Charles Lee Mathews

Rafiq Phillips: The wired wonder

Rafiq Phillips - Web AddiCT

Legend has it that Rafiq Phillips was born online. A self-styled search-engine and online marketing guru, Rafiq has been in the internet industry almost since it existed in South Africa. Known to his friends as Rafiki the web addict, he cannot survive daily life without Muti.co.za, Wikipedia, TED.com and an arsenal of Google products.

When asked about his notable work characteristics (both good and bad), he replies: “Slow to finish and quick to start.” I interviewed him recently for a search marketing feature I did for ITWeb.

Where do you come from?
I’ve always had an interest in technology (joined the computer club in primary school) and when my peers were playing computer games I’d be wondering how and why the computers and games worked the way they did.

When I first got connected to the internet via dial-up at home when I was at high school, my hobby used to be learning about the inner workings of different web technologies and what made the internet work. I ended up building websites for friends and family and started connecting with like-minded individuals on internet relay chat (IRC).

Sleep and my school grades suffered because I was staying up during Telkom’s call-more time and dozing off in class for most of grade 11 and matric. I ended up studying software development at Cape Tech/CPUT but didn’t finish. In 2005 I wrote a business plan and entered it into the National Innovation Competition instead of writing my final exam. The R50 000 prize money I won with my business partner, Miguel dos Santos, allowed us to further develop Idrive.co.za, which was what the business plan was about.

What are your dreams, hopes, ambitions?
I dream of developing a sustainable business that not only creates wealth but also instigates positive social change within the community which it serves on a local or global scale.

You have a big online profile. How did this happen?
While managing the internet services for a small computer retail outlet in Cape Town, my employer didn’t see any value in the projects I wanted to roll out within the company, so I started blogging about my ideas, and the tools and techniques I constantly learnt about online, at Web AddiCT — and the rest is history.

What have been the most important things you’ve learned along the way?
Impossible is nothing, with the help of like-minded peers (and Google). Also, do not trust your employer’s word. Get it in writing.

What challenges have you overcome?
At the end of my first year of tertiary education I survived a car accident where I lost two close friends, most of my memory of my first year and my short-term memory. I had to learn to walk, write and remember all over again.

Who’s your guru?
In South Africa, Mark Shuttleworth: for his work in open source (Ubuntu) and community development projects with the Shuttleworth Foundation and Tuxlabs. I volunteered with Tuxlabs on weekends for two years. Then, Rob Stokes the CEO of Quirk eMarketing who is always willing to share insight and give advice, and for his ability to attract top talent and allow them to work in an environment second to none. Internationally, Larry Page and Jimmy Wales (both whom I’ve met personally) for their work on Google and Wikipedia.

What advice would you have to others who want to get into the game?
This is real life, not a game; start already. Read, learn, contribute, share your ideas and do not fear rejection. It’s never too early. Do not wait until you believe you have gained enough experience. It will be too late by then.

How do you grow, learn, evolve, get better at what you do?
Reading, testing, sharing.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
I was in primary school and watching a family friend, who happened to be a computer scientist, build a helicopter in his garage piece by piece. While irritating him with all the questions about every piece he was assembling he just stopped, looked at me and said: “You have what it takes, soon you’ll have access to all the tools you need, just do the right thing.” It didn’t make any sense then.

Rafiq Phillips thinks, uses, loves …
I couldn’t live without my mobile phone.

The first five browsers I open in the morning are Gmail, Muti.co.za, WebAddiCT.co.za, Google Reader and Facebook.

Facebook is a closed wall garden for now. Twitter is having really smart individuals from around the world at your finger tips: sharing their thoughts, activities, ideas and advice in 140 charters or less

Plurk is nothing spectacular. Google is my bread and butter. I don’t eat butter, though.

My favourite gadget is my MacBook Pro. I love home-cooked meals. I hate people who live their lives with blinkers on.

The internet is only a tool.