It starts here.
In a town near the southern tip of Africa. At a seaside cafe called Caffe Neo, in the shadow of a lighthouse. On a sunny day in the middle of winter.
9 weeks ago, I moved to Cape Town from San Francisco, changing my life completely, and starting on the biggest adventure I’ve experienced yet.
I’d come out here in late December looking for a meaningful opportunity in South Africa (a country I’d fallen in love with back in 2006), and a respite from Silicon Valley after basically living there and working at/founding startups and giant internet firms alike since ‘98. I was looking for something where my Silicon Valley background would be an asset, not a hinderance. I found that opportunity in February, accepted it, and 4 weeks later I had a return plane ticket.
It’s hard to believe that a little over two months ago I wrapping up the last of my San Francisco life: clearing out my apartment, selling my stuff, and packing the most mobile bits of my life into a series of airplane-cargo-sized duffel bags. (As always, I ended up behind schedule on packing, and a wonderful group of friends came to help me pack up, in addition to throwing one hell of a going-away party.)
All too soon I was boarding a British Airways flight from San Francisco to Cape Town via London, on a 1-way, first class ticket (acquired for just the cost of the airport taxes, thanks to a lifetime of hoarding frequent flyer miles). It was an unreal transition.
And now? I live in the Gardens neighborhood of Cape Town, a short walk away from sun-drenched botanical gardens which have a pear tree older than my home country. My American passport has a South African 3-year “Exceptional Skills Work Permit” sticker in it, which basically gives me the freedom to live and work here for the next 3 years without having to deal with a bunch of paperwork in the future.
Most weekdays I’m driving down highway N2 to Stellenbosch, dodging the occasional person running across the highway, passing townships and vineyards on my way to work, where I park my car in a simple dirt lot behind one of the nicest office buildings in Stellenbosch.
The role I moved out here for is to run Developer Relations for Mxit (my title in full-puffery mode is “VP of Developer Relations”), where i help software developers build amazing applications on Mxit’s open social platform.
For my fellow readers who aren’t from Africa, and may not have heard of Mxit before: Mxit is the largest social network in Africa, with over 10mm active users in the last rolling 3-month period, complete with functions for everything from virtual currency to chat and messaging to content portals. It runs on phones ranging from ancient Nokia J2ME phones to the bleeding-edge version of Windows Phone, and Android and iPhones as well. There’s nothing else quite like it in the world.
The company I work at isn’t like any other I’ve ever worked at before. It’s open, experimental, focused, and agile, but in a uniquely South African way, not as a carbon copy of the standard Silicon Valley model. We’ve got amazing coffee prepared by our company barrista, but no paved parking. One of the most brilliant innovators I’ve worked with sits just to the left of my desk, leading our platform API development. The people I work and collaborate with are some of the smartest folks it’s been my pleasure to work alongside. The new APIs that form the core of the platform i’m evangelizing launched on April 1, just two months ago.
I also believe that if I’m going to move halfway around the world to live here, it’s important that I do some things that contribute back to the country that hosts me. So I volunteer my time as a mentor to the startups at Umbono, Google’s startup incubator in Cape Town, and also have mentored the startups involved in the Bandwidth Barn’s LaunchCapeTown project. I give talks, organize hack nights, and do whatever I can to get the talented developers of South Africa to get together, share their knowledge, and build amazing applications.
So that’s me, Andy Volk. New job, new country, new car, new life, all nine weeks old.
I’ve never felt more alive before.