An established industry expert in the digital and mobile space in Africa, Lynette is recognised as one of the top 30 most influential women in SA digital marketing, a Regional Business Woman of the Year 2018 Finalist (run by the Business Women’s Association of SA) and the 2018 Female Role Model in Tech National Winner (Southern African Startup Awards). She has also been recognised by Fast Company in 2018 as one of the most creative people in business. With over 20 years of experience in the tech, digital marketing and mobile solutions space, Lynette co-founded specialist mobile solutions consultancy Useful & Beautiful and has a passion for creating great customer experience that harness the power of mobile and digital to help businesses achieve their omnichannel goals.
Previous experiences include launching innovative & award-winning solutions for the initial versions of Ster-Kinekor, bidorbuy, Old Mutual, Sanlam, Hollard, News24, and General Electric apps. She also led mobile innovation units at Naspers for their eCommerce businesses which included Kalahari.com, 36Style and Media24 while starting off her career as an enterprise developer analyst in the UK with clients that included HSBC, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, G4s and Tesco. Lynette is a sought-after tech speaker and has spoken regularly at a variety of local and international tech conferences and is frequently quoted in publications throughout Africa.
She also served on the judging panel for the EduTech Africa, AfricaCom and World Retail awards, West Africa Mobile Awards and Mobile Marketing Association. She also serves on various advisory boards globally.
Please tell us a little more about yourself and your journey thus far.
I am one of those original geek girls who got into the STEM space long before it was regarded as being cool :-). I was a hands-on coder for about 10 years. I started coding at school with Logo, actually then, Visual Basic, Turbo Pascal (yes, I’m that old). I completed my BSc Honours degree in Computer Science and Psychology where I graduated Cum Laude and since then have attained various technology certifications in business analysis, design, Microsoft development technologies and Java. I was .Net certified when .Net was just released in the early 2000s. I started off my career as an enterprise programmer analyst for 8 years in the UK with clients that included HSBC, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, G4s and Tesco.
After I had my kids in the UK, I decided I wanted more meaning in my career as I found software was being built without really understanding the needs of the end user, so I moved into the product space and I found my sweet spot in understanding client requirements and creating products that people would want to use (back in the day there was no focus on user experience, so I basically started in this area before it became mainstream).
Thereafter, returning to South Africa in 2010 and being head hunted by the Naspers group to start their mobile incubation unit, where I was the mobile product manager for Kalahari.com. I then moved on to Prezence Digital where I was head of product strategy and headed up their apps business unit, where we developed some of the most successful and international award-winning mobile web and apps solutions in the country, such as the popular Ster-Kinekor booking app, bidorbuy, Real Time Wine, and General Electric, amongst others.
Having built their mobile/innovation units from scratch for these 2 media houses, triggered off some entrepreneurial sparks within me, so when Prezence Digital shut down in 2014 I made the conscious decision to continue following my passion but under my own rules. It felt that it was the right time for me, as I needed to grow as a business owner in my career. This led me to creating Useful & Beautiful (U&B) with George Reed (co-founder). Now I lead and manage a team of designers, developers, project managers and QA analysts and work with both start-ups and blue-chip clients.
Please tell us a little more about how your company came about.
My journey into the entrepreneurial space came about as part of a combination of fate and circumstance. It was something I considered doing for about a year before I took the plunge. Before starting U&B I worked at two major media houses in South Africa where I built their mobile/innovation units from scratch – That triggered off some entrepreneurial sparks within me. When the last company I worked at shut down, I made the conscious decision to continue following my passion but under my own rules, it felt that it was the right time for me as I needed to grow as a business owner in my career.
You are busy with some very interesting initiatives. Please tell us a little more about that.
We worked on a soccer community driven platform for our Nigerian client a few years ago that used true social omnichannel across all digital platforms. We have also worked on mobile money solutions for the low-income markets for a client that is breaking barriers in Africa and now expanding in Asia and Eastern Europe. We are also working in the petrochemical sector where we are their leading partner in various digital transformation initiatives they are undergoing.
What is it that you are passionate about?
My passion is in the mobile space and I’ve been privileged to have the opportunity to work hands-on in this space since 2010, when smartphones were just starting to gain popularity in the market, so I’ve grown up in the space. Over the years, I realised that while technical solutions tended to have a strong development focus and be functional, user experience was often neglected and while companies invested large budgets on these technical builds, customers (be it internal or external) were not using them and preferred to go onto systems that provided a better user experience and they enjoyed using.
Most companies tend to be either creative or dev focused, and we have found that combining the best of both worlds to be our niche in the market. Hence, U&B is a mobile specialist company that works very closely with clients/businesses to help them understand how mobile can fit into their current processes. I spend a lot of time understanding my clients’ needs, challenges and objectives so that I can empower them with a mobile strategy, that not only fits their target market’s needs, but also adds value to their business. I also make sure that their mobile strategy fits in with their overall business strategy, ensuring that mobile is not treated as a silo. Once the strategy is defined, I work with creative and technology teams using my UX/product experience to execute the ‘best in class’ mobile solutions.
I’m also passionate about helping other developing female entrepreneurs and those wanting to look at a career in tech. One of the ways we do this is through mentoring at the University of the Western Cape in my spare time to students in their app development projects. I am also a stakeholder at the University and provide advice on keeping the curriculum progressive. I volunteer my time at Mentoring and Thought Leadership sessions held by various NGOs, such as Code for Cape Town, my local schools, where I talk to high school students about pursuing a career in tech and digital. I also contribute to the digital community in Africa by providing thought leadership in our area of expertise for Lionesses of Africa (access to a network of over 20K women). I regularly feature on the speaking circuit at women’s leadership events, when invited. The latest was at the OLX group for women, where I chatted to women about our entrepreneurial journey and helped encourage them.
I also contribute regularly to Bizcommunity, Memeburn and SAFM. On a personal level, I also promote the development of women and girls in STEM. I encourage girls to look at STEM subjects, I have worked with the authors of Rebel Girls (with my daughter who is 10 and loves reading) and recently the authors of the A-Z of amazing South African women to help empower little girls.
What is your personal motto?
Care about what you do. If you are passionate enough about something that will always shine through and you will find a way to persevere and never give up.
Who or What has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
My biggest influence in my life is my mum who recently passed away a few weeks ago. She was more than a mother, she was my role model, mentor and best friend and taught me HANDS ON everything she knew about kindness, humility, perseverance, beauty and elegance, and most of all LOVE, which no other person, book, internet blog or google searching taught me. These are core human values that is required in everyone’s lives and needs to be integrated in all aspects of life in both professional and personal levels and hopefully I do a good enough job in passing this onto my kids.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
No funding, the company was bootstrapped from Day 1. Access to the right resources is also tough in this competitive space, so we decided to use our existing network of tried and trusted talent by employing them on a contract basis as we land projects. We have managed to secure the best in talent and able to deliver the best solutions to our clients, without worrying about staff turnover.
Price Wars. There are numerous other companies posing as mobile and digital experts and trying to grab work through the offer of ridiculous prices and time-frames (which my experience had taught me were not achievable). Unfortunately, we will never compete with them, as my team had 7+ years’ mobile and app experience and quality was something I was not prepared to compromise on. At the end of the day, you learn that you are running a business, not a charity and it has to be profitable.
What advice would you give a woman wanting to follow her dreams?
Being a woman in tech is not easy, but confidence in your abilities, the willingness to seek out advice when necessary, and the seamless integration of your work and personal life are the stepping stones to success.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Fight your fear of failure! Women, in particular, hate failing, and this can be a career inhibitor if you are always afraid to take risks. As a business owner, I am continually learning how to manage this and to see failure as an opportunity. In the words of author Eloise Ristad, “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel”.
Your favourite daily affirmation:
Slow progress is still progress.
Your favourite quote:
I live by two quotes:
”The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle.” ~Steve Jobs
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” ~Nelson Mandela
Which book are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished “Growing Greatness” by Pepe Marais which I thoroughly recommend. I am in the process of reading “Option B” by Sherly Sandberg.
Which book can you read over and over again?
I’ve never read a book more than once cover to cover, I usually reread specific chapters, but I do plan on reading “Growing Greatness” again as there were so many gems that are worth revisiting.
What are your top 3 business tips?
- Find a mentor: The importance of mentorship cannot be overstated, identify a mentor that can support and invest in you. Senior managers will be more likely to take you under their wing if it is apparent that you love what you do and don’t really see it as a job, but rather as a passion and growth opportunity. This attitude will make the process of seeking support easier.
- Work on your negotiation skills: Society and tradition has taught women to be thankful for what we get, but throughout my career I often found that some of my male peers were on a higher salary scale than I was. On further investigation, I found this was not because they were more skilled but rather because they did not just accept the salaries or increases they were initially offered.
- Learn from negative experiences: Treat negative experiences as character-building episodes and move on, quickly.
What would you say is the secret to your success?
Perseverance and Passion. I genuinely care about what I do, and I stand my ground and don’t back off easily.
One general piece of advice you would like to share:
Learn to integrate work and family life: Circumstances will change as you progress in life. Try not to strike a “work-life balance” as it is not a scale, but rather learn to roll with the punches and make the best of a situation. The best part of integration is that things change, and you adapt. Just like integrating an application program interface to an app, changes always have to be made in order to optimise the performance. Also try not to compare your current circumstances to someone else’s end chapter, everyone has their own story to write which will follow a unique path.
Is there anything that Xtraordinary Women can do to assist you on your journey?
Connect me with like-minded women who could benefit from my services. I would love to work more with women owned businesses.
Instagram: @uandbmobile | @LynetteH
Twitter: @uandbmobile | @lynetteanthony