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If you were to ask me to recall the exact moment I met Matt, I would be at a loss for words. Somewhere between double digit Jagermeisters (that vile drink of youth) in a Grahamstown bar for the best of degenerates named after a rat and his parrot friend (I assume). We were at Rhodes University for a student media conference. Matt and I’s relationship began when I pretty much forced him to be part of my research for my Master’s thesis in 2008 on the back of Thought Leader. I would ping him on Google Talk, he would update me on his moves, from M&G to 24.com, the eventual founding of Creative Spark, and subsequently Burn Media.
Anyone that knew Matt, knew about his 48k ZX Spectrum 48k, his first computer at the age of seven. He loved that computer. He programmed games on it in BASIC and built robots out of old circuitry boards. He once reflected back on those days with Cat Murray saying, “I think that ensured I’d be a gadget and technology freak for the rest of my life.”
Matt loved his gadgets and would always get excited when new technology was launched, of course he ended up launching a technology news site. A platform to went on to track Africa’s growing technology ecosystem. His vision gave many entrepreneurs the opportunity to share their story and a couple of those got noticed by investors because of the stories written about them.
The eternal optimist, Mattybums (a nickname Melissa Chetty discovered and we loved calling him in secret) always believed the impossible could be done. There were no half measures and even if it made him unpopular at times. The Burn Media and Creative Spark team were a family. We won together and lost together. From our days in the crackwhore den, our affectionate name for our tiny first realish offices on Hope Street, to our move to the up and coming Woodstock locale. Like a true entrepreneur Matt was in the trenches with us, every day. At 24-years-old Matt gave me editorial control over Memeburn and trusted me to launch the subsequent sites. He trusted that I not only understood the dream of what he wanted to build but that I would add to it. Ventureburn was my addition, it was something we both loved and clashed over before it launched. When I told him I was leaving Burn Media, he asked me “how will Ventureburn cope? You know it is wholly yours.”
I grew up at Memeburn or MeMe Burn or Memebums. My life and who I am was defined there. I travelled Africa because of Matt and the Burn sites. We worked in a way that most people didn’t quite understand, our very own version of Stockholm Syndrome. We couldn’t bring ourselves to leave. There was a type of magic that bound us to Creative Spark and Burn Media. We built a tribe and we couldn’t trust anyone else to care for it. Matt led that tribe the best way he knew how. The stories we wrote, the people we met, and the possibilities we created for ourselves.
My favourite memory of Matt was our trip to Paris to cover LeWeb, Matt loved his conference coverage. We would have breakfast in the mornings at the hotel, and strategize how we should cover the talks of the day. He would say, “you are an incredible networker, you go get the interviews and I will write up the lightning talks”. No ego, no boss, partners working together to get the best out of our trip. We rode in many Ubers that trip, making us among the first people in Europe and from Africa to do so. We sat down with Travis Kalanick and asked him to please launch in South Africa. Matt and I would remember that conversation years later when Uber came to South Africa. We like to think we had a small influence in his decision.
Big interviews were something that was a staple in all our editorial meetings. Matt would ask me if I had managed to secure an interview with Jack Dorsey yet, and I would respond, “I DMed him again, Matt, I think he’s blocked me”. We broke big news, interviewed big tech names because we knew Matt wouldn’t stop asking and when it was all done, we all felt proud. I am sorry the Jack Dorsey interview never happened Matt.
I told Matt I was leaving Burn Media in a parking lot in Johannesburg because I didn’t want to lose my nerve, he didn’t take it well and proceeded to send me screenshots of Google’s stock dips. A week after the dust settled and all our emotions were in check, I sat in his office and had a conversation that would stay with me through the darkest of days.
“I know you have to go, I can’t match Google. But I want you to know this is your home. If you ever want to come back just say the word. You are going to do great, I bet you will be bossing everyone around soon enough.”
Matt built a tribe that made its natives never want to leave. Through the good and the bad we always knew we had a compatriot that got us and we knew our leader would always stand by us, through lawsuits, scandals and the big stories. Someone who always pushed you to be better, someone who dared to find out what you were made of.
When I think of Matt, I think of an unstoppable dream, one we all bought into without question or hesitation.