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7 Lessons Elevator Learnt When Partnering With Their Competitor For Next Level Growth

Merging your company with another is never an easy decision to make, but for the founders of Stretch and Point Blank it was the right move.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital stats

  • Players: Trevor Bernberg, Bongani Chinkanda and Mike Silver
  • Company: Elevator
  • Established: 2017
  • Combined turnover: R50 million
  • About: Elevator was created earlier this year when Trevor Bernberg of Point Blank and Mike Silver of Stretch decided to merge their advertising agencies and create a R50 million below the line company called Elevator. The two founders are now joint CEOs, and Bongani Chinkanda has been appointed as business and strategy director to form a new leadership triumvirate.
  • Visit: www.elevator.co.za

Having both been around for about eight years, agencies Stretch and Point Blank needed a change to take their businesses to the next level.

“We were out of the start-up phase and business was okay, but it felt as if we had hit a plateau. A big change was needed to take the business to the next level,” says Point Blank founder Trevor Bernberg.

When your competitor becomes your partner in growth

“Stretch had reached the same place. I knew Mike, and in many ways I had viewed Stretch as Point Blank’s biggest competition, but I also realised that the cultures and ethos of the companies were similar, so a team-up could be very successful.”

It was a realisation that Stretch founder Mike Silver had also come to, which was why he invited Trevor for dinner one evening in 2016. While discussions were furtive and purely exploratory at first, it quickly became clear that a merger was the right way to go.

Fast forward to 2017, and the companies have become a new entity called Elevator. Entrepreneur spoke to Trevor and Mike, as well as Elevator’s new business and strategy director Bongani Chinkanda about the lessons they learnt from this exciting but tumultuous process.

Related: How Mike Silver Became The Next Best Brand And Marketing Guy

1Next-level growth often requires a new way of doing things

Trevor Bernberg: We enjoyed some terrific growth for the first five years, or so, but then things started to slow down. To keep that same level of success going, we had to grow the company, and that meant more investment.

There are a few ways in which you can bring more money and resources into the company. You can be acquired by a large corporate, or you can opt for a big buy-out. You can also perhaps find a new outside investor. But none of these appealed to me. Profit was too much of a focus.

I didn’t want someone else to take over and simply look at how profit can be maximised. I wanted to play a significant role in taking the business to the next level, and that’s why a merger was appealing.

By combining the forces of Stretch and Point Blank, we could both continue this journey in a meaningful way.

2You need a good fit

elevator-south-african-agency

Mike Silver: There were a lot of similarities between Stretch and Point Blank from a culture perspective, which is why the merger worked so well. A merger is very difficult if the companies are fundamentally different. Two companies can’t become one if they operate completely differently.

Trevor: Mike and I also had the same aims with this merger, which is very important. If you don’t want the same things, merging is a bad idea. We settled on the name Elevator, for instance, because we wanted to elevate our clients, our employees and South African society in general. It wasn’t just about profit for us. If one of us had just been after profit, the merger would have been a disaster.

3Mergers are always (really) hard

Bongani Chinkanda: I always say that managing a merger is like building a car while you’re driving it. Even though you’re busy with this huge internal process, you still need to deliver the same level of service to clients.

In many ways, it’s business as usual. You can’t drop the ball. A merger will demand a lot of operational resources, and you can’t allow it to impact clients. Also, a merger will often require more work after it’s happened than before. It’s like an organ transplant. You don’t want the body to reject the organ after it’s been transplanted, and that requires work. A merger requires work daily.

Mike: Mergers are hard. Initially, things went so well during the planning phase, and the two companies were so similar in terms of culture that we thought the merger would be easy. It wasn’t. Things crop up, especially when it comes to systems and processes. Point Blank had more of a start-up culture, while Stretch was very systems-and-processes driven.

Both benefitted from the integration, but it wasn’t easy. There is what you think will happen during a merger, and then there’s what will actually happen. It is not a process that can be measured in weeks or months, but in years. Give yourself two to three years to get everything bedded down properly.

Related: Can a small business have it’s say about a merger?

4Employees will have plenty of opinions

Bongani: As management, you might think that the benefits of a merger are obvious, but don’t assume that employees will see it that way. Change is hard, and people don’t always respond well to it.

Communication is incredibly important. Make sure that you explain the process to employees. There is no such thing as too much communication. You need to be patient and have an open-door policy.

5Get outside advice

Trevor: We were lucky enough to find an outside advisor who could help us navigate the process. If you’re going to enter into a merger, you need an external advisor. We all have blind spots — things we don’t even consider until it’s too late.

Someone who is neutral can help you look at the situation in a more objective manner. As the founder of one of the companies, you’re too close to the merger. You can’t see all the angles and focus on everything. In fact, you often won’t even know what the right questions are, never mind the right answers.

6It’s about synergy

Mike: The aim of any merger should be to create a company that can offer clients more than previously possible. It’s about synergy – leveraging the capabilities of the other company to create a more rounded offering. As Elevator, we can now offer clients more services than Stretch or Point Blank ever could. Our clients benefit more than anyone through this merger, which is what makes it a success.

7A name is important

Trevor: Name recognition and brand building is important, of course, but we ultimately decided that we needed to let go of Stretch and Point Blank. If we kept one of those names, the merger wouldn’t have felt equal. One of us would have felt as if we’d been absorbed into someone else’s company. It took a while, but we finally decided on Elevator as the name for the new company. It’s a name everyone can get behind and feel excited about.

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Lessons Learnt

Founder of Five-Star Wes Boshoff Weighs In On Becoming An Entrepreneur

Here are Wes Boshoff’s seven lessons in building a brand that matters, offering your clients something of worth, and always following your passions.

Nadine Todd

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A lot of starting a business is just winging it. Call it the hustle, faking it ‘till you make it or biting off more than you can chew (and then chewing like hell), the reality is the same: Doing what you can, when you can to get yourself and your business out there so that you can build a brand with longevity.

As a start-up, does your vision push the boundaries? Are you putting everything you have into achieving something great? Here are seven lessons to help you (and your business) reach full potential.

1. Seize the day

Wes began his career in the people development industry. He was involved in high-impact training and developmental coaching, and entrepreneurship couldn’t have been further from his mind. “I had no appetite for going solo,” he recalls.

Related: Failure Is Not An Option – Or Is It? Your How To On How To

“I was employed but doing some part-time coaching on the side, and while this may have seemed like a springboard into entrepreneurship, I’ve always viewed start-ups as requiring three key things: Timing, opportunity and experience. Experience in particular was a stumbling block for me. I was young. I didn’t feel like I’d earned real credibility or had enough life experience to offer real value to others. Who would listen to me? I was just Wes.”

And then an opportunity presented itself and Wes decided to take the plunge anyway. “After becoming an expert in behaviour and personality profiling, I was asked to join a project management company. About a year into joining them they shut down.”

Facing unemployment, Wes decided to take the plunge and never work for a boss again. Instead, he seized the opportunity to launch his own business and brand.

And so, Five-Star was born, a brand that sought to help businesses improve their customer service by first focusing on their employees. Wes decided to cut his teeth in the hospitality arena, where customer service is the life-blood of the industry.

The lesson: There is no perfect time to start a business. There will always be excuses to put it off. You will never be 100% ready. And yet, until you’ve taken that first step, you can’t start testing your model in the market, tweaking and adjusting your offering to suit your audience. If your dream is to become an entrepreneur, don’t look for all the reasons why you shouldn’t take the plunge, but focus on the one reason why you should.

2. Don’t wait for business to find you

When Wes launched Five-Star, he had no savings to invest in the business and no assets. He had himself and his experiences. “I didn’t spend time on a business plan or money on getting a website up and running — that would all come later. I spent what I could afford on business cards, and hit the streets. I believed I could tell my story better than a website could, and so I focused on getting myself in front of the people I needed to sell my services to.”

Wes’ first call was to the GM of one of the fastest growing hotel groups in the country. “I introduced myself as Wes from Five-Star, told him I’d heard a lot about how good his hotel was, and that I’d love to take him out for coffee to discuss what would take them to a ten. I didn’t sell anything over the phone — I wanted a face-to-face meeting, and the opportunity to share real value. I wanted him to see why we should work together, rather than make a hard sell.”

Wes is an expert in hospitality, training and customer service. But he was also winging it. During the coffee meeting he was asked to do a mystery guest assessment, to uncover which areas could be improved upon. “I asked him if he’d like me to use their report or mine, and thank goodness he said theirs, since I didn’t have one.” Nine years later, that hotel group is Wes’ longest-standing client.

This is the tactic Wes has used to build his business and brand ever since: He focuses on face-to-face meetings, sharing his story, who he is and what he’s learnt, and really listening to his clients’ challenges so that he can offer advice and add value — even if they don’t end up doing business together.

The lesson: Entrepreneurs make things happen for themselves. Wes personally does not like cold calls, and so he’s found a sales strategy that works for him. How you sell isn’t as important as the fact that you are out there, selling yourself, your business and the solutions you can offer. If you aren’t out there selling, you’ll never build a sustainable start-up.

3. Make the most of tools

wes-boshoff-five-star

The report that the hotel gave Wes for his first mystery guest assessment became the template for a report he built for himself. Over the years he has developed numerous tools, building on his experience with Discus and other methodologies to create frameworks for his motivational talks, training and coaching programmes.

“In the early days I couldn’t afford to purchase tools, so I had to really listen to my clients and develop what they needed. There are so many resources available to us today. You just need to do your research, know your industry and be constantly tweaking your offering based on what works best.”

In Wes’ own words, he’s not a book smarts guy, but a street smarts guy. “It’s why a business plan didn’t work for me — I needed to be out there, testing my model and my theories, and tweaking and adjusting my offering. I paid my school fees, and used those learnings to develop the tools I needed to deliver results.

Related: The Journey Of Entrepreneurship: How The Tough Get Going

“I love developing models. Applied knowledge is power. But don’t overcomplicate things. There’s a simple process to learning and development: The stages of knowledge start with a revelation, new knowledge, followed by realisation — making it real — and finally a revolution, which leads to purpose and progress. That’s what I help people to do — create perspectives, interrogate the perspective, and then affect real change in their lives and businesses.”

The lesson: The more open you are to learning and adjusting your solutions, the more you’ll be able to offer to your clients. Any tools you can develop to add to the overall experience are value-adds that benefit yourself and your clients.

4. Add value before you add an invoice

Wes is a born networker. He loves meeting new people, sharing his story, and finding out more about the people he’s networking with. He’s also very good at uncovering the challenges they face and offering solutions, even if those solutions aren’t one of the products he offers.

“When you increase your network, you increase your net worth. I believe in being the go-to guy for my clients. I want them to feel comfortable picking up the phone and asking my advice on anything. I believe great businesses and brands are built when you add value before you add an invoice.”

This has been Wes’ motto throughout his career, long before he launched his own business. “I’ve always put my hand up when a new challenge or task has presented itself. I don’t believe in constantly looking for what’s wrong in what’s right. Face the reality, and determine the best way to get the opportunity out of the obstacle. You need to choose to be opportunistic. I’m a realist, but that doesn’t mean I want to live in a negative environment.

“I’ve brought this attitude to everything I do, including how I view my clients’ businesses. It’s not about what I can get from them, but what I can add to them. Some of this I can charge for, but valuable advice should be freely given. I believe in cultivating an opportunistic mindset; and I want to help my clients and their employees to do the same.”

The lesson: As an entrepreneur, you need to walk the talk. If you truly care about your customers, add real value without always expecting something in return. You’ll build long-term relationships built on trust and mutual respect.

5. Don’t lose Focus

It’s a common problem amongst start-up entrepreneurs. Early wins leave you feeling overly confident and eager for more. It’s at this stage that many business owners start looking for new challenges, and where else they can divest their energy for new and exciting wins.

For Wes, this diversion was cars. “I’d been accepted into the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship, but instead of focusing on Five-Star, I was looking for a way to combine my passion for cars with business.”

Related: 8 Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Advice For When The Going Gets Tough

What Wes found was Plastic Dip, a US-based product used to wrap cars. “I stopped focusing on Five-Star and launched Plastispray,” he recalls. “I had this massive vision, with not much support. I forgot the cardinal rule that I’d learnt in Samuel Chand’s book, Who’s Holding Your Ladder, and that’s the importance of support. We might be the sole founders of our businesses, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need support systems. Who is holding your ladder? Who won’t get bored and walk away?

“I ended up in a situation where my focus was completely scattered, I wasn’t managing my personal life, and the business I was trying to build just didn’t have legs. I even landed this incredible project, building a Mini Cooper for the launch of Virgin Mobile. We turned it into a photo-booth and broke a world record for the most people squeezed into a Mini — which was 25.

“I thought, that’s it, after this project, the business will just take off. And nothing happened. It opened no doors.”

It was a hard lesson to learn, and one that took its toll on Wes emotionally. “2013 was the lowest year of my life,” he says. “I started seeing a psychologist, and spent 2014 rebuilding myself. I realised I needed to work on my attitude, my fears and my business. I also needed to learn how to focus again. We can’t achieve anything in life if we aren’t focused.

“I failed hard, but it also gave me perspective. When you learn you win — which means that failure isn’t actually losing. It’s important to understand that, and it’s what pushed me through the tough times. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”

Once Wes regrouped and renewed his focus on Five-Star, the business started taking off. “People outside of the hospitality industry started asking me for help. I was invited to speak at international leadership conferences, and work with businesses on turnaround strategies. From there the business has just grown from strength to strength.”

The lesson: Focus is essential. It’s easy to get distracted and chase the next trend or hot idea, but real success takes time to build, and sticking to anything long-term takes focus. The more focused you are, the higher your chances of success.

6. Understand your brand

For nine years Wes has operated the business under the Five-Star name. The longer he’s been in the industry however, the clearer it’s become that his brand isn’t the business, it’s himself, and his ideas.

“I’m always, unapologetically, ‘just Wes’,” he says. “You’ll never be everything to everyone. The best thing you can be is authentic. Some people will love you, others won’t. That’s okay. Just be true to yourself. I’m not a suits guy. I arrive how I am, share my story, my lessons, and give the best advice I can. I share tools and tips to become the best version of you. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t completely myself when I work with my clients.”

It’s for this reason that Wes has recently rebranded the business to ‘Wes’, with the tagline, Imagine Thinking. It’s an ideal closely linked with his talks, his philosophy, and his name in the market. “I’m becoming a thought leader, and that comes with risks,” he says. “When you put yourself out there, you need to have enough confidence for people to disagree with you, because that’s hard. Not everyone will like what you’re saying or agree with you on a particular issue. You put yourself out there in the public domain and if you aren’t sure of who you are and what you stand for, insecurities can come to haunt you.

“I tell everyone I speak to, ‘disagree with everything I say…’ I can’t change the way people think, or what they think — I just want to challenge them to think for a change. I want you to consider your opinions and question them. Imagine thinking. Thinking is a verb. You have to do something — you need to disagree to set your own thoughts in motion. Be brave; share your thoughts so that we all benefit together.

“I used to take myself seriously; I don’t anymore. I don’t want to offend, but I’m okay if you don’t agree with me.”

The lesson: Your personal and business brands tell a story. They let your customers know who you are, what you stand for, and what your values are. People do business with people, not companies, so don’t be afraid to authentically share your story.

Related: How To Start A Business With (Almost) No Money

7. Have a vision that scares you

For Wes, too many organisations have a vision that’s external and designed for clients. But he believes vision is an internal thing. “As an entrepreneur, your vision should be for you and your employees. It should be your guiding light. It’s your future, and it should consistently grow.

“If you don’t achieve your vision, it’s because you don’t have an appetite for the mission. If you’re only looking two to five years into the future, that’s a goal, not a vision. Your vision should scare you. It should wake you up and keep you up. It should drive you.”

“The mission is how you achieve the vision. You need to know what it will take to get there, and this usually includes a lot of hard work, stress, fear, and living on the edge. But that’s okay, because we’re designed to stretch ourselves. That’s when we discover our full potential.”

The lesson: Don’t ever be too scared to think big. Thinking small isn’t what entrepreneurs are built for. Big hairy audacious goals (or BHAGs) are the foundation of successful, game changing businesses — and successful, fulfilled entrepreneurs.

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Lessons Learnt

Successful People Always Chase the Impossible – Here’s Why

Achieving perfection may never happen, but the attempt can lead to results you never imagined.

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Vince Lombardi said it best: “We will chase perfection, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”


Successful people are always in the chase for perfection. As Lombardi knew, however, and as I’ve discovered more than once myself, what we chase is often very different from what we catch.

Early in my career, I planned on being a pharmacist, then making partner at a PR firm. Both goals were within reach, but I never caught them — as they came close I found myself rethinking my ambitions, then changing direction. I had to let go of the goals that had motivated me for years, and find different ones, chasing perfection in new and often unexpected ways.

If you are looking to catch the best in excellence, while not letting yourself get boxed in by chasing perfection, it is important to remember a few key guidelines.

Changing your path isn’t failing

Successful people – and entrepreneurs especially – are driven by their goals. It’s a fine line, though, between goals that inspire and goals that trap. The best stories about entrepreneurs are full of fresh starts and unexpected detours. If you find yourself disliking what you’re doing, or feeling frustrated even when things are going well, think about making a new plan.

Changing your path isn’t bad or wrong or failing – it’s simply a new choice, and often the right one.

Related: 7 Rules To Master Your Start-Up Success This Year

Never perceive anything as a setback

Circumstances can spiral out of control – plans tank, products fail, companies come apart. When something is running off the road you can be consumed by it, or you can realise that what you took to heart before isn’t your reality anymore, and the seeming chaos around you disguises a new reality. Don’t beat yourself up about it, don’t mourn the wasted time and the discarded mission. Negative experiences aren’t a setback, they’re a chance to make new decisions that are right for you.

However bad the situation, there’s always an angle

bad-situationWhen things get rough, take five minutes and give free rein to let it all out. Find a private place, get mad or cry, let whatever’s struggling inside you get out. Then get to work finding the angle. There’s always an angle, and a path forward to success. Usually, it involves getting over yourself. Whatever your emotions, stop thinking it’s about you.

Recognise that you’re in service to something larger than yourself – your company, your staff, the people who depend on you. That’s where you’ll find the angle you need, beyond your emotions, and outside of yourself.

Related: Elon Musk’s Formula For Successfully Growing Companies Faster

Success looks different to different people

We can all relate to the true believer who challenges conventional wisdom and beats the odds. When we make these challenges, our parents, bosses, society at large – insert appropriate authority figure – sometimes just won’t see it our way. But often it’s our own internal schoolmaster that’s the barrier we need to overcome. We persist in judging ourselves by standards that once seemed essential, but have outlived their usefulness. In fact, there are many different ways to succeed. The important thing is being comfortable with knowing there is more than one right answer.

It’s a never-ending experience

Is it ever time to stop chasing perfection? No. Chasing perfection is the opposite of a hamster wheel or rat race. It’s about your never-ending pursuit of happiness. The sooner in life that we master the flexible mindset needed for continuous evolution, the better.

My career has had enough twists and turns all ready to make a running back proud. At those times when I had no control over my external situation, I could see that the one path I thought I would take wasn’t the only path – or even the right path.

Related: To Be Successful Stay Far Away From These 7 Types of Toxic People

I’ve never come close to attaining perfection, but Mr. Lombardi was right. By chasing it, from my days studying to be a pharmacist to my current role as VP of Marketing and Communications at Intel, I’ve caught excellence again and again along the way.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Why Grit Is The True Determining Factor Of Success

How grit and determination helped Bertus Albertse take control of his destiny and build an award-winning franchise brand.

Body20 franchise

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Vital Stats

  • Player:Bertus Albertse
  • Company: Body20
  • Established:2014
  • Contact:+27 (0)872310359
  • Visit: body20.co.za

What does it take to open a successful business, franchise it, and then take it global? In many instances, the answer is grit, determination and the ability to get back up when life knocks you down.

In fact, Angela Lee Duckworth, an academic and psychologist based at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies concepts such as self-control and grit to determine how they might predict academic and professional success, believes that the single biggest predictor of success isn’t social intelligence, good looks, physical health or even IQ.

The single biggest predictor of success is grit.

According to Duckworth, grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. It’s having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week or the month, but for

Years. It’s about working hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Related: The Wolf Within Bertus Albertse: Body20’s CEO

Finding self-worth

To find the epitome of grit, we need look no further than Bertus Albertse, the founder and CEO of Body20 Global, a local franchise that is now making international waves.

As a youngster, Bertus was used to living in the unpredictable. His parents divorced when he was just nine months old and his mother, walking with both him and his sister on her hips, moved from house to house whenever his alcoholic grandfather took to the rod.

He realised early in his life that material things come and go as his mother had to return worn clothes and used toys not long after they have been purchased.

In fact, it happened so often that at some point even Bertus and his sister had to return items at retail stores at a young age in order to have money for food or petrol.

“To this day I’ve never forgotten where I come from and how retailers looked at me and my sister with pity and shame in their eyes,” he recalls.

Going the distance

Instead of letting the experience bow him down, Bertus learnt to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, taking control and responsibility over his own life. As an excelling young sportsman, he soon realised how he could control his own destiny by consistently putting in huge effort.

One of his favourite quotes is “You are what you repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act but rather a habit.”

It’s a mantra he lives by. Through pure grit and determination, he went from a small, skinny kid from the ‘platteland’ in the West Coast to be the first Head Boy of both the school and boy’s residents at the prestigious high school, Jan van Riebeeck, situated in the heart of Cape Town.

Related: From Body20 Member To Franchisee Of The Year 2017

Stay hungry and make a real impact

Bertus also has numerous sports achievements, including national and international Body Building and Fitness titles. With his passionate and optimistic outlook on life, he soon realised that people are drawn to the ideas and things that inspire him and this has given him a flair for business, enabling him to share that passion with his community.

He started his first business in his second year of University in Stellenbosch with a R20 000 loan from his father, which he subsequently paid back three months later.

Today, Bertus is the founder and CEO of the award-winning global fitness franchise network, Body20. He strives to impact those around him by inspiring them to take control of their lives and encourages people to believe in the impossible, but to always remember to take consistent, daily actions to make it possible.

“A rabbit will always outrun the fox, because while the fox runs for its lunch the rabbit runs for its life.” He likes to be reminded of how hungry you have to be to truly make an impact in the world.

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