To Know The Future, You Have To Look To The Past

On Saturday 28 May, Shapeshift moved house. Normally, this wouldn’t be reason enough to write a blog on – a simple email or Tweet would have sufficed. But in this case, I think it might be permissible to indulge in a little reflection.

Humble Beginnings


You see, Shapeshift started as a bunch of techie weirdos and geeks. Ambitious techie weirdos. And it started, as most good reality fairy tales do, in someone’s braai room. Jean-Pierre Mouton, our lead interaction designer, in this case. A couple of old desktops that were running on Windows XP and bubble gum, blue tack, instant coffee and a 56kbps dial-up modem. None of the guys had any real business experience, no real startup capital, no flashy offices and parking spaces. What drove them was a real desire to learn, to do everything to the best of their abilities and a genuine love for the internet and everything rebellious and free it stands for.

Jean-Pierre’s house became a split office / Ricky’s parents’ house, with the boys operating out of the front room. Designing logos and business cards had moved on to actual web design. CorelDraw had given way to Photoshop and CSS. A few bigger clients were picked up, word started spreading slowly. Then, about 4 years ago, the boys (the lady numbers wizard Elizma now included in their ranks) moved to the Durbanville office premises.

It was a big step forward, make no mistake. A reception room with sofas, custom-made built-in cupboards, logos on the windows, aircon and all those little things that make offices what they are. And a big old coffee maker, constantly filling the room with the nostril-tingling

aroma of real coffee, punctuated by loud screams of ‘Fresh pot!’ whenever it got refilled. It was cosy and comfortable and good while it lasted, but with eight full-time members of the team, the time has come for another change.

Hoogekraal Farm lies about 8 kilometres outside Durbanville on the junction of the Vissershok and Contermanskloof Roads. It has the bomb-proof build that real farm houses tend to have, as well as enough rooms for the farmer and his many offspring and townie visitors. Wooden floors and shutter windows, pantries and dining rooms all now quietly buzzing with bits and bytes sent and received.

Sustainable Growth


The growth here at Shapeshift has happened in a very organic way, a model of business championed by pioneers such as Yvon Chouinard from the Patagonia sports company, initiator of the One Percent for the Planet program – an alliance of companies that donate at least one percent of their sales to a network of environmental groups worldwide. In his own words, ‘At Patagonia, profit is not the goal, because profits happen when you do everything else right. In many companies, the tail (finance) wags the dog (corporate decisions). We strive to balance the funding of environmental activities with the desire to continue in business for the next hundred years.’

Shapeshift may not yet have the environmental focus or impact that Patagonia has, but the lines of thought have evolved in a similar direction. There is no real desire to go public as quickly as possible, to shift the direction and impetus of business decisions to a group of faceless shareholders. There is no need to cook the books every quarter to please investors, but rather an honest assessment of the true value and direction we are taking. Where the focus lies, instead, is on producing the products or tools that build value for our clients. As Chouinard notes: ‘If you create a demand, that is unnecessary. In other words, you’re selling to people who don’t need it, but want it: then you’re at the mercy of the economy.’

Why Do What We Do?

We believe in creating websites and tools that people need. It is for this reason that we are investing the time in creating website building platforms such as WebShift for small and medium-sized business. We believe that everyone needs to be able to represent themselves in a quality manner online; that startup businesses and people with innovative ideas should be able to use the digital world to bring their ideas to fruition, and that it shouldn’t cost them a second mortgage. We believe that this is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. And that the web is a space that should hold the ideals of equal access and connectivity in the highest esteem.

For a cup of steaming ‘Fresh Pot!’, drop in any time. Call Ricky on 072 105 7303 for directions.