Join us as we chat to Nona CEO, investor and blockchain enthusiast, Mike Scott, and get into how he feels about Nona’s growing success and what it’s like to be in the emerging tech space in SA.
If you’re an EO member, a blockchain enthusiast or an avid mountain biker, you might very well have crossed paths with our to-the-point but charismatic leader, Mike Scott — a man known for his quick thinking, whimsical sense of humour and his obsessive nature. A type-A personality if ever there was one, Mike is an achiever, with a soft spot for his family and a genuine obsession with the potential of things. So, it’s only fitting that his entrepreneural nature and talent for seeing the promise in others, lead him to Co-Found Nona in 2012.
Mike, when you first started out with Nona — Did you ever expect that you’d be leading a team of 30+ devs in a tech landscape beyond Web 2.0.?
Absolutely not. When we started Nona, I saw it as an opportunity to service my existing clients with basic web development. The business was a tech infrastructure services business, so this made sense as a auxiliary service. That’s what I thought this would be but, within a few years, Nona had overtaken the original business and had become my focus. It’s still amazing to me that we’re now at the forefront of a lot of really exciting tech, coming from very humble beginnings, building entry-level websites. It really has been quite a journey.
So, how have you managed to navigate these waters, as an individual and as part of a leadership team?
Often times it wasn’t glamourous. There’s a common misconception that building a business is all fun and rewarding but it’s generally about making difficult decisions without enough information, at first, and navigating strong and complex personalities — mine included.
Something that we all share is our insatiable need for information, which has really helped us. I aim to read a book a week, and probably ten other sources of information, whether its an article or a podcast. This learning culture has helped us massively. In every potential crisis or sticking point, we have used our collective knowledge and experience, and turned to knowledge sources to learn, and through this veracious knowledge acquisition, we’ve found answers. I also have a very strong mentor network which has played an integral role in our progress and something I will always be very grateful for.
Our shared obsession towards experimenting all the time and learning from our mistakes quickly, and then experimenting again, has helped. I’m very proud of how quick we are to change and say “this worked” or “that didn’t work”. Something we’re still figuring out is the softer side of this and how best to communicate this hyper experimental approach. We try to learn more through every decision we make and continuously work to eradicate ego-driven decision-making. I often ask myself “Am I holding onto this idea for the right reasons?” That is one of the most difficult things in a leadership structure, also because of the type of personalities that leadership roles attract. We have to continually be challenged and be able to admit when we’re wrong.
Another important thing is that all of the good times I’ve experienced career-wise have been coupled with good health and exercise. I really can’t overplay the importance of that.
You’ve often said that you embrace this idea of service leadership. What does that mean for you and how do you think that can benefit Nona or any business?
Service leadership is essential if we want to bring the best out in people and I believe in creating an environment in which people have got the best chance of doing their best work. That doesn’t mean being soft on them, or even being ultra flexible, it means getting out of people’s way, having exceptionally high standards and continually raising the bar. I have to ask myself, is this decision I’m making the best thing for this business and the people involved in it or is it driving my own agenda? The really difficult part of service leadership is looking at yourself critically, often and making decisions that foster autonomy, mastery and purpose in your team.
It’s clear you’ve seen some successes on both a personal level and as part of Nona. What have the standout moments been for you over the course of the last few years?
Winning awards as major underdogs, on basically zero budget, was a big win for us in the early days but moments that really stood out for us also included landing our first international clients and seeing the proof that South African devs are on par with the world. We can now confidently say we are able to play on a global stage.
There have been so many good memories with the team, and we’ve met a lot of fascinating people along the way, from sports celebrities and crypto billionaires to ex convicts running philanthropic enterprises. There have been a lot of highlights.
What’s the next step for Nona, Mike?
Right now we want to continue to be at the forefront of emerging technologies like blockchain and smart contract development, while we foster our remote working culture and continue our focus of having a distributed workforce around the world. Future-proofing is such a crucial part of our industry and we’re putting every effort into achieving that. We want to be among the best software development houses, globally, so our focus is on continuous improvement.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say, “Alright, we’re done now. I’m done. I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve — Mike Scott
…and for you personally? When will you be able to say “I am a success now?”
Honestly, I have no idea. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say, “Alright, we’re done now. I’m done. I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve”— but I am exceptionally proud of what we’ve achieved at Nona so far, and of the people we’ve become.
Would you like to know more about Mike or Nona? contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com