Networking Abroad: Cape Town & Marrakech

Travel and work? For a year? Well, I’m a full three months in and it has been quite the journey so far. One goal I have for each city I’m living in is to attend some type of networking event. Ideally I will find something regarding testing, UX, or software product development, but I know that won’t happen in each city. If I can’t find anything within the those topics, I told myself that learning about the startup scene would be another viable option.

Fortunately, in Cape Town there was a great Meetup group called ProductTank Cape Town that hosted an event about productive agile teams while I was in town. Bevan Williams, an Agile Coach at Travelstart, shared his lessons of having an optimized development team while his team works remotely. The talk was more and more fitting with each bit of knowledge that he presented. The best part? He uses a lot of the tactics that Second Street has implemented - including OKRs - so it was nice to hear how another team felt about using them. Bevan, unknowingly, was able to align things perfectly for the newbie digital nomad that I am. He brought up the idea of not everyone being productive during the same hours of the day, so they now have a few core hours each day where they overlap for daily meetings, but generally the team works whenever is best for them. Bevan said this was hard for the rest of the company to understand, but they ultimately realized that the development team was producing more with this flexible schedule. My top 3 takeaways:

  1. Verbal communication is key
  2. Set concrete and transparent objectives
  3. Give yourself time to break and regroup

Since being on the road, I have tried to be conscientious of what is working for me and how I can best remain connected with my team. Just because I’m not in the office doesn’t mean I don’t want to continue my friendships with my co-workers. I have been lucky enough to have a supportive team and are willing to do things like have Slack calls with me over lunch/dinner break. Balance is also key while being on Remote Year and learning what that means for me is sometimes a struggle. In Cape Town a few of us would take meditation breaks or rooftop sunset breaks to regroup and recenter during the busy workday.

I also was able to attend a talk on design thinking by M&W Innovation Studio at a unique co-working space called Rise Cape Town. I was excited about this event because I took an Introduction to UX course and was looking forward to hearing about how this company uses design thinking - ever-evolving iterations where you focus on the customer and empathize with their interactions. They also discussed how you should be designing something to solve a problem, not just designing for aesthetic.

While there wasn’t a whole lot on the design thinking process, they did touch upon the idea of experiences. This really resonated with me because that’s one thing I am learning a lot about on Remote Year - experiences over things. Designing a good product requires putting the customer at the forefront to make sure their experiences are brought to life within the product. My top 2 takeaways:

  1. Need to allow employees to be creative and interact with each other to allow the design process to get rolling
  2. The paradigm of the Experience Economy - millennials focus on experiences over products so products need to become more of an experience

Marrakech didn’t have the same type of Meetups that I found in Cape Town, but we were able to network with startups at the Emerging Business Factory. In St. Louis, I have been able to watch the startup community grow and thrive with incubators there to support them. With this opportunity in Morocco, I was able to tour the co-working space and learn about startups there and what type of support they have. We also were able to listen to a few of the pitches from the companies and provide feedback. It was a different experience to hear their startup ideas because they are specific to Morocco and solutions to problems they have there, like having GPS alert devices attached to helmets so if a motorcyclist is in an accident, their emergency contacts are notified, and alternative ways to bet on sporting events. These are businesses that wouldn’t really be thought about in the United States because they aren’t issues that come up very often. I enjoyed getting to attend this because I was able to meet passionate entrepreneurs and have a cultural experience by talking with them. Being an entrepreneur in Morocco you tackle different things, but I have seen people grow simple concepts into businesses in the United States and the same passion and drive exists within the entrepreneurs in Marrakech.