Born in Addis Ababa, Yoseph lived in Dessie and Gondar before moving to Canada with his family in 1983 when his father got a scholarship to study at McGill University. Yosef finished high school in Montreal and moved to Toronto to attend Simon Fraser University on an athletic scholarship. (He has represented Canada in several international competitions, including the World Cross-Country Running Championships in 1994. In 1993, he was ranked first in Canada for Cross-Country running.)
After graduation in 1996, he stopped running professionally and started to take on the business world. His first venture was opening his own Internet consulting firm, Superhighway Consulting, and in 1996 he launched NetNation Communications.
NetNation is one of them nifty web hosting, domain registering, E-Commerce solution finding companies that is just so…terminally cool. Oh, yeah. And if anyone can solve the mystery behind SELEDA being a "dot com" it will be the people at NetNation. They do, after all, dabble as "Application Service and Infrastructure Providers (ASP/AIP)" so, you know, that means they are close personal friends of the Almighty.
In a moment of weakness, Yosef agreed to be a "Thirty Questions" subject, despite, we are so sure, strenuous advice against it from NetNation's PR mavens. If the stock rises, we take all the credit, if it falls… well, yelenibetim.
|1) How can you spot a great pre-IPO company?
||I look for MPR: Management, Product and Revenue. I believe that Management is the most important determinant of a great pre-IPO company for many reasons. First of all, a great Management team would not, under normal circumstances, back a "bad" company because it would ruin their reputation and would simply be a waste of time. Good management can also generate partnerships with influential companies as well as gain acceptance among brokerages and investment banks. A company can have a great product and great revenue, but could have no recognition in the marketplace without these important partnerships and links to investment banks. In order to fend off competition and capture significant market share, the product has to be compelling and revenue has to grow rapidly quarter to quarter. These days the market expects quarterly growth in excess of 25% (which is more than 140% annually).|
|2)With so many dot com millionaires, is this generation forever marred by the stigma of being money-hungry, giddy stock market checking weasels?
||In the 80's the perception (and maybe the reality) was that greedy stock brokers and promoters made a killing at the expense of the average investor, without giving back to the community. The dot com millionaires have proven that socialist idealism could co-exist with capitalism. Everyday the press is writing about another multi-million dollar donation of an Internet entrepreneur to a charity. The biggest example being Bill Gates, having given over $10 Billion in the last few years. There have been many other donations in excess of $100 Million from individuals. I believe that today's millionaires are giving more because they are younger and more idealistic. In some ways, the money came easier than in the old days when people had to wait for 20-30 years before amassing such wealth.|
|3) Between you and us, do "dot net" people hate them "dot com" weenies?
||I heard on CNN that a group of radical "dot net" rebels killed a bunch of "dot com" weenies :-)|
|4) Is the Internet a Utopia?
|5) How many people work at NetNation and do you make them call you Kibur Ato Gashe Kibur?
||There are currently 105 people working at NetNation, of which about 9 are abeshas. We have a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere. 90% of the employees are shareholders and some of the early ones have a significant stake in the company. We live by the motto "No one is more equal than others" (therefore they all call me "Joseph").|
|6) How long do you think before this boom in technology stocks comes crashing down?
||Well, the markets crashed badly in March, and now it is building back up slowly. This is normal and is due to happen periodically. This is a good cleansing period for the market. Real companies with real products and revenue will survive. Those with nothing but dreams and promises will disappear. The days of raising millions by simply having a "web company" are over.|
|7) What has been the greatest stride in technology in Ethiopia so far?
||I only been to Ethiopia once in the last 17 years, therefore my knowledge about Ethiopia is very outdated. But I do plan to go there more often and hopefully find opportunities in which I can contribute in a positive manner. I am obviously interested in helping in the areas of Internet technology, and Athletics (we have to carry forward the legacy left by our great athletes such as Abebe Bikila).|
|8) Can you program your VCR?
||I have to admit that I never programmed a VCR before, but I would hope that I will be able to figure it out if the need arises :-).|
|9) What will you do when you retire at 30?
||I don't remember saying I want to retire at 30, but that sounds good. I think retirement means you stop doing what you don't like and start doing what you enjoy. Since I do enjoy what I am doing, I consider myself retired. If I do decide to take a break from entrepreneurship, I would like to travel, especially to Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. I would also be looking into ways I can help the people of Ethiopia with my limited capacity. |
|10) What is your take on the Ethiopian Cyber community?
||My commitment to work doesn't leave me much time to explore subjects outside of the business that I am involved in. I do however read certain Ethiopian oriented web publications such as Addis Tribune and Seleda.com (of course :-).|
|11) What keeps you so driven that you keep going after new markets instead of buying up a cute l'il island and sipping coconut drinks all day?
||People do crazy things when they have too much time on their hand, therefore, the safest way to keep out of trouble is to keep busy :-). Not to mention that I don't have enough money to buy an island . |
|12) You have made a crucial contribution to the expansion of the Ethiopian presence on the web by hosting a number of sites for free on NetNation. How many such sites do you host now and how has your effort measured up to your expectations?
||We have many companies that either get their site for free or at a reduced rate (in return for a banner on their website). Most of these sites are related to either Athletics or Ethiopia. The sites from Ethiopia have gained significant viewership and exposure as a result of their web presence, and they have inspired many other companies in Ethiopia to consider creating a web presence. I am happy that these contributions are making a positive and meaningful impact.|
|13) In one interview (on Addis Tribune in November 1997), you mention how impressed you were with the poor in Ethiopia giving to those poorer. Recent observations of the Addis Abeba crowd do not show a similar generosity among the conspicuously consuming rich (present company excepted, of course). How can we encourage the growth of philanthropy among the Ethiopian well-to-do?
||I always believed that people have to help themselves before they can help others. For Ethiopians living abroad it means working very hard and diligently so as to secure some level of personal success upon which future philanthropic gestures can be based on. It is also important to expose and inform the people about the generous giving of "well-to-do" Ethiopians. This will inspire others to do the same. Contributions don't always have to be financial. Sometimes volunteering your time can be a very effective and important contribution. I know of many personal associates who have contributed their time and made big differences in Ethiopia.|
|14) Have you noticed the information revolution having any tangible impact on Ethiopia so far (socially, economically, politically?) And are you playing a part in that revolution?
||Again, since I lived most of my life in Canada, I don't have an informed answer to this question.|
|15) What keeps you connected to Ethiopia? You mentioned you want to go back. What would you like to do there?
||Although I am a naturalized (and proud) Canadian, I have not forgotten my roots in Ethiopia. I plan to visit regularly and maybe set up a business. There is also the possibility of relocating permanently. At this time, I have not made any concrete plans.|
|16) What does one buy for the neTib.com gal/guy who has everything?
||A sense of humor (in the form of a Joke Book).|
|17) When you surf the Net, what are your favorite sites (besides seleda.com, of course)?
||News.com for general technology news; bbc.co.uk and addistribune.com for Ethiopian related news; Yahoo!finance for financial information; ask.com to ask any questions about any subject, and goto.com for general search.|
|18) What's the one best advice you can give a young aspiring entrepreneur? And what fuels the incredible entrepreneurship among the young Ethiopian cyber-elite?
||I wish there were one simple "best advice". But, if I had to choose one, the best advice I can give to a would-be entrepreneur is to do what you enjoy doing. It could take a long time to see success, and sometimes it may never come. Therefore, you don't want to waste years of your life in something you don't enjoy.|
|19) What do you invest your cash in?...er...while we're on the subject, how much ARE you worth?
||Currently most of my worth is on paper, more specifically in the form of shares of NetNation, which is a publicly traded company on NASDAQ. I own 4.5 Million shares of NetNation (which is public information). Depending on the share price of NetNation, my paper worth had varied between $18M and $80M in the last 6 months. |
|20) What has been your greatest disappointment in the business world?
||I know that many people experience a variety of disappointments which can leave bitter taste in their mouth about business. In my case, my experience has been largely positive. I am very thankful for my good fortune.|
|21) Have you ever taken a pilgrimage with teenage mistresses to mountaintop retreats in search of inspiration?
||No. I get my inspiration from long runs and strenuous hiking trips :-).|
|22) What charities are you involved in?
||Currently the charities that I have been involved are local and related to Athletics. I do plan to participate in Ethiopian related charities in the near future. At this time my focus is to make sure that I succeed in the businesses that I am involved in.|
|23) On a scale of 0-10, (0=not even close; 10=yessir!) rate how close the following places are to the atmosphere at NetNation…
a) a French brothel
c) Jack and Jill
d) a palama fit-le-fit yalč lukwanda bet
e) a Nike factory in Thailand f) Addis Sheraton
g) NASA headquarters before a launch
h) the Oval office –that private little room, er… way in the back
i) a mengist mesria bet complete with a bored middle age woman perched behind a bullet proof window instructing you to go get signatures from her colleagues at windows 1, 7, 12, 79, and 16 before talking to her again
j) a public library
k) the big pool at Sodere
l) a smoky zigubn smack in the middle of Senga Tera
|a)French brothel: 0 |
c)Jack and Jill: ? (no Jack and Jill in Canada)
d)a palama fit-le-fit yalč lukwanda bet: ??(never been there)
e) a Nike factory in Thailand: 0
f)Addis Sheraton: 5
g)NASA headquarters before a launch: 5… I presume this means very nervous people working away…
h)the Oval office –that private little room, er… way in the back: 0
i)a mengist mesria bet complete with a bored middle age woman perched behind a bullet proof window instructing you to go get signatures from her colleagues at windows 1, 7, 12, 79, and 16 before talking to her again: 1
j) a public library: 7
k)the big pool at Sodere: I never been there.
l)a smoky zigubn smack in the middle of Senga Tera: 0
|24) What was the most painful crime you committed against your pride to get someone to invest in NetNation?
||It took a long time to raise investment for NetNation mainly because Internet stocks fell out of favor in 1996 and 1997. Being in Vancouver, Canada did not help either. Most US venture capital firms don't like investing in companies outside of the United States. Despite the lack of interest from investors, we did not take any short cuts. We focused on the growth of the business with the limited funds we had, and kept on trying to raise funds. Finally, in 1999 we found a group who believed in what we had, and they helped us become a publicly traded company. |
|25) What's the best way to fire someone?
||Get someone else to do it :-). Firing someone is the most awful thing I had to do in business. It also requires proper care and professionalism. In NetNation we have professionals in the Human Resources department who deal with such issues.|
|26) What kind of challenges do you envision tackling when you are in your mid fifties?
||25-30 years from now is a very long time to think about. I don't even know what I will be doing in 5 years :-). Hopefully by then, scientist would have figured out how to make people live forever, prevent famine, and cure all diseases.|
|27) What do you think about when you run marathons?
||I have not run a marathon yet. The longest I've ever run in one session is 30KM (18.5 Miles). During long runs, I usually think about solutions to business problems that I faced at work. I find that my mind is a lot more creative and effective while running. Competition is a lot more painful. The 10KM race (which is 25 laps) is the most painful one. After about 5 laps, I am usually asking my self why in the world would I go through this kind of punishment. But at the end of the race, the reward is clearly worth the effort.|
|28) Is Bill Gates a monopolistic dork and Microsoft Corp a two-bit byte peddler? Should it be broken up?
||I think the DOJ should keep an eye on Microsoft and other monopolies, and occasionally impose fines or other restrictions to prevent abuse and keep a healthy competition among the players. I don't believe that breaking Microsoft apart is a good idea. I believe that if it weren't for Microsoft, we would not have consistent computing standards. Instead everyone would be running a number of incompatible applications, which will cause inefficiency and probably slow down innovation. There is no question that Microsoft has abused its monopoly power, but the punishment has to fit the crime, and in this case it doesn't seem to do so.|
|29) Thank you for saying that you read SELEDA every once in a while. But, is it true that you once spent a night drinking areqé and soybean milk with one of the editors?
||I do read SELEDA once in a while but no, I never did such a thing with your editor :-)|
|30) If SELEDA were on the market, how much would you pay for it?
||At least 100 Million USD.