Africa will be the next big land of opportunity. I have heard this more than once, especially from my friend J’Lein Liese of the Foundation for Global Leadership, and this year have been told by some Brits to take a look at Nigeria, a country of enormous energy that has become the continent’s new technology hub. In the meantime, since I last visited Africa, the growth in infrastructure, energy, natural resources, and consumer goods has been remarkable, led by countries outside the US such as China. The World Bank says economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa will continue to rise this year, from 4.7 per cent in 2013 to 5.2 percent this year, boosted by rising investment in natural resources and infrastructure, and by strong household spending.

Africa can’t develop without talent. It has been a great lesson watching one particular startup, Sonru, find its product-market fit in an unlikely place — NGOs and enterprises expanding from Europe to Africa.

 Daniel Richard, my son-in-law, is a French-Canadian (bilingual) expert in talent management software, having previously worked for Taleo, acquired by Oracle. After the acquisition, he teamed up with the Irish founder of a video recruiting product that had been seeded by the economic development efforts in Dublin during the Great Recession. And for the past three years, he’s been helping Ed roll out the Sonru product through Europe and North America.

Sonru has become the market leader in video recruitment software throughout Europe. But the most interesting thing about the company is that, rather than focus next on the US, where it has a competitor, Sonru has capitalized on its early success with nonprofits and moved into Africa in a big way. Africa’s a big continent, travel is expensive, and both for-profit and nonprofit companies want to use video recruiting for job candidates. Indeed, some nonprofits even want to use it to interview people they will serve.

And here’s a fascinating fact about countries in Africa, still bandwidth challenged – Sonru wins over Skype because Skype requires more bandwidth. According to Skype’s website, Skype needs 400Kbps to achieve a decent quality, whereas Sonru only requires 140Kbps. 

Job candidates seem to like video interviews for obvious reasons, even  though only 2% had ever done a video interview before. A quote from a candidate after completing the interview: “One of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Great experience.” Almost three out of four candidates prefer Sonru’s automated video interview, done at the candidate’s convenience but populated by the hiring manager’s questions, to a phone screening.

So while the enterprise will always be market #1 for any talent management company, Sonru is proving that other markets, less obvious, like nonprofits and universities, can also reveal themselves. Especially if you are prepared to listen to where the market takes you when it is telling you something about where you are needed.


Everyone knows that the advertising agency business is in disarray, even though advertising itself is having a banner year. Brands are taking their ad buys in house and going to programmatic, and agencies who ditched their  focus on creative for “metrics” are struggling to find their places in the new world. What do they offer? Metrics come from ad tech companies, not agencies.  The Mad Men are restless. Only the agency trading desks are making money.

So it’s only natural that Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP and self-appointed spokesman for the Cannes regulars,  would try to stick it to one of the largest publishers in the world by asking Marissa Mayer why she didn’t return his emails.  And that leakers would tell the news media she had arrived late for a dinner and admitted to oversleeping. She’s an easy target because she’s American, and because she’s a woman. And because, heaven forbid, she probably was over-scheduled and had jet lag.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no one would have had the nerve to make these rude accusations to a man;  I’m standing up big time for Marissa, who has been “leaning in” until she fell over. First of all, she’s a product person, not a marketer. She has made amazing advances in Yahoo’s products during her two years at the helm. She has hired top talent and bought companies. She has re-designed the interfaces on the Yahoo products most visitors use, and  produced high quality mobile apps. What the hell else do you expect her to do–serve tea?

The fact that she gives a canned presentation simply means she’s trying to cover the points she has to make, not that she’s inauthentic. Most public presentations are as canned as hers; it’s not a requisite for a CEO that she be a tap-dancer, only that she know the product and the vision.  There are a few exceptions, but we all remember Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts. No mere marketer could have done the business things Marissa has done and lured back the engineering talent she has. Oh, and she’s the mother of a toddler; she practically gave birth in the boardroom to prove her mettle. What else does she have to do to be worthy of Sir Martin? Take his dictation? Sit on his lap?

Globe trotting executives fall asleep in their rooms and miss events constantly. It’s something your body does to give you a message: “this dinner is not as important for your continued life as this nap.” If you’ve ever been a CEO or a sales person you know this. They also get drunk and pass out. Especially at Cannes.

Many highly-respected Silicon Valley executives have come out in Marissa’s support, because they know that the Silicon Valley world is not the world of lavish parties and late dinners, but one of  long work weeks and outcomes-based reporting. The ad world and the tech world have never understood each other, and this is just one more occasion where that has been demonstrated.

I’d like to call bullshit on the news media reporting this, and on the leakers who think this was an event. Get over it.

(This post represents my own opinions. Disclosure: J. Walter Thompson was one of my first jobs)


In Moscow Today, Entrepreneurs Not Oligarchs

June 23, 2014

It took several days to penetrate beyond the Moscow of the tour guide to the Moscow I wanted to see — the one of the Muscovite entrepreneur. Having read about opportunities and fast growth in the BRIC countries, it was hard to believe Russia was last on my list. I’d already seen the enormous energy in Brazil, […]

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Moscow: Beautiful Architecture, Grumpy People

June 20, 2014

Like everywhere else I’ve been, Moscow is full of surprises, the more so for me because I grew up in the Stalinist era when propaganda from both sides of the Cold War depicted Russia as a communist country in which no one was allowed to be rich and  starving people queued up for bread in […]

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My Phone Loves Me, I Know He Does

June 17, 2014

If you haven’t seen the movie “Her,” in which a man falls in love with his operating system, don’t bother. Soon enough you are probably going to live it. Argus Labs, a data analytics company,  has an SDK and API that can take whatever data is already on your smart phone and use it to […]

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London’s Silicon Roundabout is No Longer a Joke

June 12, 2014

Shoreditch High Street looks nothing like it did two and a half years ago when I first visited TechHub, the London accelerator and collaborative workspace co-founded by Mike Butcher, European editor of Tech Crunch. At the time, the entire Old Street/Shoreditch area was pretty unpopular, but in an incredibly short time all that seems to […]

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Online Advertising Grows Up

June 5, 2014

The ad tech industry may be in danger of growing up. This morning I attended the AppNexus Europe Summit and I actually was able to understand most of what the presenters were talking about. It seemed as if the speakers were actually knowledgable, rather than just salespeople throwing around a bunch of scripted buzz words. […]

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Square’s New Service Can Make it or Break It

May 29, 2014

I knew it wouldn’t be long before someone figured out that lending to small business is a huge market. Of course the big banks already know this, but they are highly regulated and they have processes and procedures in place to make sure they make the fewest possible number of loans at the least possible […]

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Pushy, Bossy, Polarizing Woman: That’d Be Me

May 18, 2014

I am a pushy, bossy, polarizing woman. I grew up in New York City, and competed to get into Bronx High School of Science and college. That’s where I learned to be pushy. I kept on going until I had a Ph.D.   Besides being a professor, I’ve worked in advertising briefly, and started three […]

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Worn Out on Wearables

April 23, 2014

No wonder it’s rumored that Nike is getting out of the fitness hardware device business. I’d like to get out of it myself, but I’ve become addicted to the data that proves I’ve completed 10,000 steps a day and slept 8 hours, despite the fact that I don’t know what that means to my health […]

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