Rossouw Nel shares how he maintains a full time job and a side gig

Rossouw Nel leads Digital Marketing and Communications teams spread across 19 different African countries but when he’s not , he’d probably be found at events as one part of Capetown’s DJ duo, Ross&Marty.

Rossouw at a friend’s wedding, two weeks back, where he DJed informally for a bit

Some would call it a side hustle; others, an opportunity to share passion. Without a doubt, alot of passion and drive has gone into it right from their first gig in 2007 when the team approached famous Fashion Designer , David West asking him to DJ his event.

It is said that entrepreneurs need to be relentless and audacious in their pursuit of opportunities, whether it be in the creative industries , sales or any other form of business. This particular story- which you’ll read more of in detail- is as good as any example of this. 
So Rossouw DJs alongside his friend, Martin at weddings, festivals and parties but then is very happy to return to work Monday day morning to a job he equally loves.

In many cases one suffers – either the side gig or the main job but in Rossouw says he’s found a system to make both work. He explains, 

‘I find when you’re writing, or composing music you can spend a whole Saturday morning and at the end wonder if you’ve made progress. I think a person needs to give themselves the space, to say ‘that’s okay, it was time spent exploring an idea even if you have nothing to show for it’. 

Basically, it’s all about proper planning. In my  interview with Rossouw , he also discusses how he handles teams from different African countries, the role of Digital in promoting the pan African movement as well as a list of his top African songs. By and large, you’ll get an idea of how to have a side hustle even with a 9 to 7!


: What is the most important thing you’ve learned in the process of handling teams across 19 countries?

: I’ve learned that it’s important to have a sense of the larger purpose of the work you’re doing as a team. Often you’ll find two people disagree about the way to do something and after an open conversation you’ll realise it’s because they have very different ideas of the bigger goal. I’m learning about the methodology called Agile at the moment. One of the principles I’ve gotten from it, is that you don’t start by saying “We’re gonna build a car”. You start by saying “we want to transport people”. And then you figure out as a team what form that solution should take. It could be a bicycle, a bridge, a hoverboard or a camel. It depends on the needs of the people you’re trying to serve.    

Rossouw(Third from the left) with members of his team in Accra

Amina: Describe a day in your life. What do you love most about your job.

Rossouw: My day always starts with coffee! I use a little Bialetti kettle to make espresso on the stove in the morning. At work I like that everyday is different and that I get to talk to colleagues from across the African continent everyday. They describe what they’d like to do for their project or business and we figure out what part digital can play to achieve that. 

: Are there any two African countries that you’ve found are similar and what makes you say that?

Rossouw: I think it’s tricky, because I wouldn’t want to simplify. When I went to hill towns north of Accra this year it reminded me a bit of parts of Kigali. I haven’t had a chance to visit your country, but I’d like to. I’m reading Stars of the New Curfew by Ben Okri and I’m sure I’ve developed an idea of what its like driving on a road in the Delta region( in Nigeria) that is different from what it would be like if I one day visited it. It’s something I think about often, how we can imagine the space around landmark and when you get there in real life, the imagined place doesn’t disappear in your head, it sort-of exists in parallel to it.

: In terms of communications strategies , which countries have you found have similar requirements?
Rossouw: I was speaking to colleagues in Sierra Leone a month ago, and I said the key in doing non-profit communications is to make the thing you’re offering the public clear and accessible. So instead of telling the public what you’ve done in the past, show them what there is right now that they can benefit from. I think that is true whether you’re working in East, South or West Africa. Although I have seen that online audiences in some countries are more cynical, while others are more willing to embrace a cause sincerely. 

: We are going flip mode now; Let’s talk about the DJ Rossouw. Tell me how it all began.

: My friend Martin Mezzabotta and I deejay together as ‘Ross & Marty’. Back in 2007 we started deejaying at a place called Evol on Hope Street in Cape Town. Initially we were immature and snobby in only playing vinyl records. On the one hand there’s a joy in finding some forgotten song from 1978 and getting a room full of people to dance to it. But on the other hand, it ultimately became very limiting, in that you can’t play new local music and there’s also the physical burden of lugging two turntables and crates of records around.

South African DJ duo Ross ( left) and Marty

Amina: So what was your first gig like?

: It was at that place called Evol, in February 2007. I asked fashion designer David West to give us a chance and he said yes. I can’t remember exactly what we played, but it was mostly 70s punk and 80s synthpop. Things started going downhill for us after we tried to have a night where we tried to set a record by only played songs that contained sexual innuendo. It did not go well.

Amina: That must have been terrible! But what I find inspiring about that story is that you felt bold enough to reach out to someone as famous as David West to give you a chance. Was that a difficult process?

: The record-breaking attempt wasn’t really terrible, I just felt a bit foolish. I mentioned it to Marty recently and he has said he has a different memory of the night, that it was just because we were playing early. But in my mind, it was a turning point, where we had jinxed it because we were overconfident, thinking people will dance no matter what we play. 

On your question about asking David West for the first time if we can play, I didn’t know who he was at the time. The doorman just pointed me at this guy sitting on the side in an American flag boiler suit. It’s only later someone told me that he’s an accomplished fashion designer.

: Ahhhh! Still you have come a long way since then. And now- how do you decide on what gets played and when?

: I Imagine most DJs have a set of favourite songs that they know people will enjoy while also being unique or retro enough so it feels like a special experience. Then you have your own personal favourite songs, that you see if you can get away with, by squeezing it in-between two hits. The way it typically works is one of us will queue and start playing the song, then Martin and I debate for 15 seconds what the next song should be. I think there’s a lot of value in that, whenever you’re doing something creative, to have more than one mind to bounce it back and forth. I got a new piece of gear in November that has enabled us to more easily match the BPM between songs, so now we also plan a night’s set in terms of seeing the tempo like waves, where we start out slow and build gradually.

At a festival playing someone’s song!

Amina: What is a no fail way of getting your guests pumped?

: For me the most reliable songs are late 70s songs by punk bands pretending to be disco bands. So ‘Money’ by the Flying Lizards as well as ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie. In terms of local music, I think there’s no better pop song than Brenda Fassie’s ‘Weekend Special’.

: Brenda Fassie was huge in Nigeria, back in the day. Very Nice and what are the five things a person needs to maintain a full time job and a side gig( passion)

: I wouldn’t say I’ve found the perfect balance yet. But I’d say I prioritise my job and that gives me peace. I don’t want to put that pressure on my creative pursuits, where it becomes my whole existence. I find when you’re writing, or composing music you can spend a whole Saturday morning and at the end wonder if you’ve made progress. I think a person needs to give themselves the space, to say ‘that’s okay, it was time spent exploring an idea even if you have nothing to show for it’. That said, I do think it’s important to put some restrictions on yourself:

  • Create artificial deadlines by promising to show what you’ve made to a friend on a specific date
  • Hobbies need to be sustainable with the expectations that friends and loved ones have of time together
  • Develop daily and weekly habits that are easy to keep. It should require little decision-making and willpower.
  • Separate the professional-you from the creative-hobby-you. You’ll need different answers to the question “what do you do?” depending on whether you’re at the airport or a festival.
  • Your creative pursuit can make you a more energized, happier person. If it doesn’t, switch.

: And I have to ask you, what are your top 5 African songs to listen to?

: I’m gonna disappoint you slightly and not choose dance songs, but rather beautifully sad songs that I like a lot. I know the Sauti Sol song is a positive love song, but I’d say the melody still has a sombre tone. These are songs that would fit a playlist for when you return home after a long time away.

  • ‘Lanitra Manga Manga’ – Salala (Madagascar)
  • ‘Onhipiti Ossanta Toniyo’ – Associacao A Luta Continua (Mozambique)
  • “Weeping” – Soweto String Quartet (South Africa)
  • ‘Sura Yako’ – Sauti Sol (Kenya)
  • ‘The Wedding’ – Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya (2011 version on ‘Sotho Blue’ album) (South Africa)

Amina: What no Nigerian music? That can’t be right! Thought you once mentioned something about Temi Dollface but back to digital. How important is digital and the creative arts in the growing pan African movement? 

: I’m not the best person to speak on this, but I am passionate about it. I look at it this way: think about all the music, writing, film and fashion styles that have come from America. Now think about the small set of styles people from outside of our continent associate with the word ‘African’. Maybe they’ll think of Highlife music and Kente cloth. But there’s no limit to how many different styles can come from a place. So in theory every city generates their own distinct style of fashion, music, film, design. And that has a huge value in terms of identity, what gives people a sense of belonging to a place. But it also has an economic value, in that people can produce things in that style and make a livelihood from it. The internet has made it possible for someone in Dakar to see a Johannesburg fashion designer’s latest range, the day it comes out. Someone in Addis can follow a musician in Nairobi. This is all basic stuff, but it is the benefit of digital, the low cost of production and distribution, the ease and speed with which people can access new things. It means you can include local produce from a neighbouring country in your entertainment diet. I think it would be good to get a better balance in how much of the entertainment we consume is imported from across the ocean. Ben Okri said that way to destroy people is to poison their stories. So I believe there’s a big social and psychological benefit in growing the creative industries here on the continent.

: I definitely agree with that. Thanks for making out the time, Rossouw.

: Thanks for having me.

I’m sure you’ve been inspired by Rossouw’s story like I have. A full time job shouldn’t stop you from going after your passion. What’s important is getting the right balance. Feel free to visit his website to see more of what he does.

You can also subscribe to Ross&Marty’s SoundCloud channel and listen to some of their amazing work

What Andy Black can tell you about succeeding in a Digital Economy 

Meet Andy.

He is the CEO of Andy Black and Associates, a London based Digital Media firm. He began his career in Film, Television and Theatre before making the switch from traditional analogue media to digital media-that’s close to an impressive thirty years ago! Andy’s message on his website is a constant reminder to visitors that having digital presence is profitable for all businesses:

‘Are you ready for the Digital Economy?’ It says.

Those who have attended Andy’s trainings know that he is very practical in his teaching methods with great insights on ways to manage a fast growing numbers of digital channels. Andy has a process: he tries and then tests the latest apps and digital platforms before introducing them to you.

The digital economy is huge. Think Konga, think Dealdey don’t forget Amazon or eBay. Part of world globalization includes the luxury of getting across to people, opportunities and products regardless of distance, language , time or even business type.

Here’s an interview I did of Andy about three weeks ago. He tells you just how relevant Digital Media is to you and how you can own it.

                            *                        *
Amina: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Could  you start off by telling me a little bit about yourself?

Andy: I am Andy Black, a 50 something digital consultant, I have been running my own digital consultancy for 3 years and have been working in the technology sector for over 25 years.

In the 1970’s I was a pupil at Emanuel School in London where my contemporaries included Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web, Sir Sebastian Wood, UK Ambassador in Germany and Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

In the early 1980’s I was a student at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School where I received practical training in film, TV, radio and acting. My contemporaries at Bristol included Daniel Day-Lewis, Miranda Richardson and Samantha Bond – in this sort of company I soon realised my limitations and became an expert in spear carrying.

I worked professionally in film, TV and theatre for 2 years before joining a Soho video production company in 1987 that was launching the first analogue to digital film tech – that was 30 years ago!

Since then I have worked in data analysis, information services, search software, intelligence gathering, digital marketing & content creation. I am divorced, happily single and have a 28 year old son who is getting married next year. I look forward to being a digital granddad.

Andy (left) worked in film, TV and theatre for 2 years – here appearing as Oberon in a 1983 production of A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Bristol Old Vic with Lisa Bowerman as Titania and Tony Howes as Puck

Amina: Digital grandad! That would an interesting title, definitely. When and why did you make the transition from traditional to digital media?

Andy: My transition from traditional analogue media to digital media occurred in 1987 when I started working for TTV. TTV introduced the first analogue to digital video display technology to the UK, and I joined a young team of 4 edgy techie creatives who started to play with and evolve commercial services with the new technology. Lots of late nights, laughter, hard work and busy weekends.

I became a digital obsessive and tried out things like subliminal messaging and building digital sculptures with monitors that displayed video & information. We were involved in lots of interesting projects including the launch of Sky TV, video displays at the Conservative Party conference and lots of air and defence trade shows. I will always remember working on the the launch of SkyTV at the National Theatre, the highlight was Rupert Murdoch slowly walking through a swirling sea of dry ice engulfing two of our huge videowall sculptures as he launched Sky TV to the assembled global media – no pressure on me in the control room!!

In 1990 I was headhunted to join Perfect Information a City start-up, where digital was used to scan original company documents and newspaper cuttings to create a unique image based real-time information service for City clients such as Goldman Sachs, Cazenove and Kroll Associates – I learnt on the job about data management, ISDN, metadata, information, RAID, internet, broadband, cloud computing, telecoms, optical storage – as well as how the City and M&A teams operate.

In 1996 I joined Excalibur Technologies, a US based advanced search software company, where I worked on projects including the Excalibur rapid rebuttal database for the Labour Party. In many ways Twitter and automated bots have now democratised rapid rebuttal. Unfortunately it has also led to memes, fake news and algorithmic manipulation being used as a type of information warfare to distort traditional news flows and disrupt public opinion. It is fascinating to watch the analogue to digital revolution.

Amina: It must have been exciting to be part of that revolution. What do you find is the major difference between the two?

Andy: A digital file is cheap, made once and can be easily stored, copied and also shared an infinite number of times. A printed book is expensive to print and also difficult to share or store. The economics of digital totally disrupts any sector it touches. Every business needs a digital transformation strategy otherwise they risk being Blockbuster when their customers want Netflix.

Amina: For a lot of people, digital or social media is what they do on the go with no specific time scheduled for it. Your case obviously is different, perhaps with more structure. What is a typical day like for you?

Andy: I am connected 24/7 and regularly monitor Twitter for news, Facebook for news from friends, LinkedIn for news from connections, Twitter Lists for expert news and Google Custom Search for key website content for projects i am working on. I also use extensive Boolean search operators and scripts to retrieve deep web information that is not indexed by Google. When not working at a client site or on a specific project, my typical day is as follows:

At 08.00 am I normally start by checking Twitter for trends and news – I then curate interesting stories regarding the digital economy and use scheduling tools so my tweets appear at the optimum time for my followers, which is between 1pm-4pm – I normally send 5 tweets and 1 LinkedIn share a day. I use Twitter saved searches, Twitter Lists, Google Custom Search and Hootsuite to make this fast and efficient.

After this I monitor trending topics and hashtags to see if I can “newsjack” a relevant trend and share a link to my website – this is a very effective tactic for growing followers and increasing traffic to my website. I normally complete this by 10.00am.

Hootsuite allows you to schedule and analyse your posts

 Then I login to my website, check emails from website visitors, check my SEO, Google Analytics, Adwords and Woorank to make sure my pages and ads are all functioning. A key daily task is monitoring for any changes in the Google, Facebook and Twitter algorithms, these three companies are now the gatekeepers for news and content and any changes they make can have a dramatic effect on content marketing and digital campaigns. I finish this by 10.30.

From 10.30am to 12.00 i do my admin, other business emails, proposals, Skype calls with my associates . In the afternoons I attend meetings or go to the Frontline Club to work.

In the evening I normally do 1-2 hours reading, OSINT deep web research or try out new software/apps. Google only indexes 5% of the Internet so an understanding of information resources on the deep web is absolutely vital, otherwise you may make “fake decisions”.

Amina: The digital sphere is flooded with all kinds of apps and social media channels, if you’re an outsider it’s a bit hard to decide on which one to embrace or ignore. Which 5 platforms would you say are an absolute must for organizations or businesses and why?

Andy: Whilst there are regional and demographic differences, I think the 5 key platforms are;

  • Facebook (Page, Live, analytics, ads, Messenger)
  • Twitter (ads, analytics, Periscope, lists, geo-location search, advanced search)
  • LinkedIn (ads, SlideShare, posts, advanced search – and soon Skype)
  • Hootsuite (social media management/engagement, Hootlet, apps, scheduling)
  • Website (SEO, mobile responsive, AdWords, blog, YouTube, navigation, ecommerce, Skype)

Amina: Let’s take a look at the digital economy. I notice it’s the first thing that pops up on your page. More specifically, we see the question ‘ Are you ready for the digital economy?’ Why is that such an important thing?

Andy: Digital technology is reshaping traditional industry, especially those sectors that rely on direct engagement with consumers (for example, marketing, PR and design) and technological innovation (for example. science and high tech). Education, however, is the sector with the lowest proportion of digital businesses.

Countries like India, Nigeria, Brazil are using digital and mobile to transform their economies.

Digital is ubiquitous. Mobile devices are everywhere and countries like India, Nigeria, Brazil are using digital and mobile to transform their economies. This represents huge opportunities for collaboration, trade and knowledge sharing, organisations that fail to grasp these opportunities will go out of business .
Amina: Finally, what do businesses and organizations need to do to get ready for the digital economy?

Andy: They need to move away from hierarchical structures to self-organising networks. 

Move from hierarchical structures to self-organising networks.

If you want to know more about the Digital Economy follow  Andy Black Associates on Twitter ‪@AndyBlacz ‬. 

You can also access their free Advanced digital toolkit here.

Finally , check out how sales work in the old days versus now. Yes, just look at that for a moment. Or two.