October 2012

Life after Zoopy

Where things started

After co-founding Zoopy.com in 2006 and launching it in March 2007, the next six years were some of the most amazing, inspiring and challenging times of my career. Of my life, really.

We built the original product between a couple of people in a tiny office, totally bootstrapped and far from any concept of funding or real business targets. We were working off gut instincts of what we needed as consumers, and what we thought the market would find useful. When Vodacom invested in 2008, we continued to iterate the site into a product that spanned user-generated videos, photos, audio and text, spawned self-produced videos under the Zoopy TV brand, and finally pivoted into a mobile-first video tabloid that delivered news, sports and entertainment videos in 90 seconds or less.

I can say without fear of hyperbole that we poured every inch of ourselves into the business. We hand-picked a team of people that would be difficult to bring under one roof ever again. There was magic everywhere. In the air, in meetings, on planes flying back from business meetings. We could go from an idea in the morning to implementation a few hours later as a matter of course. If things weren’t perfect, they were scrapped and restarted until they were. Everyone knew that ideas came first and personalities second. We respected each other, fought only about the best way to do things, leaving us in the end with friendships that have outlasted our roles at Zoopy. We compared ourselves to international standards only, worked out video codecs when no else had perfected them, and did anything we set our minds (and dreams) to. They were special, innovative, amazing times.

There were challenges too. The intricacies of investment change the dynamics of a startup. Some of these were good, some of them frustrating, but in the end the product would undoubtedly never have got to where it was without Vodacom having the vision to back a small new media team in the middle of Milnerton in the heady days of Web 2.0 (remember those?). While there were many things that could have been done better, I will always appreciate their support.

How and why I left Zoopy

After a decision was made by Vodacom a couple of months ago to relocate the company to Johannesburg, and after our entire Cape Town team declined the offer to move and had chosen instead to leave the company (leaving just one employee at Zoopy in our Johannesburg office), Pat and I decided that a fork in the road had come for us as well. We didn’t want to leave Cape Town either, a decision made easier by the fact that the magical team we had assembled would be no more. The biggest pity (besides losing our team) was that several new revenue plans had started to pay off and we were weeks away from launching a brand new aspect of Zoopy that would have added to the South African mobile media space while generating even further revenue. But the reality was that the Zoopy we knew was over. So while our colleagues left at the end of July, Pat and I left Zoopy at the end of September, having taken the two extra months to hand everything over to the people responsible for taking Zoopy forward at Vodacom.

So where to now?

Thinking about what would come after Zoopy was not an easy decision, but knowing what I wanted to do was relatively simple. I knew that I wanted to continue working to international standards, setting the bar as high as it could possibly be, to create a product that I would love. I also knew that I wanted to work on something that had a global audience, integrating web and mobile possibilities to their full potential. I wanted something new, something that didn’t focus primarily on video necessarily, and something that the world would be excited about. I didn’t want to jump back into the startup space immediately, so first prize was finding an established medium-sized startup-ish environment that was agile, sorted on the revenue front, and bold enough to take on the world’s biggest competitors from the tip of our beautiful continent. Add these all together and it’s a pretty tall order in the South African internet/mobile space.

As the universe would have it, I found a company – and a role – that ticked just about all the boxes I was hoping to fill. On 1 October, I joined RightShift as Chief Product Instigator. RightShift designs, builds and supports social web and mobile products that everyone wants to use, play and share. It’s the largest (if not only) social gaming company in South Africa, focusing on monetisation through smart viral hooks in entertaining games. Take a look at one of our largest projects: Clickfun Casino, a social casino product focusing on slots. The strategies in this space are diverse and complex, and as we build more products for more platforms, the learning continues. The people I’m surrounded with are smart, excited, passionate and ready to make things happen. In a nutshell, and although I haven’t been here very long, it’s a space that’s hard not to love.

To those who have been Zoopy friends and supporters throughout the years, thank you. You often helped us in more ways than you could have realised. It was an experience we’ll never forget but for now, it’s time to move on. Onwards and upwards. To infinity and beyond.