Kholofelo Moyaba has always been fascinated by the idea of “giving things life”. This fascination is behind his two loves: visual art and technology. As a technology teacher and visual artist, his father modelled both these passions to Kholofelo from a young age. “I learnt a lot from him as we used to build and fix a lot of things ourselves,” says Kholofelo. When he remembered that he used to make greeting cards and sell them for 50c, it gave him the “motivation to use his talents in an entrepreneurial way.” Soon after that realisation Kholofelo formalised his business, Palota, offering graphic design as one of its services. Those were the first steps he took towards marrying his love for visual art and technology.
While at the University of Cape Town he studied a BSc in Engineering, specialising in Electrical and Computer Engineering. During this time he also made it a priority to keep abreast of advances in technology by perusing research literature in his spare time. This voracious appetite for new tech knowledge has stayed with him ever since and is responsible for the venture he will soon be adding to Palota’s stable: Intelligent Mirror.
Teaching computers to see
Intelligent Mirror is a web service that aims to allow online buyers of clothes and other fashion accessories to see how the items would look on them (in real time) before making the purchase. With online shopping becoming increasingly popular, Intelligent Mirror addresses the need for increased interaction with the virtual catalogue. It would, for example, allow you to see how a pair of sunglasses would look on your face – not the model’s – before purchasing it.
The technology that could make our shopping experience that much more satisfying is called machine learning, which in layman’s terms is the training of a computer to discern a pattern by feeding it specific data. In other words, instead of programming a computer to do a certain task with a step by step approach, the computer itself discovers or learns how to achieve the task based on the data given. In Intelligent Mirror’s case Kholofelo taught the computer to “see” by feeding it about 100 000 pictures of different human faces. In time (and presumably after lots of intricate technological instructions from Kholofelo) the computer started recognising the eyes of any person whose image it could detect through its web cam. This type of machine learning is called computer vision.
Intelligent Mirror is still in its prototype phase and Kholefelo is working towards a stable release of the system and cementing a working relationship with an online retailer. Besides marrying his love of the visual dimension with technology, Kholofelo has also made headway in other technological spheres. In 2014 he was involved with the development of the GoMetro App (GoMetro is a tech start-up founded by Justin Coetzee) (read more about that and his growth as a Fellow here). He has also co-founded the technology startup, RadioVybe, which offers you the best of both worlds: social media and radio streaming. Of 723 technology startups from across Africa, RadioVybe was chosen as a finalist for the DEMO Africa 2016 conference that had tech buyers and venture capitalists, among others, in attendance.
Strategic career shifts
With such an impressive list of technological feats (a mere three years after graduating) it’s worth asking: How does he do it? Kholofelo, it turns out, has been very strategic in making career shifts. Each one has been geared towards learning a skill or obtaining knowledge he considered key in developing as an entrepreneur. At the South African Reserve Bank he gained a holistic perspective of the economy and its value chain. He contributed by introducing a mobile development division that developed in-house apps for some of the bank’s business units. He then moved to a much smaller company of not more than 20 employeesThere he learned how people are managed and kept motivated in a small company, especially when the temptation to move to bigger corporate pastures is ever present. In his current job at Britehouse he’s learning the nitty gritty of how a software company is run, especially how to source and sell to clients.
Possibilities for the non-techie
One would be right to assume that given Kholofelo’s passion for technology and the ease with which he stays abreast of this ever-changing field (he does online tech courses by universities like Stanford and reads research outputs of companies like Google for fun) he will be a big player in the industry one day. However, what is surprising is his opinion regarding the every-day entrepreneur’s ability to make it in this industry without an ounce of background in technology. He believes that a non-techie could potentially create a better app for their purpose than an experienced techie. “The thing about tech: no one can really say that they’re an expert and that’s cause things change all the time … You know what your business idea is and you learn the skills to build that small part.” That’s why, Kholofelo explains, “it’s possible for anyone to enter the field.”
Here’s some practical tips for all you aspiring technology entrepreneurs out there.
- Prove your concept. As an entrepreneur your first step would be to check whether your idea holds water by doing market research through surveys. Once there’s a willingness from potential clients to part with their money to obtain your product, you know you’ve got a keeper.
- Teach yourself. The web is full of tutorials and step-by-step guides to create an app for the purpose you want. You’ll have instant access to all the latest advances and it’s often not even so difficult – you can learn to code in a week!
- Develop a prototype. Once you have a prototype you can take it through its paces and discover any glitches. These difficulties can then be ironed out by an experienced developer.
Next on Kholofelo’s horizon would be pursuing his Master’s and then Doctoral degrees in machine learning. In the next five to ten years he also sees himself “running a technology initiative or company that empowers people in an indirect way.” We have every confidence that Kholofelo is well on his way to achieving just that.