&Innovation, the services-venture company hybrid
by Herman Manson (@marklives) Nevo Hadas is one of the original digital pioneers of South Africa. In the mid-90s, after he was taught as an intern to code in the garage of Jarred Cinman (today of NATIVE VML fame), Hadas joined TBWA, where he helped launch its digital agency, the somewhat unfortunately named tool communications.
His latest business, co-founded with Paul Salvage (head of R&D and later CIO of the MTN Group and former chief operating officer of Smile Communications), is called &Innovation Consulting. The two didn’t realise innovation would soon become a buzzword inserted into as many places as possible when they came with it, Hadas grumbles.
“We are a mix between a services company and a venture company,” states the business’s manifesto. “A newish kind of model that co-creates with our clients new businesses and products. Sometimes we run the whole project with a success fee, sometimes we contribute to their project as advisors and consultants, sometimes we co-own the outcome (investing in it ourselves).”
That means that they may not be great at naming their own businesses, but they are very good at building one for you. So good that you may be hard-pressed to corner him in South Africa.
Hadas and Salvage’s client list spans the world and is focused upon the technology, media, telecoms and fintech spaces, including Visa, Orange, MTN, Ericsson, BBH, Safaricom and Sage, to name a few.
But let’s step back for a moment. Hadas had interned for Cinman, just before the launch of VWV Interactive, another famous local digital agency play in which Cinman was involved. After TBWA and tool, he headed up the Kagiso Media Convergence team, buying into Gloo and Acceleration Media, helping launch Digitalmark and signing a deal with MSN to manage its content offering in the country. He was also a lecturer in digital media management at the Rhodes University Sol Plaatjies Institute, and founded Systemsfusion, a OSS/BSS software company, which he exited in 2006.
Business, product and service design
He and Salvage soon started consulting for companies building products and so &Innovation was born, focusing upon business-, product- and service design. The company is in involved in building up businesses such as data backup, cloud services company Attix5 and music app Spice. It’s helped build a video-on-demand business for Ericsson; is building a mobile payment system in Uganda; and recently helped Ole! Media Group launch Delv with Geoff Cohen.
The core &Innovation consists of three people, the extended freelance team reaches 12, and more people are brought in on a project basis.
According to Hadas, the hiring policy places experience and ability above qualifications. Each project requires different kinds of people. “We don’t believe in common values, or mission, or vision. We only believe in accepting other peoples’ opinions and ideas, that for questioning and interaction to be effective, you must all be equal but different” the company also writes in its manifesto.
While Hadas works on a global stage, he is concerned that SA is falling behind in globalisation, in the sense that a globalised boardroom literally means made up of people from around the world: Brits, Ugandans, Nigerians — all around a table sharing international best practice and insight. It changes the way a business views the world. He says this especially true for the local ad industry, creative businesses now seemingly run by accountants [creative accountants are the dangerous kind — ed].
Struggle to match competitive advantage
The bulk of &Innovation’s revenue is delivered in dollars and pounds. The exchange rate helps — but only if you realise you compete with Estonia, rather than India — and that the world has already outsourced much of its needs to markets in Eastern Europe and South America, where beneficial tax rates build in a competitive advantage South Africans will struggle to match. Our IP and tax structures benefit rival markets, says Hadas.
Regarding their success, it’s based upon the “juxtaposition between the potential for anything to emerge, and the rigor to make sure that what we do is viable, profitable & desirable; understanding the risks and how to mitigate them,” as per the manifesto, once again.
“It’s our fascination in business models, and focus on the problem — looking for the right question that unlocks the true potential of an idea. It is our ability to work with others and belief that we are all on the same side and that success rewards us all, rather than trying to ‘own’ a customer.”
Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of MarkLives.com. He was the inaugural Vodacom Social Media Journalist of the Year in 2011 and has, over his 20-year-plus career, contributed to numerous journals and websites in South Africa and abroad, including AdVantage magazine, Men’s Health, Computer World and African Communications.
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