Digital disruptors

Published in Top Performing Companies and Public Sector, 19th February 2019

A born and bred South African, Ryan studied business science with a Masters degree in Industrial Psychology, with the aim of contributing joy and success within the systems where people spend most of their lives – organisations.

He started his career with an international consultancy, specialising in large change management projects, and found himself quite frustrated by what he saw in corporates. Paternalistic models of training and performance management undermined human spirit and controlled people’s reality, so, Ryan wanted to find ways to unlock people’s potential in ways that benefited the business and society as a whole.

He left and joined forces with his brother to start Hi-Performance Learning, a company dedicated to rethinking how people learn in business. They also founded Cuda Technology, to build technology that could support workplace learning in bandwidth constrained environments.

These were incredible businesses, but they still focused on improving the speed of learning. They did not fundamentally prepare people for digital disruption. They sold both businesses to the largest private consulting group in the country and founded CLEVVA.

Have you always known that you wanted to pursue a career in technology?

No. I was more interested in people – how their brains worked; what motivated them; how to help them realise their true potential. I got into technology because it was the best way to augment people and liberate them from traditional models of training and work.

How do you ensure that you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest technological advancements?

I read a lot. I also present at conferences. And I spend time in many companies as part of a team that is delivering real solutions. There is nothing like practical experience to learn from.

How does South Africa, and Africa, fare in terms of technological advancements compared to the rest of the world?

We are behind most of the developed world. We are a technology consumer, and have a limited contribution to make in developing new technologies. That needs to change. We are an innovative and entrepreneurial people and we need to prioritise technology innovation if we want to thrive in the digital economy.

CLEVVA is producing AI solutions that augment rather than replace people. How is this disrupting the industry?

Well, most companies are powered by people. AI tends to be used to automate processes and decisions that exclude people. For new entrants, this is easier to do as you design your systems and processes for full automation. More established businesses have legacy systems and processes, many relying on people to make work. CLEVVA has found a way for these companies to digitise in a way that leverages this reality.

What have been some of your biggest challenges and successes?

Starting a technology business is not easy. But starting one that requires companies to think differently is even harder. So we have had to remain patient and wait for the market to catch up. As far as successes are concerned, there are many. Our success in cracking how you can build a digital brain using data, not decision trees or knowledge bases was one. Also doing it in a low-code way was a real success. And then there are the many customer successes, such as improving first call resolutions at one company from 20% to 98%, increasing sale closures by 52%, allowing staff to perform like super agents with 40% less training. The list goes on.

Quick-fire Q&A

What time do you wake up and what is the first thing you do?

I wake at 5am, and do 30 minutes of mind power exercises followed by 30 minutes of physical exercises. My aim is to keep myself healthy and fit so I can make the most of every day.

What is your strategy for beating procrastination?

I try tackle this using two strategies, depending on the timelines. If it’s a once off thing, I need to set myself a hard deadline. I find it useful to commit to delivering it to someone else so they keep me honest. If it’s more a habit thing i.e. there is no fixed deliverable or event, I look at ways of building it into my daily routine. Even if I do it for only 5 minutes every day, it’s more about getting the rhythm going. I find if I try do to much too quickly I lose momentum and it falls by the wayside.

What is the one thing most people don’t know about you?

I am a hiker and try walk in the mountains every weekend. I find the combination of exercise and nature very healing, and it gives me time to reflect and think.

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by people of principle. There are many people of action – those able to achieve incredible things such as building successful businesses or taking on powerful roles. Yet I believe it is a lot harder to live a principled life than a materially successful life. From the great spiritual leaders across the faiths to the Mandelas, Tutus and Naudes, I find their ability to influence the world through their internal power as opposed to having to exert external force very inspiring.

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