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The Chartered Accountant Who Dove Into The Mexican Fire

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It was a small, raw, white-tiled Mexican cantina squeezed at the end of a triangular T-junction in New York’s Lower East Side; a scruffy flat-ironed cantina that would easily have been missed if Christa Ansell, a traveling chartered accountant, hadn’t walked past it.

“I love going to places that are little holes in the wall. I am not good with food chains and I don’t like to go to places that are really hyped up about. In New York it’s easy to do that because there are a lot of blogs, there are a lot of magazines. There are so many hidden places you can find walking along,” says Ansell.

It took a snack from this cantina in 2006 to give Ansell the idea to change her life and open her own Mexican restaurant, Perron, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“It left a little something that said ‘gee I wish we had something like that in South Africa’…It wasn’t the Mexican like I have had [in South Africa], which is nachos with ridiculous amounts of cheese on it or things that are over fried, a generally tasty but incredibly unhealthy meal. There it was with incredible flavors with beautiful fresh coriander and nice margaritas [she is a big fan of tequila as well],” she says.

Ansell’s Perron is a far cry from the street diner in the heart of New York. It is in Illovo, in the well-groomed suburbs of Sandton in Johannesburg; a hip and trendy explosion of pink and green walls, paintings of Frida Kahlo [Mexican artist], and a bar ringed by feathered lampshades with more brands of tequila than are good for you in one night.

“A lot of Joburg is really monochrome and neutral and swish and easy on the eye. I wanted to make this the ‘wake up you’re in a different place and get some life into you’. Mexico has such a rich history and we turn [their restaurants] into swinging bar doors and tumble weeds and sombreros,” she says.

“Mexican food is amazing because it has that whole street-vendor vibe. I love having a lot of tastes of things and having a lot of different flavors. It’s versatile. I have been a vegetarian for several years and it was frustrating to go to a restaurant and have only one option to eat – a mushroom risotto. Because that’s what I had and it killed me. When people get it right it’s amazing but if not it’s just stodgy rice. I wanted to do something that had more than just wild mushroom risotto on the menu.”

Ansell wears a bright red dress, a world away from the grey suits of the boardrooms of New York and London. It’s a dress that hints at her character. Apart from spending time eating out, the rebel at heart has danced at the bottom of the Guggenheim gallery in New York beneath paintings and hummed to classical music at the Museum of Modern Art across town.

Ansell has also backpacked across South America and Spain.

This restaurant was a baptism of fire that could make jalapenos cool. Ansell, who pulled into Africa after driving eight months down from London to Johannesburg with her husband, bought the lease in February 2014. The opening night, in May, was chaotic.

“Five minutes before everyone was coming, we were still drilling holes into the wall and putting up cacti and trying to get the staff all fully-trained. We painted everything ourselves. It was a hands-on thing. It was chaos,” she says.

“Being chartered accountants, we are controlled and orientated. I used to be very client-based in my former jobs meeting CEOs. I am used to long hours. I thought I was going to be fine and there can’t be challenges to working a restaurant. But you are dealing with a broader spectrum of people. Here you are dealing with waiters and waitresses who are younger, who have a different generational way of talking, and who you have to treat differently. You’ve got different cultural expectations. It’s a crazy melting pot of so many different walks of life and ways of looking at life.”

There was also the last-minute name change. They wanted to name it CabrÓn which means friends, but had to change it when they found out a diner in Cape Town had their original name.

“We thought lets register the website and then we found there was another site which had the same domain. So we went to the drawing board. Perron means cool in Mexican slang, or the man. This dude is one of the lucha libre fighters. I just loved him. And because a lot of the décor images are quite feminine I kind of thought it would be nice to have that yin and yang. That’s why we use the Perron man.”

Ansell’s restaurant uses 180 bottles of tequila a month, and 500 Jalapeno chillies a day.

What’s the hardest part of her day? “I think the nature of reviews is quite difficult. I am the kind of person that wants everyone to like me so when I read that someone doesn’t like the food I get quite upset. But it’s a challenge you have to overcome. Not everyone is going to like the kind of food that you are making. I have had a few Mexicans come in and say ‘oh but you are supposed to be authentic’ but we’re not trying to be authentic. We’re just bringing the Mexican stuff we like into Johannesburg.

“As children, my brother had this Mexican alter ego Veektor. We would pretend to have Spanish conversations. It came about that I was called ‘senorita’ by my colleagues. I had a car that had a number plate that was MXE so it was called the Mexican. I suppose you could say it has always been there in the background,” says Ansell.

A year and scores of food reviews later, Perron is flinging out burritos and chilli poppers.

“We opened on a Wednesday and from that Friday we have been basically fully booked. It’s been crazy. It started with two days in advance. Now, on weekends, you have to book a month in advance.”

A far cry from stodgy mushroom risotto.

Entrepreneurs

‘Toilet Paper, Gently Used.’ How Facebook Marketplace Has Become An Unlikely Platform For Comedy

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In the two days since he advertised  “unprocessed toilet paper” for sale on Facebook Marketplace next to a photo of logs, David Traichel says the response has been better than expected. No actual buyers, just hundreds of views, laughs, and “you made my day” from other users browsing through the online classifieds.

“So many people are so freaked out about the idea of not having toilet paper,” says Traichel, 39. The aerospace technician and welder from Northford, Connecticut generally uses Facebook Marketplace to sell vintage car and bicycle parts. He decided to offer his oak and cedar woodpile (price, $1) to jog users out of their shopping panic. “Maybe those people would see the ad and think, ‘OK, maybe I’m overreacting.”  

Homebound Americans have turned to scavenging on ecommerce sites like Amazon, eBay and Facebook Marketplace for the boring household goods that have become hot items during the coronavirus pandemic. The shortages have inspired some mercenary sellers to excessive pricing (say, hand sanitizer for $149) and prompted the tech companies to crack down on price gougers. The hoarding frenzy has also been catnip for armchair humorists, who have found an unlikely platform to yuk it up in the free classifieds of Facebook Marketplace. 

You snooze, you lose. KIM MARIE/FACEBOOK

On the social network’s 800 million-user shopping site, one Internet standup is offering “toilet paper, extra long roll” for $69,4202—it’s a CVS receipt wound around the toilet paper dispenser. Another wants to sell you the “last roll of toilet paper in the world,” marked at $10,000. As a last resort, yet another smart aleck is advertising $90 toilet paper alongside a photo of sandpaper. “Don’t go without during this crisis,” it reads.

In reality, there’s no toilet paper crisis. Unlike imports such as iPhones and flat-screen TVs, most U.S. toilet paper comes from domestic factories, buffering supplies from a drop in production in China, where the viral outbreak started. Georgia-Pacific, maker of AngelSoft and Quilted Northern, is boosting its U.S. production. Proctor & Gamble, which makes Charmin brand toilet paper, Bounty paper towels and Puffs facial tissue, says production at its U.S. plants is at record highs. “Demand continues to outpace supply, but we are working diligently to get product to our retailers as fast as humanly possible,” says P&G spokeswoman Loren Fanroy

Which makes it all the more absurd that anxious shoppers stripped supermarket shelves of every last double-ply roll. Relishing the irony, Kim Marie, a 42-year-old naturopathic practitioner from Manorville, New York, decided this week to flog “vintage toilet paper” on Facebook Marketplace. For just $55,990, she’s showcasing a water-damaged and rotting roll mounted on a rustic wall, closing with the Craigslist battlecry of overpriced junker listings, “no low ballers, I know what I got.” Marie, who regularly sells vintage housewares on the site,  says she has received no serious inquiries. Just as well, since the item listed isn’t actually in Marie’s possession— it was a funny photo texted to her by her husband. She threw it up on Marketplace “to lighten the mood.”

See more of Liz Stoppiello’s work on her Facbook page, @Stitchizbyliz.
 
LIZ STOPPIELLO/@STITCHIZBYLIZ

It was the “organic toilet paper,” a $10 baggie of leaves listed on Facebook Marketplace by her brother’s girlfriend, that inspired Liz Stoppiello, 27. The stay-at-home mom usually sells items like car seats and books on Facebook Marketplace. This week she’s offering “washable crochet toilet paper! Been used only a cpl times”  for a cool $100. The advertised off-white crochet squares, wrapped around a cardboard tube, look worthy of an Etsy storefront. It took about 30 minutes to make. She just wanted to “get a good laugh” from people and to promote her crochet-oriented Facebook page. “You never know if anyone will start to desperately need handmade items in the near future lol,” she said via email. 

Her fellow Marketplace posters might be in on the joke, but Facebook’s bots are not. The social network, which uses artificial intelligence to help monitor content and warned Monday that its systems may have removed some COVID-19-related posts in error, had flagged Traichel’s toilet paper ad for unprocessed wood as “under review.”

Facebook “must be so flooded they don’t know what to do,” Traichel emailed, adding an “lol.” He isn’t interested in making a profit, at least not on his firewood. “If people really need toilet paper, I’ll give ‘em a roll.”

Helen A. S. Popkin, Forbes Staff, Innovation


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Entrepreneurs

Houseparty: Is The Hit Coronavirus Lockdown App Safe?

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Houseparty, with 10 million downloads on Android and millions more on iPhones (Apple won’t confirm exact numbers), has become one of, if not the hit app of the coronavirus shutdown. Vogue even called it “the quarantine app you need to download immediately.”

It lets users start and join a handful of games – Heads Up!, Quick Draw! and Trivia – all with live video and chat. And, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions on people leaving the house, the Epic Games-owned property is scoring many more fans.

But Is Houseparty Safe To Use?

There is some good news on the safety front: there are no obvious flaws or dangers with the app. Forbes had cybersecurity and privacy researcher Lukas Stefanko take a look at the Android version of the app to see if there were any other potential issues. He said there was nothing of concern.

“I analyzed the app’s permissions usage and since the app provides video chats with your friends it is logical that requested permissions are necessary. I haven’t found any shady misusing of them by the app,” said Stefanko, a researcher with cybersecurity firm ESET. “The app doesn’t provide a lot of in-app options and settings, which creates less scenarios for exploiting security issues.”

From a privacy perspective, there’s one obvious issue that some might want to note before diving in: games are open to any of your friends and any of your friends’ friends, unless you lock the “room” where you’re playing. That’s easily fixable, however, with a simple hit of the padlock button at the bottom of the screen. If you don’t lock rooms down, there’s a chance people you don’t know will invade your fun.

What Does The Privacy Policy Say?

There’s also nothing obviously outrageous in the Houseparty privacy policy. Perhaps the most concerning, though, is that it can collect “anonymized and aggregated information, such as de-identified demographic information” and “de-identified location information.” As seen in recent news about antivirus company Avast, even when location data is “de-identified,” it’s still possible to find out who the person is by linking it with other information. (That kind of aggregated location tracking is something global governments have considered using to follow the spread of coronavirus. Perhaps they could ask Houseparty to help out as they’ve reportedly done with Facebook and Google.)

Whilst the app collects contacts so you can find friends to play with, the company promises it “will never share your phone number or the phone numbers of third parties in your contacts with anyone else.”

There is the standard warning that user data can be used for more targeted advertising. If you’re concerned enough about that, there are further steps you can take to protect your private information and still use Houseparty.

How To Use Houseparty Privately

There are a few things you can do to boost the privacy of your Houseparty games. First, head to settings, which can be found by first clicking the smiley face at the top left of the screen, then hitting the cogwheel button when the menu appears.

Then you can turn on private mode, which locks every room you’re in. You can also go to the permissions section and turn location on or off. It’s turned off by default, so leave it that way if you want to ensure your whereabouts are private. And if you want to go even further protecting your identity, use a fake name and birthday in the profile section.

It’s also possible to opt-out of receiving any emails, texts or notifications about Houseparty offers. Go to section 5 of the Houseparty privacy policy (it’s brief, don’t worry) to find out the best way to opt-out of each. To withdraw consent for Houseparty to use any of your personal data, users can also email [email protected]

One other neat trick learned whilst using the iPhone version of the app: hold down on the Houseparty icon and click on ‘Sneak into the House.’ That means that when you go in, none of your contacts will be notified.

Thomas Brewster, Forbes Staff, Cybersecurity

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How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires

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One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.

The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:

What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?

There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.

Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.

It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.

The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.

These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.

What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?

There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients. 

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