Growing a business is tough, exceptionally tough. It is one thing to control and manage a business when your operation is small and close, with a limited number of outlets, but it is completely different when you expand and feel further and further removed from the day-to-day operations. Some businesses are easier to grow than others; online and financial services businesses often have highly scalable business models whereas location based businesses or consulting services are a lot more difficult to expand and grow. This is why the story of Starbucks is such an intriguing phenomenon. In 1984, the concept of a retail coffee shop barely existed and where it did exist, retail coffee stores were seen as small owner operated enterprises with very low growth potential. Yet, Howard Schultz, the then CEO of Starbucks, revolutionised the coffee industry by laying the foundation for a 13 000 store global coffee shop empire. How did he establish a foundation for such phenomenal growth? In this feature we will take a close look at some of the specific things that Howard Schultz and his Starbucks team did to create a revolutionary growth business in a stagnant industry segment. We will also examine how and why, after such a long period of profitable growth, the company is now struggling to keep that trend going.
Starbucks began in 1971 when three academics opened a store called Starbucks Coffee, Tea, and Spice in the touristy Pikes Place Market in Seattle. The original Pikes Place store featured modest, hand-built nautical fixtures, sold whole-bean coffees and coffee products and did not offer freshly-brewed coffee by the cup. The store was an immediate success, with sales exceeding expectations. By the early 1980s, the company had four Starbucks stores in the Seattle area and could boast of having been profitable every year since opening its doors. In 1981, Howard Schultz, vice president and general manager of US operations for Hammarplast – a Swedish maker of stylish kitchen equipment and housewares – noticed that Starbucks was placing very large orders for a certain type of drip coffeemaker. Curious to learn what was going on, he decided to pay the company a visit. On his visit to Seattle from New York, the combination of aroma, taste, authenticity and vibe within the Starbucks store had him hooked.
Schultz loved the Starbucks owners’ deep knowledge of coffee and their commitment to providing quality products and educating customers about the merits of dark roasted coffees. On his trip back to New York, Schultz could not stop thinking about Starbucks and what it would be like to be a part of the Starbucks enterprise. “There was something magic about it, a passion and authenticity I had never experienced in business,” he recalled. By the time Schultz landed at Kennedy Airport, he knew he wanted to go to work for Starbucks and after a year of persuasion, he talked the owners into giving him a job as head of marketing for the company.
Key learning let passion drive you –
From the outset, Starbucks was driven by people who had a deep passion for what they were doing. Howard Schultz was so passionate about the Starbucks product, the brand and the experience that he spent a year trying to convince the original owners of Starbucks to give him a lower paying, less secure, less prestigious job in a city on the other side of the United States from where he currently resided. If you are not driven by this level of passion in your business then you will probably be superceded by someone who is. Passion is the bedrock for an effective growth effort.
Schultz spent the first few months at Starbucks learning about the intricacies of coffee – from roasting and brewing to taste and smell. In his first few months he was also overflowing with ideas but his biggest idea for the future of Starbucks came during the spring of 1983 when the company sent him to Milan to attend an international housewares show. There, he discovered the concept of an espresso bar. A small shop in which a lively, friendly barista (counter worker) served hand crafted espresso-based drinks. Schultz judged the barista’s performance as “great theatre.” What struck Schultz was how popular and vibrant the Italian coffee bars were. Energy levels were high and the bars seemed to function as a community gathering place. Schultz was particularly struck by the fact that there were 1 500 coffee bars in Milan and a total of 200 000 in all of Italy. His mind started churning.
Schultz’s first few days in Milan produced a revelation: The Starbucks stores in Seattle completely missed the point. Starbucks, he decided, needed to serve freshly brewed coffee, espresso, and cappuccino in its stores (in addition to beans and coffee equipment). Going to Starbucks should be an experience, a special treat; the stores should be a place to meet friends and visit. Recreating the Italian coffee bar culture in the United States could be Starbucks’ differentiating factor.
On returning to the US, Schultz shared his revelation with the Starbucks owners but they disapproved. They feared that serving drinks would put them in the beverage business and dilute the integrity of Starbucks’ mission as a coffee store. It took Schultz nearly a year to convince the owners to let him test the espresso bar concept. In April 1984, in Starbucks’ sixth store in downtown Seattle, Schultz set up a small espresso bar in a corner of the new store. There was no pre-opening marketing blitz and no sign announcing: Now Serving Espresso. The lack of fanfare was part of a deliberate experiment to see what would happen. By closing time on the first day, some 400 customers had been served, well above the 250 customer average of Starbucks’ best-performing stores. Within two months the store was serving 800 customers per day. The two baristas could not keep up with orders during the early morning hours, resulting in lines outside the door onto the sidewalk. Most of the business was at the espresso counter; sales at the regular retail counter were only adequate.
Key learning experiment and adapt –
Throughout the growth years of Starbucks, the people within the company engaged in deliberate experiments. One of the defining contributors to growth and innovation has been their willingness to experiment. Howard Schultz tested his initial idea of selling brewed coffee by experimenting in a store. He continued to experiment with ideas throughout his time at the helm of the company. He experimented with new products, different store formats, alternative partnership arrangements and various in-store music mixes. From each of these experiments, he learned and adapted. When an experiment seemed to work, he would roll it out to all the Starbucks stores; when it did not work he tried something else until he stumbled upon a winning solution.
In spite of the success of the experiment, the original owners still did not want to sell beverages inside the stores, prompting Schultz to leave Starbucks and start his own company. His plan was to open espresso bars in high traffic downtown locations that would emulate the friendly, energetic atmosphere he had encountered in Italian espresso bars. By 1986 he had opened his first Il Giornale coffee bar in downtown Seattle. By closing time on the first day, 300 customers had been served and after making some small changes to the store format, within six months, Il Giornale was serving more than 1 000 customers a day. Then Il Giornale opened a second store in another downtown building and a third store was opened in Vancouver, British Columbia, in April 1987. Vancouver was chosen to test the transferability of the company’s business concept outside Seattle. To reach his goal of opening 50 stores in five years, Schultz needed to dispel doubts about geographic expansion.
In March 1987 the original Starbucks owners decided to sell the whole Starbucks operation. Schultz knew immediately that he had to buy it. Within weeks he had raised the $3,8 million (around $31 million in today’s terms at a 10% annual escalation) needed to buy Starbucks. The acquisition was completed in August 1987. The new name of the combined companies was Starbucks Corporation.
Schultz told the Starbucks employees that his vision was for Starbucks to become a national company with values and guiding principles that employees could be proud of. The new Starbucks had a total of nine stores. The business plan Schultz had presented to investors called for the new company to open 125 stores in the next five years – 15 in the first year, 20 in the second, 25 in the third, 30 in the fourth and 35 in the fifth. Revenues were projected to reach $60 million in 1992.
In the following several months, a number of changes were instituted. To symbolise the merging of the two companies and their cultures, a new logo was created that melded the Starbucks and Il Giornale logos. The Starbucks stores were equipped with espresso machines and remodeled to look more Italian than Old World nautical. The traditional Starbucks brown was replaced by Il Giornale green. The result was a new type of store – a cross between a retail coffee bean store and an espresso bar/café – that became the signature format of Starbucks in the 1990s.
The arrival of Starbucks in Chicago proved far more troublesome than management had anticipated. The first Chicago store opened on 27 October 1987, the day the stock market crashed. Three more stores were opened in Chicago over the next six months, but customer counts were substantially below expectations – Chicagoans didn’t take to dark roasted coffee as fast as Schultz had anticipated. Store margins were squeezed for a number of reasons: It was expensive to supply fresh coffee to the Chicago stores out of the Seattle warehouse, and both rents and wage rates were higher in Chicago than in Seattle. Gradually, customer counts improved, but Starbucks lost money on its Chicago stores until 1990, when prices were raised to reflect higher rents and labour costs. More experienced store managers were hired and a critical mass of customers caught on to the taste of Starbucks products.
Portland, Oregon, was the next market entered, and Portland coffee drinkers took to Starbucks products quickly. By 1991, the Chicago stores had become profitable and the company was ready for its next big market entry. Management decided on California because of its host of neighbourhood centres and the receptiveness of Californians to innovative, good quality food. Los Angeles was chosen as the first Californian market to enter, principally because of its status as a trendsetter and its cultural ties to the rest of the country. LA consumers embraced Starbucks quickly.When store expansion targets proved easier to meet than Schultz had originally anticipated, he upped the numbers to keep challenging the organisation. Starting from a base of 11 stores, Starbucks opened 15 new stores in fiscal 1988, 20 in 1989, 30 in 1990, 32 in 1991, and 53 in 1992 – producing a total of 161 stores. The opening of 150 new stores in five years significantly exceeded the 1987 business plan objective of 125.
From the outset, the strategy was to open only company-owned stores; franchising was avoided to retain full control of the quality of Starbucks’ products and the character and location of its stores. But company ownership of all stores required Starbucks to raise new venture capital, principally by selling shares to new or existing investors, to cover the cost of expansion. Starbucks was able to raise the needed funds despite posting losses of $330 000 in 1987, $764 000 in 1988, and $1,2 million in 1989. While the losses troubled Starbucks directors and investors, Schultz’s business plan had forecast losses during the early years of expansion. At a particularly tense board meeting where directors sharply questioned him about the lack of profitability, Schultz said: “Look, we’re going to keep losing money until we can do three things. We have to attract a management team well beyond our expansion needs. We have to build a world class roasting facility. And we need a computer information system sophisticated enough to keep track of sales in hundreds and hundreds of stores.” Schultz argued for patience as the company invested in the infrastructure to support continued growth well into the 1990s. He contended that hiring experienced executives ahead of the growth curve, building facilities far beyond current needs, and installing support systems laid a strong foundation for rapid, profitable future growth. His arguments carried the day with the board and with investors, especially since revenues were growing approximately 80% annually and customer traffic at the stores was meeting or exceeding expectations. Starbucks became profitable in 1990 and profits increased every year thereafter until 2007.
Howard Schultz strongly believed that the success of Starbucks was heavily dependent on customers having a very positive experience in its stores. This meant having store employees who were knowledgeable about the company’s products and paid attention to detail, who eagerly communicated the company’s passion for coffee and had the skills and personality to deliver consistently pleasing customer service. Many of the baristas were in their 20s and worked part-time, going to college or pursuing other career activities on the side. The challenge to Starbucks, in Schultz’s view, was how to attract, motivate, and reward store employees in a manner that would make Starbucks a company that people would want to work for and that would result in higher levels of performance. Moreover, Schultz wanted to cement the trust that had been building between management and the company’s workforce. As part of this strategy, he invested heavily in staff training programmes, making the training fun and innovative. He also began providing part-timers working 20 or more hours per week with the same health coverage as full-time employees. This laid the foundation for a strong bond between the company and all its employees. This relationship was strengthened in 1991, when a plan, dubbed Bean Stock, granted each employee stock options in the company, effectively giving them an ownership share in the company in which they worked. At this time, Starbucks dropped the term employee and began referring to its entire workforce as partners. Starbucks was able to attract motivated people with above average skills and good work habits not only because of its fringe benefit programme but also because of its pay scale. Store employees were paid $6 to $8 per hour, well above the minimum wage.
Accommodating fast growth also meant putting in systems to recruit, hire, and train baristas and store managers. Every partner/barista hired for a retail job in a Starbucks store received at least 24 hours of training in the first two to four weeks. The training included classes on coffee history, drink preparation, coffee knowledge, customer service, and retail skills, plus a workshop called “Brewing the Perfect Cup.” Management trainees attended classes for 8 to 12 weeks. Their training went much deeper, covering not only the information imparted to baristas but also the details of store operations, practices and procedures as set forth in the company’s operating manual, information systems, and the basics of managing people. Starbucks’ trainers were all store managers and district managers with on-site experience. One of their major objectives was to ingrain the company’s values, principles, and culture and to impart their knowledge about coffee and their passion for Starbucks.
Key Learning Export the Culture –
One of the primary challenges in growing a business is trying to keep a culture and a company ideology alive as operations become more and more dispersed. Culture tends to develop naturally within a small business when most people work closely with the leader. As a company grows, the leader needs to be more deliberate and purposeful in ensuring that people buy into and live out a core set of values and principles that represent the culture of the organisation. Schultz ensured that the Starbucks culture was instilled in new employees in stores across a wide geographic region by investing heavily in training, giving people a reason to feel connected and loyal to the company and establishing regional management teams that would be accountable for the culture in stores in a particular area.
Starbucks’ initial public offering (IPO) of common stock in June 1992 turned into one of the most successful IPOs of the year. With the capital afforded it by being a public company, Starbucks accelerated the expansion of its store network. But, its success spurred the development of other specialty coffee products across the US and competitors – some imitating the Starbucks model – began to spring up in many locations.
In 1992 and 1993 Starbucks developed a three-year geographic expansion strategy that targeted areas which not only had favourable demographic profiles but could also be serviced and supported by the company’s operations infrastructure. For each targeted region, Starbucks selected a large city to serve as a “hub”; teams of professionals were located in hub cities to support the goal of opening 20 or more stores in the hub in the first two years. Once stores blanketed the hub, additional stores were opened in smaller, surrounding “spoke” areas in the region. To oversee the expansion process, Starbucks created zone vice presidents to direct the development of each region and implant the Starbucks culture in the newly opened stores. The Starbucks store launches grew steadily more successful and in 1995, new stores generated an average of $700 000 in revenue in their first year, far more than the average of $427 000 in 1990. This was partly due to the growing reputation of the Starbucks brand but it was also attributable to the company’s ability to select excellent sites. Starbucks had the best real estate team in the coffee bar industry and a sophisticated system that enabled it to identify not only the most attractive individual city blocks but also the exact store location that was best. The company’s site location track record was so good that by 1997 it had closed only two of the 1 500 sites it had opened.
Key learning location, location, location –
Location is a critical part of the growth recipe for certain businesses. For any store-based retail business and a myriad of different services businesses, location can be critical. Getting the location right for a single store can be tough but finding quality locations on an ongoing basis as you try growing an enterprise to multiple locations is a whole new challenge. It has been shown time and time again that location can have a major impact on the success or failure of a new store; therefore it is essential that if your business is location dependent, you should develop a strategy and system for finding quality locations before you embark on a massive growth effort.
Key learning details matter –
When you are trying to grow a business, details count. Growth equals new customers and new customers often engage with a business on a test basis. Because new customers have no loyalty to the company, if a small detail is not taken care of, they are likely to go elsewhere. When one is trying to grow a business it is easy to let the details slide or assume that someone else, further down the chain of command, will take care of the details. But they won’t. Schultz and his team were sticklers for detail and this created a consistent image and quality experience for customers as they rolled out more and more stores.
Schultz continued to strengthen the top management team of Starbucks, hiring people with extensive experience in managing and expanding retail chains. Orin Smith, who had an MBA from Harvard and 13 years of experience at Deloitte, was brought in as chief financial officer in 1990 and then promoted to president and chief operating officer in 1994. The three key executives during the company’s growth years – Howard Schultz, Howard Behar and Orin Smith – contributed the most to defining and shaping its values, principles, and culture. As the company grew, additional executives were added in marketing, store supervision, specialty sales, human resources, finance, and information systems. Schultz also took care to add people to the Starbucks board of directors who had experience growing a retail chain and could add valuable perspectives.
Key Learning Build a Balanced Management Team – People enable business growth and managers, in particular, make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful growth effort. One of the critical things that Howard Schulz did that enabled him to grow Starbucks so quickly and effectively was to put a balanced management team in place. Each of the three key executives played a very particular role in the business – Schultz was the visionary and the innovator, primarily concerned with strategy; Behar focused intensely on the people in the business, making sure that the human side of the business was nurtured and Smith was the detailed operator, he oversaw the company’s finances and operations. These three, working synergistically together had the right combination of trust, diverse skills and alternate viewpoints to be a catalyst and enabler of massive growth. If you don’t have the right management team in place you won’t grow effectively.
In markets outside the continental United States, the strategy of Starbucks was to license a reputable and capable local company with retailing know-how in the target host country to develop and operate new Starbucks stores. In some cases, Starbucks was a joint venture partner in the stores outside the continental Untied States. Starbucks created a new subsidiary, Starbucks Coffee International (SCI), to orchestrate overseas expansion and begin to build the Starbucks brand name globally via licensees.
Success Leads to Struggles
Starbucks’ performance record since its 1992 IPO made it, for many years, a darling of the investment community. Between 1995 and 2005, the company’s stock rose from about $2 to more than $30. The company’s revenues had grown to over $9 billion and it had 13 000 stores across the globe. But in late 2006, Starbucks’ stock began a seemingly relentless descent, losing more than half its value in 15 months. From a value near $39 in November, 2006, it dropped to less than $19 in early 2008. In February 2007, Schultz, then the company chairman, sent a memo to senior management suggesting that recent decisions at the firm had led to the “watering down of the Starbucks experience” and “commoditisation of the [Starbucks] brand”. Later that year, Starbucks reported a first ever decline in same-store sales. In January 2008, Schultz decided to replace CEO Jim Donald and return as the company’s chief executive, a position he had last held in 2000.
By 2007, Starbucks Coffee Company had become the largest specialty coffee retailer in the world, with more than 13 000 stores globally and revenues in excess of $9 billion. To reach this store count, the company had opened units at a remarkably rapid rate. “Over the past ten years, in order to achieve the growth, development, and scale necessary to go from less than 1 000 stores to 13 000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have led to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditisation of our brand… We desperately need to look into the mirror and realise it’s time to get back to the core and make the changes necessary to evoke the heritage, the tradition, and the passion that we all have for the true Starbucks experience… We have built the most trusted brand in coffee in the world, and we have an enormous responsibility to both the people who have come before us and the 150 000 partners and their families who are relying on our stewardship.
Key Learning Growth is Not Never-Ending –
The reality is that a recipe for growth will never last for ever. Some companies may be able to grow effectively for a few months, others such as Starbucks may manufacture years of profitable growth. But any growth strategy that is pushed too far will lead to decline. The challenge for business owners is to foresee how long a growth phase will last and then to revise, reinvent and reinvigorate the company before the initial strategy stagnates.
The success of Starbucks has attracted many competitors into most markets in which they operate. Almost every town or region has a local chain of coffee shops modelled along the lines of Starbucks, and large multinational chains such as MacDonald’s and Dunkin Doughnuts were lured into the coffee market, competing on price for Starbucks customers. These competitors all had the potential to erode the Starbucks customer base and cause a decline in revenues and profits. In addition to that, the more a business grows, the more challenging it becomes to find good quality retail locations. There is only a finite number of really good retail locations in any one area and, to keep growth going, companies are often tempted to settle for second-rate locations. A second-rate location can be the difference between profit and loss in a store and the lower the quality of locations that a company is tempted to accept (to fuel growth) the greater the losses can become.
Real life stories create an excellent context to learn about the complexity and realities of business. The story of Starbucks, as described here, provides insight into what it really takes to grow a business, how one can increase success when growing a business and how business growth cannot be expected to continue into perpetuity.
Whether you want to expand your current operation from R100 000 in annual revenue to R1 million or whether you are looking to go from R50 million to R500 million, the lessons from Starbucks over many years of profitable growth provide definitive actions that you can implement to increase your chances of success.
Every business’s growth path will be different, with different obstacles to overcome and different breakthroughs along the way, but for everyone choosing to embrace the challenge of growing a business, the following items should serve as an effective guide.
The (Starbucks) Recipe for Growth
1. Let passion drive you
2. Experiment and adapt
3. Export the culture
4. Location, location, location
5. Build a balanced management team
6. BUT BEWARE: Growth is not never-ending
7 Foundational Values Of Brand Cartel And How They Grew an Iconic Business From The Ground Up
Marco Ferreira, Renate Albrecht and Dillon Warren built Brand Cartel, a through-the-line agency, that delivers exactly what they wanted — and has grown exponentially as a result.
- Players: Marco Ferreira, Renate Albrecht and Dillon Warren
- Company: Brand Cartel
- Launched: 2013
- Visit: brandcartel.co.za
“We’d never worked at agencies, which meant we had no idea how much you need to run an agency. We grew into it. It’s made us really good at what we do.”
When Dillon Warren, Renate Albrecht and Marco Ferreira launched Brand Cartel in 2013 they were in their early 20s with zero agency experience between them. The idea had started when Marco recognised that social media was taking off, but no agencies were playing in that space yet. It was a clear opportunity.
Printing flyers that said ‘Your social media is so last season’, Marco and Renate went from store to store in Sandton City, pitching their services. When Dillon joined them a few months later because they needed someone to handle the company’s finances, they had two laptops between them, R6 000, which Dillon had earned from a Ricoffy advert, and sheer will and tenacity.
“We shared a house to save on rent and split everything three ways,” says Renate. “At one point we hadn’t eaten in two days. My mom lent me R500 so I could buy Futurelife and a bag of apples for the three of us.”
The trio hired their first employee soon after launching Brand Cartel, and after prioritising salaries and bills, there wasn’t much leftover. “Dillon actually paid us R67 each one month,” laughs Marco. “That’s what was left — although I still can’t believe he actually sent it to us.” It was at this point that the young business owners realised they needed credit cards if they were going to make it through their start-up phase — not an easy feat when your bank balance is under R100.
“Looking back, those days really taught us the value of money,” says Dillon
“We spent a lot of time with very little, and we’re still careful with money today.” Through it all though, the partners kept their focus on building their business. “It almost didn’t work for a long time. We were young and naïve, but in a way, that was our strength. We didn’t have any responsibilities, and we’d never worked at agencies, which meant we had no idea how much you need to run an agency. We grew into it. It’s made us really good at what we do. All of our business has been referral business. It takes time, but we focused on being the best we could be and giving everything we had to our clients. Our differentiator was that we really cared, and were willing to offer any solutions as long as they aligned with our values.”
This is how Brand Cartel has grown from a social media agency into PR and Media Buying, SEO and PPC Strategy, Digital and Print Design, Web Development, Campaign Strategy and now an Influencer division. “It’s an incredibly competitive space with low barriers to entry, which meant it was easy to launch, but tougher to build a client base,” says Renate. “I’d sometimes cry in my car between sales pitches, and then walk in smiling. We had no idea if we’d make it.”
The perseverance has paid off though. Strong foundations have laid the groundwork for exponential growth over the past year, with turnover growing almost ten-fold in 2017 thanks to relationship-building, strong referrals and fostering an internal culture and set of values that has driven the business to new heights as a team.
Like many start-ups, Renate, Dillon and Marco have made their fair share of hiring mistakes, but as the business grew and matured, the young entrepreneurs began to realise that the success of their business lay in the quality of their team and the values they stood for.
This meant two things: Those values needed to be formalised so that they could permeate everything Brand Cartel does, and they needed a team that lived, breathed and believed in them.
“We’ve had some nasty experiences,” admits Dillon. “You should always hire slowly and fire fast, and for five years we did the opposite. We’ve hired incredible people, but we’ve also ended up with individuals who didn’t align with our values at all, and that can destroy your culture.
Dillon, Marco and Renate realised they needed to put their values on paper. “We did an exercise and actually plotted people based on a score grading them against our values, so we knew where our issues were. We knew what we wanted to stand for, and who was aligned with those values. We were right; within a few weeks resignations came in and we mutually parted ways.”
The team that stayed was different. They embraced Brand Cartel’s values, and more importantly, it gave the partners a hiring blueprint going forward.
“Values are intangibles that you somehow need to make real, so it’s important to think about the language you use, and how they can be used in a real-world work context,” says Marco.
The team has done this in a number of ways. First, they chose ‘value phrases’ that can be used in conversation, for example, ‘check it, don’t wreck it’, and ‘are you wagging your tail?’ Team members can gently remind each other of the value system and focus everyone on a task at hand simply by referring to the company’s values. “In addition, when someone is not behaving according to those values, you can call them out on the value, which is an external thing, rather than calling them out personally,” explains Dillon.
Second, all performance reviews are based on the values first. This means everyone in the organisation begins any interaction from a place of trust, knowing they are operating according to the same value system.
“When you’re in a production environment with jobs moving through a pipeline, there can be problems and delays,” explains Marco. “Instead of pointing fingers when something is over deadline or a mistake is made, our team can give each other the benefit of the doubt and work together. They trust each other, which creates cohesion. We all work as a team, which impacts the quality of our work and the service we offer our clients.”
The system is simple. Coaches will step in first if there is an issue before it escalates to the Head of Team Experience, Nicole Lambrou. If Nicole is called in, she will address the problem head on. “Inevitably it’s something fixable,” says Marco. “By addressing it immediately and in the context of our values it can be sorted out quickly. Ultimately, the overall quality of our team improves, and we are a more cohesive unit.”
The founders have seen this in action. “I recently arrived at a client event and three different people came up to me and complimented my team on the same things — all of which aligned with our values. Everyone at Brand Cartel lives them, internally and externally,” says Renate.
The value system has also shaped how the team hires new employees. “We used to meet people and hire for the position if they could do the job,” says Renate. “But then we started realising that anyone can hold up for an hour or two in an interview. You only learn who they really are three months and one day later.
“We need people who walk the talk, and we really only had a proper measurement of that once we articulated our values. Our interview style has changed, but so has what we look for.”
Here are the seven values that Dillon, Marco and Renate developed based on what they want their business to look like, how they want it to operate, and what they want to achieve, both internally, and in the market place.
1. Play with your work
Our goal is for everyone on our team to become so good at what they do that it’s no longer work. Once that happens you love your job because you’re killing it. It’s why sportsmen are called players, not workers, and it starts with the right mindset.
2. Wag your tail
The idea behind this value stems from Dale Carnegie, who said ‘have you ever met a Labrador you don’t like?’ In other words, we all respond well to people who are friendly. It needs to be genuine though, so again, it’s a mindset that you need to embrace.
We live these values whether we’re at the office or meeting clients. If you go into each and every situation with joy and excitement, from meeting someone new to a new brief coming in, you’ll be motivated and excited — and so will everyone around you.
3. Check it, don’t wreck it
The little things can make big differences. Previously it was too easy to pass the buck, which meant mistakes could — and did — happen. Once you instil a sense of ownership and create a space where people are comfortable admitting to a mistake however, two things happen. First, things get checked and caught before there’s a problem. Second, people will own up if something goes wrong. This can help avoid disasters, but it also leads to learnings, and the same thing not happening again.
4. What’s Plan B (aka make it happen)
We don’t want to hear about the problem; come to us with solutions, or better yet, already have solved the problem and made it happen. We reached a point where we had too many people coming to us with every small problem they encountered, or telling us that something wasn’t working so they just didn’t do it.
That wasn’t the way we operated, and it definitely wasn’t the way we wanted our company to operate. We also didn’t want to be spoon feeding our team. It’s normal for things to go wrong and problems to creep in — success lies in how those problems are handled.
Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away, so we embrace them instead, encouraging everyone on our team to continuously look for solutions. For example, the PR department holds a ‘keep the paw-paw at Fruit & Veg City’ meeting every morning, where we deliberately look for where problems might arise so that we can handle them before they do. We start with what’s going wrong and then move to what’s going right. You need to give your team a safe and transparent space to air problems though. We don’t escalate. We need to know issues so that we can collectively fix them, not to find fault.
5. Put your name to it
It’s about pride in work and making it your own. When someone has pride in what they’re doing, they’ll not only put in extra time and effort, but they’ll pull out all the stops to make their creative pop, or go the extra mile for a client.
We need to find the balance between great quality work and fast output though. One way we’ve achieved this is by everyone reviewing the client brief and then committing to how long their portion will take.
When someone gives an upfront commitment, they immediately take ownership of the job. It took time for us to find our groove with this, but today we can really see the difference. Our creative coaches also keep a close eye on time sheets and where everyone is in relation to the job as a whole to keep the entire brief on track. If someone is heading towards overtime we can immediately ask if something is wrong and if they need assistance.
We also celebrate everything that leaves our studio. Every morning we have a mandatory 15-minute catch up session where we check in on four core things: How am I feeling (which allows us to pick up on the mood in the room and the pressure levels of our teams); What’s the most important thing I did yesterday; What’s the most important thing I’m going to do today (both of which give intention and accountability); and ‘stucks’, issues that team members need help with. We then end off with our achievements so that we can celebrate them together.
6. Keep it real (aka check your ego at the door)
We believe in transparency. At the end of the day we’re all people trying to achieve the same thing, but it’s easy for ego to creep in — especially when things go wrong. You can’t be ego-driven and solutions-orientated. If clients or team members are having a bad day, you need to be able to focus on the solution. Take ego away and you can do just that. It’s how we deal with stucks as well. We can call each other out and say, ‘I’m waiting for you and can’t do my job until I receive what you owe me,’ and instead of getting a negative, ego-driven reaction, a colleague will say, ‘sorry, I’m on it.’
7. Walk the talk
For us, ‘walk the talk’ really pulls all our other values together. It’s about being realistic and communicating with each other. If you’ve made a mistake or run into a problem, tell your client. Don’t go silent while you try and fix it. Let them know what’s happening and fill them in on your plan of action.
Walk the talk also deals with the industry you’re in. For example, if you’re a publicist, you need to dress like a publicist, talk like a publicist, and live your craft. In everything we do, we keep this top of mind.
John Holdsworth Founder Of Tautona AI Shares 4 Disruptive Strategies That Are Changing The Insurance Industry
What can we do now that we couldn’t do before, thanks to changes in technology?
“Disruption isn’t just doing things in a different way which doesn’t resonate or go any further — it’s about changing the game. Being disruptive means taking a look at an industry and finding a way to do it differently, giving you an advantage over the incumbents.”
- Player: John Holdsworth
- Company: Tautona AI
- Est: 2016
- Visit: www.tautona.ai
Disruptive innovation is the catchphrase that defines the last 20 years. New technologies, business models and media have disrupted the way we do just about everything. Conventional wisdom has it that the new kids on the block are the ones who are going to own the market at the expense of industry stalwarts, but this innovative South African disruptor is showing them how it’s done.
1. It’s the experience economy, stupid
Regardless of how the world changes, organisations that consider their customers’ emotions and experience first, win. That’s exactly what Tautona did. They put themselves in the customers’ shoes and asked one key question: ‘What’s wrong?’ Few industries are as ripe for disruption as insurance. When John Holdsworth co-founded cognitive automation business Tautona AI in 2016, he knew that there had to be a better way for insurers to handle client claims.
Tautona AI emerged out of a consulting engagement John had with a large insurance company. With a background in IT, he is a highly experienced technology executive and entrepreneur who has started a number of successful companies. He says he loves the energy and adrenalin associated with start-ups. He pioneered the use of digital signatures in South Africa, founded mobile payments company PAYM8, and converged voice and data provider ECN, which he sold to Reunert for R172 million in 2011. The experience acquired over this time meant he was ready to take on a massive challenge.
“When a policyholder submits an insurance claim, that action should trigger an instant decision, with the outcome immediately communicated back to the policyholder,” John says.
“Customers want swift claims handling, communication, and compensation. They want the same instant gratification that they get from online banking. So that’s what we set out do — to revolutionise the entire claims process. We have made traditional claims processing a thing of the past by pioneering a cognitive solution that is making the claims process faster, smarter and more efficient.”
2. Automating judgment tasks once reserved for humans
Tautona’s claims automation solution uses artificial intelligence to instantly approve or refer claims for further investigation. By using machine learning algorithms to identify patterns in the data, Tautona’s solution identifies fraudulent claims, enabling insurers to halve fraudulent claim losses.
Tautona also uses Robotic Process Automation to integrate to legacy systems, removing the need for traditional programming techniques. This means that Tautona’s claims automation solution can be implemented with minimal disruption to a business. By automating decision-making, communication, and compensation, Tautona enables insurance companies to take a major step towards becoming true digital insurers.
3. Ditch the legacy systems, start from scratch
Disruptive innovators invest in digital strategies so that they can find new ways of responding to their customers’ evolving needs. The founders of Tautona AI agree on several principles, but one that stands out specifically because it goes entirely against traditional thinking, is the importance of starting from scratch.
“You cannot take a non-digital business model and expect it to work online,” says John. “Instead of using old methods, you need to start from the beginning. Ditch the legacy systems, take a leader mentality and imagine the art of the possible.”
This iterative, modular approach typically begins with defining the strategy and programme plan upfront, delivering a core capability fast so it can provide benefits immediately, and then continuously improving with regular, incremental capability improvements to achieve the objectives of the strategy. It’s an approach that fosters closer collaboration between stakeholders, improved transparency, earlier delivery, greater allowance for change and more focus on the business outcomes.
4. Shaking up an industry
How do you launch new solutions and educate customers who are used to doing things the way they have always been done? John says resistance to change is inevitable. That’s why you need more than good technology.
“When you introduce something ground-breaking to the market, you encounter many different types of personalities asking diverse questions. That demands an approach that is client-centric and entirely customer focused. It also means you have to spend time developing a sound business case to present to decision makers.”
A solid business case documents the justification for the undertaking of a project. It’s the way you prove to your client and other stakeholders that the product you’re pitching is a sound investment. You need to justify the project expenditure by identifying the business benefits the innovation will deliver and that your stakeholders will be most interested in reaping from the technology.
“Essentially, it’s about proving you can deliver,” says John. “When you have an entirely new proposition, the only way you can hope to get your foot in the door is with a value proposition so profound that clients are forced to take a look at it.”
Tautona has convinced a number of South Africa’s top insurers to implement their AI-powered claims automation solution. The results to date have been ground-breaking, with insurers dramatically reducing turnaround times and processing fees. As a result, Tautona’s sales pipeline is full to the end of the first quarter of 2019.
“But there’s no rest for disruptors. Nokia and BlackBerry crumbled because they were slow to react to market changes, and they underestimated the challenge from Apple and Samsung. The only way to retain leadership is with relentless innovation, that is, a constant flow of new versions and features. That applies in any industry today.”
Tim Hogins Started Out As A Security Guard, Today His Has A Turnover Of R150 Million And Has Self-Funded Three Huge Lifestyle Parks
As a poor township kid, Tim Hogins watched kids pile into buses heading to Sun City every weekend, knowing he couldn’t afford to join them. He was a youngster, but he made a promise to himself. One day he would build parks that anyone could visit — especially underprivileged kids like himself.
- Player: Tim Hogins
- Company: GOG, formerly Green Outdoor Gyms
- Est: 2012
- Turnover: R110 million
- Projected Turnover: R150 million (2018)
- Visit: gog.co.za
“I’m a visionary, and I’m not scared to invest in my vision. I’ve lost millions, but I’ve made more because of that. Business is about making money, but I’ve grown beyond that – I want to employ people, develop them, push boundaries and see where we can take this.”
“Poverty can be a good thing, because growing up poor makes you creative, and that’s an incredible power if you know how to use it.”
Seven years ago, Tim Hogins drove out of an office park and pulled onto the side of the road because he was having a panic attack. His car was closing in on him, he couldn’t see and he couldn’t breathe. After months of hard work, it was all over. His dreams were shattered.
Tim isn’t the first entrepreneur to find himself here, and he won’t be the last. What separates him from countless other aspiring business owners is that despite a massive setback, he didn’t back down. He sat in his car, phoned his wife, and told her what had happened. Instead of telling him it was time to move on and find a job, she asked him how they were going to cobble together the money he needed to start again.
And that was the beginning of Green Outdoor Gyms, a vision Tim had been nurturing for almost two years. A business idea that had led to his retrenchment and was almost ripped away from him by his business partners and investors.
But he didn’t quit. He pushed on. And today his business has a projected turnover of R150 million and has self-funded three huge lifestyle parks that Tim hopes will impact the lives of thousands of underprivileged children while providing jobs for hundreds more.
The in-built art of tenacity
To understand Tim, you need to understand where he came from. As a township kid growing up in Randfontein on the West Rand of Johannesburg, Tim always helped his parents to sell stuff. They were traders. His dad had a small café selling burgers and chips, and his mom baked. While other kids in the area piled into buses for Sun City on the weekends, or visited a local bird park, Tim had to work or the family didn’t eat.
“I matriculated in 1996, and even though I had an exemption, tertiary education wasn’t on the cards for me,” he says. “We just couldn’t afford it.” But Tim had a plan. His cousin told him about a free four-week course to become a security guard, and Tim aced it, securing a position at one of the firm’s top industrial sites.
Here’s the first secret to Tim’s success. Instead of seeing a dead-end job, Tim saw an opportunity. If he did his job well, he would progress to a driver, and then a cash-in-transit guard. From there the plan was management. Becoming a security guard wasn’t his fate because he couldn’t get a degree — it was step one to the rest of his life.
“I was raised to be the best version of myself. Everything is what you make of it. In primary school I was head boy, and in high school the head of the SRC. There’s always a way to grow and improve yourself.”
Two years into his career as a security guard, Tim heard about another opportunity — a free programming course teaching COBOL, a back-end system used by the financial services industry.
“I grew up 500 metres from Stafford Masie, who would go on to become the first head of Google South Africa and is one of our country’s greatest tech entrepreneurs,” says Tim. “I had zero programming experience — I’d never touched a computer — but I knew how valuable these skills were, and here was an opportunity being handed to me.”
It wasn’t quite as easy as Tim imagined. He failed the aptitude test and had to take it again. Once he was on the course, he failed that too — it was a programming course after all, and Tim needed a far more basic introduction to IT. He didn’t give up though. He’d quit his job and needed to make this work while he was still living with his father and didn’t have financial responsibilities, so he begged the course administrator to let him retake the programme. This time he passed, and found a job at a small IT firm.
Once there, Tim built up his IT acumen. Over the course of his IT career Tim worked for Dimension Data, EOH and SITA. In his final three years he applied for an account management position and moved into sales. His goal was to become a business owner, and so he diversified and learnt what he could about business.
He also paid attention to the world around him, looking for a business opportunity or problem he could solve. He dabbled with some ideas, but the one he kept coming back to was outdoor gyms.
“I saw kids in parks doing sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups on trees, and kept thinking there must be a better way than this for them. I knew that a proper solution would be good for the whole community — giving kids and parents a safe and free environment to play in and focus on their health. I focused on poorer communities, where gym fees weren’t an option, and kids needed safe places to play and keep out of trouble.”
The more Tim unpacked the idea, the more he began to believe in it. And then his employers found out, and made it clear that they did not like Tim’s attention divided between his job and his business idea. Despite this, Tim continued to focus on his entrepreneurial play, and within a few months he’d been retrenched, ostensibly due to a restructuring of the business, yet Tim was the only person let go.
It was October 2010 and Tim had no job, two-months’ salary and he was about to get married. But it was the best thing that could have happened to him. “That retrenchment catapulted me into business. From then on, my full focus became outdoor gyms.”
Winning and losing
Tim had approached Joburg City Parks who where interested in the idea. He had also met with an engineer and they had begun to design the equipment. There was just one small problem: Money.
“I knocked on doors, approaching anyone who would listen. One investor laughed at me. He said I’d gone from IT to playing with steel — what was wrong with me? A contact at SITA said flat out that she wouldn’t help me. Looking for funding can be incredibly demoralising. I had an idea and a letter of intent from Joburg City Parks, and it still wasn’t enough.”
And then Tim was introduced to a group of investors who wanted to instal kids play areas in municipal parks. Tim had the City Parks connection; they had the funding. They entered into a business partnership and built a prototype together. This was when Tim’s wheels fell off.
“I was invited to a meeting by my three business partners, and when I arrived there were five people in the room — my partners and their two lawyers. We’d entered into the agreement as 50/50 partners, and they wanted us to all be 25% shareholders. I couldn’t agree to that. This was my idea, my connection, my baby.”
By the time Tim left the meeting, he had no funding, no partners and no prototype and he knew City Parks was getting impatient. All he’d done was create competitors — and they had a demo model.
Tim had spent most of 2011 looking for funding and then building the prototype once he found his partners. He wasn’t just back to square one, he was behind where he’d started months ago. Hence the panic attack.
It was a pivotal moment. Give up or push on? Tim chose to push on. That night, Tim and his wife, Rona Hogins, sat down and came up with a plan. They would sell one car and Rona would apply for a bank loan. Together, they managed to come up with R200 000. Tim approached a friend who was interested in a side business and they launched LXI, an importer of screens for media companies. LXI brought in enough to pay the bills while Tim concentrated on getting Green Outdoor Gyms off the ground.
Then luck stepped in. “I drove past a warehouse and saw some play equipment. Instead of driving on, I pulled in and pitched my business idea to the owner.” The owner, Neta Indig, agreed to build Tim’s prototype at cost, in exchange for a long-term partnership. Tim agreed. His R200 000 would be enough to get the business back off the ground. Green Outdoor Gyms was officially launched in February 2012.
Here’s the thing about luck though. Unless you’re open to opportunities, paying attention and willing to step out of your comfort zone, luck alone will get you nowhere. By the time Tim drove into Neta’s parking lot, he’d spoken to countless investors, had doors shut in his face, lost a partnership and his prototype, and was still willing to look for any opportunity that might present itself. Through sheer will and tenacity, he found it.
After the first outdoor gym was installed, two things happened. The competition Tim had feared from his old partners didn’t materialise. It was Tim’s first real lesson in the power of passion. He’d doggedly pursued his idea for over two years. His partners, who didn’t share that passion, did nothing with the prototype they’d acquired. Tim was still — at that stage — in blue ocean territory.
The second was how quickly an idea can take off once the foundations are in place. GOG’s turnover was R3 million in its first year, and orders were flooding in from municipalities throughout South Africa.
Tim was invited to present his solution in parliament, and it was included in the National Development Plan. “Everything escalated faster than I could have imagined,” he says.
“The reality is that we’re an obese nation. It’s a real problem. On top of that, 90% of the country can’t afford commercial gym fees. Under the National Development Plan, every community was earmarked for an outdoor gym. Government saw my vision and they bought into it.”
Tim had to tender for each new site, but he had a first-mover advantage. By the time other players entered his space he’d already built up a track record. His team’s turnover times are impressive and the business doesn’t only design and instal the equipment, but can also overhaul a derelict park. The quality of his products ensures that equipment lasts at least eight years with no maintenance, although once an outdoor park is installed, the community takes ownership of it, cleaning it regularly and maintaining the area.
In six short years, GOG has installed over 1 000 outdoor gyms for local municipalities around the country, and there’s still room for growth. There are currently between 5 000 and 10 000 sites available, and while Tim doesn’t believe they will get all of them, the business will continue to expand. “I believe we still have a ten-year run with government-funded outdoor gyms, but this is no longer our core business.”
In fact, GOG has grown and changed considerably since that first outdoor gym was installed in February 2012.
“I’m an opportunist. I pay attention to developments around me and am always on the lookout for where we can add value,” says Tim. As a result, GOG is now developing its own sites and supplying equipment to the industry — across private and public sectors.
“You need to know that competitors are coming,” says Tim. “When we started out we had a niche with outdoor gyms and government, but someone will always want to eat your lunch. If you know that someone’s paying attention to what you’re doing and that everyone needs to diversify, you can stay ahead of your competitors.
“Our business is centred around health, fitness and family, and this understanding has allowed us to grow into lifestyle spaces that support our core focus.”
As a result, GOG has expanded to the installation of play areas and outdoor gyms for hotels, private and public schools, beach parks and lifestyle estates, including Steyn City.
“We also have a registered landscape company,” says Tim. “We can take vacant land and transform it into a park with grass, trees, water and pathways. We have a Geotech division that does soil testing and environmental studies.”
None of this happened overnight. It takes time to build a reputation, but if you’re focused on four key things, you can build a sustainable business. “You need to diversify your product range, diversify your customer base, nurture relationships and push outbound sales,” says Tim.
Tim has geared the business for scale, which is critical in a production and manufacturing context. “We have always outsourced our manufacturing, first with Neta, and later to a Chinese manufacturer who has become integral to our success.”
Tim’s relationship with Neta was critical in the start-up phase, but after two years the manufacturer decided to focus on his core. “We were too big — it wasn’t a side project anymore, and Neta wanted to remain in construction,” says Tim. “I needed to either find another manufacturing partner, or move into that space myself.”
Tim visited manufacturing facilities in China and sourced samples until he found a plant that could handle GOG’s volumes and quality. “Chinese manufacturers value loyalty and they’ll do whatever you want at the price point you ask. If you want a cheap product, you’ll get it — and the quality to match. Good quality costs more. I have an excellent relationship with our supplier — so good that he flew out to South Africa to see our operations, because he was impressed with the volumes he produces for us.”
It’s this relationship and the capacity available to Tim that has allowed him to take the next step towards his ultimate vision for GOG: Lifestyle parks.
Living the dream
GOG’s first lifestyle park stemmed from Tim’s need for a showroom and his life-long dream to give underprivileged children access to entertainment parks that he couldn’t afford when he was a child.
“We were manufacturing outdoor parks and I started thinking about other ideas in this space that aligned with our vision and niche. I needed a showroom that could showcase everything we can do, from ziplines to climbing walls, swimming pools to spray pools and outdoor gyms. A lifestyle park was the natural answer to everything I wanted to achieve.”
GOG Lifestyle was opened in November 2016 and is situated off the N14 near Lanseria Airport. It’s close to a number of townships, including Diepsloot and Cosmo City. “The revenue model is corporate team building events, family days and launches, which allows us to run specials for kids, the elderly, and CSI projects for schools and churches.”
The next lifestyle park, GOG Gardens, was opened in Soweto in December 2017. Bigger than the first lifestyle park, GOG Gardens caters for picnics, outdoor events and concerts. It’s a multi-purpose venue with seven venues in one, and also focuses on corporates, the general public and events, with CSI projects that support children.
“We have launched some smaller projects, such as GOG Kids at Chameleon Village in Hartbeespoort and a play area in Vilakazi Street, but our next big project is Happy Island, a 36 hectare water park off Beyers Naude Drive in Muldersdrift.”
Happy Island is GOG’s first joint venture with an investment partner, Tim’s Chinese supplier. Unlike the other lifestyle parks, which GOG self-funded from cash reserves, Happy Island is a multi-hundred million rand project with large capex needs. “The idea came to life when the chairman of our manufacturing supplier visited our operations in South Africa. There are no water parks in South Africa similar to those I visited in China. We are doing something completely new and exciting, and we broke ground in April 2017.”
All of GOG’s lifestyle parks have required high capex investments and have not yet reached break-even, unlike the smaller projects that will reach break-even within a few months. “Our projection for the lifestyle parks is three years, and five years for Happy Island,” says Tim.
“My long-term goal is to have ten lifestyle parks across South Africa, one in each region, and that’s what I’m investing in. We want to make a difference, give kids access to these parks and employ people.
“I’m here today because of my childhood experiences, but before I could invest in this dream, I needed to start small and build up my reputation and cash reserves. To achieve my ultimate dream will take a lot of investment, so that’s the focus.
“I’m a visionary, and I’m not scared to invest in my vision. I’ve lost millions, but I’ve made more because of that. Business is about making money, but I’ve grown beyond that — I want to employ people, develop them, push boundaries and see where we can take this. When someone says something is impossible, I want to know why, and then try anyway. That’s how you achieve great things. That’s how you realise your dreams.”
In 2016, GOG launched its first lifestyle park, GOG Lifestyle. Since then, two more lifestyle parks have been added, GOG Gardens in Soweto, and GOG Kids in Chameleon Village in Hartbeespoort. The company’s biggest venture, Happy Island will soon be open to the public as well.
GOG’s genesis was outdoor gyms, and the company continues to grow from these original roots: Catering to a growing focus on healthier lifestyles, from public parks to beaches, corporates and residential estates.
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