Rowan Spazzoli

Strategist. Lecturer. Consultant

Role Models: Dale Williams

Today’s blog post is about a role model of mine that I am very close to, Dale Williams. I’ve interacted with Dale in so many different ways. In 2014 I was a student in his course. In 2015 I tutored on the course and he was my boss. In 2016 I was his assistant on the course. And more recently we have become colleagues.

In addition to being my lecturer, boss and colleague, Dale has been a mentor, a coach, an angel investor, a consultant and, most importantly, a great friend.

I could give 50 reasons as to why he is a role model to me. But I’m going to settle on the 4 most important ones. His lean philosophy, his strategic insights, his humility and the support he shows… for everyone.

Reason 1: Lean Philosophy

Dale operates on a lean philosophy with most of the things he does, which are loosely based on the “Lean Startup” principles.  This means that current work and new ideas are built on learning feedback loops (e.g. Kolbe learning styles) that allow them to be continuously improved.

The loops consist of roughly four components. The first is abstract conceptualization, which is having an idea of how things are currently done or could be done. The second is active experimentation, where the idea is tested before going our. The third is concrete experience, which involves implementing the idea. And finally, reflective observation, where the impact is analysed.

This results in being able to quickly and effectively implement new ideas. In the time I’ve known him, we have been able to improve the course in at least 20 different ways, mostly because of the rapidness of his lean philosophy.

Reason 2: Strategic insights

Dale uses a combination of a wide knowledge and a natural instinct to generate some of the most interesting and impactful strategic insights. He uses this when implementing his own ideas or when helping people with theirs. And I’ve been fortunate enough to observe and receive these insights.

For example, we once had a situation where a group of students were unhappy with an aspect of the course. The normal reaction from a lecturer here would be to push back or ignore the students. Instead, while he was gathering information about the issue he took time out to reflect. And in the space of just a few minutes, he decided on a path that was both unconventional and lead to the students being happy with the outcome.

Reason 3: Humility

Despite helping so many people, from students to executives at big banks, Dale always remains humble. He rarely name drops or sings his own praises. Instead, he highlights the work of others that have worked with him, and is quick to acknowledge their contributions.

Reason 4:  Mentoring and Cheerleading

Finally (and most importantly), Dale is one of the greatest supporters/fans of people and their ideas that I have ever come across. As mentioned in my blog yesterday, he has inspired and taught me how to do the same.

Over the last four years I have watched him support many students and business leaders in their projects. He sits on the board of a number of student startups. He has given funding and invested in ideas and businesses (including my own). He consults and supports whenever he is able to (for free). And he will never hesitate to put you in touch with someone who could help you further

Dale is an incredible mentor, leader and friend. He is connected to the people around him, thinks critically and creatively, supports people and is humble.

And I can’t wait to continue learning from him.

Image is from Dale speaking at an event organised by a student last year

Blog: 340/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day:ID vs Mako - Smoke Filled Room

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Being a cheerleader

Today I got excellent news from some of the people I have been a cheerleader to this year. Two students who struggled through their post grad in accounting messaged me to say they passed, and that they’d be applying for masters degrees next year.

And a student that I wrote a reference letter for and mentored got accepted into one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world. 

And one of the entrepreneurs I mentor was featured in a magazine and showed up all over social media.

I love hearing and seeing people flourish like this. I love celebrating their achievements. And I love standing on the sidelines and being the biggest cheerleader I can be.

Sometimes we’re all too concerned about our own successes and forget that we can be a function of someone else’s success. We can support people, cheer them on and celebrate when they cross the finish line.

So congratulations to the four incredible people that achieved great things today. I will continue to cheer for you and can’t wait for the epic things you’ll all do in your lives.

P.s I haven’t forgotten about the Role Models series…. in fact, tomorrow’s role model is who has shown me the value of cheerleading. Tune in to see who this person is 🙂

Image is of a butterfly I saw this morning that had just emerged from it’s cocoon. The symbolism to this blog post was too great to not upload the picture

Blog: 339/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Vanessa Carlton - A thousand miles

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Chasing dreams. Sparks flying.

Today I got to spend the whole day with sparks. 

The morning was spent with Rejane and David from the Bulungula Incubator. They spoke to the Strategic Thinking class and told us their journey from being in the same class in 1996 to leading one of the most phenomenal development organisations I’ve ever seen. I’m not joking when I say that I was so excited and inspired that I nearly passed out.

Lunch was spent with my colleagues/mentors Dale and Ali. We spoke about education and entrepreneurship and how we’re going to develop new ways to catalyze students into high impact careers. 

The afternoon was spent with my team from the course, and went through the top startup ideas in the class. Their theme was to focus on waste management businesses and in the end we settled on 6 phenomenal projects.

The evening was spent at the year end presentations of the Phaphama entrepreneurs with the students that had helped them throughout the year. I left the event beaming with pride, and overwhelmed with the incredible work that has been done.

Today was magic. 

And I cannot believe how fortunate I am to spend time with all these incredible sparks

Image is of students waiting to chat to Rejane and Dave after their guest lecture

Blog: 331/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Goodluck - Chasing Dreams

Where do I start?

The question I get asked most often by students wanting to build a business, create a blog or embark on a new career path is:

Where do I start?

Any one of these things are daunting because of their enormity. A business can take a years to build. A blog involves putting your thoughts out into the world. And a new career path can be terrifying because you’ll be influenced by your choices for the rest of your life.

Looking at this, it’s easy to freeze up. There is no definitive starting point (or end point). There are no orientation classes. There is no one to really guide you.

I see two ways to break this deadlock. And they might come as a surprise:

  1. Don’t think too much about it. Don’t plan. This sounds counter intuitive, but trying to plan every move keeps you in a paralyzed state. Plus, because of the uncertainty your planning is likely to be wrong anyway. With my first business, we spent 8 months planning, and when we eventually launched we realized that our planning had been futile
  2. Do it right now. Thinking of a new career? Apply for a job in that career right now. Thinking of starting a logistics business? Go find a customer. Thinking of blogging? Write a post now and share it somewhere. You don’t need a website or to register your company. Do it now

As you do these two things you will begin to discover the areas you need to work on, the things you need to do. You’ll begin doing them. You’ll improve. You’ll build your dream.

And then you won’t even be thinking about the start anymore, because you’ll be right in it. 

What are you waiting for?

Image is from the day I decided to start the blog, my birthday last year 🙂

Blog: 300/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey

Song of the day: Seven Lions ft Fiora - Start again

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Sprinting (and how to validate ideas)

When we come up with an idea, be it for a project, a business or research, we often will dwell on it for weeks or months.

We’ll spent time trying to think or plan every detail of it. And then, when we try and see if our idea works, it often fails leaving us with months of time spent on a single learning.

But there’s a great technique for testing ideas called “design sprints”, with my favourite being the one from Google Ventures. 

The idea is to spent 5 days on the idea. Monday to Friday. And at the end of the week, you pursue it further or you kill it.

If you want to read up on how the design sprint works, visit the site here

Don’t waste time thinking about your ideas. Work them out, test them, and bring them to life or set them free

Image is from the prom last week 🙂

Blog: 298/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey

Song of the day: Ding Dong Thing - Felix Laband

The Friday Shoutout: Pineapple

Warning: this is a blog about an amazing experience with an insurance company🍍. I know that sounds weird, but bear with me. You’re about to be blown away

On Tuesday this week my phone fell off the table and the screen smashed. It looked like this:


Not such a happy looking phone. I took it down to the WeFix at the Waterfront at about 1pm and they had it fixed by 4pm. And the replacement cost was R750

When I got home, I opened up my Pineapple app. And within 15min I had already been paid my insurance claim. It blew my mind.

What’s a Pineapple?

So for context, Pineapple is a tech startup that’s aimed at disrupting the insurance industry. I’ve been following them online for about a year, but got much closer to the team when my brother joined the company as a programmer last month. And a friend of mine, Sizwe, is also working there.

Pineapple’s story goes like this:

The Pineapple founding team (Matthew Elan Smith, Ndabenhle Junior Ngulube and Marnus van Heerden) got together as part of an innovation competition run by Hannover-Re, during 2016, in an effort to find disruptive models to the reinsurance/insurance space. The competition ran for 6 months and it was out of our little innovation spot in Rosebank, Johannesburg where the Pineapple story begins.

They set out to reinvent the way insurance is done with an entirely new business model that aims to achieve affinity, fairness and simplicity to decrease costs, cap profits and deter fraud in an effort to create more value from an insurance policy than the traditional model.

(For more of the story, visit the Pineapple site)

So they’ve recently started doing demos of their app and I’ve been fortunate enough to be one of the testers. And it has been awesome.

To set up insurance on any item (I’ve insured my headphones, iPad and iPhone), all you do is take a picture of it and state the insured amount. The app detects what kind of device it is, gives you an insurance quote and then BAM… you’re covered.

And the insurance claim process was just as simple. I uploaded a picture of my phone on the app, sent a voice note to describe what happened, ticked a few boxes and next thing I’d been paid out.

The entire process of setting up my insurance was nearly instant. And my claim was paid out in 15min without having to sit on the phone once.


I also now hold the title of first claimant on the Pineapple system. Which is like being the best clumsy kid. It’s a title I hold with pride.

I don’t think I’ve ever said this, but I really really love my insurance. And this team are going to completely revolutionize the industry.

The app is set to launch in the next few months, and I’ll be sure to write a blog about it when it does. For now, you can follow them on social media (Facebook, Instagram)

Thanks again to Pineapple, you’re all so awesome 🍍


Image is of the team, taken on my brother’s first day 🙂

Song of the day: Freedom - Akon
Blog: 214/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here


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The Friday Shoutout: FemWash

Today’s shout out goes to an amazing team of social entrepreneurs who are representing UCT at Oxford this weekend. They’ve done research and development work on a menstrual health and sanitation product for low-income African women, called FemWash.

They’re travelling to Oxford for the Map the System competition, which is for social entrepreneurs looking to make systemic changes in society. Myself and two friends were finalists in the competition last year and were given the opportunity to mentor FemWash before they headed out to England

A bit more background on Nyasha and FemWash can be found on recent Mail and Guardian article, which reads:

The multiskilled Nyasha Chimhandamba began her studies in Genetics and Biochemistry, earning an Honours Degree in Molecular and Cell Biology, and is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Inclusive Innovation at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.

This graduate entrepreneur is the co-owner of FemWash, a feminine hygiene management product which she co-developed.

If you’d like to follow the competition, watch the live-stream or attend the final (if you’re in Oxford this weekend) you can do so on the Skoll Facebook page.

Congratulations to Nyasha, Ru and the FemWash team. We’re super proud of you and wish you the best of luck! 😀

Image is of Nyasha and I after her last practice pitch on Wednesday

Blog: 207/354

Song of the day: Muse-Starlight


Right where I want to be

I’m absolutely exhausted and have been struggling to find the energy to write my blog post. So instead of writing anything insightful, I’d just like to take a moment to appreciate where I am right now with regards to my work/professional life.

Today I worked in four areas:

  • Behavioural economics and psychology
  • Teaching strategic thinking (applied to development outcomes)
  • Market analysis and strategy formulation for green economic development in Cape Town
  • Social entrepreneurship

The first was done in relation to my thesis. Despite it not being quite finished yet, some of my preliminary results will be presented at a conference on Monday.

The second was done at UCT when we met to plan the exam for this semester. It’s going to be an incredibly interesting exam.

The third was in relation to my consulting work on my green economic development project.

The last area was assisting with the submissions for the Oxford “Map the System” challenge. I’m the organizer of the South African leg of the competition.

I honestly am in awe of how fortunate I am to be working on all these exciting projects at the same time. I’m exactly where I want to be and I couldn’t be happier 🙂

Image was taken at Babylonstoren a few weeks ago 🙂

Song of the day: The Quiet - Roald Velden
Blog 159/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here