How Garth Barnes And Fabian Sing Launched Tigerfight

How Garth Barnes And Fabian Sing Launched Tigerfight


Vital Stats

It started, as it so often does, over late-night drinks. “We’d often sit around after gigs promising ourselves that we’d start our own thing one day,” says Tigerfight co-founder Garth Barnes, who is the frontman for South African band CrashCarBurn.

“And for a long time, nothing really came of it. It was a ‘someday’ thing,” adds Barnes’ business partner and former bandmate Fabian Sing. But then, in 2012, they decided to get serious. It was time to quit the idle talk and give it a real go.

Barnes was working at an accounting firm, and the experience was leaving him cold. Music was his real passion, and his day job was not providing him with the time to pursue what he truly loved. Sing was already working in the music industry and had received several awards for his compositions.

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The time seemed right to launch their own company. With Barnes’s business acumen and Sing’s technical expertise, they had what they needed to strike out on their own.

Typical of any start-up, the first three years of Tigerfight was a tumultuous period, filled with ups and downs. Here are their lessons.

Taking the plunge is never easy


“Music production and composition isn’t a cheap industry to get into,” says Sing.

“Sure, modern technology allows just about anyone to record music at home on their laptop, but professional-level equipment is very expensive. And if you want to provide a top-level product, you need good equipment.”

“Getting Tigerfight off the ground required a huge capital investment,” says Barnes.

“We had to build a studio, which took a year to complete. In order to get the money needed, I decided to apply for finance while I still had a full-time job. Quitting my job and securing a loan for the business was a scary move.”

Barnes now had debt that needed to be repaid, but still the entrepreneurs needed to be patient – launching a business will always take longer than anticipated.

Know your numbers

Barnes left the accounting firm to lecture in accounting at the University of Johannesburg. “My background in numbers gave our start-up a distinct advantage. Fabian is the creative force behind Tigerfight. He’s the one with the amazing musical talent and technical expertise. I’m the one who crunches the numbers and makes sure that we manage our money properly.”

Keeping careful track of the money coming in and going out is critical, yet many start-ups neglect this, burning through their capital far quicker than anticipated.

That’s why it’s important to involve someone with a head for numbers. While everyone else is looking to the future, they can keep an eye on the runway and ensure there’s enough money in the bank to get the business off the ground.

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Branding is very important


“We were very careful about how we positioned our company. We even hired an agency to assist us in the branding of the business. It turned out to be a bit of a disaster. We weren’t on the same page, so what they created didn’t align with what Fabian and I had in mind. We had already spent quite a bit of money but decided to walk away from what the agency had created. We didn’t want to compromise our vision,” says Barnes.

“The name Tigerfight was also an extension of the brand image we wanted to create around the business. We wanted an evocative image – something that suggested passion, excitement and tenacity. The visual of two tigers fighting is anything but boring,” adds Sing.

Chase the right business

“Right from the get-go, we were very selective in the jobs we pursued. We went for projects that were exciting, and that we thought would have a nice buzz around them.

“We also quickly scratched out a specific niche for ourselves. We did work for the local Comic’s Choice Awards, for example, and this led to comedians approaching us to create unique walk-on music for them. It was a market that wasn’t being serviced at all,” says Sing. As a start-up, Sing and Barnes quickly learnt the value of mining their contacts. Everyone has contacts, it’s just a matter of using them.

Everyone’s an expert

“Proving your worth within a creative industry can be difficult. Modern technology allows anyone to create music on a PC, so companies can sometimes be reluctant to spend a significant amount on music composition. It’s your job to show them how superior your product is,” says Barnes, highlighting the importance of proving value, particularly when it’s associated with a higher cost.

“Some companies can also be reluctant to change. They stick with what they know and remain loyal to existing suppliers, so you need to bring something truly fresh and unique to the table. Don’t leave them with a choice but to sit up and take notice.”

Develop a thick skin


“Creatives have a reputation for being sensitive and insecure when it comes to their creations. If you want to turn your creative pursuits into a commercial endeavour, though, you need to let go of your insecurities and develop a thick skin,” says Sing.

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“You need to be receptive to your client’s opinions and criticisms. You can’t take it personally. You need to be able to sit at a boardroom table and listen as eight people pick your creation apart.”

While this is true of creatives, it’s equally true of all start-ups. Ultimately your business needs to deliver on client needs, which means you can’t take things personally.

Hire slow, fire fast

“A lot of start-ups hire extra help too quickly when they start to expand. They hire fast and fire slow. We took the opposite approach. It took us about a year to hire our first employee.

“The work was rolling in and we were being swamped, so the temptation was big to hire as quickly as possible. But we wanted an individual who could offer the same level of service we were providing clients. When we did eventually hire someone, we were confident that we had found the right person, and he was worth the wait,” says Barnes.

GG van Rooyen
GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.