In Conversation: Segametsi Nomsa Seisa (Executive Director, Ethereal Advisory)

After going through an entrepreneurship journey which she describes as having been incredibly hard and lonely, Segametsi decided to use her experience to ensure that no other entrepreneur had to feel like that.

She sought to pass any small amount of knowledge about being an entrepreneur that would allow for any person trying to be a game changer. Now, through her role ad Ethereal Advisory, an advisory firm that supports SMEs in emerging markets to scale with precision, she gets to do exactly that.

In this interview, she takes us through her when and how she caught the tech bug, more details about the work that she does, her thoughts on the Botswana tech ecosystem, and much more!

Please tell us about your professional background

I graduated with an accounting degree and pursued a CFA level one. I then pursued a Business Advisory Professional designation.  In parallel to my academic career, I started work in the financial services industry through the likes of the Botswana Stock Exchange, Ernst & Young, and the Debswana Pension Fund. I then pivoted into Management, Strategy, and Technology Consulting through the likes of Accenture and Deloitte then ultimately pursued my professional career in entrepreneurship, and technology in the SMME Arena. 

Briefly take us through your journey to a career in tech

My journey with technology began at Accenture implementing a system called CA Clarity and subsequently moving on to the implementation of SAP. I owe the intrigue and interest to my late mentor Archie Mabiletsa who was an engineer who understood the power and influence of automation in a growing economy. I was hooked and as I took an interest in SMMEs and Entrepreneurship I saw technology as the only solution to scaling a business.  However, the fear of technology was always a bottleneck to the success of the deployment, and learning how to adapt users into technology became a  challenge that required a solution to accelerating scale but with that came having to learn how people learned and accepted education as a driver to change.  I then ended up in the tech arena having to learn how developers built technology and how people used it in education and so the journey continued but with the core of it always being how we use technology to scale SMMEs. 

What inspired you to pursue a career in tech?

My love of execution and problem-solving allowed me to see tech as a solution to process implementation and again scale.  However, we as individuals are also molded by those who take an interest in our talent so I think my mentor Archie Mabiletsa inspired me and almost demanded excellence from our teams and myself; I also had contributors such as Rapelang Rabana who consistently pushed the envelope for innovation and technology in the start-up space helping me to rise to the occasion. 

I also come from a family of educators,  my grandmother was a critical contributor to the education of many in the communities I grew up in,  her hard work produced teachers, lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc.  As the world evolves and critical skills have to move into the digital era I became interested in creating platforms that would develop skills in the changing world of possible automation, customization, robotics, automation, and AI. On the back of that, I wanted to contribute to the ecosystem that would produce the next revolution of talent.  I also believed and still believe that it was going to be new businesses,  SMMEs, and startups that were going to drive the evolution of technology

Please tell us what your job entails 

My current role entails the deployment of an e-learning platform and e-commerce technology to South African Townships Entrepreneurs/ SMMEs across the country. The Mandate is to educate entrepreneurs using technology as an enabler in order for them to optimize their supply chain and effectively run more efficient businesses that in the immediate term create jobs within the informal economy and therefore solve the problem of unemployment in the country. 

What is your favourite part about the work that you do?

My favourite part of the journey and this work we now do is making the entrepreneurial journey easier for business owners and ultimately seeing them thrive and scale, impacting themselves and the communities they contribute to by providing better service delivery and creating employment that is embracing a digital era.    

On the other hand, what is the most challenging thing about the work you do?

Lol…people and managing change is the most difficult part of the journey in the work we do. 

Technology is somewhat the easier part of the process.  

I think it is important to understand the context in which I mention "People".  In any solution process delivery,  people are broken up into different stakeholders. You have those delivering the technology, you have end users,  you have funders of the technology,  you have government policy, infrastructure, and legislation and you have the battle of commercial viability and scale against impact.  It is almost impossible to make everyone happy.  

It must also be understood that all these contributors need to embrace the change brought by innovation, technology, and solution. What then happens is change brings fear.  Success in this type of landscape is then only brought in by sincere human qualities of stakeholder engagement driven by communication,  understanding, compromise, and compassion and these things are really hard. It is incredibly hard to manage people through such a complex landscape. .

I continuously hold on to Steve Jobs who said " Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have  faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them"

You pivoted from being the founder of a startup to a more behind-the-scenes role. What was the motivation for the pivot and how has the experience been so far?

What an interesting observation! Lol! 

I found my entrepreneurial journey incredibly hard and lonely. It was a journey where I was going against the grain all the time in a limited support structure.  As I went through the journey I thought I would never want anyone to feel the way I felt and if I could ever pass any small amount of knowledge about being an entrepreneur that would allow for any person trying to be a game changer to thrive then I could validate the purpose of my journey and that motivated the pivot to supporting SMMES, Startups, and Founders who I believe will change the world. 

The experience has been difficult but fulfilling. I have learned and seen fortitude and resilience from some of the most amazing founders, CEOs and entrepreneurs of SMMES s as they navigate their businesses in uncertainty and new territory. I would like to believe I have offered support and helped deploy amazing technology and together we have made an impact across the technology start-up ecosystem. I have indeed contributed to the scale and impact I had wanted to see

The majority of your career has been spent in the SA tech scene. Please compare and contrast that and the Botswana ecosystem

I would say the tech scene in Botswana is dominated by the deployment of off-the-shelf technology, predominantly ERP systems versus an entrepreneurial landscape that is entrenched in building its own technology driven by innovative solutions coming from within the internal market. I think as a country Botswana's first point of reference in bringing innovation is to bring solutions from outside versus building in the country. 

South Africa has a completely different approach to technology.  A fair amount of innovation comes from within the country and solutions are built within the country by the people of the country. The country drives initiatives that capacitate the harnessing of talent that produce the solutions, by virtue of that technology is built within the country creating a rapid landscape for the people of the country. This is why you would see more tech entrepreneurs in SA. 

What lessons do you think the Botswana ecosystem can learn from relatively matured ecosystems like SA’s?

South Africa has invested heavily in developing its startup ecosystem. Developing this ecosystem has involved understanding the contribution of startups in solving socio and economic challenges within the country.  Having a holistic view has allowed for collaboration between the private sector and the government with both stakeholders understanding the critical role of the SMME in both innovation and job creation.

In this understanding, collaborative efforts implement better legislative practices, policies, and infrastructure that allows for the scaling of an SMME as well as the development of innovation by entrepreneurs who are supported by the ecosystem.  This fuels creativity and problem-solving. The private sector brings in capital through VC which contributes to creativity enabled by technology because there is liquidity and pipeline in the market. 

As SMME/start-ups grow they see the gap in talent that exists to drive their innovation and solutions in the market and they themselves create systems to develop that talent in order to scale their business which allows for the required engineering talent to grow in the country. 

Botswana has to have a good look at its ability to support and sustain entrepreneurship in the country with its entire ecosystem, if this is tackled we will see technological advancement and growth in tech startups in Botswana. There needs to be more reverence for the SMME. 

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far? 

Contributing and advising to The Theory of Change to build e-learning technology predominately to support previously disadvantaged black students across the USA and SA with the Gates Foundation. To me, this changed the trajectory of many students who would be capacitated with technology to learn. 

What’s something you know now that you wish you knew earlier in your career? 

A job is not always going to fulfill you but a job can be a contributor to who you become along the journey of finding your purpose and in the long term all the experience and lessons you gain along the way make you so skilled and excellent at what you do, and if you learn this early you learn that purpose crosses disciplines. Struggles will shape you for your purpose.

If any, what is the best advice you have received in your career? 

"In anything you do, Walk on water " Archie  Mabiletsa. Show up to your work with intent and with discipline,  work smart, and be consistent. Learn every day and show up, let your work speak for itself. Work with pride and purpose no matter the task. 

What advice can you give to young people who are interested in pursuing a career in tech? 

Do it! The world is evolving and changing, having tech skills is going to make you more versatile!

I also think young people need to invest in developing their cognitive ability and critical thinking skills.  To go into technology you must be interested in solving problems, you must be interested in solving problems that our human-centered and inclusive. If our youth don't work on their high-order thinking and creativity it will be difficult to navigate a career in innovation and technology. In fact if we don't develop our youth in these skills our societies will miss the opportunity to help everyone, including leaders, policy-makers to find ways to evolve and improve our lives. 

Lastly, please share with our readers your contact details in case they want to get in touch with you

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