Murray Legg: Work hard, dream big

Murray Legg is an entrepreneurial thinker with a track record of growing innovative technology businesses. He holds a PhD in biomedical engineering, has four years of experience as a corporate financier and co-founded a business that develops polymer heart valve replacements, SA Cardiosynthetics; and an influencer-marketing platform and digital agency, Webfluential.

SA Cardiosynthetics is a venture business looking to develop, and one day commercialise, a polymer heart valve replacement designed for emerging market patients. Rheumatic Fever causes valve disease in over 500 000 people annually that goes untreated because no product is currently available. Murray and his surgeon co-founder are working on addressing this need.

Webfluential addresses market demand for access to digital influencers and their audiences so that brands and consumers can interact on the web. The platform has grown globally, providing access to brands for over 10 000 influencers, with a combined digital audience of over 350 million people.

We asked Murray about African unicorns, Silicon Valley and the digital revolution.

A unicorn is a start-up worth $1-billion or more. What is your take on the potential for African unicorns?

Africa contributes about 2.4% of the global GDP. So as a player on the global stage, any business starting in Africa will reach a ceiling in terms of its capabilities on our continent. However, there’s nothing stopping applicability of locally grown businesses expanding into countries outside of Africa – the key is being able to understand what the world needs, and address that need appropriately and at scale.

We’ve seen SAB recently in a trillion rand deal, never mind a billion. Yet that business was founded 120 years ago. Reaching a billion dollar valuation for the sake of it shouldn’t be a goal, in my opinion. There are some great businesses that are worth a fraction of that but provide all the right experience to local entrepreneurs in learning about their product-market fit, working with technology and people, and not worrying about valuation.

I think there’s potential for an increasing number of African unicorns in the next five years, but it will be as a result of funding rounds where investors are happy to pay around R150-million for 1% of a company – a unicorn – likely to show revenues in a year of R3-billion.

You were one of 22 South African entrepreneurs sent by Investec and En-Novate to Silicon Valley in the US. What were your four key takeaways from that experience?

Seeing and speaking to the entrepreneurs there – the daily challenges that they face and the small wins that they celebrate, their degree of ambition and the skills and grit of their teams – all make me believe that we as South Africans have what it takes to make brilliant businesses ourselves. So much content and hype exists around the “untouchable” Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, but if we really get our minds focused we’re not far behind them.

Something the entrepreneurs there take very seriously is the feedback from their customers on how they use their products. Empathy as a part of the creative product process is crucial to finding product-market fit. Assuming that your product will be adopted the world over without asking a lot of questions from the people who use it, is a fatal flaw.

So much effort is put into believing in their mission as entrepreneurs. People really believe that they can put a dent in the universe – even in their daily tasks – and they live and breathe their company mission. We met with Google Maps team – the team consists of 100 people spread across the whole world. But they’ve been able to do all of what Maps offers (including the project of Streetview and public transport system integration) because each one of those 100 people believes that their work makes the world a better place.

They set 10X goals. Whether it’s user numbers, page views, revenue or profits, each company we spoke to have a target of what they were working on to scale 10 times within a year. Many have electronic dashboards in the office to track these, how they’re broken down into one-week metrics and if they’re ahead or behind.

Please speak about the opportunities afforded by the digital revolution and how technology is changing the business landscape, using Webfluential as an example of a success story.

If there’s a book to read that looks into the future and maps out the possibilities of the impact of technology, it’s The Rise of the Robots, by Martin Ford. In it, he outlines how it’s more the white-collared worker, than the blue-collared, that should be concerned about the effect of technology.

Artificial Intelligence is going to be the biggest theme of our generation, and it will be used in all sorts of interesting ways that we haven’t even considered. I attended a talk by the head of IBM Watson, where he gave an example of the use of AI in cancer research. They’ve fed in all the literature on cancer, as well as patient files from around the world, and the insights about early detection and treatment are just remarkable.

Google recently handed over the running of all its data centres to Deep Mind, its AI engine. Within the first month, the technology saved 15% of the energy bill.

In our influencer marketplace called Webfluential, we’re excited about all the new earnings channels we’ve created for people and the commensurate value we’ve created for brands that now have an additional method to reach an audience. On our platform, we’ve been able to reduce the degrees of separation from micro-publisher or celebrity to a brand, and automate the performance tracking of digital content.

It’s great for us to see the medium of communication changing from a uni-directional “spray and pray” approach of television and radio to an intimate conversation on platforms you heard about less than a year ago (like Snapchat).

If you were to advise anyone on starting up his or her own business, would you add anything to “work hard, dream big”?

Maintaining a great work ethic and chasing your dreams I think could be a reasonable motto for someone in their life; it’s certainly mine. People tend to get caught up in the human race, believing that they can only go Faster, Higher, Stronger, and sometimes take for granted that the challenge in work is the reward, not the financial or fame aspects that often come with it.

Through our lifetime the disruptive effect of technology will rip apart normality, as we know it. People will be replaced, companies will fall from grace, and careers will become obsolete. If I had more advice to give, it would be being humble, because sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind, and you’ll always either need a favour or have reason to deliver on one.