BIG5D Podcast Episode 28: South Africa Shark Vinny Lingham
"Too many people want the safe route. But the entrepreneurial journey -- that's the fun part. But it's really risky, and it's not for everyone..."
This episode of the BIG5D Podcast is brought to you by Matchcraft
Vinny Lingham is currently CEO of the video conferencing startup Waitroom. But he is best known for his side gig as a Shark on South Africa’s version of the reality show Shark Tank. For the uninitiated, Shark Tank is the show where entrepreneurs try to convince a panel of hard-nosed investors like Vinny to put money into their businesses.
Shark Tank pitches tend to spring from the personal needs or passions of the entrepreneurs. Hence they’re heavy on products involving kids, pets, weight loss, etc.
But once in a while, something different happens on Shark Tank. For example, back in 2016, during Shark Tank’s first season in South Africa, Vinny offered to invest in the developers of the augmented reality game Augmentors. But there was an interesting catch.
This is what Vinny told the Augmentors founders: “The problem you’re trying to solve around creating rarity … can better be solved by using the Bitcoin blockchain. So, my offer will be 500,000 ZAR, or roughly 59 Bitcoins, for 20% of your business.”
By the way, today 59 Bitcoins are worth more than US$2.3 million (or about 35 million ZAR).
Crypto and blockchain have long been passions of Vinny’s, so much so that he helped launch the blockchain-based digital identity company Civic Technologies back in 2015, which Vinny now admits was ahead of its time. Vinny recently stepped aside as Civic’s CEO to focus on his new startup, but he remains Civic’s chairperson.
Vinny’s entrepreneurial journey also includes launching the freemium website builder Yola in 2007 (he exited in 2011). And the digital gift card business Gyft, which he launched in 2012 and sold to First Data Corp. in 2015.
While a native South African who appears on Shark Tank South Africa, Vinny spends most of his time in California, where both Civic and Waitroon are located.
In addition to his work with Shark Tank, Vinny stays connected to his home country via Newtown Partners, a Cape Town-based seed investment fund that focuses on early-stage technology startups in South Africa. Vinny is one of the fund’s co-founders and its general partner.
Vinny joined us last week on the BIG5D Podcast. We talked about his new company Waitroom, why he thinks governmental incompetence stands in the way of South Africa’s technological potential, the true promise of blockchain, and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
Here are some highlights from our conversation with Vinny.
On why he launched Waitroom
Video conferencing and scheduling a video conference are very inefficient. You meet with a whole bunch of people every single day, you have these calls scattered all throughout your calendar, and you don't have enough time to go do what you need to do.
As a Shark on Shark Tank, South Africa, how do I make myself available for pitches if I don't want to listen to pitches for an hour? I'm happy just to do 10 minutes. So how do I get six people to line up and give me 10 pitches in an hour? And I pick the best one and have a follow-up conversation then.
On why he’s pessimistic about South Africa
I think the biggest challenge in South Africa is infrastructure. If you look at the energy grid, the load shedding is just ridiculous.
I mean, I left South Africa because of load-shedding 14 years ago. And it's getting worse. The government is just totally incompetent. I mean, nobody can make a decision, no one can get stuff done. It's just overly politicized.
On why crypto matters
I'm a frontier technologist. So I look at things like web3 and the metaverse. And there are a few people in South Africa building this sort of stuff. And I try to find them and invest in them. I like to be ahead of the next big thing, like Bitcoin and crypto. I've been there for years. And I've been preaching about it in South Africa for nearly a decade as well. I'm trying to get people onto that train.
I have an overarching thesis that the world is going through a massive expansion of wealth and capital right now. U.S. quantitative easing has actually helped expose how much money's in the world and how much value is in the world. I do think that if the monetary expansion happens too fast, we're gonna have major issues. But crypto will probably be the biggest beneficiary because, with crypto, you have a fixed supply. So even if things get crazy, you can't print more Bitcoins, it just doesn't work that way.
On why blockchain-based digital ID is a powerful idea
When you verify someone's identity, you check it against a source, right? And the source is going to be say Home Affairs, or some ID verification company, etc. And they tell you who that person is, and you believe them and you do your thing.
In the decentralized identity world, I give you my credentials, you check the signatures are valid, you don't tell the other guy, you just trust that the signatures they gave are valid, and you can check it using cryptography. And that's private. So instead of three people knowing I did a transaction, now only two know — me and the person receiving the information. That's way more secure and way more private. And it's the future of identity.
And on why it may take years to come to fruition
It’s definitely an idea ahead of its time. We started the company in 2015. And we were the first blockchain-based identity company out there. Where we are right now, I guess, is trying to figure out how to use decentralized identity and things like NFTs.
It's really hard to use fundamentally new technology to disrupt the existing marketplace. Banks want to use what other banks are using. They don't really care about whether it's good or bad. They just don't get into trouble. A banker’s number one job is to make sure he doesn't get fired. Because it’s a cushy job. Why would you want to get fired? So don't make any bold moves.
On what makes a great entrepreneur
I would say, the ability to withstand incredible amounts of pain. Not physical pain, but the emotional pain and trauma and just living in a world of uncertainty for long periods of time.
I'd say the second thing would be being absolutely relentless, and never giving up. So you can withstand the pain, and you just refuse to give up and never say die.
You can watch the full interview with Vinny on YouTube here
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