S01E03 The ever-increasing consumer demands and the emergence of new economies with Steve Gray

Posted On: November 30, 2021

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S01E03 The ever-increasing consumer demands and the emergence of new economies with Steve Gray

We discuss:

  • the importance of finding love and meaning in what you do
  • the opportunities available to unlock human potential
  • new types of economies
  • the benefits of shared two-sided market place
  • and much more…



“There are more job openings in the world than there are unemployed people in South Africa.” – Steve Gray

Steve Gray is a passionate believer in the improvement of our communities. He is extremely well-informed and cares deeply about others. He is using technology to improve the lives of our underprivileged areas. He is a prominent voice in the field of innovation and technology.

He is the founder of The MakerSpace Foundation and an expert in deciphering technology and the human ramifications of our rapidly changing world. He gives a fascinating and educational look into the world of technology.

Connect with The MakerSpace Foundation:


01:48 – What is the purpose of the production line we are currently sitting on?

  • We’re in the middle of a differential assembly line. It is one of the larger projects that Jendamark has completed.
  • Every 65 seconds or thereabouts, the line assembles a differential and an axle.

03:08 – Tell us about your search for purpose and who you are.

  • In order to be motivated, we must all discover a purpose.
  • I started my manufacturing career as an engineer, and even though I didn’t know what my objective was at the time, I didn’t feel like I was achieving it.
  • We spend a lot of our time at work, the average person spends approximately 75% of their time at work and it is a significant amount of our waking hours.
  • It is important that what we do energizes us and makes us better people and not make us survive just for the 3 weeks holiday in December.
  • In my search, I got to a point where I started a financial service company and eventually I got exhausted and burned out.
  • It was at this stage that I was searching deep about what I could do in the world that would be meaningful.
  • I learned a whole lot from financial services and I realised that it is easy to look at a production line and think that the machines are doing all the work, but the machines are a by-product of people who build, maintain and operate these machines.
  • Once you start understanding that the people are the system then you start providing real value and start seeking out how to get the best from people.
  • I never felt like an engineer, I felt more like an artist and I was more interested in people and the opportunities that are out there for how human potential can be unlocked.
  • The Makerspace came to me in a moment with the culmination of creativity, technology, and people.
  • The question that I had to answer was how I get all three things to work together and create an environment where we would be playing with technology, innovating, and developing people.
  • The mission at The Makerspace has been to unlock people’s potential and creativity in a physical way.
  • Recently I came across analysis and a system for human resources which is called a working genius.
  • I’ve been talking about people having a genius for the past 10 years and I believe that every person has a form of genius inside them and it differs from person to person.
  • Mothers are a good example of the genius that is not often celebrated enough.
  • Once the genius within a person can be unlocked then the real value can be observed.
  • We spoke about an operator on a production line and certain people have special abilities when operating the machine and that is also a genius.
  • It is so unfortunate that the world only rewards certain kinds of genius and not the many that are also as important.
  • I love the concept of the genius within us. It is important to know that everyone has a genius within them.

09:37 – How do we use technology to unlock human potential?

  • We need to start by defining technology because it is a word that we use often but we don’t always know what it means.
    • The dictionary says that it is the application of scientific knowledge for a meaningful purpose.
  • People often think that technology is digital, and it is virtual reality and all the new technologies but it is the application of things we already know of.
  • It is very seldom that people think of technology when you tell them about making fire but the making of fire is a technology.
  • If all technology is a means to productivity, then for me, technology is a big lever it is something that multiplies force.
  • If you do anything manually it consumes a lot of time and with technology, you can make the same things if not more with less time.
  • Technology should never be used to replace humans and used to the cost of humans.
  • It should be used to improve and enhance what we do.
  • We need to move away from using technology to benefit only the minority people and start looking for the global benefit of technology.
  • There is a carbon cost to a bitcoin transaction. It is much bigger than what people are led to believe.
  • It is important to have a circular way of thinking that not only focuses on profits. It is important to focus on the impact on other things including the environment and humans.

15:24 – What is The Makerspace and why it is driven to unlock human potential?

  • The Makerspace is a physical place, it is a community of people who share resources to work together for a common creative aim to teach people how to create things more efficiently.
  • There is value in making something for yourself and in all the workshops that I have conducted I have learned that this value is universal.
  • How do we help people who have been underprivileged and perhaps weren’t parented properly and are struggling?
  • There are many ways to help including therapy and counselling. Another way to help them is by teaching them how to make something.
  • When they start making something, it is a natural by-product that you start appreciating yourself differently.
  • In time as you get better at making something, you start getting credit for that thing and that improves your self-worth.
  • This gives birth to distributed manufacturing which is an idea love.
  • Yanesh, what does distributed manufacturing mean to you?
  • I have two hats when we talk about distributed manufacturing, the first one being that I believe it is the only opportunity we have got to unlock the huge youth unemployment in developing countries.
  • It offers a share of the wealth and is an opportunity for people to create micro-businesses in a distributed manner using digital technologies.
  • The other hat is, if the world wants to individualise everything then there is a real opportunity to satisfy consumer demand.
  • I am sure that in the last year you have gone on YouTube and figured out how to do something you weren’t qualified to do, and it has cost you nothing.
  • The power of distributed manufacturing and the distribution of knowledge is that we can now have a very efficient system of making things to create wealth and value.
  • The dream is to have many centres where you can bring people together and collectively learn and share equipment to teach each other different skills.

22:02 – What is the thinking around the bottom-up economy versus the top-down economy?

  • It depends on what motivates you and how you see the world.
  • There is the pure capitalist view focusing on supply, demand and mass production to drop the cost as much as possible.
  • The distributed economy is a lot more human in the sense that it uses technology to empower humans.
  • In the bottom-up economy, the consumer is the one determining the outcome of the product as opposed to being pawns in a big chess game.
  • The world is getting to a place where people are demanding that they get involved in the development, look and feel of the products they consume.
  • The companies that still use the top-down method are starting to be under pressure.
  • If we get to a true bottom-up economy where people can determine what they want, then the manufacturing markets/mechanisms can get to high levels of efficiencies if they can adapt.
  • It is like matchmaking where the limit is at who is in the network but, when the network connects everyone now you can have the best shoe designer in the world work on your sneaker.
  • Revolution means that there is a complete overthrow of an existing system and as an example, Kodak invented the digital camera, and the company liquidated a couple of years ago because they became redundant and continued to print film which is no longer relevant.

25:45 – The story of Skhulile and how technology wasn’t the barrier to success

  • The Makerspace has a graduate support program with young people with a two-year technical qualification in mechatronics engineering who need experience.
  • These individuals normally battle to find work experience and generally they come from very poor backgrounds and through the government-funded program.
  • They are normally the first generation amongst their families to get educated.
  • When they come into The Makerspace they see all the resources, but they don’t always know how to use them.
  • Skhulile came and he completed the programme.
  • During the programme he battled with his health and the language barrier because English is not his first language.
  • He attempted to start his own micro-business and he got help from The Makerspace because of the available resources.
  • He could have been able to succeed in his business if he had other skills including networking abilities.
  • At The Makerspace we then taught him a leather wallet pattern and with the laser machine and the design you could make a wallet in two minutes.
  • He started making the wallets himself and selling them.
  • Steve initially asked him what he thought was the value of the wallet and Skhulile said R150 because from his background that is what it was worth. Steve told him that for R150 it is not worth making.
  • He told him that the value of the wallet is R350 and Skhulile said that he wouldn’t buy it for that amount.
  • It is at this point that I realised that unlocking his potential wasn’t necessarily the skill of using the laser although it was a part of it.
  • There is much more that is required to be successful and we take a lot of what is required for granted., some of the things can be taught and some cannot unfortunately be taught.
  • One of the battles that I struggled with when I left engineering and went into my own business was how to price things.
  • Competition is not going to tell you how to price and customers aren’t going to either.
  • What we need to do for a lot of young people is to teach them how to price and give them the design that the markets want.

30:39 – How do you teach people skills that include how to price their self-worth?

  • When you become an entrepreneur or hit the cold phase of self-employment it doesn’t matter what any universities tell you about what degree you have or don’t have. The mechanism is cash/money.
  • The value you can add to the market is the value you can charge for.
  • The first thing to know is that you have value, firstly as a person and secondly from the skills that you have.
  • With that, there is a double-sided sword where you have people who think that they have value and they talk a good game but don’t have substance, but they don’t and the people who have actual value but just don’t see it as value.
  • When I was in the financial service industry we learned that the people who make more money when looking at their salaries are not the people who we are accustomed to.
  • The guy in the boardroom with the director title is normally not clearing even R100,000 and the guy who has a van with a couple of employees and does plumbing is normally clearing R150,000 – R200,000 a month.
  • It is at that point that you start to see that there is a whole new world out there.
  • The reality is that no one talks about these things and as a result, we end up being a little bit like a lamb to the slaughter.
  • If you have a good boss who is generous with a good company who will look after you and explain what you are worth.
  • At The Makerspace, generosity is one of our core values, we aim to expose people to as much knowledge and information as possible.
  • Many platforms that are out there that can give information about the salaries of people in the industry to help people better know their worth.
  • That is why we do the enterprise development programme that is now formalised and has BEE certification and is a product that the market can support us with.
  • Ultimately, we are striving towards solving youth unemployment.
  • It is important to note that there is no quick fix to these problems.
  • We started seeing fruits with Skhulile after three to four years.
  • Entrepreneurship and enterprise development are long games.
  • One of the solutions for unemployment in South Africa is to provide skills internationally via the internet.
  • There are more work opportunities out in the world than there are unemployed people in South Africa.

38:10 – If there was a person out there who you could ask for a want, for The Makerspace, what would it be?

  • What I have always done in the past is that I would subsidise the organisation with my side jobs as an example, corporation training and innovation days.
  • In 2018 we won $125,000 and that helped us to run the program for a year but I would still take on these projects because I believe that it is important to have sustainable financial mechanisms and having a business model that is not solely reliant on donors.
  • What we need is a big brother who will be a partner. The successful Makerspaces in the world has only been successful because they had a big brother.
  • The success of the Barcelona Fablab is because they are linked to the MIT School of Design.
  • The Fablab creates more awareness, capability and creates value for the institution.
  • Our unfortunate reality is that we have a dysfunctional government.
  • We cannot even make our electricity reliable.
  • We have been self-funded, relying on one-to-one donors trying to make relationships with people and it is exhausting.
  • We are getting to the end of our ability to do business this way.
  • We need someone who will want to work with us on a more sustainable basis, who will be able to see the opportunities of having this creative space.
  • The two big projects we have now are all around enterprise development and helping people learn skills to create value that can be profitable.
  • Including innovation waste design, research development and the ceramic 3D printer that we have developed.
  • What we have done is build a network of designers because that is important.
  • Sales is an underappreciated art form.

48:43 – How sustainable is the gig economy for our youth?

  • I think that it is the biggest opportunity as mentioned earlier, there is far more work out there.
  • If we had to shut our borders in South Africa and try to solve the problem domestically then we have a serious problem that will be hard to solve.
  • The moment you explore foreign markets then that’s a huge opportunity.
  • When looking at the number of remote opportunities there are and the amount of work that needs to be done in shrinking economies where people are getting older.
  • If you gave people two scenarios one being, if you work for a boss you don’t like and have to come to work at 07h30 daily and you aren’t close to your favourite coffee shop and come back home to live your weekend.
  • The second scenario is you are earning 3 x more than you do in a local economy, live at a beach house and work only at certain times. People would choose the latter.

52:55 – What do you want your legacy to be?

  • On my Twitter status there is a question that reads, “Dad are you going to change the whole world or just South Africa?” which is a question my son asked me a few years back.
  • I know that because he is asking that, I have achieved something in his life.
  • Legacy can be a vanity thing and I think it can be broken down to purpose and the thing you are made to do, regardless of any recognition.
  • The reality is that we are born with nothing, and we die with nothing.
  • I often feel frustrated because we don’t have a lot of scale impact.
  • Sometimes I feel like I have the answers and sometimes I feel like I have no answers.
  • I think we live in an environment where there is the survivor mentality that underlies our daily lives.
  • Legacy for me would be being the solution to the unemployment problems we have in South Africa.