Urbian Starts Its Next Chapter, Urbian 3.0

Urbian's founder and managing partner, Anton Moulder, explains how Urbian is pivoting and why now.

Anton Moulder, Managing PartnerPosted September 20, 2020 in News

Urbian has been in business for 12 years this year. 6 years ago we pivoted and now 6 years later we're pivoting again.

The first time we pivoted Urbian it was to get out of the world of advertising.

This second pivot is to get out of serving a certain market.

So let's begin...

Firstly it needs to be said that Urbian has produced some amazing work in partnership with some of the largest brands and start-ups across Africa and the world on ambitious projects that have achieved great results. There is no question in my mind that this experience has turned us into the specialists we are today all the while making our company and those that work here a very decent living.

However, it's times like these that I am shocked at how much I feel we are significantly missing the mark and by a long shot. I also can't believe it's taken this long for me to arrive at this revelation. Let me explain where this is coming from.

👆 Me walking on the beach when the realisation hit Me walking on the beach when the realisation hit

The revelation is that for the last 12 years, like so many others, we have been guilty of looking to the 1st world for tech trends, strategies, design ideas and trying to force-fit their strategies into our South African context.

That stops today. Here is why...

The Epiphany

Cutting and pasting ideas from the developed world (Europe and America) into a developing world context (South Africa and Africa) is never going to achieve the same results, ever.

90% of the population of 1st world countries are regarded as rich in global income terms (high up the Maslow's hierarchy of needs) leaving 10% of the population struggling to make ends meet (lower down the Maslow's hierarchy). South Africa, Africa, Brazil and India, etc. are the exact opposite of that. Maslows Triangle Now, let me be clear, it is perfectly reasonable to have a business in a developing country aimed at the top 10-20% '1st world' consumers in SA and I have no judgement on that. Many people have decent businesses doing just that (us being one of them). For us, it is too niche. It is no longer exciting for us to wake up everyday to help companies launch products and services that solve a small group of their consumers 1st world problems. With everything that has happened in this year we are far more inspired to create things that have a significant impact on the lives of tens of thousands if not millions of people.

Here are a few covid-19 related stats that have further fueled our need to evolve

  • The restaurant industry has lost over 400,000 jobs in the first weeks of lock-down.
  • Going into lock-down South Africa was already in a technical recession.
  • The economy was downgraded by Moody’s to ‘junk status’.
  • We are mimicking all the signs of what statisticians call a depression.

    • When America was going through what they named ‘the great depression’ their unemployment rate was 24%. Stats SA recently reported that SA has a 30.1% unemployment rate, many actually say it's closer to the 50% mark.
    • Global studies show that we have the most unequal society according to the genie coefficient.
  • According to credible sources 55% of South Africans live on R1,000 a month. People Masks So in 1999 Mandela ended his historic presidency, which brought huge change to South Africa and made us a true democracy. 21 years later, how has our country benefited as a whole from that legacy?

    We are still very much a first world country in a 3rd world context. Most are fighting their way to that 1st world life and many are not getting there. And this is where we can make change. Helping people access products and services and thereby creating a larger middle class. Reducing that gap between the very rich and very poor.

While this subject, especially in our country, is certainly going to bring up conversations of race. To be clear, I am less focussed on how to solve racial divides but more focussed on economic equality to quote Nelson Mandela:

"...Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign..." — Nelson Mandela


We all have to comply with South Africa's BEE laws which are put in place to deal with this. We all know that many companies have structured themselves to work within this regulatory framework more from an adherence point of view so they can continue business unaffected. We want to do more than just comply with BEE regulation so we can stay in business. We actually want to change the work we do, not just how we do it and who we use to do it.

What we need to get right

We have to learn empathy. So at Urbian, from now on we are going to make a huge effort to see the world through the eyes of most of our country. We recognise that in many instances this is not something that will come naturally to many that work here because we don't relate. Nonetheless we need to get used to seeing through the eyes of people that are not like us. We are already looking at ways at how we can improve our market research, how we gather insights and how we put teams together that better reflect the people our work is trying to reach.

We have already had a few wonderful stories like this at Urbian in the past, one specific story comes to mind invloving a developer in Urbian called Enricko. Read Enricko's story. We need more stories like this, many many more.

What this means for Urbian moving forward

From now on we are going to be primarily working on digital products and services that are aimed at reaching the 80% of our country. We will be sharing more over the coming weeks and months as to the specifics of how we plan to roll this out across our business and how this may efect some of our clients.

From today Urbian's north star mission statement is about how we can take our ability of being able to execute world class digital products & services and aim it at a developing world audience.

Steps we are taking in the right direction:

  • We launched a new Urbian website which we will be continually updating with our new company vision statement, updated service offerings and work we are busy with that align to the mission.
  • We are going to be purposefully giving more prominence to the work we show and promote. It must be clear by browsing our website the kind of work we do and what we stand for.
  • In order to better infuse this into our company culture we are going to create an internship program aimed at finding, training and creating employment for those that have not come from a 1st world privileged background. The more we can expose ourselves to the challenges of those in the developing world the more likely we are to create digital products and services that can really impact their lives.
  • We are going to start a journey of working with each of our clients to look at strategies and buisiness models where we can expand their reach whether repurposing existing products or services, creating new ones or exploring new channels of delivery.

I'm really looking forward to this next chapter. I see a huge amount of potential for growth for us and our client partners as well as a deeper sense of personal fulfillment knowing that the work we do everyday is making an impact on the lives of people that need it most.

If any of this resonates with you and are looking to reach more customers that fall into this African 80%, book a session with us to discuss how we can help you deliver products and services for this new normal: urbian.co.za/experienceurbian or email us at: futureafrica@urbian.co.za


Anton Moulder

Managing Partner at Urbian

Anton advises senior executive teams on digital strategy and product innovation.