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Lessons Learnt

For Cupmasters A Cup Is More Than Just A Simple Product

How do you take a generic product and differentiate it? For Anne-Marie le Roux and Cupmasters it is about a ‘total package of benefits’.

Monique Verduyn




Vital Stats

You don’t need the ‘Next Big Thing’. Success often lies in providing an established product in a new and clever way.

Think Differently

How do you distinguish one commodity from another? Whether it’s bottled water or a new car, commoditisation is everywhere. Unless you’re a smart entrepreneur that is.

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Anne-Marie le Roux, founder of Cupmasters, doesn’t believe in commoditisation, and she has proven that everything can be differentiable. Even a disposable cup.

When Le Roux left a career in town planning to take care of her first child, she discovered – much to her irritation – that the cups she bought for the baby leaked all over everything. There had to be lots of other mothers out there who were equally annoyed.

She researched available options and came up with an improved design that was watertight. Next, she found a manufacturer and soon she was supplying cups for the baby market.

One thing led to another and soon buyers in the food and beverage industry started calling her to enquire if she supplied disposable cups too.

“The brand name and contact details were printed on the bottom of my product and the enquiries came in as a result of word of mouth,” Le Roux recalls.

“Because I have never been able to say ‘no’, I immediately said ’yes’ and then I had to make it happen. It doesn’t matter what business you are in, your attitude has to be right.”

It’s the way that you do it

Cupmasters-stockLe Roux’s approach and imagination naturally led to product differentiation, because of the way she operates. She trades in disposable cups, but what she ‘sells’ is unique execution.

The product itself may be generic, but her offering is different. And that difference does not lie in marketing – when she started the business, she had a listing in the Yellow Pages; today she has an active website that attracts a lot of business, but there’s no expensive advertising.

“It’s about efficiency, responsiveness and communication,” she says. “We also give clients exactly what they want. We don’t go to them and show them our product range. Instead, we ask them what they are looking for, including printing and packaging, which is a big differentiator.

“Unlike many other suppliers, we can package cups according to client specifications, we can print almost anything they want on the cups, and we can provide both large and small quantities, not just big bulk orders. That means that it’s easy for clients to place an order for a once-off special event. The relationship we have with our outsourced manufacturer enables us to scale up or down as needed.”

Her attitude has served the business well in one other important way: When she first started supplying cups to coffee shops like the Brazilian in the 1990s, she had no idea they would one day form part of the massive Famous Brands group.

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Providing exceptional service to a couple of small stores led to her becoming a supplier to one of the biggest companies in the food and beverage sector. She even succeeded in meeting the exacting standards of Woolworths, another major client.

“How we offer the product is what gets us the customers, and how we deliver it is what keeps them coming back,” she says.

Success through differentiation

In a January 1980 Harvard Business Review article titled ‘Marketing Success Through Differentiation – of Anything’, Theodore Levitt wrote: “Customers attach value to a product in proportion to its perceived ability to help solve their problems or meet their needs. All else is derivative. As a specialist in industrial marketing has expressed it, the ‘product’… is the total package of benefits the customer receives when he or she buys.”

If ever there was a business that could prove the enduring value of this 35-year old idea, Cupmasters is one. As Levitt explains in his article, the product is only a small portion of the value the customer experiences from a purchase.

“What is equally important is the way the product is delivered, the fact that we can respond immediately if demand peaks during a heat wave in summer when thousands of people are ordering ice-cold drinks, or in a cold snap in winter when takeaway coffee and hot chocolate sales spike,” says Le Roux.

“Or if the customer is thinking of an innovative new design, and we come up with the solution.”

What Le Roux is referring to is that a disposable cup packaged in a bundle of added value is not a commodity at all. It is, as Levitt affirms, a measurably differentiated product.

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“Customers never just buy the ‘generic’ product like steel, or wheat, or sub-assemblies, or investment banking, or aspirin, or engineering consultancy, or golf balls, or industrial maintenance, or newsprint, or cosmetics, or even 99% pure isopropyl alcohol.

“They buy something that transcends these designations – and what that ‘something’ is helps determine from whom they’ll buy, what they’ll pay, and whether, in the view of the seller, they’re ‘loyal’ or ‘fickle’.”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Lessons Learnt

Here’s What Jeff Bezos Prefers To Work-Life Balance And Why You Should Live By It

Work-life balance naively suggests working and non-working hours should be evenly apportioned.

John Boitnott



jeff bezos

Amazon is known for building a culture that values hard work. So much so that the organisation has received criticism from current and former employees for having to work on Thanksgiving, or even when ill.

When asked about Amazon’s work-life balance, Jeff Bezos remarked that he ascribed to the phrase “work-life harmony” instead.

Here’s how hard-charging businesspeople can maintain energy at home and at work without burning out by finding work-life harmony in place of work-life balance.

Measure work and home focus as a matter of energy instead of time

It isn’t about how many hours you spend at home or at work; it’s about the energy you bring to both parts of your life. If you enjoy working long hours, and that helps you to feel present while at home, then by all means continue.

This is a fundamental principle in Bezos’s theory of dividing one’s time between work and life. Because Bezos loves what he does, he finds energy from accomplishing his work in a manner that works well with his notoriously high standards.

As many can attest, our emotions bleed into all areas of our life. When you can gain energy from doing good work, it can help to propel you to be more successful in your life outside of work. Conversely, when things aren’t right at home, it can be difficult to find the energy to do your best work in the office. A central precept of work-life harmony is living such that both the professional and personal aspects of our life energise us to be our best at home and in the office.

This does not necessarily mean that we should spend our time in a balanced way, as the phrase “work-life balance” implies. Rather, we should spend our time in such a way that we are our best selves. In so doing, we will be better people on the whole.

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Build a flexible work-life schedule

Just as different people will amass different levels of energy from work and life outside of work, different people will find they are most productive at different times of the day. The 9-5 work culture that has existed for decades is really shifting now. Most modern offices allow some form of flexible work, which means you have the ability to set your own hours to some degree.

Experiment with working at different times of the day to find the schedule the helps you to be most productive. In so doing, you’ll have more time to do your best work, and more energy to spend with loved ones as a result of increased productivity.

Know when to say “no”

We tend to think that taking on as many projects as possible is a sign of a good professional. But being busy is not the same as making an impact. To do your best work, you’ll need to prioritise projects that you know you can add value to.

Spinning your wheels is demoralising. Look for projects in which you can easily enter a “flow state” where hours melt away. This is the environment in which you are doing your best work, and are happy to be doing the work itself. It is in moments of flow that we often feel most productive, and even fulfilled. Therefore, it is after moments of flow that we tend to feel guilt-free about enjoying quality time with loved ones while unplugging from work.

Related: Jeff Bezos Reveals 3 Strategies for Amazon’s Success

Communicate commitments

If you’re approaching a time-consuming work project, communicate that to the important people in your life. Otherwise, they may think you are avoiding them due to a more insidious reason.

Providing those you love with a glimpse into your professional commitments can also help them to help you. If a good friend knows it will be difficult for you to communicate for a few weeks, they will know to pause conversations so as not to burden you with having to reply to texts or emails.

Similarly, a partner who knows that you are responsible for delivering an important project may be able to rearrange their schedule in order to better support you in the short term.

Conversely, if family commitments will prevent you from working at full capacity for a certain period of time, set the right expectations with colleagues. A good workplace is one that is flexible to the realities of employees’ personal lives. Managers who care about the well-being of their people are usually willing to help employees take care of personal commitments.

Adapting to a changing work life

Work no longer happens between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM, Monday to Friday. Work happens Saturday mornings, and late Friday nights. It happens on vacation, and during graduations. The idea of work-life balance suggests that there should be an even split between working and non-working hours.

Related: Why It Pays To Be A Jerk Like Jeff Bezos

In reality, those who have undertaken ambitious careers should aim for work-life harmony, a lifestyle in which both aspects of life give you the energy to be your best self as frequently as possible.

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

Give Your Business The Best Chance Of Success

For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

Gil Sperling




In my capacity as a business owner and venture capitalist, one of the questions I get asked most often by entrepreneurs is, “how do I ensure my business succeeds?” While there’s no straightforward answer, there are important elements that I believe every entrepreneur must consider to ensure the greatest probability of success.

Firstly, no business will succeed if it doesn’t solve a unique pain point or problem for modern consumers or businesses. However, even if a business is able to carve out that niche, there’s no guarantee that growth will follow. For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

North Star metric

This principle of having a clear business vision guides all my decisions. Whenever I need to validate a choice or a change in strategic direction, or if I’m trying to determine what to focus on, I always refer back to my vision. If the two are incongruent, then I know I need to change tack.

Elon Musk is a great example of a successful entrepreneur who is guided by his grand vision. Everything he does, from Tesla to SpaceX, pertains to sustainability, both for the planet and the human race. It might be hard to make the connection when you consider his various businesses out of context, but everything he creates fits into a broader ecosystem that in some way moves the needle towards his ultimate objective. Developing Tesla cars that run on renewable energy is but a small, short-term plan that feeds into his grand vision, yet it’s also been the catalyst for the evolution of the motoring industry.

Related: The Popimedia (Mega) Success Story

Be clear, concise

In the same way, every decision an entrepreneur makes should in some way take them a step closer to realising their vision. In this regard, it is also vital that your vision is crystal clear – a murky or undefined vision will divert you off your path to success.

That’s because you’ll tend to focus on the wrong things, especially when scaling rapidly, or when running bigger organisations, because there are many tasks to complete every day. A lack of clarity also leads to poor decision-making, or, worse, decision paralysis, and that’s business suicide – I’d rather make a bad decision than no decision at all, because it prompts action. However, with a clear vision, more often than not, those decisions will be correct.

Defining your vision

So, how do you know if your vision is clear and, more importantly, relevant and consequential? The way I stress test my vision is to evaluate it every day against the decisions I take, and the direction of the business. This daily process helps to sharpen my decisions over time.

The other step is to remain open-minded enough to accept and acknowledge criticism, and take on board advice from trusted confidants and impartial experts. This is important, because you need to craft your vision based on as much information as possible, including valid criticism.

Ultimately, though, your vision for the business should align with your purpose. Forget about money and turnover as points of departure when defining your vision. These are merely metrics that can determine the strength and effectiveness of your business strategy.

For each of my several business interests, be it VC funding or ad-tech innovation, I have different visions. Each are meaningful to me, but in every instance, I don’t wake up every day with the sole ambition of making money.

While I need to make money to grow these businesses, or build something new, having purpose and vision are the ways I pull through those inevitable challenging situations. Having your vision front of mind in everything you do helps you make better decisions, and makes the hardships easier to endure. It helps you see through the turmoil, because you know where the process will lead, and you always know where the ultimate objective lies.

Read next: A Comprehensive List Of Angel Investors That Fund South African Start-Ups

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Lessons Learnt

Jimmy Choo’s Co-Founder Explains Why There Are No Small Jobs

Tamara Mellon shares the strategy that has helped her find new opportunities throughout her career.

Nina Zipkin




The co-founder of Jimmy Choo, Tamara Mellon, believes that you can find inspiration and opportunity anywhere. All it takes is determination to keep going and a keen eye for observation.

Mellon began her career in the early 1990s working as an accessories editor for British Vogue. Always on the hunt for up-and-coming designers, she came across Jimmy Choo, a cobbler working in London’s East End.

She would commission him to create shoes for fashion shoots. They were so well received by readers that the pair realised they could expand beyond one-of-kind pieces for the pages of the magazine.

This article was originally posted here on

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