Meet the creator of the WiFi hotspot Isabelo Smart Bench
Named after the Zulu word for sharing, Isabelo Smart Technology is about changing the way we share things, like public space and access to the digital world. Their flagship product is the Isabelo™ smart bench: an off-the-grid, solar-powered, Wi-Fi-enabled smart bench with USB charging ports, designed for public spaces in African cities.
Created by Isabelo's founder Louise Meek, the smart benches are up and running in Johannesburg and Cape town, with many more planned for cities across the continent in an effort to close the digital divide and create inclusive, safe street spaces.
What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not working?
Travel. See friends. Water my succulent garden on my balcony at home!
What’s the next thing you’d like to tick off your bucket list?
I would love to go to Berlin!
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Night owl. I am definitely not a morning person.
What are the top 10 things on your wish list?
What are you reading right now?
The Social Animal by David Brooks.
What’s the weirdest thing in your bag right now?
A measuring tape.
What’s one question you would ask the president?
I’m disillusioned – I wouldn't want to ask anything. If we were talking about the president of the US, I would want to know what Obama plans to do with his time once his term is finished.
What’s the last thing you bought?
A selection of cheese from the Linden cheese shop. They sell the best local South African cheeses. I am a big fan of good cheese!
How did you start doing what you do?
I think the journey to get here started with my background in marketing, where I was exposed to a lot of market research and consumer insights, and trying to connect with the right target audiences.
In addition to that, travelling overseas and being exposed to new ways of doing things – like travelling to Lima, a city in Peru where I first saw free Wi-Fi in public parks – helped to inspire me. I found it to be leaps and bounds ahead of what was happening in South Africa at the time.
I am also in the process of completing my Masters in Urban Infrastructure at UCT, and this has also assisted in shaping how I view cities in Africa and how we can create the right sort of solutions to uniquely African challenges.
Finally partnering with my business partner Adriaan Hugo, an industrial designer and co-owner of Dokter and Misses, helped me to turn a conceptual idea into a real product.
In summary, I think there have been a lot of little steps being made in seemingly non-related industries over a number of years that resulted in Isabelo coming together as a holistic product that relies on many facets of my previous work/life experience, as well as my passions.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs wanting to start a business?
Read the Lean Startup by Eric Ries, and treat it like a bible. Build an MVP, and test your product as quickly as you can. This will get you going. Fail, try again – but test, test, test! Be realistic about the financial stress of being an entrepreneur, especially in the beginninng – it's a real thing!
Be patient. Everything takes longer than you think.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My father used to tell me: “Keep your eye on the ball!” With focus and passion, anything is possible.
What is your most treasured possession?
My life’s treasures are the people that I can call true friends.
What causes you to lie?
Questions like this. I never lie.
What is your idea of complete happiness?
For me, complete happiness is a feeling that you get when you're completely content with who you are, where you are and what you are doing at that precise moment. Complete happiness isn’t a continued state of being that you suddenly achieve and from that day on, you are forever happy. Rather, I see it as a little moment in time where you have this feeling that makes you want to burst!