Today the Cape Epic is the largest and most prestigious mountain biking event in the world and from where Vermaak’s standing, actually taking part in one of the world’s most physically demanding events will be a Sunday cycle in the park compared to the challenge of growing this business.
A tough start
It was 2am on an April morning in 2005. I was lying on the floor in my office, staring into a black hole of debt. Thanks to creative accounting I’d managed to pull off two successful Cape Epics, but the numbers weren’t working, and the gap was getting bigger. I was prepared to mortgage anything to make the business work, but would it be enough? A bridging loan from the IDC had helped keep my head above water, but it hadn’t solved our money problems.
There was a blip from the office PC. An email had come in. To distract myself, I sat down and started reviewing entries for the 2006 race. One of the mails was from the executive assistant to Steve Booysens, Absa’s CEO at the time. He was riding the 2006 race and was enquiring about a mobile home booking.
I saw an opportunity and responded to him personally — Hi Pierre, any chance I can speak to your boss and present for a title sponsorship? I was looking for any personal connection that could get me through the door. I currently had proposals out to eight top- 40 firms, and every one of them had closed the door in my face.
Mountain biking wasn’t yet the ‘new golf’ for corporate South Africa, and the value of the event wasn’t clear to them. But here was a rider who knew about the race, and he had the ear of the CEO. Was my luck finally changing?
I’d pushed so hard to get the Cape Epic off the ground, and from the outside it looked like an incredible success. In the first year we’d sold out in three days. By the second year that was down to under five hours, and by the third year we had to implement a lottery system to handle the amount of entries we received. Riders loved the race. In a short space of time it had become incredibly popular, both locally and internationally.
The problem was that the numbers weren’t working. I was hiding the truth from everyone: The riders, my staff, my suppliers. No one knew how bad things were. The riders paid their entry fees upfront, nine months before the race. They’d never trust me with their money if they knew I was using it to pay for the previous year’s race. I understood that their perception might be that the race might not take place, even though I would never, ever have let that happen.
I would have moved mountains before I cancelled a race. My staff were leaving other companies to join me, and I couldn’t let them know how risky that move had been; and many of my suppliers had agreed to three-month payment terms so that I had the next year’s entry fees in hand before I needed to pay them.
I felt like I was standing on quicksand, and I had no one to confide in. It was an incredibly lonely time in my life. I’d taken a lot of big risks to get there, but I’d built this amazing platform and I was determined to make it work.
When I first moved back to Cape Town after eight years in London I had enough saved up to support myself for the next year, and to bootstrap the business until I sold some entries. I had a lot of adventure tours and riding experience from my time in London, and I’d planned the logistics around elaborate mountain biking, climbing and extreme snowboarding trips to the Karakoram and Himalayan mountains.
I knew exactly what I wanted the Cape Epic to look like, which meant I was armed with a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the route and, most importantly, the mix of luxury and extreme physical challenge that riders would experience.
I had some great early wins. I’d reached out to a Munich-based company that organised Europe’s largest mountain bike stage race, the TransAlp, and they entered into a marketing partnership with me. I then created a local company with a similar name so that people thought the Cape Epic’s organiser was international, rather than me alone. With their help, I also managed to secure Adidas International as a sponsor, which was a major coup.
This gave me enough traction to start marketing like mad. I didn’t want to attract only the local mountain biking community. At that stage, MTB as a sport was dominated by festivals and a grungy sub-culture. My time in Europe had shown me that high LSM, A-type personalities loved adventure races and pushing themselves physically.
This was my target market: Corporate execs and business owners who had the time to train, and kept fit and healthy by running marathons and road cycling. I needed to convince them to take on the challenge of an epic mountain bike stage race.
Off to the races
I printed fliers and set up a stand at the Argus. To this day, many riders still tell me they first heard about the Cape Epic while I was shoving a flier in their face. I connected with Club100, a road cycling club, and spread the word there as well. For the international crowd, myself, Adidas and the team in Munich managed to get a team of young black cyclists from Khayelitsha to the TransAlp. It got fantastic media coverage, and showed the European market that South Africa was a mountain biking destination.
The pro riders already knew this because they used South Africa as a training destination, but they didn’t see our country as a race destination, and I needed to attract the amateur tour riders as well. The Western Cape was an ideal destination — our time zone is the same as Europe’s, our weather’s great and the scenery is spectacular.
My marketing drive worked. I filled the 550 inaugural spots in three days once entries opened, and at R7 800 per team that meant I had just over R2 million in the bank. Once I sold the entries, I secured the three main suppliers I needed to make this work: Spier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, where the race would end, Imperial Logistics, whose trucks and teams would move the race village each day, and Mediclinic, the vital EMTs at the event.
Things were going great, except for two small problems. First, I needed 700 tents, and I had no idea where to find them. Second, I’d pitched the entire event on the idea of a deluxe experience. The riding would be tough, but the race village would be the lap of luxury. Now that I’d sold the tickets, I was realising that my numbers didn’t work. To provide that level of comfort, I’d actually be paying the riders to compete.
Making a dream a reality
That’s the thing about a vision that consumes you though. You’ll find a way to make it work. When I first came up with the idea of the Cape Epic, I was 30 and it was a way to spend a really cool year and create something special while I figured out what I wanted to do next.
That lasted for about three months, and then I started looking at the event like a real business — the potential to do something great and leave a legacy. I wanted to create the largest, most prestigious mountain bike stage race in the world. I accepted that this meant bumps in the road, and losing money upfront for a game-changing event down the line. If that meant ploughing money into the business now for rewards later, so be it.
To make ends meet, I came up with the idea of convincing my key suppliers to let me pay them in June, three months after the first event. I knew if the race delivered, that I’d be able to sell out again, which would mean cash to pay my suppliers. I was using the following year’s race to pay for this year’s race, and it worked — for two years. I’d increased entry numbers, but the problem with more riders is that they also come with more costs. The gap was getting bigger and without a large sponsor, I was struggling to see my way out.
Which is how I found myself on the floor of my office at 2am in the morning, looking into an abyss of debt.
I needed a blue-chip sponsor to make this work. I’d said no to a lot of smaller brands, as well as normal cycling brands. I understood that there was an opportunity cost to just taking any money that came my way.
I needed a company with a R100 million marketing budget that wanted to engage with high LSM execs and business owners, and so that’s what I’d been holding out for. The problem was that no one was biting, and I was running out of time and options. And then Pierre’s email arrived, and I had my foot in the door.
Attracting a sponsor
Getting Absa on board wasn’t initially a game changer. It was the Corporate and Business Banking division, and it signed just five weeks before the third event. But it did introduce the bank to what I was trying to do, and laid the groundwork for a major sponsorship with Absa Group down the line, which would be the game-changer that helped the event become what it is today.
At the end of the day, Absa saw the value in the event because a few crucial individuals recognised that some of their key private clients, who were high net worth individuals, participated in the Epic. The realisation gave them insight into the kind of event I had created, who I was targeting, and who they would be engaging with through their association with the Cape Epic.
It wasn’t by chance that the people at the race were the people Absa wanted to engage with. From the beginning this had been my target market. We’d already implemented the lottery system for the third event, which meant I could also show them the calibre of people entering and how oversubscribed it was.
One of the draws for title sponsors going forward was that they would also have a number of fixed entries to the event. Nowadays, Absa virtually has its own registration office, with banking clients from around the world applying for their coveted reserved spots in the race. You can’t place a value on the engagement this gives them with their private clients for months before the race even takes place.
But back to 2006 and the third race. Getting Absa on board was a major win, but it didn’t immediately solve all of my money problems. Our third year ended up being our biggest loss. A title sponsor meant glitzy press events, PR agencies, and sponsorship agencies, all of which come with a price tag.
In fact, five events in a row made a loss. By 2008, our turnover was R22 million, but our accumulated losses amounted to R8,5 million. We even extended our bridging loan from the IDC to R5 million to ensure we had sufficient cash flow to stage the event.
But I knew we were playing a long game. We were in debt, but all lines were going in the right direction. Plus, by this stage we were so far in, the only way to get out was to make this work.
Hitting rock bottom and rising again
The fifth event in 2008 was my absolute low point. I’d spent the whole year trying to find ways to reduce our budget; it was time to start making a profit. From the outside, everything looked amazing. There were eight of us working full time on planning the race, 1 200 cyclists and we were massively oversubscribed. All of us, sponsors included, were turning people away.
I’d tried to find additional revenue streams by leveraging our assets. The idea was that we used what we had to host two additional but shorter and smaller events. It was a terrible idea. We were actually expanding from a place of weakness, which just ended up with a bigger accumulated loss. Our so-called solutions were making things worse.
At the time, my main contact at Absa, Oscar Grobler, the marketing executive at Absa Corporate and Business Bank, knew how bad things actually were, and that I needed someone to talk to. He introduced me to Neville Crosse, the youngest CEO of a JSE listed company in the 1980s and the chairman of Omnia Holdings in 2008. This was a massive shift for me. Neville becoming my mentor made a huge difference in how I viewed my business and managed my stress levels.
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A need for change
We spent a few months going over the business, and then in January 2009 we sat down for a massive strategy session. Something needed to change drastically if we were going to make this work, and we needed to figure out what that was.
First, we would cancel all other events. They weren’t helping; if anything they were a drain. We needed to stay focused: We’re the Cape Epic, not an event management company. Next, Neville suggested we simply increase our entry fee by at least 50%.
This had always been a sticking point for me. On the one hand, the level of luxury we offered just wasn’t covered by the entry fee. In a very real way, for five years I’d been paying the way for riders to participate. But, while the entry fee was high enough to align with a premier event, it wasn’t so high that it discouraged participants. The fact that we were oversubscribed and there was so much hype around securing an entry to the Absa Cape Epic was a massive pull for sponsors, which had always been my focus. To monetise this event I needed sponsors, not more riders.
This is where a mentor is so crucial and adds such huge value. Neville forced me to evaluate my own preconceived ideas around entry fees. The following two years we increased the price again. In 2010 we made a profit. By 2012, we were in the black. We’d paid off our debt and were now finally a sustainable, profitable business.
Leveraging the platform
This wasn’t all the result of increased prices though. Don’t get me wrong, it made a big difference, mainly because we weren’t incurring large debts anymore. But the business model had always been about monetising the event, and by 2011 this finally started coming together.
Growth was never going to be about more riders, which is the model for most amateur events around the world. More riders means more costs. We needed a way to leverage what we had without incurring more costs. The Tour de France only has 198 riders. You don’t need to be a huge event by participation numbers to be successful. You need to monetise what you have.
I’d always been aiming to create a strong media product, which is where the pro-am formula came into play. By 2011, this really started to come together and we became a live TV event.
Amateurs are the bulk of our entries. Out of 600 teams, 95% of these are amateurs. They pay the high price tag to compete, and they’re the target audience of our local sponsors, who get to engage with them for months leading up to the event. The local/international mix means that people from around the world are interested in the Epic as well, making us a mainstream brand.
The 5% pro riders are the ones that attract the media attention and give us massive sporting media value. In Europe, top mountain bikers are household names. For really great TV coverage, I needed these riders participating in my event, which is why I’d chosen March in the first place. It’s before the international world cup circuit begins, we’re in the same time zone, and it’s a great race to condition the pros for the rest of their racing season during the northern hemisphere’s summer.
It was a fine balance: Build an event that is tough, prestigious and sufficiently high profile to draw the pro riders, create amazing visuals that audiences around the world will watch, and then the MTB team sponsors will make sure that their teams are there. The Absa Cape Epic has more viewers than all six World Cup events combined, so it’s pure gold for sponsors trying to associate globally with mountain biking.
It’s taken years to achieve, but everything has come together. It was all about building a strong base though, brick by brick.
Next level growth
I’ve now reached a point where it’s time to step down. In the early years I played an operational role. I often worked through the night getting everything ready for the event, and then spent time with our sponsors during the race. As our team grew, some amazing people took the reigns, allowing me to step away from various aspects of the business and concentrate on our growth strategies.
My fingerprints are on everything though, and if I want to leave a legacy, if I want this brand to grow beyond me, I need to step away. An amazing CEO, Lynn Naude, who has a phenomenal track record in the South Africa sports and sponsorship industry, has taken over.
I have no plans to sell the business, and will continue to contribute creatively and in matters relating to the brand and event concept, but I’ll no longer be the face of the Absa Cape Epic. Which means that this year, for the first time, I can ride. I can experience the race as a participant. And I can’t wait.
How Bertus Albertse Overcame Adversity To Build A R80 Million Franchising Business
This is how an entrepreneur who is still under 30, and who launched Body20 from his living room when he was 24, has built a R80-million business that has just gone global.
- Player: Bertus Albertse
- Company: Body20 Global
- Launched: 2013
- Franchised: 2014
- Turnover: R80 million
- Visit: www.body20.co.za
At 29, Bertus Albertse has built a R80-million franchising business that launched in the US a year ago. He’s been an over-achiever since school, and his approach to business has been no different. Over the past 12 months however, there has been a personal shift in Bertus’ life and mindset. Just over a year ago, he realised that his childhood wasn’t something to be embarrassed about or buried. In fact, the adversity he’s lived through is a big driving force behind a need for control and success.
“It was a part of myself I’d never shared. I didn’t discuss it in school, and once I started training people and then building a business, I didn’t talk about it either,” says Bertus. “
You’re focused on giving people the best customer experience possible, and that means putting your best foot forward, all the time. Admitting you aren’t always sure of what you’re doing, that you aren’t as confident as you look, or that you’ve struggled and needed to overcome real hardships — that’s just not part of the package.”
Bertus is driven — he got good marks at school, was captain of any team he played in, and would train on Friday nights when everyone else was out having a party. This same drive has led him to learn as much as possible about business, and the more he read, the more he realised that one of the things top entrepreneurs have in common is the fact that they’ve shared their stories. Who they are and what they’ve been through are big contributing factors to their success.
“We’re made to believe that, to a large degree, our adversity is not part of what we project to the world. What do you tell a client that walks in, or a franchisee, or someone that has to be motivated on your team — do you tell them the worst part of your journey, or do you share something that will motivate them? This was always my approach. But the more I started accepting my story, the more I realised that the power of my story made me who I am today.
“Books like Simon Sinek’s, Start With Why, and A Storyteller’s Secret have had a massive impact on me. We shouldn’t ignore the fundamental things that have brought us to where we are today. Mindset, willpower, discipline, the ability to pick ourselves up when we fail — these are all critical success factors, and they’re all mental. If you want to build a strong business, you need to start with your mind. You need to know who you are, how you react to challenges, and why you are the way you are. Then you can harness your strengths, and hopefully work on your weaknesses — or at least be aware of them.
“Every time you solve a problem, it makes you realise there’s a bigger problem that you didn’t know you didn’t know. The things that you don’t know hurt you the most. This has been my biggest learning curve with franchising. You might know what it takes you to be successful, but what’s to say what it takes someone else to be successful? You’re now supporting other people who aren’t like you. The more honest you can be with yourself, and the more you can interrogate why you’ve been successful, and what lessons you can share with others, the higher everyone’s chances of success.”
It was within this context that Bertus realised the dangers of being placed on a pedestal. “When your success starts to grow, people naturally want to know more about you. What I found was that I’d been so busy putting my best foot forward, an assumption had grown that I knew everything; that I’d had everything in life, and that this had all been easy. The opposite was true. I knew that if I was going to inspire franchisees to believe in their own journeys, I had to let them into mine. Nothing comes easy. In fact, adversity can often be your greatest gift, provided you know how to harness it.”
With that understanding, Bertus started delving into his personal psyche, motivations, habits and the driving force behind his actions. It’s been an interesting journey, filled with pain and rewards. He now has a much stronger understanding of his personal motivations and actions though, and he’s sharing these lessons with fellow entrepreneurs.
From humble beginnings
Other than a good education, Bertus’s childhood years are characterised by having as little as you can possibly start with. His childhood is shaped by memories of the all-too familiar feeling of a car running out of petrol, or of his mother waking him and his sister up in the middle of the night, so that she could take them home for a few hours before returning them to their 24-hour créche before starting her next shift as a traffic cop. These were all factors that the future entrepreneur buried when he went to school, directing his energy into his studies and sports instead.
“There were so many things we couldn’t control growing up. My mother did the best she could do, but the reality was that we had very little. I realised that control was important to me, and that I could create my own success if I was disciplined, and so I focused on the things I could influence: My marks and how much I trained. I’d grown up watching a level of perseverance in my mom that influenced the way I viewed work as well.”
In fact, Bertus has a keen understanding of the various influences in his life and how they have shaped him. When he was nine years old, his mother married his step-father, and later, in his teenage years, he reconnected with his father. The men are vastly different in the way they view work and success, and yet Bertus learnt a lot from both of them — not necessarily to emulate either of them, but rather in what he wanted from life.
“Both the men in my life had started out without degrees. They worked and studied at night. They achieved success through sheer hard work — and they’d both been indoctrinated to work for someone else, because that gave you stability.”
For a kid who had known very little stability in his life outside of what he could personally control, working for someone else wasn’t very appealing, and his father agreed. “My father realised that if you truly want to be successful, you need to work for yourself. He really encouraged me to be an entrepreneur. One of the first things he taught me was ‘buy low, sell high, collect early, pay late’. That’s how you make money. It’s obviously not that simple, but it’s a good way for you to start thinking about business. I realised that if you’re good at something, don’t do it for free. That’s rule number one. Rule number two is understanding how you generate income and making sure that your income is higher than your expenses. But I didn’t know about assets and balance sheets and how to generate wealth at that point. I was just starting to think about what a business would entail.”
While his father was pro-entrepreneurship, Bertus’ step-father was the opposite. “My step-father is a careful man. He’s got a good job, but he’s also frugal. He doesn’t take risks, and he has no debt. He’ll buy a smaller car, but he’ll pay cash. That’s how he operates. He instilled extreme positivity in us, and always put family first, but watching him made me realise that I’m not risk averse. If anything, I have a high impulse and risk appetite. The combination of these traits can lead you to taking good risks, or bad risks — it’s all about where your focus lies. I’ve always been aware of that and tried to channel my energy into the good risks — areas of my life that I could grow, build on, and hopefully also create an avenue of wealth for others.”
For Bertus, the secret is discovering what motivates you. “I believe in living life to the fullest. I live freely. One of the first decisions I made when I started earning my own money was buying a car I couldn’t afford. This was 150% against the advice of both of my dads — but it motivated me and made me run. I ran for my life. I could have it easier, with less stress — I create stress for myself — but it keeps me focused and driven. There are so many influences around us all the time. You need to find what matters to you. Mostly it’s trial and error. That’s okay. Just keep looking for it — you will find the answers you’re looking for.”
A strong sense of self
Key to Bertus’ journey has been understanding, and to a degree mastering, his own triggers. This isn’t always possible — but the more you understand why you do what you do, the more you can learn to harness that energy.
“I grew up in an OCD household. It was always fine, because I’m also OCD — I didn’t realise how much until I got to hostel and discovered it wasn’t normal to never want to sit on my perfectly made bed, or to shower for 45 minutes or brush my teeth for two hours. Sharing a room with other boys forced me to get rid of some of those habits, and I needed to channel that desire for control elsewhere, so I shifted it to sports and academics.
“This level of discipline is still massive for me, even today. I measure my day on zero to 100 every day. And each new day I’m back on zero — it doesn’t matter how productive I was the day before, or how big a deal we closed. I feel a sense of urgency to make extraordinary things happen today, each and every day.”
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This sounds positive, but it has a dark side as well. “If I don’t wake up at 5am to start dealing with emails I feel like I’ve started on the wrong foot, which quickly makes me spiral and feel like a failure,” Bertus explains. “I’ve had to find ways to balance my OCD nature. I can be very disciplined, but if I start spiralling, I’m the most unproductive person on the planet. I need to keep myself in check.”
To find that balance, Bertus has learnt to choose his battles. “I can be very obsessive about one thing, and care nothing about something else. I can’t be obsessed about everything, so I have to choose where my obsessions will lie. I try and make these as positive as possible, focusing on training and supporting my clients and now franchisees.”
Bertus might be OCD, but self-discipline is a muscle just like any other — the more you work it, the stronger it becomes. “For me, it’s all about directing my energies to the right place. For other entrepreneurs, it’s choosing where they can make the greatest impact, and then being consistent in their efforts. Routine is everything.”
Bertus does have a caveat though: “Discipline alone, with no clear direction, can actually be a bad thing. You can easily become too focused on things that don’t drive success.”
24 And taking risks (to reap the rewards)
Bertus has never been employed. He started out self-employed while still at university. He chose to discontinue his studies and dive into entrepreneurship instead, opening a supplements store in Cape Town. “As an underweight kid I’d taken supplements to get my weight up. That, combined with training, was where my expertise lay.”
But Bertus knew it wasn’t enough. “I was just making ends meet. What I had wasn’t a wealth building mechanism at all. I wanted to make a bigger impact in my own life, and in the lives of my clients. I believed a more holistic approach focused on training was a way to do that.”
Bertus wasn’t alone. He was 24 years old, and had a young wife and three children, one of whom was from his wife’s previous relationship. Given the risks involved in trying something new, many people would have stuck with the business opportunity that wasn’t a significant success, but that was paying the bills.
Bertus had different plans. “You need to run for your life,” he says. “That stress, the risks involved — they’re what drive me. I always tell our young trainers that if they really want to be successful, they need to move out of their parents’ homes. The most basic necessities should be at risk. There’s nothing like fear to motivate you.”
With this in mind, Bertus launched Body20 from his living room in 2013. He had
R85 000 in an Allan Gray investment fund that he’d started while he was still studying. He decided the time had come to draw that cash, but it still wasn’t enough. A friend had introduced him to Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) technology, and the whole set-up was R220 000. Luckily, this friend believed in the concept, and agreed to invest in Bertus’ business idea. “I paid the loan back within a year, but he was really investing in the purpose, and he and his wife received free training. It was exactly what I needed to get me started.”
From the word go, Bertus understood a key element that would ultimately lead to Body20’s success: When it comes to EMS technology, the tech itself isn’t a differentiator. “There’s no exclusivity,” Bertus explains. “There are multiple tech providers available, and no one holds patents. There were also already competitors in the market, so I knew this wasn’t my competitive advantage.”
What Bertus also recognised was that the players in the market were focusing on their offerings as niche. He believed it could be a more mainstream addition to training programmes, working in conjunction with conventional gym sessions, and to help pro and amateur athletes prepare for big events. He went in with a different differentiator in mind: Service.
“At the time, I just wanted to move out of my living room and into a studio. I had no plans to franchise. I believed that my passion and willingness to serve would set me apart.”
And it did. “My clients saw how much I loved what I did, and they started asking me how I’d started out. They were intrigued by the lifestyle I lived — yes, success was growing, but I was also living my passion. That drew them.”
Slowly, Bertus’ clients started enquiring about franchising opportunities, and the idea started to take shape that not only was franchising an opportunity to scale the business, but it would help Bertus to share his passion with others, empower them and provide them a means to also build wealth.
The shift to franchising
Franchising has been an incredible experience for Bertus and Body20 has gone from strength to strength, growing from one studio in 2013, to franchising in 2014 and encompassing 38 studios in early 2018, including three studios in the US. But there have also been a multitude of lessons for the young entrepreneur to learn.
“Franchising as a growth strategy has never been about the capital — if that was the case, we could be a corporate that raises funds through investors. But this is a service business, and that means you need someone in the studio who is passionate about the business and their clients, and franchising enables that. We want to create opportunities for other people. This means supporting franchisees, and in some cases, even investing in the right operators who don’t have the capital to set up their own stores.”
The shift from studio owner and personal trainer to franchisor has not been without its own significant growth hurdles.
“The most interesting lesson I’ve learnt is that franchising is a completely different business model to operating your own business,” says Bertus. “That’s the problem; there’s no one bridging the gap for you. You can go to a franchise attorney to draw up your franchise agreement, but that doesn’t tell you how to operate your franchise. How do you suddenly put up an operational infrastructure to support other people to be as successful as you, when you don’t yet know what they need? It’s difficult to know what someone else needs in their business, even if it’s the same business that you were in.
“Everyone comes at business from a different perspective. We’re all indoctrinated in different ways. I had momentum in this industry. How do you carry that through to someone else who is a mechanic, an attorney, a teacher, or a CA? What do they each need? How do different studios operate in different areas? There are so many variables to consider, and we didn’t always get them right.”
Bertus understood he knew nothing about franchising — but he had no idea of the lessons that lay in store for him until he took the plunge. “This is the biggest difference between corporate and entrepreneurship,” he says. “In a corporate environment, you get clarity first, before you take action. In entrepreneurship, you only get clarity through action. You only know where you’re going once you start moving — clarity comes from doing.
“When you start taking action, you’re already on the path to finding answers — you’re hitting the problems you’re going to encounter, which gives you the opportunity to find the solutions you need to keep moving forward. You won’t always get it right — the path to successful business is littered with failures, but you can’t overcome obstacles unless you’re encountering them.”
One of Bertus’ biggest learnings has been that effort alone isn’t enough to carry you through. “I used to believe that effort equals success in battle,” he says. “This was my guiding mantra — that if you worked hard enough, anything was possible. Franchising took me from being a sole operator to a business owner, and I now know that effort equals a lot of work and a lot of lessons learnt, but that you’ll still get nowhere if you don’t have a solid strategy in place.
“Success equals strategy plus effort. Busyness and success are not the same thing, nor are busyness and effectiveness. Effectiveness happens when you’re busy with the right strategy. This has been huge for me — finding the balance between strategy and effort.
“In 2014 I used to receive no less than 100 phone calls a day. I had to deal with clients, solve franchisee problems and be available for all the people looking for me hourly. I used to think ‘how do you upscale from this?’ I couldn’t take any more calls and I didn’t have a second of the day to think about anything other than getting back to people. I knew I needed to have those problems — if you don’t, you’re not on the right wicket, but how do you upscale from taking a hundred calls to five calls?
“I once had someone tell me that the day would come when I wouldn’t receive a single call. I just thought they didn’t understand my business. After all, my primary role is sales and marketing — how could I not get that many calls? I still believed that effort equalled income. The moment I started focusing on strategy though, this started shifting. With a focus on strategy came systems, processes, well-documented operations. These all empowered people, and the ‘busyness’ started to fall away. I started to find the time to work on key areas that would drive the business forward. My phone didn’t ring as much, because there were systems and processes in place that meant the entire operation was starting to flow. I’ve learnt that the more successful you are, the less busy you’ll be. This doesn’t mean you work less, just that you do less busy work. It’s replaced with focused, strategic work. When you’re busy, you’re just dealing with what’s in front of you. A strategic focus is looking at three, five and ten years down the line.”
Body20’s next big growth move has been into the United States. “Like any growth strategy, we’ve had highs and lows, and we’ve needed to learn a lot of lessons,” says Bertus.
“The interest and uptake has been incredible, not just within the US, but from local entrepreneurs looking to expand into international markets as well.”
At the time of going to print, Body20 had already sold three franchises in Florida, with another four in the works. These have brought strong capital contributions into the business as a whole, but not everything has been smooth sailing.
“On the one hand, the first store broke even within four months, when our projected time frame was eight months,” says Bertus. “That’s incredible. But we’ve also learnt that no two markets are the same.
“South Africa is geared for business. We love it here. We sell a lease and the studio can be open within three weeks. There’s no permitting, no inspections, none of that exists here. The US on the other hand is an extremely regulated environment. For example, we signed a lease in February 2017, expecting to be open in June and excited about a great leasing deal that gave us four months’ beneficial occupation to set up the store. Except it took us nine months to get up and running.
“In South Africa, this would have taken us under a month. It was an expensive lesson. Not only were we burning through cash, but the franchisee needs to stay motivated while you wait. The project flow and milestones are inherently different.”
From a franchisor perspective, operating across two continents also has its challenges. “We’re essentially selling our time. This is a services business, and our clients are our franchisees. What we didn’t take properly into account when we started was the incredible travel times involved in doing business in the US. It took us 20 hours just to get to Miami, and a further six to California. You have to factor in all that time when you’re planning your schedules. It’s been a huge adjustment.”
That said, it’s also clearly been a rewarding one, and Body20 is still only just getting started.
- Clarity comes from action. You need to start to figure out what you need to do next.
- Success is the result of effort plus strategy. Effort alone won’t get it done.
- Systems and processes are essential if you want to move from ‘busy’ work to strategic work.
Going The Extra Mile With Neil Robinson Of Relate Bracelets
In business, your offering is only as good as your relationships. Neil Robinson from Relate Bracelets explains how FedEx Express has helped the business grow into Africa and beyond.
- Who? Neil Robinson
- Company: Relate Bracelets
- Position: Managing Director
- Visit: relate.org.za
Neil Robinson, MD of Relate Bracelets understands the importance of business relationships. While Relate is a non-profit organisation, it is run like a business. It does not rely on donors, but instead produces and sells a product.
For each bracelet sold, one third of the income goes towards the materials and operating costs, one third supports the people who produce the bracelets, and one third goes to the charity for which that particular bracelet is branded.
In order for the business model to work and be sustainable, Relate’s partners are incredibly important. These include the retail chains that stock the product and who provide prime point-of-sale positioning, the charities who Relate works with, and most importantly, Relate’s logistics service provider, FedEx Express.
“Retail is all about visibility and availability,” explains Neil. “A brand is a living, breathing thing. People can see it, use it, and comment on it, but if they can’t access it, it’s all for naught. And so, at the point of purchase, it’s both visible and available, or it’s not.
“Logistics is key. You need to get your product to the retailer on time, 100% of the time. The expertise and focus that FedEx displays in supply chain and logistics encompasses far more than just retail, they understand our specific needs, making them a strategic partner, rather than merely a supplier.”
Building a relationship
The FedEx/Relate Bracelets relationship stretches back to 2009, when Relate Bracelets launched its first campaign with ‘Unite Against Malaria’ leading up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
“We did the first campaign in partnership with Nando’s,” says Neil. “Robbie Brozin was passionate about the cause, and he pulled in strategic partners to launch the campaign. Within two years we’d shipped hundreds of thousands of bracelets. FedEx was an incredible partner, ensuring the integrity of our product and time-sensitive deliveries, and we’ve worked with them ever since.”
As with all good B2B relationships, the FedEx and Relate Bracelets teams understand that regular strategy sessions and updates are important.
“FedEx understands the inner workings of our business,” says Neil.
“A successful campaign has multiple elements, from planning and strategy, to marketing support, pricing and distribution planning. Of these, distribution planning is the most critical. For us, the bridge between our brand and the consumer is logistics. FedEx have delivered beyond expectations. They literally and figuratively go the extra mile for us.”
Protecting a brand
FedEx has customers across different industries and each of their needs are different. In the case of Relate, who operate in the retail sector, buying patterns are important. “Retailers run a tight ship,” explains Neil.
“They have planning cycles and seasons. Besides the fact that penalty clauses are built into contracts, you can’t miss a deadline by two days, or you’re in the next cycle, and that might be two weeks later. Not only are you missing out on valuable shelf time, but this can affect an entire campaign. Lost sales can also influence the retailers’ buying decision the following season. FedEx has made it their business to understand our business, so they know what’s at stake and what’s important to us.”
FedEx has also played an integral role in the overall expansion of Relate Bracelets, particularly into new markets. “As a global organisation, FedEx has been absolutely critical in supporting us to grow our business into Africa, the US, Australia, the UK, Western Europe, and now New Zealand. They play an enormous role in the delivery of our products, with sophisticated tracking systems ensuring that the quality and integrity of our products are maintained.”
Through the relationship with FedEx, Relate experiences the benefits of working with a globally recognised and credible brand. “When you work with quality, you get quality.”
If you’ve ever bought a beaded bracelet that supports a cause (for example: United Against Malaria, Operation Smile SA or PinkDrive), chances are it was a Relate Bracelet. If you bought it at Woolworths, Clicks, Sorbet or Foschini, it most definitely was.
To date, Relate Bracelets has raised more than R40 million, which supports various charities and ‘gogos’, women living on government grants and supporting their grandchildren, and who desperately need the additional income Relate Bracelets provides.
Slikour’s Moto: If You Dream It, You Can Be It
Rapper and entrepreneur Slikour believes his success is the result of one key element: The aspiration to make something of himself, and create a platform for his voice to be heard. Now he’s bringing that mindset to South Africa’s black urban youth.
- Player: Siya Metane AKA Slikour
- Company: Slikouronlife.co.za
- Launched: 2013
- Visit: www.slikouronlife.co.za
Before you can achieve great success, you have to believe in the possibility of success. This is the single greatest secret to changing your circumstances — you have to believe it’s possible.
Did music or entrepreneurship come first? Siya Metane, aka rapper Slikour, isn’t sure himself. The two have worked hand in hand for him since he started selling cassette tapes of his own music when he was 12 years old.
What has developed over time however, is an innate and deep understanding that with his success comes a responsibility to pay it forward, and help his community and kids like him see that they can be anything they put their minds to.
If they can dream it, they can be it — provided they realise they can dream it in the first place. This is his challenge, and greatest driving force.
Start small, but dream big
I bought cassette tapes on Smal Street in the CBD for R5. My best friend, Lebo and I recorded our own rap music onto them and sold them in our neighbourhood for R15. We needed the mark-up — it meant we could buy more tapes, and also that we were making a profit.
I’m not sure if we were trying to start a business or launch our rap careers, but if you’re living in a hood like Leondale you don’t always recognise that there are opportunities open to you. No one is going to do it for you — you have to have your own aspirations, and find a way to make them happen.
Keep dreaming big, no matter what
That was one of the biggest and earliest lessons I recall growing up: The ability to dream big can be stifled out of you. I lived in a hood where there were no aspirations past our neighbourhood — the neighbourhood and its opportunities were everything. If 90% of the people you know are suffering, who are you to not suffer?
It’s a very limiting mindset, and one that does a lot of damage to our youth. I knew kids who had incredible potential, but could only look at their immediate environments for opportunities. So a budding young scientist doesn’t find a way to change the world — he finds a new way to make drugs.
Those are the limiting aspirations I was surrounded by. I call it the Trap, and it’s the driving force behind everything I do today. I want South Africa’s urban youth to recognise the Trap, and understand that they should have aspirations beyond it, because they have the abilities and potential necessary to break free.
Work hard, be determined and believe in yourself
I was lucky, I wasn’t a victim of the Trap. What so many people don’t understand is that I could have been. Hard work, drive and discipline aren’t enough to break free of the Trap. You need to believe you can break free — to look beyond your current circumstances. In my experience, that seemingly simple mindset shift is the biggest hurdle to overcome. It’s more complicated and pervasive than you can imagine.
Two things showed me a different way. First, my mom got me bursaries at Holy Rosary Convent and then St Benedict’s College. I was surrounded by rich white kids, full of privilege, and it struck me that here were the same talents and opportunities, but with a wealth of aspiration in the mix.
That was the real difference — not ability, but recognising that ability and having the aspiration to do something with it. It was eye-opening. The second was meeting my best friend, Lebo Mothibe. Lebo, or Shugasmakx, as he’d later be known in the music world, had one foot in the privileged world, and one foot in our world.
His mom lived in the hood, his dad was a wealthy entrepreneur who lived in Illovo. And Lebo straddled both worlds effortlessly, and with humility. But he looked beyond the limiting beliefs held by many of his neighbourhood peers.
Find people to inspire you to reach success
His dad was also the first self-made, wealthy black man I met. But when I heard his story, I realised that it wasn’t overnight success. He’d slept on Lebo’s mom’s couch while he slowly but steadily built his business. It gave me an understanding that success is earned. You need to work at it, and push on against adversity. This had a huge impact on me.
Lebo was the ying to my yang. Even though we didn’t think of each other as business partners, that’s what we were, from the age of 12. We formed Skwatta Kamp, we hustled and shook up the music industry together, and changed the face of rap music in South Africa.
I was the dreamer, the visionary, and Lebo was the executor. He found a way to make my crazy schemes and ideas come to life. This is exactly what a partnership should be — helping each other grow, and complementing diverse skill sets.
Build your success, one step at a time
We built our success, brick by brick. I entered a TV show competition, Jam Alley, and won. I used the cash and Dions vouchers to buy recording equipment. Lebo’s dad helped with speakers and a keyboard. My brother, who was studying IT, downloaded software and helped us with our recording quality. Everyone pitched in with what they could.
Be your own biggest cheerleader
We tried the recording contract route for a while, but realised that the only people who cared about our success were us. And so we hit the streets — hard. We had street crews, we sold our own CDs and negotiated with music stores to carry our albums.
Recording studios kept saying they’d sign us, but they never had a studio available. They just didn’t see the value in rap and hip hop. They didn’t believe there was money in it in South Africa. We needed to prove there was.
Gallo finally approached us and signed us after we won at the South African Music Awards (SAMAs) as an independent act. We used real guerrilla tactics to get our name out there — on stage, with that platform, we told our fans that if a music store didn’t carry our album, to burn it down. We wanted the attention — that’s how you build a name.
Our first album went gold, and we used that to push the idea of rap into mainstream media. If 20 000 people bought the album, another 200 000 had bootlegged it. There was money here; and slowly brands and advertisers started realising we were right.
Drive a movement with your business
We were musicians, but first and foremost we were driving a movement, and that meant we needed to be businessmen as well. We hosted end of year parties, and got brands on board, realising we had a captive audience that aligned with their target market demographics. We started our own label, Buttabing Entertainment.
Our goal was to find and nurture young musicians from the hood to get them established in the industry, and show other kids in the Trap that it could be done: Anyone can create their own destiny. One of the things I’m proudest of is discovering a kid in Katlehong, Senzo Mfundo Vilakazi, who would develop into Kwesta.
He’s doing phenomenally well, and recently appeared on Sway in the Morning, one of the biggest hip hop shows in the US. Our success spilt over into Kwesta, and now his meteoric rise will hopefully inspire a whole new generation to dream bigger than they ever thought possible.
Pivoting to further growth
All success has its pinnacle. By 2010 we had achieved so much as Skwatta Kamp. We’d brought rap music into the mainstream and opened opportunities for countless kids, as music labels actively sought rap and hip hop acts. I realised that I’d hit a ceiling. I needed to step back, regroup and figure out what to do next.
What I did was something I’ve only ever associated with privilege. I moved home, spent a lot of time lying on the couch, and wrote. I wrote my life, my lessons, my dreams, my ideas. I don’t know how I reached a point where I was able to do that, but I’m grateful. I started collecting my thoughts and understanding my purpose.
During that time I was approached to join a few marketing agencies. I had no formal marketing training, but we’d worked with big brands at our parties and activations.
Sprite was the first to recognise that they had an opportunity to authentically connect with the black urban youth through us, and so we partnered up. I learnt above-the-line marketing in a Coca-Cola boardroom, and built onto what we’d learnt on the streets about below-the-line marketing.
Take a step back, and rediscover your purpose
That experience had drawn attention, and so for a while I joined an agency. But its mandate was sponsorships, and my heart was with the black urban youth. I’d discovered my purpose, even if I’d subconsciously been living that purpose for almost 20 years.
I wanted to create a platform that gives young black artists a voice; established artists a way to reach out to the youth that other platforms don’t offer; and brands a way to authentically connect with that audience — not just to sell products, but to show black urban youth that their culture is important, that it holds value, and that they, in turn, hold value.
Adidas’s support of Run DMC in the US showed that kids from the ghetto had a message worth listening to. Big brands have the power to connect the unheard and voiceless to the mainstream, if it’s done correctly. I had the marketing experience to understand the ROI that brands need, as well as what I could do with that to support black urban youth.
All I had were dreams and a URL, but that was enough. I quit my job and launched my website, Slikouronlife.
Reveal opportunities and create aspirations with your message
This is my politics and CSI. If we can get marketing to marry culture, and change the positioning and perception of young black South Africans, we can show there are opportunities out there, and create aspirations.
But we need to put culture first and tap into the authenticity of who we are as South Africans. We need to recognise and acknowledge the mental traps that exist in our neighbourhoods, and that we are victims of limiting beliefs, and then show that there is another way.
Everyone told me I was nuts. That black people don’t go online. I did it anyway. With Skwatta Kamp we had created a market for our music. Kids supported us; my name added value — and then brands came on board. We now average between 200 000 and 250 000 unique visitors a month, which is impressive for a mainstream website, let alone a niche music site.
Ten months ago we were a team of three operating from my house with one desk. Today we’re a team of ten with one focus: To make a real difference on the ground. To give the voiceless a voice. To prove that if we can drive the aspirations of South Africa’s urban youth, the sky will be the limit.
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