- Company: UCOOK
- Who: David Torr, co-founder and CEO, Chris Verster-Cohen, co-founder and CMO and Katherine Barry, Financial Director of UCOOK Co-founder and CEO, UCOOK
- Visit: ucook.co.za
David Torr went from a trust fund kid who kept getting kicked out of school, to flat broke and waitering, to launching a R100 million turnover business from a garage. It wasn’t the only venture he started. After travelling the world and eventually being cut off from his trust because he wasn’t living up to his father’s posthumous stipulations, David returned to South Africa, lived in his girlfriend’s parents’ house and waited tables to be able to contribute something to his living expenses. But he knew he had potential he wasn’t living up to and that it was time to make some real changes.
“An old school friend walked into the restaurant I was working at. We were catching up and he asked what I was up to, assuming I was studying something and waiting tables on the side. Except I wasn’t — that was all I was doing,” says David.
“It was a real low point for me. I’d always assumed I had hidden potential, but I was scared to dedicate myself to anything in case it was just a line I fed myself. Realising that everyone I knew was getting on with their lives, becoming CAs and lawyers, was a reality check.
“There’s something interesting that happens when you hit such a low point. Adversity breeds strength. If you feel terrible and your relevance within an environment is non-existent, there’s a lot of internal sculpting and cerebral reprogramming that you can do in a space like that. When you’re really at the bottom, you can make some key decisions about what you want and don’t want, and what you’re willing to do to get there.”
David evaluated what he had going for him. In between his travels he had completed a two-year copywriting diploma, but since he was dyslexic, it was a useless qualification, other than the fact that it had added an element of creative design thinking to his skill set.
“I’d always believed that I could take a high-level scope in concepts, single out individual problems and break them up into granular pieces and optimise them. I thought I had a process-driven, analytical mind. The problem was that I had no proof — it was all just theory. It’s easy to think about what you could do when you’re traveling through Thailand. I’d reached a point where I needed to stop thinking about my potential and get out there and do something. One way or the other, I was going to find out if I had the potential I thought I had.”
David made two key decisions. First, he wouldn’t only start one thing. He needed a few horses in the race and he settled on three ideas. Second, he wasn’t going to do them alone — he was going to assemble a team. “I did that for two reasons. First, I think I was fundamentally lacking confidence. I wanted a tribe. Second, I didn’t really have any skills or qualifications. But I am very good at finding the right people, with the skills, mindset and networks to make great things happen, and then sharing my passion to get everyone excited about an idea.”
Finding entrepreneurial feet
So, that’s what David set out to do. He approached two friends, one a big local DJ and the other ran a bar service business, Carbon Events, and pitched a festival idea, Eden Experience. They were in. With no start-up funds to speak of, they sold tickets before they booked the venue, which gave them enough for a deposit to get started. Eden launched in 2014 and hosts three festivals a year. Importantly, at the end of 2015, the business earned David R120 000, which he invested in UCOOK.
The second business is a property development company, Solace. Also launched in 2014, today, Solace has a holding portfolio of R25 million in the student accommodation space and has invested in its first residential development, a R100 million project, Urban Artisan in Woodstock. Pre-sales were at 87% at time of print. The team has also raised a small opportunistic fund to repeat on the deal.
“I had a theory that student accommodation in Cape Town is related to proximity to UCT rather than area. I approached a friend, Nick Toms who was in property and whose dad had the funds to potentially back us and pitched my idea. He liked it — he also thought that if we could prove a use case example, we’d have his dad’s backing.”
David found a house that they could refurbish and Nick found a better one. They were able to purchase it for a good price because the house’s current rental yield was poor. “We focused on security and utilities, fibre access, electric fences, access authorisation at the gate, created a great internal environment and took rental revenues from R3 000 per month to R5 500. The house was 500 metres out of the ‘zone’.”
David and Nick had their use case, and Solace started to grow. “It’s all about matching the right partners to the right ideas. Nick is now a serious property developer, but this got him excited again.”
The genesis of UCook
UCOOK was David’s first idea though, as well as the most complicated. “I played around with the idea for six months in Thailand. I already knew my trust was cut and that things would be different when I got back to South Africa.
“My girlfriend and I were teaching in Thailand, but I’d been introduced to HelloFresh in the UK a few months earlier. I thought meal kits was a really interesting concept. I’ve always been a foodie, and I thought this was a clever way to combat issues associated with cooking: What to cook, how to make it, wastage — all those things.
“What I didn’t like were the categories — I didn’t like one of the four dishes I received — and I thought there was a problem in the brand’s positioning. There was no transparency around the supply chain. If you’re going to sell farm to fork, you need to show exactly where the produce is coming from.”
More than this though, David was convinced there was room for a brand like this in South Africa. “At that time, South Africa was in a technical recession, and yet Woolworths was doing well. People were spending money on premium food. In the eCommerce environment, Yuppiechef was a really relevant brand as well. I thought if you joined the two, those compounding factors made an interesting business case.”
By the time David returned to South Africa in early 2014, he had formulated a few key details. “Most people start a business with a skill set and then leverage it. Very few people say, ‘I have absolutely no skill set, so I need to reverse engineer this process. I need to start with the user, build out a series of profiles and fundamentally understand what key benefits I would need to offer to allow me to access that user in such a way that I’m creating a bespoke, tailored solution that hits the nail right on the head.’”
It sounds simple, elegant and smart. And 18 months later it was all of those things. But the actual start-up of UCOOK was in a garage, packing food kits next to a Chrysler in the co-founder’s parents’ house.
“I met Chris Verster-Cohen in Thailand, and over wine one evening told him all about my idea. He thought I really knew what I was doing, and when I approached him months later back in Cape Town, he was in. He had just completed his BSocSci at UCT and had started a degree in architecture, but he was excited about the prospect of taking a risk on a start-up we both believed could be something big.”
Start-up successes and failures
As it turned out, UCOOK was a terribly difficult business to bootstrap. “I was a big dreamer and fairly good at high-level thinking. Chris brought creative and strategic thinking, a routine work ethic, which I didn’t have at that stage, and passion to grow the brand, but neither of us really knew anything else about what we were doing.”
Chris and David spent six weeks sharing notes until they knew what they wanted to launch. They asked Chris’ parents if they could take a corner of the garage and they each borrowed R25 000, Chris from his parents and David from his stepdad. The first R25 000 bought a vacuum sealer, a hand-held sealer, laminate flooring to keep the environment clean, and a few boards, knives and scales. The rest of the money was earmarked for a website, but they launched on Facebook first.
“We set up our production space, built a Facebook page and started talking about what we were doing. Orders were taken on a Monday for delivery on the following Monday, and because everything was paid up-front, we didn’t need additional capital to fill the orders.”
UCOOK’s first 21 orders came from friends and family. The partners managed a turnaround time of one day, and were extremely impressed with how they’d packaged the meal kits. They delivered each kit personally and patted themselves on the back. And then the Facebook queries started coming in — the ingredients looked delicious, but could they recommend a good website for lasagne recipes?
“We’d forgotten to include recipe cards,” says David. “Our orders went from 21 to zero. The only two people who continued to order from us were Chris’ parents. I’m ready, fire, aim. I always have been, and it has its pros and cons, but we realised we needed a plan.”
That’s when UCOOK’s third partner, Katherine Barry, joined the team. “Katey is our backbone. She has her masters in maths, but she didn’t want to be an analyst. She thought what we were doing sounded fun. She’s the COO, CFO… everything. She’s the reason we’ve been able to scale from a garage to R100 million in annual revenues in three and half years.”
David found a friend willing to build them a WooCommerce site for R25 000 and the team started seriously planning what their business needed to get off the ground. “We weren’t first to market in South Africa — there was already an established competitor in the space — but we believed we could differentiate ourselves. We just needed to get our processes right.”
The team waited tables to pay the bills and worked on the business when they could. By the end of 2014, they were sending out 50 boxes weekly, totalling R100 000 a month.
“We knew that UCOOK couldn’t scale off traditional channels that eCommerce sites use like Adwords. These are heavily reliant on the volume of search that already exists, and no one is searching for dinner kits or particular recipes. We realised that the only way we would be able to grow was through email marketing. So, we had to develop a reputation for ourselves, which was hard considering that we had absolutely no orders, and then we had to try and partner with relevant eCommerce houses and run competitions. We’d partner with vineyards, other eCommerce sites and offer free dinner kits, and our emails got sent to their data base.”
Before their official ‘launch’ towards the end of 2014, David had also seeded a lot of PR into environments aligned with what they were doing, and it worked — UCOOK got great press.
“We concentrated on what it would take to scale our operations and grow the eBusiness. We were always thinking about our process and refining it. We built a business case, with detailed sections on marketing, operations and growth dynamics. We were spending R200 a week on Facebook marketing, and steadily building up a database. All dinner kits were pre-paid, which allowed us to bootstrap, but we reached a point where we needed more funds.”
Finding a funder… eventually
David was able to invest R120 000 which he had earned from Eden, and the team secured some angel investment — and then a VC firm, that had read about UCOOK in the Argus, approached them.
“We were excited. We thought we really knew what we were doing now and if we could secure some VC funding we’d really be able to take the business to the next level — and at the very least move out of the garage.”
David and Chris did a 30-minute presentation that didn’t cover financials, but did unpack UCOOK’s differentiators in the market, their competitive advantage and some of the systematic processes for operations and how the team believed they could deliver on an a la carte selection at scale, instead of category levels. They also covered why they packaged by bag instead of box. It was enough to secure a second meeting — which didn’t go quite as planned.
“We wanted to raise R1,5 million. In hindsight, it’s obvious that they thought we were bigger than we were. Our monthly turnover was R100 000. They were expecting five times that. When they realised we were operating in a completely different financial ballpark, they told us to come back when we were more ready.”
The meeting hadn’t been a complete waste of time though. “Somehow, through the grapevine, Silvertree heard about us. They were just starting their fund, and they were looking for young, interesting entrepreneurial businesses to invest in. They wanted to play in this space; our current size was a benefit. They were also all ex-Rocket guys, the funders behind HelloFresh, so they knew the model well, and had been involved in some of South Africa’s key eCommerce start-ups.”
This time, the funders weren’t sceptical about the numbers, but about the team. “It didn’t really make a lot of sense to them. No one had studied what we were doing, our skill sets didn’t really seem to match the business and everything was a little bit in shambles. They particularly couldn’t believe we were all waitering. We saw it as an advantage — we weren’t drawing salaries. They said you can’t build a serious business while you’re doing double shifts waiting tables. They did recognise some integrity in our knowledge base and the grit it had taken to get that far though, and so we offered to prove ourselves. A shareholder’s dinner for 50 people was coming up, and we offered to cater it at cost. We wanted to prove our capacity to execute on things. They agreed.”
At the end of the evening, David was sharing a bottle of red wine with Silvertree’s MD, and during an impassioned speech about what UCOOK was going to achievein the market, he spilt red wine on the MD’s shirt.
“The next day they called us and said they would do the deal. They realised we were a live or die team — we were going to make this work one way or another; we’d rather run ourselves to death than fail.”
David believes there was a second factor playing in their favour as well. “We had done a lot of research. We were passion backed up by data, with a good deal of perseverance added in for good measure. We also all had skin in the game.”
In mid-2015, Silvertree secured 50% equity in a business with an annual turnover of R1,2 million. Three and half years later, turnover is R97 million. The injection of funds allowed UCOOK to move into larger premises and start purchasing more equipment — in particular industrial fridges. “The capex requirements were beyond our working capital abilities,” says David. “We needed a funder, and once we had one, the business started experiencing 400% year-on-year growth for two and a half years, with 150% growth over the last year.”
Focused on the future
“Our growth is the result of a few different things. First, the capex investment was critical, but we’ve also leveraged our negative operating cycle well. We have great payables with our suppliers. We’re fair when it comes to costing things out and have grown with our community suppliers, but we also pay in 40 to 60 days, while our customers pay us upfront.
“We’ve fine-tuned a lot of growth nuances: We’ve received a lot of relevant media exposure, we’ve built our database to 500 000 people, thanks to key partnerships, and we’ve engaged users in a novel way. We create excitement. Because each recipe is created by a well-known chef, our customers become chefs themselves, sharing what they make online. It’s one of our core value propositions — learning to cook five-star meals from a chef.”
UCOOK currently accounts for 10% of South Africa’s online grocery market, which means the next avenue for growth will need to come from different channels. “Within the LSM we’re operating in, we’re peaking out with dinner kits. I don’t believe we will do 100% + growth again. I think we’re looking at 50% growth at best, and that will be achieved through above-the-line media, accessing people who aren’t frequently in the online environment.”
As a result, David and his team are expanding on their current channels. “We need to focus on what else we can service; on what other interesting solutions we can offer. We’re looking at cleanse lines that include gut health and kombucha, breakfasts and other solutions that align with our brand values: Offering a complete, curated solution that has a transparent value chain, is sourced locally and organically and lives within our brand pillars. We will always be focused and tailored — we want to understand the issue and solve it.”
The bigger play is retail: Frozen meals that align with UCOOK’s brand promise and dinner kits that can be bought from a store. In line with this strategy, UCOOK has signed a second investment deal, matched by Silvertree, with Smollen, which has a strong retail focus. “Based on our last round of funding, the business’s valuation is currently R200 million. There is so much scope for us; we’re excited for what the future holds.”
The Daily Schedules Of 10 Famous Business Billionaires
Get inspired by the daily schedules of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey and other seven-figure leaders.
What do some of the world’s most famous billionaire business leaders have in common? Clearly, they’re all intelligent, driven, hard-working and have lots of digits in their account balances, but the similarities mostly stop when you compare their daily routines.
If you want to know how long you should sleep, when you should wake up, how long and whether you should work out or other lifestyle choices, you won’t find a consensus among the business elite. What you will find is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of individuals who have more money than most of the people on Earth combined.
Click through the slides to read about the daily routines of billionaires including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey, as gleaned from clues they’ve dropped throughout the years in interviews and speeches.
Critical Lessons Dan Newman Took From CEOwise Interviews And Applied In His Own Business
When I reached the point in my business where I realised I needed to make a change if I wanted to achieve real scale, I turned to other successful entrepreneurs. What I learnt has changed my business, and helped me launch new companies with stronger foundations.
After running my agency, Druff Interactive for over 15 years, I came to the stark realisation that I should have been in a different position with my business. It should have been bigger, more successful. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a bad business — quite the opposite. But it could have been more.
Determined to become a better entrepreneur, I decided to start learning from the best. I figured the best way to access the knowledge, experience and lessons I was looking for was by interviewing successful entrepreneurs with the goal of implementing what I learnt in my own business. The result is CEOwise, a collection of interviews and videos that not only document my journey of learning, but lessons I can share with fellow entrepreneurs as well.
Living up to potential
I began my entrepreneurial journey in 2001 when I launched my web and design agency, Druff Interactive. From the very beginning I thought my business would grow organically. I believed my turnover would increase each year, as would my profits, and that I would keep moving forward, year on year, until I reached 40 and could retire comfortably. In this rosy future, I’d never have financial stress again. I couldn’t have been more off the mark.
Being an entrepreneur is like being a new parent. In the beginning, it’s all excitement and butterflies. But then you get home from the hospital and realise you’re living with much more responsibility on less sleep. Such is a new business, and the reality is that you just have to deal with it and make it work.
In our first eight years, Druff grew from just me working from a spare room in our townhouse to a staff complement of 11 by 2010. I was growing organically (as planned), but in a lot of ways, that was actually a risk, at least when it came to growth. Entrepreneurs who do experience organic growth often become complacent. Although Druff was a successful business, I wasn’t pushing it as much as I should have and we began to stagnate.
The very first entrepreneur I interviewed for CEOwise, Rich Mullholland, said that “Success is only important when measured on potential, and the company has not grown according to potential at all, therefore it’s a failure.” He was speaking about his own company, Missing Link, but the lesson really struck a chord with me. I too believed that Druff hadn’t lived up to its potential.
It was one of my biggest issues. When times were great I should have been innovating and pushing my business into different areas. Allon Raiz, founder of Raizcorp, says that he’s seen too many entrepreneurs take their foot off the pedal, become complacent and their success becomes the seed of their failure.
Focused on growth
These were lessons I only started articulating after I began CEOwise, but the truth of them was already becoming apparent to me before I launched the series. Between 2010 and 2016 we worked with great clients and built an awesome portfolio of work. I was proud of what we’d achieved. And yet I knew that after 15 years the business should have been in a different position.
In hindsight, another mistake I made was not having a proper sales force to bring in the clients. We relied mainly on word-of-mouth referrals and Google Adwords to bring in sales and grow organically. Adwords was great in the beginning and the cost per click (CPC) was cheap, but as more companies got on board, CPC became more costly and less effective. And yet I didn’t adjust my strategy. Allon also says that 10% of your team should be dedicated to sales full time. Mine was not.
By December 2016 I reached the decision to start making major changes in my business. I knew I needed to learn from the best of the best, which meant tapping into South Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs. I also realised that if I was in this position, perhaps many other entrepreneurs were too. CEOwise documents my journey of learning, but it also allows me to share it. My vision is to help more people become CEO ‘wise’, so they can become wiser CEOs.
My idea was never to have a boring sit-down, boardroom interview. When I started, I wanted each interview to be centred around an activity. I contacted my first entrepreneur, Rich Mullholland, whom I’d known for many years, and asked him if he’d go SCAD free falling with me, while doing an interview on all the insights on entrepreneurship he’s learnt over the years. He was in! We ended up suspended inside one of the Soweto towers, dropping 50 metres into a net, discussing entrepreneurship. It was a complete win. At the time, Rich was just about to launch his own vlog called ‘The Get Rich Quick Show’, which I still follow to this day (and suggest you do too).
Since launching CEOwise in March 2017, I have interviewed over 30 entrepreneurs, each with their own story and advice. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is that there are many ways to solve a problem. This led to the creation of a segment called ‘CEOwise Advice’, in which I ask each entrepreneur to answer the same question. The variety of answers to the same question is fascinating, and proves that there are many ways to approach a situation. I’m now in the process of creating CEOwise Mentors, which asks five entrepreneurs the same question.
Over the past two years I’ve learnt even more than I hoped for. I’ve been inspired to make changes in Druff, and I’ve also started new businesses that I’ve brought my new-found knowledge into, with the goal to do things correctly from the beginning.
I’ve also fallen in love with learning, which is why I’ve read more books in the past year than I have in my entire life. I’m on a mission to become a raging success. I know I’m going to make mistakes along the way. That’s how we learn. But I’m also a better entrepreneur since I started this journey.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is not to be scared of competition, but to embrace competitors instead. When I met Gary Leicher, founder of Smudge, at a Suits & Sneakers networking event, I decided to put this particular lesson into action. Smudge had been a competitor of ours in the web design and development space for many years. Gary said he’d wanted to meet me for a while and I suggested we get together for a coffee the following week. We sat down for lunch and four hours later, after discussing the industry and processes we used, we swopped notes and left wiser than when we arrived. Don’t be scared of competition, embrace it. There is always something to learn from your fellow entrepreneurs. You just have to be open to the lessons.
Entrepreneur Erik Kruger On The Importance Of Clarity And Embracing Failure
Erik Kruger has walked his own personal development journey, and now he’s helping other entrepreneurs find their ‘best’.
- Player: Erik Kruger
- Company: Mental Performance Lab
- Visit: mentalperformancelab.com
- Join the daily email: erikkruger.com/daily
How does a physiotherapist who dreamed of touring the world with sports teams become a mental performance coach for high-impact entrepreneurs? Ask Erik Kruger and the term he’ll use is ‘accretion’, the process of growing and adding layers through experiences.
The point is key: No journey is ever a straight line from point A to point B. Most of us spend years figuring out what we want to do through a process of elimination. It’s by doing that we figure out what we like and don’t like; what ignites passion in us, and what we’re good at.
Erik’s journey began in physiotherapy. He graduated in 2007 and started his own private practice with a friend in 2009. He was quickly realising that his dream wasn’t aligning with reality though. “My goal was to be the physio who toured with the springboks. Instead, I was locuming at hospitals and travelling two hours a day to reach my private practice offices,” says Erik. “I couldn’t see my future in it.”
It’s an interesting lesson: Until you do something, you won’t always know if it aligns with your expectations and goals. But no experience is ever a waste. “Physiotherapy ended up allowing me to have a side hustle. I could pay the bills while I figured out my entrepreneurial journey, because I had no idea what I wanted to do when I started. I registered 45 domain names before I settled on Better Man, and Better Man led me to the Mental Performance Lab and my coaching business.”
Launches and lessons
While he was still in private practice, Erik met fellow entrepreneur and Shark Tank investor, Marnus Broodryk. “Marnus was still in his own start-up phase. We were at FTV and he was handing out business cards for his accounting business, The Beancounter, to everyone he met. I took one, but only ended up contacting him months later because I needed to set up a website, and I thought he’d be able to give me some guidance.”
The website was for the practice, and Marnus helped Erik via skype to set up his first WordPress site. In Erik’s own words, it was a terrible website, but the bug bit. From that moment onwards, Erik’s newfound love affair with the digital space began.
“I liked the idea that you could just create something and people would come,” he says. “I found out very quickly that’s not how it works at all, but by then I was playing around with as many website ideas as I could think of.”
Marnus and Erik played around with some ideas, and settled on directory sites. “The idea was that people would pay a monthly retainer to be on the website and that’s all you’d need to create annuity income. You also wouldn’t need advertising revenue, which requires ongoing sales.”
Because of his own area of expertise, Erik thought a directory for physiotherapists would work well — one of the regulating bodies disagreed. They viewed the monthly retainer as a kickback, which is illegal in the medical profession.
So, Erik moved on to his next idea. “I was doing everything over eLance and Odesk, from web development to graphic design. I started thinking that we needed a local freelance community that entrepreneurs could tap into. My brother agreed to invest in the idea and we hired developers from India to build the site. I directed them to a few sites I liked and briefed them on what we wanted.”
Six months and R70 000 later, Erik received a cease and desist call from one of the big players in the freelance space. “He was furious. It turned out that the developers we had hired had copied his website, section for section, header for header. I had been focused on client acquisition, not the development of the site — I hadn’t even checked what they were doing. I’d only focused on the feedback from beta testing. Faced with being sued for infringement, we took the site down immediately. I was trying different things and failing miserably, but I was also okay with that.”
Finding a niche
Erik didn’t let his failures deter him. “I was trying to figure out how to make money from digital assets. I registered 45 domain names, and for every one of them I built a WordPress site and developed a marketing strategy. I’d go to work, get home and just do digital for the rest of the day.”
To upskill himself, Erik also took courses on digital marketing, Facebook, Google marketing, WordPress and DNS set-ups. “I created a fitness website for brides-to-be, a mentor site for models and websites for girlfriends to help them run their businesses. Each website would be up and running for a few weeks, and then I’d lose interest, close it and move on.”
And this is where the foundation of Erik’s journey really begins. The fact that he hadn’t yet found what he was looking for was a lesson in itself. “Clarity is a process; I can see it with my clients all the time,” he says. “I didn’t know it then, but I can see it now. Clarity only really comes from wanting to find clarity, trying to find clarity. We often talk about evolution in entrepreneurial circles, but the reality is that evolution can only happen when something already exists, which means you have to be out there trying new things to find your purpose, or big idea.
“When I started coaching, what I was doing with my clients back then versus now is vastly different. No matter how much I read about coaching, thought about what coaching should be like, or listened to different coaches and how they do it, I would never have reached the point I’m at now, if I hadn’t been doing it myself. That’s how we learn and evolve.”
For Erik, the 45 websites he created led him to Better Man, and that’s where his journey started to pivot. “Better Man was the idea I stuck with. Up until that point, I’d been looking for things to do and ways to monetise them, but they were all external and not what really came naturally to me. There’s no such thing as a lightning bolt idea that hits you and that’s it. Amazing, masterful ideas are the result of trial and error.
“People think clarity is a switch, illuminating everything. But it’s actually like striking a match, and that match keeps burning, and you strike another and another and another, and slowly the room fills with light. Even then, you have clarity for a moment, and then the matches burn out, and you have to start again.”
In the case of Better Man, Erik was tired of trying to find something that would work, and instead decided to create something for himself. “I’ve always been into self-development and the idea evolved from there. I decided to create a website based on interviews I’d do with successful South Africans — I’d learn from them, and share the interviews online.”
Erik’s first interview was with Maps Maponyane, followed by Tim Noakes. The site wasn’t getting a lot of traction, but Erik was having fun. “It was the first thing I’d done where I didn’t have any real plans to monetise the site. I was just doing something I enjoyed and figuring it out.”
Erik did want to grow a community though, and so he concentrated on Facebook and email marketing to build up a Better Man database.
“I wanted to experiment with different mediums of communication,” he explains. “The two things that really moved the needle were the group, which was 18 000-strong, and the daily emails I started, which quickly reached 16 500 people.”
Through the community he had built up, Erik then found a way to monetise the business through events. “I was sharing content and ideas that struck a chord with me, which meant they were valuable to other people. That’s how I built up a community, and from there I could offer access to that community to brands.”
For 18 months, there were regular Better Man events, all sponsored by top lifestyle brands. The business was doing well, but through the platform and the community, Erik discovered a new direction: Coaching.
“Once I’d built up the community, I played around with a few different ideas, looking for ways to monetise the platform over and above events. We launched a fitness eBook, an apparel line and partnered with brands for events, but the one thing the community kept asking for was coaching. The events worked as marketing platforms — the next morning I’d sign up clients — and even though I hadn’t known that this was where Better Man would lead, I discovered it was a direction I wanted to explore.”
Up until that point, Erik had been trying a lot of different avenues to see what stuck. He also admits he had shiny object syndrome — even with Better Man. “I was too responsive to every question and query. You can’t just jump around and hope you’ll find success; you need focus and direction.”
Interestingly, even coaching didn’t offer that at first. Erik tried group coaching and Mastermind groups before realising he needed to really focus. It meant stopping the events and even pulling back from the community he’d built, although his daily emails continue, and all group members are the first to hear about workshops and seminars.
“Finding my path required me to sit down and take a long look at what was — and wasn’t — working for me personally. You can try and figure out what people want, and that’s important, but you also need to understand your personal drivers, or you’ll never stick with something long enough to make it a success.
“I was trying out mentor calls through the Better Man community, and I realised that they weren’t working for me. They felt superficial; like I wasn’t driving results. When I spoke to someone, I’d get off the call and I wouldn’t feel good. I’d feel like I’d just spent time telling someone what to do, but where were the results?”
Once Erik made the decision to be a coach though, his focus shifted to being the best coach in South Africa. It was that decision and direction that made all the difference. “I went out and bought every book I could find on coaching. Then I wrote all the models that spoke to me up on white boards and started creating my own coaching framework.”
From there, Erik, signed up for his Master’s Degree in Management, with a focus on business and executive coaching. By 2017 he was coaching full time.
“I had to build up my confidence, which is evident in my early pricing models, but my masters has been the biggest game-changer for me. It shifted a few fundamental things for me, from my coaching approach to developing better listening skills. Ultimately though, internal drive is the biggest differentiator. I want to be the best coach I can be, and that’s making all the difference.”
Because of that drive, Erik has also found his niche. “I want to have a big impact on the world, which means I need to help people who in turn impact the lives of others. CEOs and entrepreneurs are my focus area. My influence and impact are amplified when I’m coaching a CEO of 500 people.”
Since finding his niche, Erik has worked with a number of high-calibre clients, including some of South Africa’s top executives and entrepreneurs.
Action, not words
Better Man gave Erik the platform he needed to launch his coaching business. Although the journey has been organic, once he made the decision about what he wanted to focus on, each step forward has been far more intentional. “I believe in visualisation and intention. Intention is determining where you want to go and then breaking that down into goals. My intention is to become the most sought-after speaker and coach in South Africa. Everything I do works towards that goal.”
In line with this goal are Erik’s own experiences. “Everything we do and think is the culmination of our experiences. In my case, it’s personal experiences as well as what I learn from my clients. Coaching is a gift for me. I can spend time with the CEO of a multi-national and come up with solutions and insights that I can then share with the owner of a 30-man business. With an outsider’s perspective you can start seeing patterns. Coaching is practical, and it draws on the human experience, even in a business context.
“It’s easy to believe that you’re too busy for a morning routine for example. When I see someone who does have the time and still isn’t following a routine, I ask why. What is the deeper value or belief that they aren’t tapping into or living? What experiences of highly busy people who still find the time can I draw from and share? Every experience that is shared broadens our collective exposure.”
Personally, Erik follows many of these practices himself. “I learn about them and implement them. It makes me a better coach. We’re all human, but at the top of the business ladder, we need to perform optimally. There’s a metrics side to business, and a human side, and you can’t ignore either.
“Founding the Mental Performance Lab has been about developing a high-performance state of mind. It’s not just about smashing metrics, but functioning at an optimal level. You need to do the right thing at the right time, and to achieve that, mindfulness is key. You can function flat out, always racing ahead, stressed and busy, or you can function optimally. That’s my focus.” EM
Acta Non Verba: The Playbook For Creating, Achieving And Performing At Your Highest Level
Erik Kruger’s first book is a collection of 160 thoughtful reflections on what it takes to live a life of action and not words. Acta Non Verba’s purpose is to get people moving, creating, and generating an unstoppable drive in both their business and personal journeys.
This is not a book to read from cover to cover, in one sitting. Each day there is a new chapter waiting to be read. Put this book on your bedside table, and read a new chapter with your first cup of coffee every morning. Each message is short so you can read it quickly, in the moment, and then reflect and act on it for the entire day. It’s a book that demands action.
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