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Case Studies

IncuBeta: Vinny Lingham

IncuBeta founder, Vinny Lingham, is riding a wave of cyber success, thanks to
his innovations in e-marketing.

Juliet Pitman



Vinny Lingham of IncuBeta

Vinny Lingham’s philosophy – for life, business and everything else – is, “If you want to soar with eagles, you can’t swim with ducks.” And soar he certainly has. The founder of renowned search engine marketing and technology company, incuBeta, Lingham is riding the crest of a wave that started as a ripple in his imagination and, over four years, became a force for success that has seen him create a R100 million global technology company.

He has been named the Top ICT Young Entrepreneur in Africa, received the Top Technology 100 2006 Minister’s Award for Overall Excellence and the Commission Junction Horizon Award for Global Vision. Lingham has also been invited to speak at a variety of international conferences – the most recent being an e-Bay conference – and he has been appointed to the Yahoo Advisory Board.

Spotting the opportunity

The 28-year-old self-confessed ‘computer geek’ from East London was working for an internet marketing agency when he first noticed the inherent potential in search engine marketing. “I made a couple of proposals in-house for them to focus on this sector, but they weren’t interested, so I did it myself,” he relates. With three partners and one employee, incuBeta started operating out of a lounge.

The opportunity that Lingham saw was in e-marketing. Simply put, it’s based on the fact that, while it’s good to have a website, it’s a pointless exercise if the site doesn’t receive any visitors. And receiving visitors is only half the battle won – what you want is for your site to drive your visitors to spend money with your company.  But with so many sites out there, it’s difficult to make sure yours has a prominent profile. For example, type ‘home loan’ into the South African Google search engine, you’ll get approximately 585000 sites, grouped as unpaid and sponsored links. Most people won’t click on any sites past page one so the key is to make sure yours gets as close to the top of the list as possible.

Which is where incuBeta comes in. As Lingham explains: “The proximity of paid and unpaid links to the top of the page is based on an algorithm. To get there is not easy and requires an intricate understanding of the back-end of how Google works.” Through search engine marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO), incuBeta helps to improve both the volume and quality of traffic to a client’s website by considering a site’s coding, structure and presentation as well as the algorithms and key words that people use to search for information.

Pay per click is a type of advertising where companies only pay a search engine for every time that a visitor clicks on their sponsored link. Advertisers bid on keywords that they believe are related to their site and which they think users will type in. But as Lingham goes on to explain, paying Google for a sponsored link won’t guarantee your site comes up at the top: “Say you offer to pay Google $1 for every time someone clicks your link. Google would rather take 80c per click from another guy because, even though he is paying less, the keyword is more relevant to his business so his site will get more clicks and they will therefore earn more money.

And that’s just the start. Then you get into the fact that some keywords convert better than others and when you are running millions of keywords there are millions of permutations.” The point is that businesses need to know a lot about how the system works if they are going to spend their internet marketing budget effectively.

The business model

incuBeta’s business model is simple yet innovative. It places over 30 million adverts on Google on behalf of clients all over the world but the company doesn’t actually spend client’s money upfront; it pays Google directly for the traffic and then sends this on to clients, adding a margin and thereby making a profit. Because of its expertise in the internet marketing space, incuBeta is in a better position than its clients to determine what will drive traffic and increase sales.

As Lingham explains, “Our business model uses statistical methods and proprietary technology that we developed in-house to minimise the risks of buying traffic.” It’s a model that has generated millions of Rand’s worth of sales for clients and launched incuBeta into the cyberspace stratosphere. Within four months of starting up, the company was making R250 000 profit a month. “It just took off. In year one turnover was about R2,5million, then R15 million the next year, then R24 million the next. It’s just a blur really.

Creative marketing with blogs and conferences

Lingham marketed the business mainly by speaking at international conferences and developing a reputation for knowing what he was talking about. “Every time you speak at a conference you have a thousand people in front of you and, if the conference is Pod-cast, you reach thousands more,” he explains. At every conference he goes to, Lingham  networks furiously, taking business cards and always following up with emails to keep in contact. He also has a blog that receives over 4 000 visitors a day and has been cited in The Wall Street Journal, and he writes various articles on internet marketing.

Creating a competitive edge

Lingham believes that incuBeta’scompetitive edge can be attributed partially to South Africa’s lag in internet connectivity. This has also contributed to the fact that the company is almost invisible locally but has a very high profile internationally. “There is so much misinformation and outdated information given to corporates about their online strategy. They are advised to do things that are five years behind the rest of the world. The companies who are successful online are the ones who adopt real international best practices,” he explains, adding that his team makes regular trips overseas for training and to keep abreast of the latest trends.

Selling a home to fund a business

In spite of incuBeta’s success, Lingham  is the first to point out that the journey has not been easy. For one thing, cash flow and funding have presented major challenges from the word go. “The banks wouldn’t finance it – they wanted to see the ‘stock’. They didn’t  understand the concept,” he says. Unperturbed, Lingham sold his house and funded the business with the proceeds and with his credit cards.

Overcoming cash flow challenges

Luckily, the business made money quickly but its growth also presented cash flow problems: “Our debtors were paying in60 days and we had foreign exchange issues as well. Our international clients were paying us with cheques, and these would take six weeks to clear. How does the Government expect us to grow internationally viable businesses when the financial controls and banking systems are so prohibitive for small businesses?”The company eventually managed to get Reserve Bank regulation to open a US subsidiary that helped solve this particular issue.

But the exchange rate presented other problems. “It hit us badly,” remembers Lingham, “and when the Rand went down to R5,50 two years ago, we had to retrench some people.” Lingham  says the difficult times taught him a degree of caution. “I have a habit of being too aggressive, building the business too quickly and hiring staff. It was because I always believed in the value of the Internet, even after the dot.bomb, and I wasn’t wrong about it but at the time, I didn’t have the money to fund it!” To solve cash flow problems, the company sold equity.

Shareholders include Southern Cross Capital and TEIM Investments as well as Mark Shuttleworth’s HBD Venture Capital, which invested R25 million in the company in January. Lingham and his wife, Charlene, who started the company with him, together own only 20% of incuBeta today but this doesn’t  seem to bother him. In the same way that he needed to sell his house to start the company, he knows that selling equity was critical to keeping the business alive and thriving.

Creating a sound management foundation

He also points to a solid management team and a staff complement of highly talented and motivated individuals as reasons for the company’s success. “I don’t suffer fools and I am very intolerant of people who don’t strive to reach their full potential. Initially, many staff members were just out of university and helping them reach their potential sometimes meant pushing them hard, but in the end, those people ended up being some of our star performers,” he relates.

The company’s stringent interview process helps it to recruit top talent. “It’s not necessarily qualifications that I’m interested in but in what people have. I sometimes ask silly questions in an interview like ‘What’s the square-root of 625?’ and I’m not looking to see if they know the answer, but I am interested in whether they try. I am not interested in people who give up too easily,” he adds. This is not surprising coming from someone who hates failure, most of all in himself. “I despise it so much that I do my best to succeed at everything. And that’s not to say I haven’t failed – just that I hate it.

I’m a serial entrepreneur and owning a company is something I have done a couples of times – this is my first success,” he concludes. And what a success it’s been. If you’re looking for an example of how to get it right, look no further.

Business growth timeline:

February 2003 

Lingham sells his house to fund the start of incuBeta.

May 2003

R125 000 in capital received from proceeds of sale of house.

June 2003

Business idea conceived and tested in Johannesburg (in house now rented from the new owner).

October 2003

Co-founders (Charlene Troskie-Lingham, Llewellyn Claasen & Eric Edelstein) join and the business moves to a house in Constantia, Cape Town.

November 2003

First employee joins company.

December 2003

Company turns R250 000 profit with five people.

January 2004

Company moves to Bandwidth Barn offices in Cape Town.

February 2005

R1,4 million funding received from Angel investors.

March 2005

incuBeta grows to 10 people and starts penetrating US market.

September 2005

Company moves into 1 000 m2 offices in Bree Street (30 staff).  Clicks2Customers (US subsidiary) wins Horizon award for Innovation.

November 2005

Company wins Most Promising Emerging Enterprise Award in the Business Day Technology Top 100 Awards.

December 2005

Company receives investment from TEIM Ventures

February 2006

Eric Edelstein (co-founder) departs.

March 2006

Retrenchment of seven staff due to”overgrowth” and strong Rand (earnings are foreign currency).

December 2006

Company receives further investment from TEIM Ventures & Southern Cross Capital (Oppenheimer Fund) and Llewellyn Claasen departs to pursue his studies.

January 2006

Giles Douglas takes the reins as CEO of incuBeta.

July 2006

Clicks2Customers wins Leadership in Innovation Award in UK.

August 2006

incuBeta acquires 25% of Quirk.  Lingham appointed to Value click’s CJ Advisory Board.

September 2006

Clicks2Customers wins Horizon Award for Global Vision in USA.

October 2006

incuBeta wins Top Technology Company in South Africa (SME) in Business Day Technology Top 100 Awards.

November 2006

Lingham wins Top Young Technology Entrepreneur in Africa Award.

December 2006

incuBeta selected as Endeavour Company.

March 2007

Lingham Capital acquires 63% stake in Synthasite as part of a management buy-out, from incuBeta.

April 2007

Lingham appointed to Yahoo Advisory Board.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

Case Studies

Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

CEO Howard Schultz reveals how Starbucks does it.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: Howard Schultz
  • Company: Starbucks
  • Market cap: $85 bn
  • Established: 1971 (Schultz purchased the brand in 1987)
  • Website:

When Howard Schultz was raising money for his first coffee shop called Il Giornale (later to be renamed Starbucks) he was finding it hard to land investors. The reason was simple: Schultz was trying to create a coffee culture where none existed.

The idea that the man on the street would pay a premium price for a cup of Italian coffee with a name he couldn’t pronounce seemed nothing short of preposterous. But that wasn’t the only reason people weren’t willing to buy into his idea. Schultz, you see, refused to talk like a proper capitalist. He kept emphasising the fact that he wanted ‘to do good’.

Related: How tashas Built A Recession Proof Business

Schultz recounted the trouble he had finding investors during a recent visit to South Africa for the local launch of Starbucks. He spoke at a Q&A session hosted by the Wits Business School.

“My wife was eight months pregnant at the time,” says Schultz. “Her father actually sat me down and said: ‘My daughter is pregnant, and she’s working. You have a hobby. You need to get a job.”’

But, as is so typical of entrepreneurs, Schultz persevered and eventually got the funding he needed.

“The first time someone gave me $100 000, I couldn’t believe it,” he recalls.

Since those early days (the shop opened in the mid-1980s), Starbucks has grown rather prodigiously. Consider the following: By the late 1980s there were 11 Starbucks stores that employed about 100 people. A few years later, in 1992, the company went public with a market cap of $270 million. Today, it has around 24 000 stores in more than 70 countries. And its market cap? A cool $85 billion.

While growth is good, it has a tendency to birth a ravenous monster that is impossible to satiate.

“We have to add $2,5 billion in revenue every year for the next five years just to maintain our current growth rate and satisfy Wall Street,” says Schultz. “And to do this, we will need to add 80 000 employees over the next 12 months. Essentially, we’re launching a new massive company every year.”

Yet, despite this, Starbucks manages to maintain its unique culture. Just as when Starbucks was a far smaller operation, it is known for stores manned by high-energy individuals who have a clear love for the brand. How has the brand managed this? Schultz attributes it to the following seven core principles.


1. Partners not employees

Howard Schultz’s father worked as a truck driver, delivering and picking up cloth diapers in the days before Pampers. When he slipped and seriously injured himself, he was summarily retrenched. Schultz wanted to create a very different company.

One of the reasons he didn’t adopt a franchise model was that he wanted to be able to offer each employee at least some stake in Starbucks.

When the company went public, each employee became entitled to a portion of their annual salary in the form of stock options. That is still the case today, which is why Starbucks employees are called ‘partners’.

“Success is best when it’s shared,” says Schultz. “At Starbucks, we always ask: What’s in it for our people? Starbucks is accused of being great at marketing, but it spends very little on marketing. It’s all about the experience we offer in the stores.

Managers and leaders must do everything to exceed the expectations of our people so that they can exceed the expectations of our customers.

Related: Howard Blake Stays Hungry With His Innovation Strategy

2. Regular interaction

The management of Starbucks does everything in its power to engage with employees regularly.

“We travel extensively, and the amount of face-time management has with employees across the globe is really unusual for a company of Starbucks’s size,” says Schultz.

Schultz himself, for instance, sat down with each and every new Starbucks employee in South Africa during his recent visit.

Starbucks also has what it calls ‘Town Hall Meetings’ all over the world, during which management interacts with employees in an open and informal manner.

“We tell employees that they are free to speak up during these meetings without fear of retribution. We want honest opinions,” says Schultz.


3. Respecting (and cherishing) employees

Howard Schultz is a humanist at heart, and this is reflected in the culture of the company that he created.

“The universal language of Starbucks is a deep sense of humanity,” says Schultz. “Building a company is a lot like raising children. You are imprinting a company with a culture and a set of values. Now, if a child falls, what do you do? You pick it up and comfort it. You don’t scold it. You need to take the same approach in business.”

4. Protecting the culture

Being tolerant of failure, however, does not mean the same thing as indulging bad behaviour. In fact, Starbucks is fiercely protective of its culture, and it doesn’t tolerate bad behaviour.

“We teach employees that they have a voice, and that they should speak up when they see someone doing something wrong. You can’t enable bad behaviour because it will erode a company’s culture.”

Related: Don’t Let Expansion Ruin A Great Company Culture

5. Spending money on employees

According to Schultz, the management teams of most large companies would be horrified to discover the amount of time and money spent on Starbucks employees.

“We have been very innovative with technology, and we have created a massive digital eco-system. Interestingly, though, we spent as much time and money focusing on the things that were employee-facing as the ones that were customer-facing.”


6. Rewarding the right things

Schultz famously stepped away from the role of Starbucks CEO for around five years, and during that time the culture of the company quickly deteriorated.

“The company lost its way. The people who were managing the company — who were all good people — were measuring and rewarding the wrong things. Things such as profit and stock price became the focus. In any business, you need to continuously ask: What is our core purpose for being? Otherwise you lose your way.”

Schultz believes that his big mistake was not selecting a successor from within the culture. When he eventually retires, he intends to choose someone from within the operation who is in touch with the culture of the brand.

7. Being human

The film Fight Club famously depicted Starbucks as the epitome of the faceless corporation taking over the globe, but the company is actually quite unique in its willingness to speak out and engage with people on a social (and even political) level.

“We are very outspoken as a company. We feel that we live in a time where the rules of engagement have changed. What I mean by this is that we need to do more for the communities that we serve. The question we ask ourselves is: What is the role of a for-profit public company? Looking at this question has resulted in us taking on social issues such as same-sex marriage, gay rights, gun control and racism.”

For example, Starbucks recently unveiled its first store in Ferguson, Missouri (which has been plagued by racial unrest) as part of a plan to support efforts to rebuild and revitalise communities.

Read next: 5 Inexpensive Ways to Create a Company Culture Like Google’s

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Case Studies

How Merchant Capital And Retroviral Were Built To Sell

Entrepreneur chats to Dov Girnun of Merchant Capital and Mike Sharman of Retroviral. We explore why their companies attracted funders, and how the relationship can be used to grow their businesses.

Nadine Todd



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The Tech Based Business

Know your business’s numbers inside out, and don’t try to bluff your way through any questions that relate to numbers.


Vital Stats

  • Player: Dov Girnun
  • Company: Merchant Capital
  • What they do: Lending solutions for SMEs
  • Est: 2013
  • Investor: Rand Merchant Investment Holdings
  • Shareholding: 25%
  • Visit:

Less than two years into his business, Dov Girnun attracted the attention of Rand Merchant Investment Holdings (RMIH), a financial services investment company that includes the founders of FirstRand, Laurie Diepenaar, Paul Harris and GT Ferreira. These are no small industry players. On an investment level, they’re the funders who backed Adrian Gore when he launched Discovery and Willem Roos when he started OUTsurance.

How had Girnun found himself in the position to pitch to investors at this level? Months earlier, RMIH had launched a fintech incubator called Alpha Code. The idea was to find pre-revenue start-ups that would be the next game-changers. Their research brought them to Merchant Capital.

“We didn’t exactly fit their mandate because we were already operational and profitable,” says Girnun, “but they still really loved the business. They’d been researching the fintech space, and had recognised the potential in SME lending, which is our focus. They really wanted to invest, but at the time I was unsure if I wanted to dilute my shares further.”

Girnun already had an investor, the Capricorn Group, whose investments include Hollard, Nandos and Clientèle, and until this point he’d been careful to maintain his shareholding. His relationship with Capricorn was excellent, as the investment team added huge strategic value to the business over and above capital, and so he hadn’t been actively seeking additional funding.

And then a new opportunity presented itself. “We realised we have golden data on the SME space. How could we cross-sell to our base and monetise that data? We started chatting to RMIH, who were aligned to our thinking.

“Once I realised the value RMIH could add to our business, my whole perspective shifted. Here was an investor that could potentially help me to build a billion dollar business. I’d be diluting shares, but building a much bigger pie.”

Related: Funding Growth with Dov Girnun

The price of equity

Girnun is referring to the investment lesson that equity is cheap early on, and very expensive later, when a funder holds more shares of your business than you do. If you look for funding later, your valuation is higher, you’ve got a proven track record, and the same amount of money secures fewer shares. Sell too early, and the exact opposite happens.

This had always been Girnun’s view, but an understanding of how far the business could potentially go with RMIH’s backing was changing his mind.

There was just one challenge. While RMIH’s investment team loved Merchant Capital’s business model, investments need to be signed off by the board, which meant Girnun and his co-founder Daniel Moritz, needed to pitch to them in person, so that they could see their energy, passion and vision for Merchant Capital.

Serious, seasoned investors don’t make this easy. They need to see your passion, and how well you understand your business. They’re not there to make the experience easy.

“Even though I knew they were interested in my business, I still found the experience extremely daunting. There were very few introductions, handshakes or jokes. I was expected to launch into my pitch, and I knew that even though I had been given 20 minutes, the first two minutes would be the deciding factor. If I didn’t grab their attention in that time frame, they wouldn’t be investing in me and my business.”

Tapping into investor concerns

“I had just returned from the Endeavour international selection panel in San Francisco, and I think this played a major role in the success of my pitch,” says Girnun.

“One of my judges, a hugely successful venture capitalist from Sillicon Valley, really explained the significance of the elevator pitch to me. Imagine you’ve gotten into an elevator with the CEO of Goldman Sachs, he said. If you’re lucky, you’ve got seven floors to get them interested enough in your business to want your card, and maybe even a meeting. They can’t possibly learn everything about your business there and then — they just need enough for their interest to be piqued.

“Because you don’t know how much time you have, or who you’ll be talking to and what their area of expertise is, you can’t just learn a pitch off by heart, and you certainly shouldn’t have a power point deck that you rely on. Both are very bad ideas. Instead, you need to know your business so well, inside and out, that you can tailor your pitch to the person you’re talking to, based on what they care about.

“Because of this piece of advice, I was able to tailor the first two minutes of my pitch to the RMIH board and what they care about. If I grabbed their attention, I’d be able to hold it for the next 20 minutes, which actually ended up being close on two hours. If I hadn’t, we would have politely shaken hands after 20 minutes (if not earlier), and been on our way.”

It’s a simple, but incredibly important lesson: Know your business’s numbers inside out, and don’t try to bluff your way through any questions that relate to numbers.

“You have to know your unit economics — are you able to distill the essence of your business economics on the back of a napkin? You need to know the high level stuff and the minute details, and they all have to be at your fingertips. If they aren’t, you have no business trying to sell your company or attract investors.”

Related: Bootstrapping Is Much More Fun Than Investors

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Case Studies

How AutoTrader Anticipated Change

AutoTrader South Africa is an online behemoth, boasting more than three million visitors each month. Not that long ago, though, the brand faced the very real possibility of extinction.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: George Mienie
  • Company: AutoTrader South Africa
  • Established: 1992
  • Visit:

Key learnings

  • Trends are out there to be identified. Being caught unprepared is unacceptable.
  • Change needs to be tracked through the use of a measurable KPI.
  • Don’t be afraid to act pre-emptively.
  • Do research. Know your customer.
  • Create an unprecedented user experience.

By the mid-2000s, it was becoming clear that the world was changing. The internet was going mainstream, placing massive pressure on industries that only a few years earlier had seemed untouchable.

The print industry in particular was coming under threat, with readers moving to the internet for information. Things didn’t change overnight, though. The general decline in readership was steady but quite slow.

Like a frog sitting in a slowly-heated pot of water, it was all too easy to ignore the evidence. AutoTrader South Africa, however, was not willing to accept death by attrition.

Related: Fake It ‘Til You Make It: How These 10 Entrepreneurs Did Just That

Measuring change


“When it comes to the digital realm, you can never complain that some development impacted you unexpectedly. The writing is always on the wall, provided you’re taking notice,” says AutoTrader CEO George Mienie.

Long before the global shift to digital mediums started to affect AutoTrader in a real way, the company began to prepare for the inevitable.

“We knew it was coming. The shift to digital was already starting in places such as the US and Europe,” says Mienie.

“We also knew that we needed to measure this shift in a reliable way. When it comes to managing difficult change, you need a KPI that you can reliably measure.”

Comparing unique users of a website to the circulation of the magazine wasn’t reliable enough, since it was impossible to truly know how many people had used any given copy as a reference when shopping for a vehicle. Some other KPI was needed.

“We settled on leads to dealers. We wanted to track how many people had actually contacted vehicle dealers thanks to the magazine, versus how many had contacted a dealer because of the website,” says Mienie.

Finding a KPI

Tracking website leads and comparing them to magazine leads sounds like a simple idea, until you actually start to think about it. If it’s hard to know how many people used a single copy of AutoTrader as a reference, how do you figure out how many leads the mag has generated? It was a conundrum.

Tracking leads on the website would be easier, provided you were willing to harm the user-friendliness of the site. AutoTrader wasn’t willing to do this.

“We could track website leads by forcing every user to fill in some kind of form before gaining access to a dealer’s details, but we weren’t willing to do this,” says Mienie.

“Today, the average user spends a phenomenal amount of time on our site. A typical visit lasts 12 minutes, and we believe this is because our site is easy to use. While KPIs are important, they shouldn’t come at the expense of the user. Everything should be done to make the experience for the client or user as pleasant as possible.

“With this in mind, we give our software engineers a lot of freedom. They don’t need to seek permission to improve the site. If they’ve been working on something that they think will improve the website, they can run with it. You never want bureaucracy to stand in the way of improvement.”

Related: 11 SA Entrepreneurs on What They’ve Learnt About Managing Staff

An innovative solution


In order to effectively measure leads from both AutoTrader magazine and the website, the company came up with a very elegant solution called Call Tracker.

The solution was so elegant and transparent that even regular consumers of AutoTrader probably wouldn’t have noticed its existence.

How does it work? The number that you find for any given dealer in the AutoTrader magazine or on the website was not the same as the regular number of that dealer, although, the number was dedicated to a dealer.

Instead, it is a technology that redirected the call through the company to the dealer. Thus, giving AutoTrader the ability to measure leads via phone to the dealer, which was the most-used way in which consumers got in touch with dealers in those years.

Importantly, the company regularly placed a different number for specific dealers on the website and in the magazine, meaning AutoTrader could track exactly which platform a lead was generated from, and give the dealers useful insights into his/her dealership’s response.

AutoTrader had in essence created a reliable but simple KPI, using sophisticated technology at the time, that could be used to track consumers’ migration from print to digital.

The watershed

As mentioned, the migration of users was fairly slow. AutoTrader had started monitoring the trend in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the website took over from the magazine as the core focus of the business.

In the mid-2000s, the company had printed around 230 000 magazines each month, and managed to sell 55% of those on a regular basis.

Today, it sells about 30 000 magazines a month. However, as magazine sales have declined, the number of visitors to the website has skyrocketed, with more than three million visitors to the website every month, opening more than 40 million pages.

Related: 5 Wrongheaded Attitudes Stunting Your Growth As An Entrepreneur

New competition

The migration of AutoTrader magazine advertisers (sellers) and consumers (buyers) to the website wasn’t guaranteed. Getting buyers and sellers of the magazine to embrace the AutoTrader website required hard work.

“As a magazine, we had a big advantage: Potential competitors were faced with very high barriers to entry. We had the capability to compile a 600-page magazine, print it and distribute it weekly. Any new competitor would have found it hard to match us,” says Mienie. “The internet, however, obliterated those barriers. Suddenly it was much easier to compete with AutoTrader.”

AutoTrader wasn’t afraid to pre-empt the digital shift. “You need to be willing to eat yourself. One of the things we did was to place the website prominently in the magazine, knowing that it would eat into sales. We had to take a short-term hit, but we knew that we would benefit from it in the long term.” The company also placed a huge emphasis on the user experience.

“You need to be the best,” says Mienie. “You need to lead the charge and be first to market with every new development. You also need to know and respect your consumer and dealer. We believe in creating a site that is easy to use and offers more content than you’ll find anywhere else. We also make it a priority to know the consumer’s car-buying journey and car sellers’ needs.

“But, the game is changing again, fewer and fewer consumers are using the phone, and to an even lesser degree email, to get in touch with dealers. Our research over the last year shows that more than 52% of car-buying consumers don’t phone or email a car dealer, but simply take the address and visit the dealer directly.

“When it comes to managing great change within a company, research is incredibly important. But just doing research isn’t enough you need to use it effectively. The temptation exists to hog research because you don’t want competitors to get hold of it. That doesn’t work. We know exactly how much time the average consumer spends studying vehicles before buying a new car. We also know how much of that time is spent online (15 hours), and how much is spent in the physical world visiting dealers (14 hours), and this trend is shifting rapidly toward less time in the physical world and more time searching online, which means the consumer has pretty much made his choice before he leaves his screen. We give that info to our salespeople, who in turn give it to our clients (car sellers). Information needs to be disseminated.”

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