From stand-up to start-up: How top entrepreneur’s comedic insights shaped his business

Long before the concept social media influencer became ubiquitous, a young marketer in London started planning his return to South Africa to start his own agency to help brands harness the power of internet virality through popular social media personalities. 

His foresight paid off remarkably. Today, after a “wild” decade of surfing the upheaval of the internet in the advertising industry, Mike Sharman heads up Retroviral Digital Communications, which he proudly describes as having “made more brands go viral globally than any other agency in Africa”. 

Apart from pioneering internet marketing in South Africa through Retroviral, Mike has co-founded Webfluential.com, a global platform linking influencers with brands, Retroactive, digital, a sports marketing agency, and Matchkit.co, a company that helps sports stars build their own websites.

Mike, a finalist in the 2019 Business Partners Ltd Entrepreneur of the Year® competition, started his career with the idea of becoming an actor. To reassure his worried parents, he studied marketing in Johannesburg where he grew up, but left for Hollywood to study acting and stand-up comedy as soon as he got his degree.   

It proved to be a key ingredient to his success as a marketing expert. The science and art of making a diverse audience laugh is exactly what a marketer needs, says Mike. An observational comedian finds a universal truth to which everyone in the audience can nod their heads, and then he tells a relatable story around it to evoke laughter. Good marketing is essentially the same – crafting a story around a universal truth creates an emotional connection with a broad target market, explains Mike.

His first venture was a play which he wrote and staged in Johannesburg and, with the profits, took to the Grahamstown Festival fringe, boosting his growth as an entrepreneur with valuable project management experience.

Mike’s next career move was sparked by winning a trip to London in a cricket fancy dress competition. He started working at a London public relations firm where he became the account manager for the LG brand. It was here that he saw a clear opportunity forming in the world of marketing and advertising.

It was around 2009, and the idea of using social media to promote brands by “going viral” had already taken hold, but nobody knew exactly how to integrate it with traditional marketing campaigns. Digital agencies were popping up all over the place, but they worked in silos, separate from other arms of campaigns, and often as an afterthought.

Mike started dreaming of an agency that could put together viral campaigns that would “seed” quality content to popular bloggers, vloggers, journalists and thought leaders – today known as influencers. Crucially, it would be integrated with the public relations and activation (direct interaction with prospective clients) arms of the campaign. 

In 2010, Mike returned to South Africa to experience the World Cup and to start his business. Several factors came together to make it a wildly successful first year for Retroviral. Local advertising agencies were keen but clueless about digital marketing, and broadband was rolling out in South Africa. The timing could not be better.

But it was Mike’s personality and approach that gave him the unique ability to grab the opportunity. He “lived the experiment” by posting, blogging and tweeting, not only building his personal brand, but gaining expert knowledge of the fast-changing social-network scene. 

Several of his posts went viral, including one in which he declared his commitment to South Africa despite surviving a terrifying home invasion that year. At the same time, he obsessively analysed the statistics around his social media activity. His prowess with cricket statistics helped him to win the trip to London. Now he found that he could apply the knack to online analytics. 

Above all, he is an excellent networker, never forgetting a face or a name. Soon he was embedded in the Johannesburg PR scene, renting a desk from a local agency. Within a month he landed his first R10 000-per-month retainer, and at the end of the year he won over Nandos as a client. 

Retroviral operated as a loose grouping of freelancers at first but had to formalise quickly as growth skyrocketed. “I started to mature a little bit and stopped going to meetings in flip-flops,” says Mike. 

Although Retroviral was the unmistakable leader in the field of viral marketing in South Africa for a number of years, winning several local and international awards, competition sprung up fast. Large advertising agencies that often hired Retroviral to do the digital leg of their campaigns started setting up inhouse units. 

To counter this, Mike co-founded Webfluential.com, essentially placing Retroviral’s database of influencers on a subscription platform where they can be recruited by brands and agencies. New influencers can sign up to the platform for free.

Today, Mike remains a shareholder of Webfluential which has spun off from Retroviral. He chose to focus on building Retroviral into a dynamic content-creation company. With a team of 18, the Sandton based agency is substantial enough today to take on any campaign, but small enough to be agile, without the weight of bureaucracy that stifles creativity. 

A recent example of how Retroviral has managed to maintain its edge was My Kreepy Teacher, a hilarious spoof on the Oscar-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher. The Kreepy Krauly ad took 96 hours “from zero to viral in 96 hours”. 

Fake News Damage Control for SMEs

Events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent spate of riots have demonstrated how fake news can have far-reaching effects, not only on individuals but on businesses. “Fake news,” a neologism of the digital age, began as a social media phenomenon and has come to describe the proliferation of false content posing as news.

It’s fair to say that the very definition of “media” has changed. Social media has turned users into reporters in what is known as citizen journalism, with the ability to disseminate content and document events using their cellphones. The challenge however, with what many call the “democratization” of news, is that unfounded claims can easily be made, content can be fabricated and easily shared online via social media platforms.

Consider the stockpiling and supply shortages of items such as toilet paper, soap and sugar in supermarkets across the country at the beginning of lockdown. This mass panic buying was set off by fake news. Similarly, during the riots we experienced in July, there were a number of reports of shopping malls being targeted around the country that proved to be false. The ripple effect caused unnecessary shopping mall closures, which affected not only large retailers but boutique stores and small businesses across the board.

The reality is that fake news is not going away, so as a small business it’s worthwhile having a contingency plan or strategy for dealing with misinformation about your business. The following steps could prove useful in combating the effects of fake news on your business:

Step One: Separate Fact from Fiction

In the event that sensationalist news is circulating around the workplace, as a business owner the first step is to determine your stance on the matter – only if and when an immediate threat to your business has been identified. Reacting with an emotion-laden response is likely to cause confusion and may be counter-productive. Instead, it’s recommended to research the facts, establish what the truth is and formulate a response that’s based on these findings. Lay the facts out clearly and distinguish them from hearsay and rumours.

Step Two: Make an Internal Statement

Your employees look to you for direction, so taking a stance on a matter needs to culminate in a formal statement, preferably in writing. Your statement needs to debunk the fake news but also relay empathy towards those who have been adversely affected. Never minimize or negate the effects that fake news can have on the psyche of employees – a well-timed rumour can lead to heightened anxiety and panic, and impact the mental wellbeing of your team matters.

Step Three: Make an External Statement

There are nuances that exist in a formal press release that will differ significantly to the way you convey your stance internally. You may need a public relations professional to assist with formulating a response that makes an impact and communicates your message in a way that cannot be misconstrued by the media or the public. It is not always necessary to make a statement to the media, but when it is, make sure that its well-written and strategically positioned to allay feelings of fear and prevent the repercussions of misinformation on the business. It’s also worth considering whether this external statement needs to be posted to the business’s social media pages for the benefit of your customer base.

Step Four: Seek Legal Advice

What many do not realise is that there are legal repercussions for spreading fake news. The policing of the online space is something that is progressing at a rapid rate, with social media platforms now being held accountable for due process for reporting misinformation and inappropriate content. These legal consequences were made plain, for example, in the case of news relating to COVID-19 – when the new Disaster Management fake news regulations made spreading fake news with the intention to deceive or incite violence, a criminal offence. If the problem escalates, it may be best to seek legal advice, especially if you are able to identify the source of the fake news.

Remaining level-headed during a crisis involving fake news can be challenging. However, taking a firm, confident and reassuring stance on a matter can go a long way in preventing potential chaos and long-term damage to your bottom line.

Five questions to consider before going into business with family or friends

Almost every aspiring entrepreneur gets their chance to weigh up whether it is a good idea to have a close friend or family member as a business partner. The answer is not always simple and almost always varies from scenario to scenario, and person to person. There is certainly a reason why the adage, “never do business with family and friends,” is an expression rather than a concrete rule.

As a starting point, when faced with this kind of decision, ask yourselves the following salient questions:

  1. Are we in it for the same reasons?

The most successful and efficient business partners share a vision and are clear about their goals from the onset. Is the collective ambition to employ a growth strategy that will boost the business’s bottom line? Is it a 10-year plan to build a business worth selling? Or is the strategy to build a legacy? All parties need to be aligned upfront to ensure a fruitful partnership. Singleness of purpose is essential to making joint decisions that will have everyone involved walking away feeling confident. 

  • What will happen when partners don’t agree?

As a business partner of a close friend or family member, you may have conflicting interests, which can lead to complications. The challenge centres around when to “wear the hat of a professional business partner,” and when to “wear the hat of someone who is emotionally invested in the other party.” It is a delicate balance to maintain and disagreements are an inevitability. However, to avoid conflict becoming crisis, you need to agree on a way to resolve matters before you even enter into the partnership.

3. Do the business partners share the same risk profile?

Some of the most pivotal business decisions rest on whether the deciding party is risk-taking or risk averse. It is not always necessary for both parties to share the same risk profile per se, but it is necessary to be able to meet somewhere in the middle. Compromising and calling on each party’s instinctive attitude towards risk is vital when it comes to making decisions like launching new products, taking on a strategic partner or restructuring the business.

4. What will each partner’s role be?

In a partnership that transcends the lines between professionals, it may be difficult to define clear-cut roles and responsibilities. However, professional boundaries are the key to healthy working relationships, and that begins with defining each other’s strengths, capacities, and work ethic. Being able to have an open conversation about what each role or position entails, can be the beginning of building trust and mutual respect. 

5. How will we keep personal and professional lives separate?

In a relationship that entails both a personal and a professional component, the lines between the two can become blurry. However, with transparency and an openness to debate and discuss, healthy “ground rules” can be set. Maintaining a work-life balance is a challenge for business owners across the spectrum. For those in business with family and friends, the challenge takes on its own nuances. On the one hand, the shared, personal relationship may make communication easier. On the other hand, the opposite could be true.

There is simply no blanket answer to whether going into business with friends or family members is a good idea. Different people respond in different ways to the complexities of relationships. However, pausing to ask the tough questions from the beginning, may help avoid future pitfalls.

Going viral – where content is king but the audience is queen

‘Going viral’ has been a trending buzzword for a few years given the explosion of social media and the fact that content can and usually does go viral when you least expect or want it to! In South Africa, digital marketing has increased at a rate of 35%, hardly surprising given that 40% of the country’s population uses social media, with estimates that this will double in the next five to ten years. There is some disagreement, though, among experts as to what ‘going viral’ constitutes – how many views or likes does it take for something to go viral? Estimates range from 100 000 to 5 million.

Mike Sharman is the man behind Retroviral, a creative digital agency in Cape Town that works predominantly with what he refers to as ‘challenger’ brands.  “Going viral is not about eyeball or vanity metrics, it’s about creating a conversation about the brand, about getting eyeballs onto content and getting people excited about the brands we represent.  We love making stuff go viral but, at the end of the day we want to help our brands emotionally connect with audiences and ultimately make more sales.  We mobilise audiences online in order to make the business impact offline.”

In terms of market segmentation, Sharman explains that five years ago we were talking demographics, whereas today we refer to psychographics.  “You can’t put people into boxes anymore otherwise you won’t be able to connect with them.”  Psychographic targeting segments according to factors like shared personality traits, beliefs, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles. Sharman says this helps to get inside the customers’ head in order to emotionally connect with them through digital content.  “Content is still king, but the audience is queen,” he says.

The company, now in its ninth year refers to themselves as storytellers who love what they do.  The company has made more brands go viral, globally, than any other agency in Africa and while Sharman and his team don’t take themselves too seriously, they’re proud of the many local and international awards they’ve received for their work. 

“As a small business, we’re proud of what we’ve achieved.  We’re creating jobs that didn’t exist and focus on supporting a network of suppliers who are also SMEs and SMMEs.  Small business is the lifeblood of an economy and we’re committed to growing South Africa one entrepreneur and one staff member at a time.”

Another key aspect to successful digital marketing is the role of Influencer marketing, a growing global trend.  Sharman’s influencer tool – webfluential.com – has 40 000 influencers, is used by 10 000 brands, has made eight South African influencers millionaires and has a global, digital audience of 1.4 billion people.  “I’m a massive fan of how creativity can change the world, for the better and we are the poster child for this revolution.  You don’t have to be a traditional professional (doctor, engineer, accountant, lawyer) to be a commercial success.”

Sharman attributes much of his early success to his book, The Best Dick. “The book became our best business card, responsible for generating tangible revenue, based on contacts made – and converted – from the book launch and national, business PR.  The Best Dick has been the most valuable tactic for Retroviral’s new business generation,” says Sharman.

Sharman and his team believe in rolling up their sleeves and have leveraged their entrepreneurial grit and hustle traits to solidify their customer base, growing their top line by 20% and revenue from R18 million to R22 million in the last financial year.

“We leverage tech and the various platforms to innovate, but our mantra is to ‘keep it simple’.”  It seems his recipe for success is working.

Mike Sharman is a finalist in the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on Retroviral Digital Communications, please visit the website: https://retroviral.co.za/

Keeping the lights on for a living

For businesses in the retail industry, lighting plays a critical role in creating the best possible customer experience. So much so, that the right retail lighting is said to be able to boost a business’ bottom line by driving higher sales. Someone who knows this all too well is Mario Roos, who along with his wife, Hayley, founded LighTec – a Western Cape-based pro-active lighting and electrical maintenance business.

Established in 2017, LighTec services around 1000 South African retail stores every month, but this healthy business flow did not happen overnight. “LighTec started on a shoe string budget and has grown organically over time, without any outside funding,” says Roos. “We started with just one technician – myself – and an assistant, and have grown to 16 staff across South Africa in just two years.”

With big plans for the future, Roos is confident that this high level of business growth will continue. “Given the current challenges that South African businesses are facing with regards to rising electricity costs, we have recently shifted focus in a big way to energy efficiency projects with new LED technology, to alleviate the pressure on the national grid.

“We provide in-depth energy analysis and payback periods for energy projects, which is becoming increasingly demanded by South African stores. With this recent diversified service offering, it is our aim to have 100 staff in the next five years, which will enable us to serve more than 4000 retail store a month.”

While business is looking up now, Mario warns that the entrepreneurial route is not for the faint-hearted. “To start and grow a small business like this takes a lot of guts, and then a lot of sacrifice is required to keep it going in the right direction. I have had to sell things so that the crew could have fuel, I have had to pawn my personal laptop and car so that the crews can have enough stock and fuel for that month.

“The important thing, however, is that the crew is as committed as I am in this regard. We do not have the resources that some of the other bigger companies have, so if one of our vehicles breaks down, our technicians may have to be the mechanics as well.

“In this sense, we work for each other, as we know the end goal and believe that the rewards will be greater than the temporary sacrifices. This is why our technicians around the country always go the extra mile for our customers. After all, our motto is “lighting made easy”, and to do this, service delivery is paramount,” he concludes. Mario and Hayley Roos are finalists in the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on their business, please visit the LighTec website: https://lightec.co.za/.

The rise of the ‘Accountpreneur’

Accounting, the age-old practice of recording, classifying, and reporting on business transactions, is not typically associated with the passion-driven and notoriously risky realm of entrepreneurship. But there is a growing trend of accounting graduates who are breaking the mould and making their entrepreneurial mark.                                                                                          

One such local “accountpreneur” is Lyle Malander, the trailblazing founder and director of the Malander Group, who says he was driven by his passion to create employment opportunities and contribute to the struggling local economy. “There is an abundance of talent in South Africa, and we have the ability to compete with businesses on a global level – it is just a matter of getting out there and making it happen,” says Malander, who is only 33 years young.

Hailing from Cape Town originally, Malander relocated to Johannesburg to complete his articles at Deloitte after studying chartered accountancy. He then went to Chicago on secondment for three months, before returning back to Joburg to join Deloitte South Africa full-time. It was during this time that he made the decision to spread his wings and take a leap of entrepreneurial faith, establishing Malander Advisory, a chartered accounting and financial advisory firm, in 2015.

“At this point, it was just myself and my now co-Director, who I managed to recruit very early on. Our two-man team was very much focused on financial advisory to begin with, but the business grew organically after we managed to land our first major listed client. This led to hiring our first employee in 2016, and things just took off from there.”

The Malander Group has since expanded to comprise Malander Placements, a recruitment firm, and Malander Digital, an IT firm. Today, the business directly employs 22 people, including those in the recently-opened London office. With clients across various sectors and industries, Malander Advisory has also created employment opportunities for over 90 chartered accountants and financial professionals.

In 2018, the business expanded further by entering into the Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprise (SMME) space with the establishment of M-inent – a new Malander business offering a cloud-based solution to facilitate the growth of SMME businesses based both locally and abroad. “Originally, our focus was only larger, listed companies, but we’ve recently gotten involved in the SMME sector by providing cost-effective solutions to less established businesses,” he explains.

Throughout the expansion of the Malander Group, Lyle says an emphasis has been kept on professionalism and maintaining a strong corporate image and brand. “I believe that this, coupled with our consistent focus on service delivery, has been at the heart of the business’ growth strategy. Ensuring that deliverables are consistent and of the highest quality is ultimately the best form of marketing.”

Malander was named the overall winner of the prestigious top 35-under-35 award by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) in 2018, and Malander Advisory was a finalist in the South African Professional Services Awards (SAPSA) for the firm of the year in 2018.

Adding to these achievements, Lyle Malander is a finalist in the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on his business, please visit the Malander Group website: https://www.malander.co.za/.

Dream comes true for HR entrepreneur from Gugulethu

Indima HR Consulting was started in 2007 in a bedroom, under a duvet with just a laptop and cellphone.  Cikizwa Nekile laughs as she talks about her business and its humble beginnings.  Today, the business has three full-time employees, 118 placements under management and lists many of Cape Town’s blue-chip company as its clients. 

Growing up in Gugulethu and living with her aunt and six cousins in a one-bedroom house provided Nekile with some tough life lessons, ones that ultimately resulted in her desire to be financially independent and master of her own destiny.  After matriculating at Vista High School, a school she selected, she studied financial accounting at Cape Peninsula University of Technology.  After accepting a job at Quest Personnel, a well-established recruitment and staffing company, she realised she wanted to change direction and started a Diploma in HR Management while working fulltime. 

Her career saw her spending 5 years with Quest and 6 years with BOE before joining Woolworths in 2004.  “I worked on the franchise arm of the business helping franchisees to set up stores.  I basically took care of their HR function from start to finish.”  During her time with Woolworths Nekile realised that her dream was to start her own HR business.  With lots of support from her then manager, she took the plunge.

“My first client was Sanlam Investment Managers, which over time grew to include other parts of their business.”  Her client base grew through word of mouth referrals, which helped her to develop solid relationships with her clients, most of whom she still works for today.   Given her growing client portfolio, Nekile grew her own support base roping in her husband Lungela as well as employing Thokozani Dube and Melanie Elepen who keep the business running smoothly. 

Most of Indima’s work is in the private sector although she is starting to do some government work.  “Contract management is now the focus of the business.  We’ve grown from 12 placements under management to 118. In some cases, we recruit the contractor, or the company will, but once appointed, we manage the person completely from an HR and payroll perspective.”

Nekile acknowledges that she is playing in a saturated market so needs to stand out in a very big crowd.  “Reputation and excellent customer service is very important especially for referral work.  The business has been around for almost 12 years and I have more than 25 years’ experience in the industry so that counts for a lot.  I am passionate about what I do and really love my job – it’s not just about making money!”  

Being a small operation Nekile believes that their agility and client centricity has helped them to adjust and respond to market trends and offer what the market is looking for. 

Cikizwa Nekile is a finalist in the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on her business, please visit Cikizwa’s LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cikizwa-nqolobe-9ba9497/

From the cape flats to the world

The story of SA’s award winning black winemaker

A local winemaker is not only making award-winning wines, but also changing the lives of thousands of learners in the Western Cape every day. 

Carmen Stevens’ journey to becoming an award-winning winemaker is one of determination, resilience and undeniable brilliance. Stevens grew up on the Cape Flats and as a young girl, fascinated by the vineyards and cellars depicted in Mills and Boon Novels, always dreamt of one day becoming a winemaker herself. 

“I’ve always known I would be a winemaker. But truth be told, as a young girl living in the Cape Flats, I had very limited knowledge of how to make my dreams a reality,” says Stevens. “In addition to my limited access to information on the industry, let alone the art of making wine, I had never heard of winemakers that look like me,” she quips.

Faced with the hurdle of lack of funding to further her education, Stevens turned to her friend’s uncle who worked in the lab at Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, for advice. “He told me to apply at Elsenburg College or Stellenbosch University. So I applied to study winemaking at Elsenburg Agricultural College in Stellenbosch twice in 1990 and 1991, but was told I could not study there because of the colour of my skin.”

Cognisant of the socio-political climate in South Africa at the time, Stevens applied again in 1992, but was turned away again because she had no military experience. “I was finally accepted in 1993 and graduated as the first black winemaker in South Africa.” 

After cutting her teeth in the local winemaking industry with stints at Distell, Kunjani, Welmoed, Naked Wines and Amani, including 10 years in California representing Distell’s brand, Tukulu, Stevens established her own label in 2011. 

Carmen Stevens Wines is an independent, small batch winery and the only black-owned brand in South Africa. 95% of her wines are exported to the UK and USA under the Catoria label (a blend of her daughters’ names – Caitlin and Victoria) and marketed via online wine retailer, Naked Wines.  From humble beginnings, the business today processes 150 tons and in 2018 had a turnover of R8.1 million. 

Stevens attributes the business’ success in an already saturated wine producing market to constant innovation. “We are big on innovation! We even produce a vegan-friendly wine and have created two new offerings; a Petite Sirah and Carmenere, using Australian and Chilean grape varieties respectively.” 

Stevens’ goal is to have a home for her wine and her own vineyards within the next five years.  “I’d like my customers to be able to experience what we do and taste our wine with us,” says Stevens.

Deeply committed to her community, Stevens is aware of the importance of a good education and healthy nutrition. In the year she established her own label, she knew she wanted to give back and make a difference, so she started the Carmen Stevens Foundation. 

Working closely with Naked Wines and her extensive network of overseas clients (“Angels”), Carmen started supporting the efforts of the Peninsula School Feeding Association (PFSA) with a soup kitchen. Her investment in really getting to know her customers through her strong online presence and inspirational story has resulted in many of them becoming regular supporters of her Foundation.  “The generosity of our ‘Angels’ and our ongoing fundraising campaigns over many years have raised millions for the PFSA. Over the last two years, more than one million meals have been served to over 6 000 learners affected by poverty in 11 communities in the Western Cape, including Kraaifontein, Belhar and Elsies River. The initiative also employs 42 women who prepare the food,” she adds.  

Stevens concludes by admitting that her journey hasn’t been easy – “but I hope that it inspires young girls that look like me to follow their dreams and keep knocking until all the doors open”.

Carmen Stevens is a finalist in the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on her business, please see her profile of the Naked Wines website: https://www.nakedwines.com/producers/carmen-stevens.

Women-owned management consulting firm takes on multi-billion rand industry

How 3 women started a business from scratch that’s set to dominate SA’s competitive consultancy and advisory market

South Africa’s management consultancy and business advisory services market is worth more than R70 billion, this is according to Consultancy South Africa, a platform for South Africa’s consulting industry. This booming industry is made up of over 60,000 individuals, ranging from consultants, business advisors and business coaches. So how easy is to stand out in this crowd and be successful given the saturation of the consulting market?

Jessica Tandy, Anne-Marie Pretorius and Seugnet van den Berg are the dynamic partners of Bizmod, a Level 2 B-BBEE IT and management consulting company that partners with its clients to co-create solutions for positive impact in their organisations. 

“We met each other while collaborating on a project in 1997, decided to join forces and bought out the then owners of Bizmod,” says executive director, Jessica Tandy.  With no clients or assets, the three started from scratch to build the business.  With a keen sense of wanting to make a difference and give back, they introduced a fourth partner, the Women’s Trust, which essentially has a 28% stake in the business.  “We believe that real growth and prosperity can only be achieved through the entrepreneurial development and empowerment of women.”  The Trust has partnered with Africa Food for Thought, a PBO that provides food security for more than 18 000 children in Western Johannesburg and Womaniko, an organisation led by women that facilitates the development of women entrepreneurs and provides support for their local business ventures.

The company offers consulting services in business, technology, information security and compliance projects.  “We operate in a highly competitive environment and believe we’ve perfected the formula to enable us to outprice our competitors and still deliver a world class offering.” 

Bizmod focuses on managing its expenses and is highly efficient in deploying its resources.  “For now, this model is sustainable, but we are looking at other product offerings that could provide us with a sustained income stream going forward,” says Tandy.

The consulting firm has not only survived but also thrived in very tough economic conditions.  “We’ve managed to grow and nurture our employees and consultants. In 12 years, we have expanded Bizmod from three to currently almost 50 employees.  Our growth has empowered us to create jobs and consistently place our clients in a better position by helping them to solve their problems.  We’ve succeeded in building something out of nothing and a huge win has been being able to give back to our community through our CSI work,” says Tandy.

Bizmod is acutely aware of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the skills that companies will need to succeed.  “We’ve been intimately involved in designing and setting up an innovation hub for one of our clients and we’re currently implementing innovative solutions for digitization, focusing on human capital changes,” says Tandy.  The Bizmod team firmly believe that their robotics and intelligent automation services, change management and creative offerings position clients to remain relevant in driving user adoption and automation in response to new technologies and the 4IR.  

The future looks bright! Jessica Tandy, Anne-Marie Pretorius and Seugnet van den Berg are finalists in the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on Bizmod, please visit the website: https://bizmod.co.za/


Local Entrepreneur making moves with mass marketing solutions in Africa

Accurately tracking your return on investment (ROI) on an often very costly advertising campaigns, featuring mainstream channels , among others, television, billboards, radio, as well as traditional magazine and newspaper adverts has always been extremely complicated.

2Engage, a customer engagement and incentives solutions business, has been working predominantly in Africa for the past nine years offering marketing solutions that can accurately measure and generate a positive ROI for companies operating in the retail sector.  “We use technology and not mainstream media to help our clients to effectively engage with customers outside of South Africa,” says MD Andrew Weinberg.

Weinberg is a seasoned entrepreneur having started his first business; ‘Rent a wreck’ while a first-year student at the University of Cape Town.  Several entrepreneurial ventures later, he recognised a gap in the mass market for brands to engage more effectively with their respective customers.

The company’s Retail Engage division focuses on connecting FMCG and lifestyle brands with customers in peri-urban and rural areas.  2Engage currently works across eight African countries and operates with more than 180 independent, traditional grocery retailers.

“Our retail solution is called Bonsella, which gives brands the opportunity to access this growing market, which has been a ‘blind spot’ for many brands due to the lack of measurable media and communication platforms in the independent retail sector.  South Africa’s leading brands leverage our platform to interact and understand this market, which contributes over 50% of South Africa’s shoppers.

“Brands use Bonsella to improve sales and category share by putting their products in our stores.  Customers who are registered with Bonsella are incentivised to purchase the products and receive instant airtime rewards at the till.”

More than 1 million shoppers are currently registered with Bonsella and are rewarded each time they shop.  “70 000 members sign up every month for the rewards programme, which has proven to successfully grow customer acquisition and retention, as well as reinforce value-enhancing behaviour,’ explains Weinberg.

The company’s team of 430, which Weinberg estimates will more than double in the next three years offers many job opportunities for unemployed youth, as well as the unique opportunity to participate in robust brand research.  “We have 300 permanently employed field staff who execute on various campaigns and who can, within a day, complete more than 1500 interviews with customers, at a fraction of the cost.”

This data platform is another major factor in the business, which is already being monetized with local brands.  “With 2.5 million members anticipated by the end of 2019, we have a very rich and unique data set, which will be a major growth point for the business as we enrich it,” says Weinberg.

So, what key factors have led to 50% growth year on year for the business?

Weinberg attributes the company’s growth and success to its unique concept, which is flexible and sustainable and has the potential to grow the business exponentially and globally. “We have already had significant international interest in our product and are currently in talks with leading retailers in Brazil and Asia.”

Another factor is 2Engage’s database, which, given its  footprint and growing member base, will soon be the biggest independent database in South Africa that is POPI (The Protection of Personal Information Act 4) compliant.  “Our unique technology is also a key success factor.  It is a completely bespoke development, written and based on specific business operations and input from clients, enabling us to build unlimited innovative solutions. It offers us constant agility and our clients a solution that can be tailored to meet their unique needs,” says Weinberg.

If the last nine years has been anything go on, the sky seems to be the limit for Weinberg and his team as they continue to innovate with effective marketing solutions for mass markets around the world. Andrew Weinberg is a finalist in the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on 2Engage and Retail Engage, please visit the website: http://www.2engage.co.za/retail.html.