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How Blue Label Telecoms Manages Stratospheric Growth Without Losing The Entrepreneurial Edge

The founders of multi-billion rand business, Blue Label Telecoms discuss the realities of taking your business public.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Players: Brett and Mark Levy
  • Company: Blue Label Telecoms
  • Established: 2001
  • Listed: 2007
  • Turnover: R22 billion
  • Market Cap: R11 billion
  • VISIT:

The growth of Blue Label Telecoms has been phenomenal. Since conceptualising and launching in 2001, founders Mark and Brett Levy have managed to turn the business into a massive global operation that boasts revenue of R22 billion and gross profits in excess of R1,64 billion for 2015.

These are staggering figures that are difficult to even comprehend. And considering this stratospheric growth, an obvious question presents itself: How do you grow so quickly and so successfully without losing your edge — without losing that entrepreneurial mindset that made you successful in the first place?

A hint can perhaps be found in one of the company’s committee rooms, which boasts rows of Blue Label bottles.

“These bottles represent the whole history of the company,” says Mark. “Each one represents a story of a deal that was signed.”

Early on, it was decided that a bottle would be shared amongst the parties every time a deal was signed, and the details of the deal written on the label.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

The Blue Label way


Celebrating a new deal with a toast to Blue Label is a tradition that survives to this day. Indeed, the two founders believe that a big reason for the company’s continued success is the fact that it has managed to maintain its culture despite the fact that it has grown massively and even has operations in other countries.

“We like to think that nothing much has changed in the way we manage, even though the company is much bigger now,” says Brett. “We’ve realised that we have to empower people to run with projects. You can’t micromanage.”

“The secret lies in hiring people who are smarter than you are,” adds Mark. “You also need to grow them fast within the company, and then let them go — allow them the freedom to do what they’re good at.”

The company looks for employees who are proactive and efficient — and doesn’t mind paying to get hold of the best talent.

“We don’t fire people for making decisions,” says Mark. “We encourage people to take ownership. It’s the only way to make sure that things happen. And we don’t believe in salary caps. If you want the best people, you need to be willing to pay them what they’re worth.”

Going corporate

So how did Blue Label maintain this culture once it became a large listed corporate?

“We were never worried about whether our culture was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. What mattered was that it was our culture and we wanted to maintain it,” says Brett. “So, if something works for you, stick to your guns. Don’t allow your organisation to become that stereotypical ‘corporate’. Don’t let people hide behind that corporate veil. Why send an email when you can get up and talk to somebody? It’s important to fight tendencies to change the way you operate. As a company grows, new processes become a necessity, but the basic ethos on doing business should not change.”

Related: Vinny Lingham’s Views On Focus, Changing The World And Why You Should Give Some Of Your Business Away

Building a multi-billion rand business

In May 2001, The Prepaid Company was granted a national licence to distribute Telkom fixed line prepaid cards. Today, if you use any form of prepaid technology, from mobile airtime to prepaid electricity, chances are you’re using a Blue Label Telecoms product.

In just 15 years, Blue Label Telecoms has evolved into a super distributor of virtual and physical prepaid airtime and telephony products for South Africa’s mobile and fixed line telecoms operators.

Getting listed

It would be naïve, however, to think that listing a company will not impact it in a very meaningful way. Make no mistake, taking a company public is a game-changer.

“A listed company is a whole new world,” says Mark. “You’re not just responsible for your own money any longer, you’re dealing with other people’s money as well.”

Because of this, governance is a huge issue. Understandably, a different level of reporting is needed when a company is listed, and many entrepreneurs underestimate the amount of time and money that goes into getting a company ready to go public.

“It requires quite a mind-shift,” says Brett. “We were lucky, as we already had third-party shareholders, our reporting was already diligent.”

Public expectations

blue label telecoms boardmembers

When the company went public, did this change impact it? “There are a lot of good reasons to list,” says Mark. “One of the most obvious advantages is the fact that it allows you to raise capital and even reduce debt, but it also allows you to incentivise staff through stock options and gain a certain visibility and credibility. Because your performance is public, companies trust you more and are more willing to do business with you.

“That said, there are certain sacrifices that come with being listed. As mentioned, you are working with other people’s money, so you need to think every decision over very carefully. Entrepreneurs are typically more open to risk, but being listed demands that you are sometimes more constrained. You are ultimately beholden to your shareholders.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should allow public pressure to prevent you from running the company that you created.

“You need a careful strategy, and you need to be strong enough to stick to that strategy when people are pressuring you to do something else,” says Brett.

“For example, we received quite a bit of flack when we moved into Mexico. We lost money there for a while, but our strategy is now starting to pay off, so we’re glad we stuck to our guns. You need to deliver for your shareholders, but you also need to have long-term strategies in place and be willing to follow them through.”

Related: Business Growth For SweepSouth Means Metric Measurement

Ignoring the share price

Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that running a listed company will eat into your time. “I’d say that about 30% of our time is spent on things related to being a public company — doing presentations, speaking to shareholders, going on roadshows and governance matters,” says Mark.

The biggest issue related to running a listed company, though, is the fact that it becomes all too easy to view the share price as a ‘performance score’. And focusing too much on the share price is a great way to lose focus and stop doing what you do best.

“You can’t ‘manage’ the share price,” says Brett. “So there is no point in even trying. Both the CEO and the employees need to try to ignore the share price to an extent.”

This can be difficult, especially when the share price is the metric that the company is most often judged by.

“Directly after listing, it is almost impossible to ignore the share price. You will find yourself looking at it all the time,” says Mark.

“But in time you learn to ignore it and refocus on the important things. Fundamentally, our approach to business hasn’t changed. We want to offer our shareholders value accretion. We want to make an impact in the world. We operate in countries where there are a lot of poor people, and we want to make a real difference in their lives.”

Key Learnings

  • Listing a company allows you to raise money and eradicate debt, but it is a long and expensive process. Taking your company public doesn’t happen overnight.
  • Entrepreneurs can struggle to adjust to the reality of being beholden to shareholders. Taking on shareholders brings with it a lot of responsibility.
  • While it is important to provide value to shareholders, it is equally important to stick to long-term strategies, even if the value is not immediately evident to all. Leaders can’t be swayed too easily by the opinions of shareholders.
  • Ignore the share price, regardless of how hard that is to do. Focus on the long-term trajectory of the company.


Lessons Learnt

10 Gary Vaynerchuk-Approved Success Strategies

The VaynerMedia founder gets real about drive and ambition.

Nina Zipkin



Gary Vaynerchuk

Perhaps the best way to describe Gary Vaynerchuk is “nonstop.” The founder of VaynerMedia, VaynerSports and Vayner/RSE is also an author, host and vlogger who records just about everything he does.

He is known for being relentless in his pursuit of the hustle and has a loyal audience of millions (2.4 million on Instagram, 1.58 million on Twitter and 2.3 million on Facebook) who take his advice to heart.

We took a deep dive into his blog archive to find some of his best tips and advice for making it as an entrepreneur.

1. On why failure shouldn’t scare you

“It’s the lack of fear of failing that has allowed me to make decisions so quick. People don’t make decisions because they are scared to lose. I make decisions because I want to know what’s going to happen, and then I use that information to help advise what I do next,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“The one thing I know for sure, is the outcome of what happens if you don’t decide. If you never make a decision, or deliberate for too long, all the upside or potential opportunity could be lost.”

Related: 5 Vital Keys To Success From The Likes Of Tony Robbins And Gary Vaynerchuk

2. On the value of patience

“The game is LONG. There’s so much opportunity. Optimism is the secret to capitalizing on this opportunity and that’s where you need to live. You need to figure out how good it really is and how much opportunity you have,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“Patience is practical. I push patience because I know life is long. Everybody around here is running around like it’s not. 24 year-olds running around like it ends tomorrow. Like they need it now. What’s wrong with being 26 or 41 or 73?”

3. On why age has nothing to do with ability


“The youth are the future of everything. They are the future of business, of society, of law and of government. We better pay attention, and empower them to be the best that they can be,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“My hope is that we lose the sentiment of age makes a difference in skill. There are plenty of 22 and 24 and 26 year olds in my office right now that work harder and smarter than some of the 50 year olds I know. It’s just the truth and we are going to continue to see this trend adopted in the marketplace. You can’t deny results.”

4. On how to build a lasting legacy

“I think my actions map to my ambitions. Because my ambition is to have legacy. I treat it that way. I treat everybody I interact with, with kindness and respect. These days, as my notoriety has grown, I still treat people just the same. I look them dead in the face and I’m just in it with them for that one minute or two or three or 10, and really care about they have to say! Because I am very appreciative and humbled for their attention. I will never get over it. I will never get over the fact that people actually care.”

Related: 8 Pieces Of Sage Advice From Ernest Corbett of Tintswalo Safari Lodges

5. On the importance of an open door policy

“I don’t think one can win in business without having the proper teammates and empowering them to play their role. Ideas can come from anywhere but the fact of the matter is you need an offensive line, you need a receiver, you need a quarterback, you need them all and I think any leader that doesn’t recognise that will ultimately not succeed in the long term. Obviously you can have a company that runs for six months and you sell it but over a 10, 20, 40 year period, there is no other strategy that will actually work.”

6. On why you need to prioritise your own happiness

“To truly be selfless, you have to give without expectation. It’s the mindset of giving with expectation, which kills everything. It just doesn’t work at all. Being selfish is the gateway to selflessness, because you learn to take care of your own personal needs first in order to use that as collateral later so that you can really, truly help.”

7. On why you shouldn’t think about how things “should be”


“Navigating our society and our lives with the hope of how it ‘should be’ versus the way it actually is, is the quickest and least practical way to create success. This is something I say to myself every single day,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“I am in control of my destiny. Nobody else. I get to decide how I react and how I respond, and the greatest motivator to inspire perspective is the simple statement ‘What’s the alternative?’”

8. On why you must value the perspective you bring to the table

“Why are you taking somebody else’s opinion about yourself greater than your opinion about yourself? It’s the single greatest mistake that will keep you from finding happiness and confidence in who you are,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“And it’s not that their opinions don’t matter. You have to have an equal amount of respect for yourself as for others. It’s a democratic society and everyone gets a vote. So beyond the thought leaders, and politicians and school systems you have to have respect for yourself. You need to put yourself on your own pedestal and then start weighing the opinions of others proportionately to how you actually feel about yourself.”

9. On why the competition doesn’t matter

“I am and always have been consumer focused. The reason I don’t pay attention to my ‘competition’ is not because I’m brash or cool. It’s because it doesn’t matter when you’re obsessed with the end consumer,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“Because it starts and it ends with the end consumer and where the attention actually is. I will always do actions that bring you the most value because then I get value in return.”

10. On why your goal should be to keep working

“I didn’t need to get mine at 25. Heck, I don’t even need to ‘get mine’ at 41. This is the long, long game. I’m driven by the climb. It could be because I’m an immigrant and I just have this chip on my shoulder. Or maybe it’s in my DNA. I don’t like winning. I like losing. I like the struggle. I like people telling me that I can’t,” Vaynerchuk writes. “I don’t give a shit if my payday comes tomorrow. I want the game. The game is my life. There will never be a moment to quit. There’s no dollar amount. Nothing you can do to make me stop.”

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

7 Motivational Habits That Drive Millionaires

Habits seem to rule us. They can hold you back, or you can adapt the right habits and prosper.

John Rampton




Have you ever been awed by the motivation of a successful entrepreneur, leader or athlete? I have. It’s not jealousy, either. Far from it. It’s respect for how motivated they are. Even though I consider myself fairly motivated, their examples encourage me to become even more focused and driven.

The good news is that by adopting the following seven habits, anyone can become more motivated:

1. Find your why

“Highly motivated people start with their WHY. WHY do you do what you do?” asks J.D. Meier in an article for Time.

“If you climb a mountain simply because it’s there, that’s probably not enough to keep you going when the going gets tough. If you know WHY you do what you do, and it matters deeply to you, then you will find your strength in any situation,” adds Meier.

Why do you want to start a workout regiment? Because it was suggested by your doctor? Did your spouse mutter a comment? Are you tired of feeling lethargic? Once you find your why, you can use that to motivate you to follow through with exercising.

2. Get your morning started on the right foot


One of the easiest and most powerful habits that drive motivation is kicking off your day correctly by having a morning routine. Think about it. Getting your day started on the right foot makes it a lot easier to stay motivated throughout the entire day.

To ensure that you wake up on the right side of the bed, try these tips:

  • Have a reason to get out of bed. It could be anything from walking your dog, making sure your kids are off to school, or squeezing in a workout before work.
  • Stretch and breathe deep. This gets the blood and oxygen flowing to your brain, and helps you get up.
  • Do something simple to start the day. I make my bed immediately once I’m up. It’s not because I want the bedroom to look presentable. It’s because it’s an easy task that makes me feel like I’ve already accomplished something — even though I’ve only been awake for a couple of minutes!
  • Create rote tasks. As explained by Due’s Miranda Marquit, “Look for ways you can make mornings easier by creating rote tasks that are easy to accomplish. We don’t like to face a day that starts hard. Do what you can to make it easier. Once you’re up and moving, you’ll feel better and eventually be awake enough to tackle the
    hard stuff.”
  • Set goals for the day. This doesn’t have to be lengthy. Just list your top priorities for the day.

Related: 20 Things Millionaires Aren’t Sharing With You

3. Change it up

There’s an old saying: Variety is the spice of life. Variety keeps you motivated to meet goals when you haven’t yet made much progress and risk falling into a rut.

Changing things up is like your workout routine. You can’t just work on your legs. Other parts of your body need some loving too. Keep doing the same exercises and you’ll soon plateau.

The same is true for any aspect of your life. Changing things up gives you a chance to break up the monotony, try out new skills, and have new experiences that can lead to new ideas or develop a new passion.

4. Chart your progress

This is a simple way for you to see how far you’ve come along. Sounds simple, but think about when you set a reading goal. Maybe you want to read more books. Your initial goal is to read for just five minutes a day, but once you start you’re reading for ten minutes and then 30 minutes and soon you’re flying through books.

If you can do 30 minutes, then why not bump up to 40? Just imagine all the books you’ll be able to read. Mark this on your calendar each and every day.

5. Create environmental anchors


This is simply writing your goals or inspiring quotes on a Post-it or 3×5 card and placing it on the wall of your office, the inside of your car, bathroom mirror or calendar. A daily reminder of your goal will push you to accomplish it.

6. Develop gratitude

Just by identifying the one thing every day that you’re grateful for is powerful enough in helping you achieve both mini-goals and your big goals, since it develops the ability to look for a daily opportunity that you can grow from.

For example, if you’re grateful that you just landed a new client today, use that feeling and experience to secure two new clients tomorrow.

Related: The One Habit of Self-Made Millionaires

7. Discover your passion

Obsession can be an extremely powerful motivator since it creates its own motivational might. In fact, the most successful individuals are those who chased their passion and are doing what they love to do.

When you become passionate, whether it’s at work, exercising, or volunteering, it no longer becomes laborious. It becomes something that you enjoy, look forward to, and want to get better at.

This article was originally posted here on

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Company Posts

From Local To Global: Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA) Shares Top Tips On Being A Successful Entrepreneur

Managing Director of W.Consulting, Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA), has done exactly that and shares his top tips.






How do you grow your own SME into a global consultancy? Managing Director of W.Consulting, Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA), has done exactly that and shares his top tips.

“I started W.Consulting with the aim of providing an independent, high-quality alternative for corporates and audit firms looking for advice on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The business has grown substantially to more than 40 people working globally, providing advisory services on IFRS, audit risk and corporate finance, training and IT product development.” These are Bruce’s five top tips for achieving growth.

1. Take the risk as soon as possible

It was a nerve-wracking decision to go on my own, as CAs(SA) are taught to be risk-averse. It’s very tough to throw away a CV, but rather than spend a life regretting not taking a chance, if you have thoughts of running your own business, do so sooner rather than later, as the decision only gets tougher with each passing year.

Related: Better Thinking For A Better World

flights-to-london-long-day2. Work hard and persevere

One point seldom emphasised enough when talking of entrepreneurs is that it is very hard work and requires a great deal of energy and perseverance. I attribute my success in large measure to high energy levels. You need that.

It’s exhausting — long days, early flights to London to deliver training, and sometimes back again the same day. So, yes, you need a surplus of energy.

3. Know how to sell yourself and your business

You also need a predisposition towards selling, as any business requires sales in order to expand. Selling is something that’s in my DNA.

Especially when selling advice, it requires persistence because I know that a potential client will at some point need services like ours, so I make sure W.Consulting is top of mind when that day comes. I achieve this by keeping up the relationship, sending new ideas with no sales angle connected, mailing interesting books, and checking on how things are with the client. It’s a matter of having genuine interest. 

4. Hire trustworthy people who share your passion

There are many risks in establishing your own business and one of the first challenges stems from the need to expand beyond a one-man operation. There’s a certain comfort in doing all the work and seeing all the cash in the business as yours, but it puts a fairly low ceiling on the business’s prospects and potential income.

The decision to expand and hire your first employee is both a big decision in itself and important as to the individual you select. It’s the biggest single decision most entrepreneurs have to make — and one that most don’t make early enough. You need to scale up a business to release resources at the top. That process never really ends — whatever you’re currently doing, you have to continually ask yourself: “Could this be done down the line?”

In an SME, each hire, but especially your first, has to be somebody you can trust, someone with the same objectives as you. Instead of having 9 to 5 people, rather employ someone who will do whatever is necessary, regardless of what time of day it is.

My philosophy is to hire people with passion and who preferably know what they’re doing, and then pay well to get them.

Related: 10 Things Successful People Tell Themselves Every Day

5. Continue to innovate

Most businesses fail not for want of an entrepreneurial idea, but because of management and accounting basics like cash flow. CAs(SA) already understand these basics and so arguably can concentrate on the actual operations of the business. However, because CAs(SA) can earn good money in the corporate world, most opt for the easy route in the corporate environment.

The future and success of any business is to keep on doing what it’s doing well. Bruce attributes the success of the business to its culture of continuous innovation: “It’s easier to sell something new,”  he concludes.


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