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Chartered Wealth Solutions

A new take on retirement planning helps three entrepreneurs grow a multi-million rand business that’s at the forefront of a global retirement philosophy evolution.

Juliet Pitman




You’re great at what you do. So good in fact that you’re able to earn a lot of money. You work for yourself, you have your independence and you’re financially much better off than when you were employed. Life couldn’t be better. Isn’t entrepreneurship great?

Yes, except that you’re not an entrepreneur. To paraphrase Michael Gerber in his best-selling book The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, you’re a self-employed technician. You don’t actually run a business. Without you and your technical skills, the ‘business’ wouldn’t exist at all. It’s a position common to countless aspiring entrepreneurs: how do I turn something that I’m technically good at into a business?

It’s a question to which John Campbell and Barclay Hoar, independent financial planners, found an innovative answer that led to the creation of a multi-million rand company. But the story of specialist retirement planning company, Chartered Wealth Solutions, is about more than how two ‘technicians’ managed to move beyond self-employment to entrepreneurship. It’s also a story about refusing to accept the industry status quo, about securing a leadership position through benchmarking against the latest international trends, and ultimately finding a new way of doing what is an old business.

Changing the conversation

Chartered Wealth prides itself on offering financial life planning, as Hoar explains: “Most financial planners start off by looking at a client’s risk profile, which then informs the kind of retirement product they choose, which in turn will determine the return they get and ultimately their lifestyle. Financial life planning turns that on its head – it  starts off by asking what kind of lifestyle a person wants to live after retirement. This is the critical point of departure and determines the return they require and the product they should invest in, before looking at whether the individual has the appetite for the associated risk.”

According to Campbell, Hoar and Kim Potgieter (who joined as Chartered Wealth’s third partner later on in the business), the problem with retirement planning is two-fold. On the one hand, people have no clear picture of what they would like their retirement to look like. On the other hand, the conversations that retirement planners have with them are focused solely on money.

“They talk about investment returns, what the markets are doing and whether you are putting away enough to ‘have enough money when you retire’. Obviously this is important stuff, but it‘s only one side of the equation. Money is only a means to an end, it’s an enabler that allows you to live a certain lifestyle. But if you don’t know what your ideal retirement lifestyle looks like – in detail – how do you know if you’re putting away enough money for it? And how can I as a retirement planner possibly assure you that your investment is sufficient or appropriate?” says Campbell.

Financial life planning changes the conversation, focusing on helping clients write a ‘life plan’ to clarify the return they want to get on their retirement investment. “Of course, good retirement planners will probably be incorporating elements of life planning into their conversations with their clients, but ultimately what they really focus on is the financial side of things — the calculators, graphs and tables and the assumption that if you have X amount of money in the bank upon retirement you will be okay,” says Potgieter.

It would be naïve, adds Hoar, to say that the money is not important in your retirement. After all, you can have as clear a picture of your ideal retirement as you like, but if you haven’t made the right financial investments and decisions, you’re still no nearer to living that ideal life. “You need both. So 50% of our meetings with clients focus on ‘the maths’ while the other 50% look at life planning,” he explains.

The psychology of money

Where Chartered Wealth has really set itself apart is in the use of formal and sophisticated tools for life planning. “There is a range of sophisticated financial tools for retirement planning, and we felt that the same degree of rigour needed to be applied to the life planning part of retirement,” says Campbell.

These tools ask questions that uncover clients’ attitudes towards and beliefs about money, and help them to build a clear visual picture of what they would like to get out of their retirement from a lifestyle point of view.

Potgieter, who has a psychology degree and is fascinated by the interplay of psychology and financial decisions, explains why this is important: “Each and every person has a different, personal relationship with their money and it is this unconscious, qualitative relationship that often dictates our financial behaviour. By examining your personal history with money you can identify which money issues from your past are shaping your financial attitudes and behaviours today,” she says.

She illustrates her point with an example: “Some of my clients are part of the ‘silent generation’. They grew up in a post-WWII world, where ‘waste not want not’ was a way of life and frugality was a necessity. These same clients now may have several million rands saved for their retirement, yet they conduct their lives as if they are one pay-cheque away from the street.”

She sees her job as a financial life planner to help these clients make whatever money they have work to create the best life for them in retirement.  Hoar concurs, “I believe that financial planning is a lot more than just the critical role of managing a client’s money wisely. It also requires an insight into the client’s life, and what money really means to them. Managing a client’s money and helping them make the most of it is what financial planning is really all about.”

As such, Chartered Wealth’s retirement planning philosophy also involves helping clients to understand and handle the personal challenges that come with retirement. “The goal of our business is to help people lead a happy life in retirement, and the key to this is not only being prepared financially but also ready emotionally. Retirement is not a financial event; it’s a life-stage and it can be challenging on many different fronts. You therefore need to prepare for it in a variety of different ways,” says Campbell.

Turning it into a business

The Chartered Wealth team are quick to point out that they can’t take credit for having birthed the life planning philosophy.

In 2000, Hoar and Campbell, who had been operating as independent brokers, joined forces. Like many in their profession, they were able to command a good commission-based income. “But we were really nothing more than salesmen – we sold anything and everything, from retirement annuities to life insurance policies, and we did it well. But we wanted something more. The philosophy behind lifestyle financial planning  gave us a clear idea of what ‘more’ might look like,” says Hoar.

Andrew Bradley, CEO of financial services group, acsis introduced Chartered Wealth to the concept of lifestyle financial planning in 2002 and this gave them the purpose and direction they’d been looking for. Hoar explains that instead of building an investment portfolio around a client’s tolerance for risk, lifestyle financial planning identifies what return a client needs from their investment portfolio in order to live the lifestyle they want, and then ensures they can stomach the risk.

In 2008, Chartered Wealth Solutions decided to take this concept to a whole new level when they realised that many of their clients did not have a clear vision of their lifestyle in retirement. As they believed this to be the fundamental step in designing a retirement plan, they partnered with Mitch Anthony, a pioneer of life planning in the US, to include this in their offering.

They may not be the authors of the life planning methodology, but they can take credit for having turned it into a thriving business. “It gave us a focus and a differentiator. But we also took some extremely important steps – many of them risks — to try and create a business that was more than just two commission-earning brokers sharing office space together,” says Campbell. Here’s what they did:

  1. We put ourselves onto salaries. We realised that we’d need to invest money in building the business. Brokers usually draw all their commission-earned income but we knew that we’d never grow if we did that. It was a difficult step and for six months we sacrificed  personal income, but it was critical to the growth of the business.
  2. We dedicated 20% of our time to working on the business. Every Friday was set aside to focus on the business, its strategy, direction and growth. We recognised the importance of this and were influenced in our decision after reading Jim Collins’ Good to Great.
  3. We moved from a commission-based system to a fee-based system. This gave the business an ongoing annuity income and meant we weren’t starting at zero every month. It also meant that existing clients were as important to us as new clients, which we believed was important in an industry so often criticised for its hit-and-run sales tactics. A fee-based system made more sense to our business. Because life, finances and goals change over time, a client’s financial life plan has to be revisited, reviewed and adapted every year. This requires an ongoing relationship with our clients that isn’t usually found in the commission-based sale of single products.
  4. We specialised in the niche retirement industry. When we first started out we did anything and everything, from short-term insurance to medical aid. Specialising gave us real focus and helped to define a clear target market of people 55 and older who want to have conversations not just about return on investment, but what they can get out of life beyond retirement.
  5. We focused on the client’s experience. This industry is not known for delivering a good customer experience and we wanted to change that. We invested in creating a space that was welcoming and professional. This also allowed us to ask clients to come and see us, which is rare in the industry, and in turn cut down drastically on the time we had to spend on the road.
  6. We closed the skills gaps that existed in the company. We have grown from six people to 37 but we found that in many instances people were often performing tasks that weren’t well aligned to their skills set. To address this, we matched every employee’s role to their particular skills set so they were doing what they were best suited to do, and where necessary we hired people to take care of the other tasks.

Of all these changes, the toughest was converting from a commission to a fee-based structure, but it was this move that had the most profound impact on the business and its future. “When you’re earning commission, you start at zero every year and have to work harder and longer to earn more. When we were earning commission, the business’s turnover was R2,2 million. Eight years after moving to a fee-based structure it’s R24 million and, most importantly, our income is stable and we have a business to show for our efforts,” says Hoar.

Campbell points out that Chartered Wealth is run like a listed company. “Everyone is on a salary, we distribute the profit via dividends and plough the rest back into the business,” he says.

The company also took a decision to outsource the management of investments to external specialists. “We recognise that financial planning is separate from investment management and believe that each should be handled by an expert best qualified and experienced to do so,” Hoar comments.

International benchmarking

Part of Chartered Wealth’s success lies in the fact that it looked to international best practice in defining its own direction. The financial services industry is changing and the company aims to be at the forefront of its evolution.

In 2008 Campbell was named Financial Planner of the Year and as part of his award won a trip to the Financial Planning Association Conference in the United States. A book there caught his eye. “It was called Financial Planning – The Next Step by Roy Diliberto. That title really resonated with me because it spoke to the kinds of questions we were asking about where to take financial planning,” says Campbell, who brought the book home for Hoar and Potgieter to read.

Many entrepreneurs read books and some even follow the advice they offer, but few of them phone up the authors, convince them to meet with them and fly halfway around the world to do so, which is what Campbell, Hoar and Potgieter did.

“We met with Roy who was incredibly generous about sharing his ideas with us, and we then went on to meet with Mitch Anthony, of the Financial Life Planning Institute in the US, who developed the financial life planning tools that we use in our business today,” says Campbell.

The meeting with Anthony also resulted in Potgieter, one of only two registered financial life planners in South Africa, setting up the affiliated South African Financial Life Planning Institute, further cementing Chartered Wealth’s position as a thought-leader in the financial life planning industry.

Adding value

One of Potgieter’s driving passions is changing the financial planning industry. “I hated financial planners. My experience of them was that they’d sell me a product and then I’d never hear from them again. Even though I had no financial background, the retirement industry really resonated with me and I knew I wanted to be involved in it somehow. I also knew I wanted to see it changed,” she says.

Driven by this passion and firm belief in the value of financial life planning, Chartered Wealth Solutions established, an online resource for retired South Africans.

“If we are truly all about helping people to live a great life in retirement, then we can’t just pay lip service to it. We need to give them the tools to do so, beyond the financial life plan that they pay us for,” says Potgieter, who realised that there was no local online resource for retirees. “People now live 20 or 30 years past retirement age. That’s a long time to spend sipping gin and tonics or playing golf, and the whole thing can be daunting. I wanted to create something that would help people enjoy their life and the money they’d saved,” she continues.

A key feature of the website is a Balance Test measuring eight areas of life that need to be balanced for a happy retirement. “These are money, health, relationships, play, purpose, work, giving back and learning. Once visitors have completed the online Balance Test they can see which areas of their life are lacking, and can use the information on the website from various retirement mentors, to inspire and improve those areas of their life,” Potgieter explains.

Although an online retirement-readiness calculator gives visitors the option of requesting an assessment, which in turn leads them to contact Chartered Wealth Solutions, the website is not a hard-sell. For the most part it is deliberately separate from the Chartered Wealth brand and is intentionally open to all retirees, whether they are Chartered Wealth clients or not. However with Potgieter’s involvement, it serves to strengthen the company’s position as a retirement leader, and delivers an important value-add to their clients.

“Adding extra value is part of our ethos. We have access to so much useful information for retirees and we like to share it. In addition to the website, we give small value-adds to clients such as our Show Me The Ropes booklet, which is a guide to navigating the Internet. It tells them how to use things like Facebook and Skype,” Potgieter explains.

Forging ahead

Chartered Wealth has received a number of awards. In the same year that Campbell won the Financial Planner of the Year award, the company was listed as a finalist in the Best Practice of the Year, going on the following year to win the title.

But the company has never actively engaged in formal marketing or advertising, relying instead on word of mouth referrals. However as the industry changes someone is bound to  try and ‘own’ the financial life planning space and Campbell, Hoar and Potgieter are aware of the importance of being recognised as a leader.

“It goes back to working ‘on’ the business and not just ‘in’ the business. We tell our clients that you need to allocate time, thought and money to being able to live a dream. It’s the same with business, and we try not to forget that,” Campbell concludes.

A Balanced Life

Retiring rich isn’t only about having money in the bank – it’s about how you spend that money and whether you lead a fulfilling life.

Life planning

Financial life planning isn’t just about products: it starts by asking what kind of lifestyle you want to live after retirement, and then finds the right products.

It’s not about the money

Yes, investments are based on money, but this is not the be-all and end-all. How can you know what you should be putting away if you aren’t clear why you are putting the money away?

50/50 Rule

50% of your investment strategy should focus on the maths, and 50% should look at life planning – ie. what the math gets you.

Your relationship with cash

How you save for your retirement — and ultimately live your life — has a lot to do with your relationship with money. How do you feel about money? That’s the first question to ask.

Emotional decisions

Retirement is not only a financial event. It’s a life stage that can either be incredibly fulfilling — or very challenging. Deciding which starts now.

Sharing the lessons

The founders of Chartered Wealth have shifted their own mind sets, moving away from merely being ‘technicians’ of the trade, and becoming the owners of a business that will have a lasting legacy.

Here are the lessons they have learnt:

1. Follow your passion

Ours was two-fold: to build a business that went beyond broking and to help change the financial planning industry for the better.

2. Become a specialist

Aim to be truly great at one thing. Accept that you can never do everything brilliantly, so specialise in one chosen area.

3. Identify why you’re in business

We wanted to build a business and make a difference to people’s lives. If we’d only wanted to make money, we would never have moved away from commission-based earnings. If we hadn’t wanted to make a difference to people’s lives we would never have listened to the financial life planning philosophy.
This has defined our success.

And finally, do the best thing for your clients or customers and the rest will follow.

Planning in action

Living The Right Retirement

Kim Potgieter likes case studies. She believes they are the only true test of whether Chartered Wealth is achieving its goal of helping people to use their money to live a better life in retirement. She shares the following case to demonstrate how financial security is not the only factor that determines retirement success.

“A 62-year-old man came to see me. He had R36 million invested but was not happy. He longed to start a meaningful hobby but had been roped in to act as his grandchildren’s au pair in the afternoon because his daughter was working full-time in a job she hated. He also wanted to take his family to China for a holiday but did not think he could afford to do so.

“Using a basic calculation I was able to clearly show him that he had more than enough money to live on. I suggested that he assist his daughter financially in her dream to start a nursery school from home. This would mean she could give up her full-time job, replacing it with a new part-time job that she would really enjoy.

“This would not only be more personally satisfying for her but it would mean she would be able to take over looking after her children in the afternoon, freeing my client up to start pursuing all the things that he’d wanted to do in life.

“I also suggested that he take R150 000 out of his investment to take his family to China to see the Great Wall of China. The real eye-opener for him was that even when we factored in these withdrawals, his portfolio value hardly changed. Yet, by making these changes, his life and that of his family would be made immeasurably richer.

If I’d only assessed his financial situation I would have sent him away to live an unhappily retired life, telling him he was in an enviably perfect position for a dream retirement. But because our process looks at what people want from their life in retirement I was able to uncover all his dreams, fears and disappointments, and how they were linked to his financial perceptions. And most importantly, I was able to help him make a change for the better.”

Assess your situation

Take the test

Visit wheel-of-balance and evaluate whether you are leading a balanced life — and how to restore balance if you aren’t.

Adding real value

Giving your clients what they need

Chartered Wealth Solutions’ Retire Successfully website is an excellent example of how to maintain positive client relationships at very little additional cost to the business, and one from which other entrepreneurs can learn. Delivering value isn’t only about delivering what you promised — it can also be about giving your customers something extra that will enhance their life and improve their experience of dealing with you.

“But whatever you choose to give has to be relevant and should fill a real need. Chartered Wealth’s website meets these criteria perfectly. It provides retirees with a mix of useful practical information, access to retirement experts and motivation and inspiration to lead a more fulfilling and richer life. It also recognises their need to remain connected and provides them with the opportunity to be part of a community. Importantly, it fills a gap in the online space that was previously unfilled.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.


Entrepreneur Profiles

4 Lessons From The Pivotal Group Founders On Growing And Disrupting All At Once

Here’s how they’ve built what they believe to be the foundations of a successful group of businesses in five years.

Nadine Todd




Vital stats

  • Company: Pivotal Group
  • Players: Paul Hutton, Joel Stransky and Bruce Arnold
  • What they do:  Pivotal pioneered voice biometrics in the financial and telecommunications market. Over time, the company has grown to include nine divisions across multiple sectors.
  • Launched: 2012
  • Visit:

How do you build a disruptive business while also focusing on growth? Disruptive ideas are by definition new and unknown to the market. They defy traditional and established solutions and ways of doing business, and they require the market to be educated before you can really onboard clients or even sell your product or service.

The answer is to build parallel solutions: Business units that bring in revenue while the more disruptive ideas are being developed and introduced to the market. Here are the four top lessons the founders of the Pivotal Group have learnt while building their business and pursuing disruptive opportunities simultaneously.

1. Know who your competitors (and potential competitors) are

Great ideas that are economically viable and solve a need that consumers are willing to pay for are few and far between. Great ideas alone are a dime a dozen, but if you’ve spotted a need, chances are someone else has as well. You then need to step back and critically evaluate why someone else hasn’t done this before; if they have done it and they’ve failed; or if you’re entering shark-infested waters riddled with competitors.

Once you’ve determined there is a gap in the market, you need to evaluate who your potential competitors are, and the impact if they suddenly started offering a similar solution to the market.

For Paul Hutton, Bruce Arnold and Joel Stransky, the founders of OneVault, competition was always a factor, particularly as a start-up, and given that potential competitors included Bytes and Dimension Data, this was a very real factor to consider. After careful analysis, however, the founders decided to go for it. Their differentiator was their business model. They wouldn’t be selling OneVault as a software solution, but as a service.

Related: Which Of These 7 Personality Traits Do You Share With The World’s Richest People?

The idea had taken root while Paul was still CEO of TransUnion Credit Bureau. “I came across voice biometrics in Canada. There’s been a surge in identity fraud around the world, and I really understood the value of voice recognition as a verification tool,” he explains. “It can’t be faked, and it’s the only remote biometrics solution available, because you don’t physically need to be there to verify yourself.”

Paul had presented the idea to Transunion’s global board, and while they were intrigued, nothing came of it. “TransUnion’s model is to buy companies that are experts in their specific fields, not launch a new disruptive division from scratch.”

But this meant there was an opportunity for Paul to pursue the idea independently. Joel (former MD of Altech Netstar and CEO of Hertz SA) and Bruce (formerly Group CFO of TransUnion Africa and CFO at Unitrans Freight) were immediately interested in partnering with Paul. Both wanted to pursue entrepreneurship, although neither could do so immediately. The commitment was enough for Paul to get directly involved and start working on the business while he waited for his partners to join him.

In January 2011, Paul and Joel travelled to the UK and started investigating voice biometric solutions. “Voice biometrics was fairly new, but good technology was available, and there were global leaders in the sector,” says Joel.

It was important to choose the right product for the South African market, as this would form the basis of their offering. A contact at Dimension Data (one of whom became an investor in the business) offered this simple and straightforward advice:

When you’re choosing a technology partner, go with the company whose tech you’re confident in, and whose leadership is stable. You’re basing so much on this company and their longevity, so don’t disregard this criteria.

For Paul, Joel and Bruce, a US-based company, Nuance, ticked those boxes. But, from a competitive perspective, OneVault wasn’t the only potential player in the market. “Neither Bytes nor Dimension Data had gone into voice, but they had the potential to do so,” says Bruce. “The products were available to them through their partners.”

To mitigate this very clear risk, the founders made two critical decisions. “Our intention was to sell voice biometrics as a service, instead of a software solution that customers bought and owned, with the necessary infrastructure to go with it. The idea for OneVault was that there would be one place where your voice print lived, and different businesses could plug into our solution.”

The business model of large technology players in South Africa is to sell integrated software solutions, so OneVault’s business model was a differentiator. The next differentiator Paul, Bruce and Joel focused on was becoming specialists in their field.

“This is Paul’s baby,” says Bruce. “We’ve needed to build up a niche, expert team that specialises in voice biometrics. Because we aren’t generalists, 100% of our focus goes into this, instead of 5% or 10%.”

To attract the best in their fields, the founders needed a very appealing culture and a strong recruitment strategy. “We focused on what we wanted from our work environment, and then applied the same rules across the business,” says Joel. “Our goals were to drink good coffee, have no leave forms — ever; be able to take the time to ride our bikes and watch our kids play sports. If someone can’t make it work, or takes advantage without putting in the work, they come and go, but on the whole, we’ve had extremely low churn, and we’ve attracted — and kept — incredible talent.”

This differentiator would prove to be important for two reasons. First, two and a half years into the business, with investors on board and having pumped a significant amount of their own capital into the business, the team hit a major stumbling block. For a few weeks, they didn’t even know if they had a business.

“We had been operating on one major, and as it turned out, faulty, assumption,” says Paul. “We thought South African companies had the right telephony structure to implement our solution. We’d been building our solution on top of Nuance’s software, and were ready to start piloting the entire system with a few key customers, and we found out that in order to meet global voice biometric standards, the telephone technology had to be G711 compliant. South Africa was operating on G729.”

This was OneVault’s make or break moment. The team had six weeks to come up with a solution that ensured it met the necessary levels of accuracy. Without a highly skilled team this would have been impossible.

Even as a start-up, the strategy had been to only bring the best of the best on board. “We didn’t interview,” says Bruce. “We approached people whom we knew. We approached the best in the industry, and convinced them to take a chance with us. There was risk, but there were also rewards.” One of those people was Bradley Scott, a brilliant engineer whom both Paul and Bruce had worked with at Transunion.

Today, OneVault is one of the most specialist companies in the world, and often asked to speak at events in the US.

Being the niche specialists paid off, and OneVault achieved the almost impossible. But this had its downside.

Once you’ve shown something can be done, the bar of what’s impossible moves. Competitors enter your space.

This was the second reason why being such focused, niche experts paid off. “We demo’d the solution for a large local corporate, they loved it, and then went to a ‘then’ competitor  to implement it,” says Paul.

“We always knew this was a real danger. Players like Bytes and Dimension Data have solid, existing client relationships with the same companies we’re targeting.”

18 months later the project still wasn’t working. “This is deep specialist knowledge,” says Paul. “Knowledge we built while we created our offering.” OneVault won the contract, and developed a partnership with Bytes at the same time. Today, OneVault works with all the major software integrators in the market. “We’re a specialist service they can offer their clients, without needing to put the same time and energy we needed to put in to become the specialists.”

Through a focused strategy, OneVault has become a partner, rather than a competitor, of some of the largest players in the industry.

2. Understand the nature of disruption so that you can prepare for it


In today’s ever-changing and fast-paced business world, most business experts are in agreement that as a company, you’re either the disruptor, or you’re being disrupted. The problem is that disruption comes with its own set of challenges.

“Our entire business model was built around a subscription service. Instead of a company buying a software solution, installing it and running it internally, we would do all of that. We would carry the infrastructure burden, and the high upfront cost,” says Joel.

In theory, this sounded like a clear win for businesses that would benefit from a voice biometrics solution. The reality is never so simple, particularly when you’re a disruptor.

“The software is expensive, and so we thought this would be seen as an excellent solution,” says Paul. “Instead, we faced a lot of reticence over the cloud. Businesses didn’t trust it yet.”

On top of that, first movers are often faced with a lag in corporate governance guidelines. As technology becomes more sophisticated, so governance guidelines change — but it’s a slow process, and the lag can impede disruptors.

“You also can’t give proper reference cases, because it’s all brand new to your market,” says Paul. “The best we had was a case study of how well it had worked in Turkey.”

To compound matters, proof of revenue is essential for businesses wanting to trade with large corporates, but non-existent in the start-up phase.

So, what’s the solution? According to Joel, Bruce and Paul, it’s all about being patient, never giving up, building gravitas and getting a few clients on board, even if it’s free of charge to build up your reputation and prove your concept. Finally, you need to bring in revenue from more traditional channels to support your disruptive products and solutions.

“Disruptive solutions are by their nature new and different, which means change management for your customers. This makes the sales cycle long and complex, and you have to be prepared for that,” says Bruce.

Don’t stop laying your groundwork. While disruptors are ahead of the curve, you need to be ready for the uptake when it arrives. “We’ve now concluded a partnership with South Africa Fraud Prevention Services,” says Paul. “When an imposter calls we won’t only  terminate the transaction but we will alert the identity being compromised in the attempt and we will actively prevent fraud by contacting Fraud Prevention. The ultimate vision is for every South African’s voice biometric signature to live in our vault, and we are already receiving imposter information.”

3. Cultivate additional revenue streams

So, what do you do while you are living through the extremely long sales turnaround time of your disruptive, game-changing solution? Bills still have to be paid and investment is needed to develop truly disruptive ideas.

First, the team realised that while an annuity subscription service was their ultimate goal and where the industry was heading, initially they needed to be able to sell and implement the software.

It’s worth noting that one of OneVault’s earliest customers who bought the software has since launched a new business, which is on OneVault’s annuity service model. The shift has just taken time. “The change is happening, but it’s been slower than we anticipated,” says Bruce. “We needed to accept that fact and sell the software to bring revenue into the business while we were waiting for the market to catch up.”

It’s an important lesson. You don’t want to get distracted from your vision, but you need to be bringing in revenue, even if that means your short-term strategy differs from your long-term goals.

“It took three years before we really started seeing a move towards hosted solutions,” he adds. “Outsourced and offsite solutions are opex environments, not capex. They are more cost-effective for customers, but they require a shift in thinking. It’s a move away from how things have always been done, and that takes time.”

But, while Paul, Bruce and Joel were learning the art of patience, they also needed to start bringing revenue into the business.

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“It was clear that we needed to find other opportunities,” says Joel. The result is the Pivotal Group, a diversified holding company with different businesses that are interlinked and complementary.

The group’s first business outside of OneVault, Pivotal Data, was based on a large call centre contract Joel, Paul and Bruce secured. “You can’t be an expert in everything – when you specialise you will always be more successful. The trick is to partner with other experts,” says Joel. In this case, three entrepreneurs were opening a call centre — this was their area of expertise; they were absolute subject matter experts. What they weren’t experts in was technology or facilities management. Instead of doing it themselves, they were looking for partners.

“We manage everything aside from the people element,” explains Joel. “We found and leased a building, built the bespoke workspace, put in the technology, and managed the facility and IT on an opex basis back to them.”

The business immediately had a good anchor client, and Pivotal Data has built on that. The annuity income has supported further growth.

“This was a base for us, but we’ve acquired a few businesses on the back of this success, and created our own cloud contact centre solution — which also feeds into what we’re doing with OneVault,” says Bruce. “Our vision is to create a technology stack that’s world-class and provides a range of services that no other businesses provide as a single solution.”

Because of this pivot into call centre management, a new opportunity has presented itself, and Pivotal’s ambition has grown to include a solution that calls, authenticates, and then analyses all the data that is collected during those calls.

“Through partnerships, my team has developed a predictive analytics system that gives contact centres deep diagnostic tools. We can predict why agents are having the conversations they have, and what to tweak to improve them. We see the agent’s problem before they do. This isn’t just value add, it’s a revenue generating tool if it improves lead conversion rates and customer service. It’s also all geared to lowering call volumes.

“We know we need to keep looking forward. OneVault is starting to gain real traction, but we need to be working on the next disruptive solution and model. We can’t sit back and relax,” says Bruce.

“Three years ago we said that’s it; no more start-ups or investing in pre-adoption phase businesses. From now on, everything we do will be revenue generating,” says Paul. “We’d stretched three years of runway to five years in OneVault, and we didn’t want to keep doing that. We wanted instant revenue businesses. And the very next thing we did was invest in a start-up. It’s a crazy space, but it’s also very rewarding.”

To sustain it, the group continues to grow, focusing on investing in businesses and entrepreneurs who are subject matter experts and therefore already know and understand the market, and then positioning each new business or service to plug into the current offering.

“Data is our golden thread — technology and the disruptive space,” says Joel.

4. Be open to new ideas and opportunities


Integral to the Pivotal Group’s positioning is Paul, Bruce and Joel’s focus on supporting other business owners whose offerings align with the group’s own growth goals, and who would benefit from joining a group.

“If your goal is to be disruptive, you need to be open to all kinds of new ideas,” says Joel. Some will be better than others, and the co-founders have made the decision to focus on the ‘jockey’ rather than the business as a result. Business offerings and ideas need to pivot. If you have the right partners, finding a solution is all part of the challenge.

Pivotal’s move into the world of artificial intelligence is due to one such partnership. “One of our clients approached us with a concept. But he needed a partner to develop it into a proper AI solution,” says Joel.

It’s an augmented intelligence solution that focuses on recruitment, talent management and career guidance. The solution screens, ranks and matches candidates against a job profile, or a number of profiles. It’s a multidisciplinary platform that predicts the performance of the individual in a role.

“Our partner is a former Accenture consultant and a leader in this field. His focus is on the IP and science of the product, ours is on the business component.”

The challenge is how to commercialise and scale the business in as short a time frame as possible. Like many disruptive products, the adoption process is a stumbling block. “We invest at the pre-adoptive curve — not at the revenue generating stage, which means a big focus is always on how we can take an idea and build it into a revenue generating business,” says Bruce.

The business uses capital selectively. “We want to invest in and drive our own agenda,” says Paul. “We’re in charge of our own destiny, but it’s not comfortable or simple. We came from corporate. Big machines that you need to direct and keep on course. This is an entirely different challenge and we are still learning.”

Related: Listen And Learn: Why Podcasts Aren’t Just For Start-up Founders

Listen to the podcast

Matt BrownMatt Brown interviews Paul, Joel and Bruce and discusses what it’s like to invest in pre-adoptive start-ups and staying ahead of the curve.

To listen to the podcast, go to or find the Matt Brown Show on iTunes or Stitcher.

The Matt Brown Show is a podcast with a listenership in over 100 countries and is designed to empower entrepreneurs around the world through information sharing.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Afritorch Digital An Overnight Success That Was Years In The Making

By any standard, local start-up AfriTorch Digital has seen phenomenal growth and traction. But, while the company’s success might seem quick and effortless, there is a lot of hard work behind it.

GG van Rooyen




Vital stats

  • Players: Michel M. Katuta and Thabo Mphate
  • Company: Afritorch Digital
  • Established: 2017
  • Visit:
  • About: Afritorch Digital assists research agencies in conducting market research through its in-depth knowledge of the African continent and its use of the latest digital technologies.

There is a saying that goes: It takes years to become an overnight success. While a company or individual might seem to enjoy sudden (and seemingly effortless) success, there is often more to the story. The results are usually public and well-publicised, but the years of hard work that came before go unnoticed.

Local start-up AfriTorch Digital is a great example of this. Since launching in May 2017, the business has seen excellent growth. “To be honest, we were very surprised by the level of success. Things progressed a lot quicker than we anticipated,” says co-founder Thabo Mphate.

 “All the goals we had hoped to reach in four or sixth months, we managed to hit in the first month. It was just amazing.”

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

Preparing to launch

While AfriTorch Digital has certainly seen quick growth and success, it would be a mistake to assume that the same is true of the two founders. For them, the creation of AfriTorch was years in the making.

“The goal was always to start our own business,” says Thabo. “I think we’re both entrepreneurs at heart, and we saw an opportunity to create a unique kind of business that offered an innovative solution to clients, but we also realised the value of getting some experience first. Without the knowledge, experience, network and intimate understanding of the industry landscape, getting AfriTorch off the ground would have been incredibly difficult.”

Entrepreneurs tend to dislike working for other people. They want to forge their own path. However, as AfriTorch Digital’s case illustrates, spending time in the industry that you’d like to launch your business in is tremendously useful.

“Finding clients when we launched AfriTorch was relatively easy,” says company co-founder and CEO Michel Katuta. “One reason for this, I think, was that we were offering potential clients a great solution, but the other was that we had established a name for ourselves in the industry. People knew us. We had worked for respected companies, and we had done work for large clients. So, when we launched, we were able to provide a new start-up with credibility in the industry.”

The Lesson: Becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t always start with the launch of a company. Spending time in an established business, gaining experience and making contacts, can be invaluable. Very often, it’s the relationships you build during this time and the knowledge you accumulate that will help make your company a success.

Solving a problem

Everyone knows that launching a successful business means solving a burning problem, but what does that mean in practice? Aren’t all the burning problems already being addressed? And how do you attempt this without any money?

Thabo and Michel identified a small group of potential clients with a burning problem. Crucially, it was a problem that no one outside of the research field could have identified. Having spent years in the trenches, they saw a massive gap waiting to be filled.

Related: AutoTrader South Africa’s George Mienie Knows Disruptive Innovation Is More Than Shifting Gears

“A decade ago, researchers were still debating whether the future of the field was in the digital space. That debate is now over. Everyone agrees that online is the way to go. What once took months now takes days or hours, and the cost of research can be reduced by a factor of five,” says Michel.

“But researchers are not technology specialists. If made available, they are eager to adopt digital tools, but they aren’t eager to develop these tools themselves. That’s not their area of expertise.”

AfriTorch Digital stepped up to provide these tools. Katuta has a background in software engineering, so he could approach research problems with the eye of a tech specialist. Very soon, research agencies were lining up to make use of AfriTorch Digital’s services.

“We work with research agencies that conduct research on behalf of their clients. We provide the digital tools needed to conduct research online, and we provide the online communities. A big reason for our success is that we understand Africa. A lot of companies want to conduct research in Africa, but traditionally, this has been very hard. There was a lack of access and a lack of infrastructure that made research very hit-and-miss. Thanks to the continent’s adoption of mobile technology, it’s now much easier. If you have the technological know-how and an understanding of the environment, you can do amazing things,” says Michel.

The Lesson: Find a niche and own it. Research agencies might not have seemed like an obvious and lucrative market, but having spent time in the industry, the AfriTorch founders were able to identify clients who would be desperate for their offering. Spending time in an industry will help you see where the opportunities lie.

Take note

Before launching a business, get to know an industry from the inside out. This will give you an unparalleled view into gaps you can service.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Jason English On Growing Prommac’s Turnover Tenfold And Being Mindful Of The ‘Oros Effect’

Rapid growth and expansion can lead to a dilution of the foundational principles that defined your company in its early days. Jason English of Prommac discusses how you can retain your company’s culture and vision while growing quickly.

GG van Rooyen




Vital stats

  • Player: Jason English
  • Position: CEO
  • Company: Prommac
  • Associations: Young President’s Organisation (YPO)
  • Turnover: R300 million (R1 billion as a group)
  • Visit:
  • About: Prommac is a construction services business specialising in commissioning, plant maintenance, plant shutdowns and capital projects. Jason English purchased the majority of the company late in 2012, and currently acts as its CEO. Under his leadership, the company has grown from a small business to an international operation.

Since Jason English purchased Prommac in 2012, the company has experienced phenomenal growth. At the time he took over as owner and CEO, it was a small operation that boasted a turnover below R50 million.

Today, Prommac is part of a diversified group of companies under the CG Holdings umbrella and alone has grown it’s turnover nearly ten fold since Jason English took over. As a group, CG Holdings, of which Jason is a founder, is generating in excess of R1 billion. How has Prommac managed such phenomenal growth? According to Jason, it’s all about company culture… and about protecting your glass of Oros.

Jason English

Related: 5 Top Lessons From LAWTrust To Prepare For Super-Charged Growth

“As your business grows, it suffers from something that I call the Oros Effect. Think of your small start-up as an undiluted glass of Oros. When you’re leading a small company, it really is a product of you. You know everything about the business and you make every decision. The systems, the processes, the culture — these are all a product of your actions and beliefs. As you grow, though, things start to change. With every new person added to the mix, you dilute that glass of Oros.

“That’s not to say that your employees are doing anything wrong, or that they are actively trying to damage the business, but the culture — which was once so clear — becomes hazy. The company loses that singular vision. As the owner, you’re forced to share ‘your Oros’ with an increasing number of people, and by pouring more and more of it into other glasses, it loses the distinctive flavour it once had. By the time you’re at the head of a large international company, you can easily be left with a glass that contains more water than Oros.

“Protecting and nurturing a company’s culture isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Prommac has enjoyed excellent growth, and I ascribe a lot of that success to our company culture. Whenever we’ve spent real time and money on replenishing the Oros, we’ve seen the benefits of it directly afterwards.

“There have been times when we have made the tough decision to slow growth and focus on getting the culture right. Growth is great, of course, but it’s hard to get the culture right when new people are joining the company all the time and you’re scaling aggressively. So, we’ve slowed down at times, but we’ve almost always seen immediate benefits in terms of growth afterwards. We focus heavily on training that deals with things like the systems, processes and culture of the company. We’ve also created a culture and environment that you won’t necessarily associate with engineering and heavy industries. In fact, it has more in common with a Silicon Valley company like Google than your traditional engineering firm.

“Acquisitions can be particularly tricky when it comes to culture and vision. As mentioned, CG Holdings has acquired several companies over the last few years, and when it comes to acquisition, managing the culture is far trickier than it is with normal hiring. When you hire a new employee, you can educate them in the ways and culture of the business. When you acquire an entire company, you import not only a large number of new people, but also an existing organisation with its own culture and vision. Because of this, we’ve created a centralised hub that manages all training and other company activities pertaining to culture. We don’t allow the various companies to do their own thing. That helps to manage the culture as the company grows and expands, since it ensures that everyone’s on the same page.

“Systems and processes need to make sense. One of the key reasons that drove us to create a central platform for training is the belief that systems and processes need to make sense to employees. Everyone should understand the benefits of using a system. If they don’t understand a system or process, they will revert to what they did in the past, especially when you’re talking about an acquired company. You should expect employees to make use of the proper systems and processes, but they need to be properly trained in them first. A lot of companies have great systems, but they aren’t very good at actually implementing them, and the primary reason for this is a lack of training.

“Operations — getting the work done — is seen as the priority, and training is only done if and when a bit of extra time is available. We fell into that trap a year ago. We had enjoyed a lot of growth and momentum, so we didn’t slow down. Eventually, we could see that this huge push, and the consequent lack of focus on the core values of the business, were affecting operations. So, we had to put the hammer down and refocus on systems, processes and culture. Today Prommac is back at the top of it’s game having been awarded the prestigious Service Provider of the year for 2017 by Sasol for both their Secunda and Sasolburg chemical complexes.

Related: Establishing The Wheels Of Change In Business

“If you want to know about the state of your company’s culture, go outside the business. We realised that we needed to ‘pour more Oros into the company’ by asking clients. We use customer surveys to track our own performance and to make sure that the company is in a healthy state. It’s a great way to monitor your organisation, and there are trigger questions that can be asked, which will give you immediate insight into the state of the culture.


“It’s important, of course, to ask your employees about the state of the business and its culture as well, but you should also ask your customers. Your clients will quickly pick up if something is wrong. The fact of the matter is, internal things like culture can have a dramatic effect on the level of service offered to customers. That’s why it’s so important to spend time on these internal things — they have a direct impact on every aspect of the business.

“Remember that clients understand the value of training. There is always a tension between training and operational requirements, but don’t assume that your clients will automatically be annoyed because you’re sending employees on training. Be open and honest, explain to a client that an employee who regularly services the company will be going on training. Ultimately, the client benefits if you spend time and money on an employee that they regularly deal with.

“For the most part, they will understand and respect your decision. At times, there will be push back, both from clients and from your own managers, but you need to be firm. In the long term, training is win-win for everyone involved. Also, you don’t want a client to become overly dependent on a single employee from your company. What if that employee quits? Training offers a good opportunity to swop out employees, and to ensure that you have a group of individuals who can be assigned to a specific client. We rotate our people to make sure that no single person becomes a knowledge expert on a client’s facility, so when we need to pull someone out of the system for training, it’s not the end of the world.

“Managers will often be your biggest challenge when it comes to training. Early on, we hired a lot of young people we could train from scratch. As we grew and needed more expertise, we started hiring senior employees with experience. When it came to things like systems, processes and culture, we actually had far more issues with some of the senior people.

“Someone with significant experience approaches things with preconceived notions and beliefs, so it can be more difficult to get buy-in from them. Don’t assume that training is only for entry-level employees. You need to focus on your senior people and make sure that they see the value of what you are doing. It doesn’t matter how much Oros you add to the mix if managers keep diluting it.”

Exponential growth

When Jason English purchased Prommac late in 2012, the company had a turnover of less than R50 million. This has grown nearly ten fold in just under five years. How? By focusing on people, culture and training.


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