of what that path holds for you. What do you want for your life? Choose that path.

And if your small decisions are like the minor adjustments you make to your steering wheel, and the bigger decisions you make are like your choice of roads, highways and u-turns; then your hunger for learning is your tool for collecting passports along the way.

The more you learn, the more roads open up to you. That’s the power of passports - they give you options, opportunities to go further. Your hunger for learning is your tool for collecting passports along your journey.

It was one thing to decide to start a business on my Gap year, it was another thing entirely to have to learn how to put a website together. But fortunately I had helped my father put his first website together while at school. I used Google to search for anything I didn’t understand - and I spent hours and hours reading articles on the internet because, frankly, I didn’t understand much.

My hunger to learn how to build websites in high school meant that when it came to considering how to earn enough money to go travelling with my friends, I had options. That’s the power of learning. I had more than 1 passport.

Never before has it been as easy to learn as it is today. Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I’d like to borrow his quote and make it more personal by suggesting that your hunger to learn is the most powerful tool that you can use to change your world.

The internet is the single greatest invention to impact our ability to learn. The only thing standing in your way is you and your motivation. Your hunger.

I’m thrilled to see the building of a dedicated computer lab nearing completion here at Rondebosch.

But the internet is just one of many tools available to you to learn. Your parents, your family, your peers, people you will work with, lecturers at University or Technikon. You have so many resources available to you to learn.

And I have a strong message. Your learning is not a University or someone else’s responsibility. You can make it someone else’s responsibility, but then you’ll get what they want for you.

And sometimes, what other people want for you – what an excellent University, Technikon, School or Mentor wants for you - is a good thing.

After my Gap year, I returned home to study at UCT. I took up my offer of study on the Business Science Programme and majored in Information Systems.

It was an excellent 4 years. But it wasn’t enough. I’m not saying it wasn’t good enough. To the contrary, my course was excellent. But what other people wanted for me wasn’t enough. As soon as I realized that my learning was my responsibility, and therefore was entirely in my own hands, I began to thrive. I used my University experience as a platform, and then took the rest of my learning into my own hands.

After I completed my 1st year, we had 2 months of holiday. I had an idea to put together a website that let people advertise their homes online instead of paying money to an estate agent. But this website required complicated programming, and I wasn’t sure where to start. I knew we had a programming course coming up in 2nd year, but I couldn’t wait that long.

My wife will tell you that I’m not the most patient person in the world.

It took me the full 2 months to build this website, full of complex programming. When I came up against problems I couldn’t solve on my own, I used search engines. I found people around the world who would answer my emails and help me solve the problems I encountered - for free. It took a huge amount of effort, and eventually I had a website that let other people upload pictures and details of their houses instead of using an estate agent. I defiantly called it

And I’m no boffin, by the way. I got a B in matric and I worked hard to get it. But I quickly developed a hunger for learning in the field of computers and this hunger allowed me to excel. didn’t work. I tried hard to make it work for 6 months, and then I shut it down. I guess Estate Agents are really good at what they do. But it wasn’t a failure – not at all. I had learnt a great deal about complex programming. I had more options; more passports now.

2 years later, my University course required us to form teams of 6 people and develop a full computer system over a 9-month period. Because of my experience with programming, I was selected as leader of the group and, as a result, learnt a great deal about how to lead a team of programmers. Once again, taking my learning into my own hands had given me more options. One passport had given me access to a new highway, which in turn had given me access to several more.

I graduated from University at the end of 2004. A few months later, a friend who knew I could put together websites approached me with an idea to sell wine online. But this required the complicated addition of a shopping cart that could process credit card payments online. Holy smokes, I didn’t know where to start. But I assured him I could do it. Back to the internet I went – trolling through articles and requesting assistance from other people on how to put together an online shopping cart.

And so, was born. Some of you – and I’m looking at the parents only now – may have bought from us before.

A year later my father asked me to help him put a course online. I was happy to help, and it was so successful that we started working together. Except now I was tasked with managing a business, marketing and advertising the courses, hiring, firing, and looking after the finances, and more.

I was woefully underprepared. But I was hungry to learn. Back to the internet I went, reading up for hours on how to do what I needed to do. This time, the internet wasn’t enough. I found people who were experienced in business and would give me their time to share lessons and guide me when I didn’t know what to do. Mentors have been key to my learning over the past 5 years.

My learning continued for several years and the business started to grow. My brother Rob, also a Rondebosch Boy, joined early on and we started managing the business together. As the business changed, so did it’s requirements for what it needed from us. And as we learned, so too did we empower the business to grow.

We launched GetSmarter, a specialist online education company in 2008. Today we are a thriving business of 110 full-time staff members, 100 part-time staff and we’re growing quickly. We educated 5,000 students last year and we’re doubling year on year. I’m hugely proud.

My learning is my responsibility. And going to University was good for me, but it wasn’t enough. It gave me 2 passports, and I wanted 4. So I went out and got them.

Anyone of you can earn extra passports.

Your learning is your responsibility. You get to decide how many passports you want for your life. What passports do you want? And how hungry are you to get them?

I’m hungry to learn. And it’s through this hunger that I’ve opened up opportunities in my own life. Learning isn’t always easy – it requires hard work, regular failure and dedication to succeed. But I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that this hunger has given me options beyond my wildest dreams. Passports to foreign lands I never knew existed.

I wish the same for you.

Learning from failure. Wow, i’ve failed many, many times along the road I’ve travelled. As just one example, you may recall the power outages back in 2008 when everyone was worried about Eskom’s ability to provide electricity – a basic service we all need. As a newly minted “entrepreneur” who had had moderate success with new businesses, I thought I was invincible. Ha, well, I’ll provide people with a basic battery box that will power their lights, microwaves and TVs when Eskom goes down. And it’ll sell like hotcakes! And hence, a new business was born: The Backup Box.

I diverted my focus from the business I was building with my brother and my father, and spent 4 months building and selling the Backup Box. I had an industrial engineer, a fellow Rondebosch Boy, build a special designer box and I went mad on marketing. This was it, I thought, an enormous opportunity. I rushed head strong into the business without thinking about it much.

Hundreds of thousands of Rands later, we shut down the business. Fortunately for me it also shut down my arrogance. I thought I was invincible. I’m not. I’m going to make mistakes, so I better think carefully about my decisions.

I took many key lessons away from that experience. You see, we don’t just learn from our parents, the internet, University professors and our peers. We also learn from our own experiences. And most acutely, from our failures.

The lessons I take away from that failed business venture have helped me make better decisions. I veered far off the road, and after managing to successfully swerve back onto the road, I learnt a lot about how to drive.

I think it’s fitting that still to this day we make use of the empty Backup Box cases as rubbish bins in our office. It’s a great reminder of the lessons I learned from that failure.

I’d like to end by taking us back to today.

You’re a Rondebosch Boy. That means you’re on the road and your car is in good shape. And as you continue on your drive, you’ll come across small bumps. You’ll need to make small corrections to stay on track. And in the future you’ll come across 4-way stops, roundabouts and highway offramps. What routes will you choose and why?

Your decisions matter.

And as you continue your drive, what will you do to cram your pockets full of passports? To open up little side roads, hidden lanes and enormous highways that you never knew existed. How hungry are you to learn?

Your hunger to learn is your tool to unlock opportunities.

May you use your platform as a Rondebosch Boy wisely. May you make thoughtful decisions, and may you cram your pockets full of passports through a deep hunger to learn.

May you also, grow higher and wider.

Altius et Latius.


stRolling through Italy

My wife, Keri, and I have just finished a 2-week holiday in Italy. As per usual, Keri did an incredible job of booking us into excellent owner-run hotels, which meant that our trip was enhanced by friendly, helpful hosts and their network of people we met.

It was magic. But I imagine it's pretty boring reading someone else's account of their holiday. So, here's our holiday in pictures. We call it "stRolling through Italy". I'll let Keri lead the way…

Pantheon, Rome

Piazza Novanna

Spiral stairs of the Vatican Museums, designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932.

St Peter's Basilica

Inside St Peter's Basilica

Colloseum, Rome

Roman Forum

St Marks Square, Venice

1 of 400 bridges in Venice

A typical waterway in Venice

The Grand Canal, Venice

Main Square, San Gimignano

il Duomo, Florence

Positano, Amalfi Coast


Sunset in Venice

Who's your reference point?

I woke up early on Saturday morning to hit a 7,5km trail run at Groote Constantia, one of the oldest wine farms in the greater Cape Town area. The farm is set on land that rises from just above sea level to well over 400m above sea level, ergo... we expected one or two tough hills.

The race started off well. We quickly found ourselves battling the first hill. I got to what I thought was the top (hooray!) and stopped to take a photo of the view. "Awesome", I told myself, now it's just a little meander from here to the other side of the mountain, and i'll be able to bank this run. Here is the view from that point:



And here's the thing: this wasn't the last hill.

Of the 7,5km, I reckon we we ran uphill for 4km.  It could have been more. Each time i'd get to the top of a hill, there would be a horizontal stretch for 100m or so and i'd meet the bottom of another incline. Rewind, repeat. That's pretty much how the route unfolded.

I was strong for the first 4 hills, but after that I found myself walking more and more. On one of the next few hills I noticed something. I'd always start a hill with the intention of running the whole way, and then as soon as enough people around me started walking, i'd start walking. It was almost as though their decision to start walking gave me permission to do the same. 

And then on one of the next few hills, I noticed how people passing me gave me renewed energy to keep up with them. It was uncanny, on the hills that followed, how people's behaviour around me influenced by own behaviour. My mind was now racing, even if my legs weren't.

I thought about other people in my life and how their behaviour had influenced my behaviour. I thought about my brother, with whom I work closely, and his recent progress as a businessman and how this has inspired me to do better. I thought about friends who had been wildly successful in business and how their success has made me impatient for my own success, even jealous. I thought about my wife Keri, who is the salt of the earth, and how her behaviour keeps me real. There are so many examples I can think of.

We're influenced by the people around us. We all know this. But how much attention do we pay to who's influencing our behaviour? We're social by nature. The people we choose to be influenced by - and it is a choice - become the reference points for our own lives. We should know who they are and what influence they are having on our lives. I'd argue that this is a necessary step in taking control of our personal development.

But I think there is a more powerful way of managing our personal development: using ourselves as a reference point. In the same way that a golfer plays against themselves by using the handicap system, so we should be regularly reviewing our behaviour against our historical behaviour as a way to determine our performance. Are our skills improving? Are we identifying and ridding ourselves of bad habits? Are we becoming more emotionally mature?

But it's so much easier to compare ourselves against others. It doesn't require much work, in that all we need to do is make simple comparisons based on whatever information we have available at the time. They've got a better car than me, a worse house than me, more friends than me, less skills than me. What a useless way to assess ourselves.

But it's hard work to implement the equivalent of a golfer's handicap system for our personal development. It requires measurement and management, and for this we need the overhead of systems and discipline. It's no wonder so many people let themselves be influenced by whoever they happen to find themselves spending time with.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about measuring my personal analytics with a special bracelet device. It worked quite well. Although I think that using myself as a primary reference point on my journey towards self improvement is going to be a lot more challenging than wearing a bracelet!

Any suggestions on how to measure and manage your personal development?