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Howard Blake Stays Hungry With His Innovation Strategy

Staying agile and innovative isn’t easy, especially when you’re running a large and established operation that’s been around for decades. Howard Blake, however, has managed it. Entrepreneur finds out how he stays hungry and keeps his finger on the pulse of innovation.

Paul Smith

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Key Learnings

  • Stay at the edge of innovation. Disrupt your own operation before someone else does it.
  • Don’t treat risk as a dirty word. The key to growth often lies in embracing calculated risk.
  • Diversify without losing focus. Create verticals that complement and feed off each other.
  • Innovation and execution are not the same. They need different approaches.

Howard Blake started his business when he had nothing more than a typewriter and a scooter to his name. He would work from his kitchen and visit clients on his scooter. But those days are far behind him. Today, Blake owns a large international company that’s been in operation for more than 25 years and is worth around R350 million.

This is not a bad position to be in — who wouldn’t want to grow their business so successfully? But it does bring its own challenges.

Like an aircraft carrier or cruise ship, a large company has the size and heft to survive stormy waters, but it also turns very slowly. Change is not instantaneous, and in our modern business world, this is becoming increasingly problematic.

While large operations find themselves stuck in a whirlpool of corporate governance and risk management, small, agile operations are leapfrogging over them and disrupting established industries. One need only look to companies such as Uber and Airbnb for examples of this. Taxi operations and hotel chains all over the world are being threatened by companies that they failed to even identify as competitors.

Related: 5 Things Warren Buffett Does After Work

How does one safeguard against this? For Howard Blake, the answer is simple: Never allow yourself to become complacent.

Disrupt yourself

When Blake started his business, he did so by innovating and disrupting the way things were done.

“When I started in 1990, if you had a fax machine, you were at the leading edge of technological innovation. Most businesses weren’t utilising computers properly yet. I looked at the way people were processing legal documents, and I thought it should be automated. At the time, collecting debt was slow and laborious, so I developed a computer-based system that sped up the process,” recalls Blake.

Now, the rate of innovation is much faster, which makes it harder to stay on top of new technologies. And the fact that Blake is managing a large operation with thousands of employees can make it tricky to roll out new systems and technologies.

So, to bring about constant change and innovation, he forces his company to ‘disrupt itself’. “We take nothing for granted,” says Blake. “Every six months, we reassess the business. It’s like an airplane teardown. We take everything apart for inspection. We used to do it every 18 months, but the rate of change is now too rapid for that.”

The aim is to find ways in which things can be done in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. “We don’t mind disrupting our own services and product offerings. If there’s a better way to do something, we pursue it.

“You need to open your mind and put your prejudices behind you. It’s almost a philosophical thing — you need to fundamentally question what you’re doing. Don’t believe you’re doing things in the best way. Humility is important.”

Blake is also weary of processes that become routine. “Nowadays, as soon as something becomes routine, the profit line tends to take a dip. Your product or service won’t exist in its current form in five years’ time. If you’re not innovating, you’re dying.”

Embrace risk

Blake-Howard-Blake

For Howard Blake, risk is not a bad thing. In fact, he believes embracing risk is an important component of long-term survival. Companies have become exceptionally risk averse, and this is impeding their ability to innovate and grow.

“Risk has become a dirty word in the business world, something we all take great pains to avoid. We hire risk management companies and take out risk insurance to help us minimise risk,” says Blake.

“The problem is that many enterprises take an extreme approach to minimising risk, pigeonholing themselves in the process. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen the benefits of constantly moving out of your comfort zone and taking calculated risks. Rejecting the status quo is one of the main reasons that Blake Holdings has grown from a one-man show to a R350-million business over the course of 26 years.”

He does not, however, suggest that companies adopt a laissez-faire approach to risk management.

“As the skeletons of many failed start-ups can attest to, it’s all about calculated risk. From the start, we employed a scientific approach to the collection business in order to create better default prediction models. This approach saw us secure important clients such as Foschini and Truworths.”

You want to avoid what Opsware founder and angel investor Andy Horowitz calls ‘stupid risk’. Good risk brings with it the potential for tremendous reward. Stupid risk offers little chance of corresponding reward. 

Related: How To Build Your Business Like A Boss

Diversify

Diversification is notoriously tricky. While embracing multiple verticals can certainly result in more revenue streams, it can also lead to a loss of focus and the relinquishing of a hard-won market position.

Once one of the stalwarts of the American business world, the RCA Corporation (originally the Radio Corporation of America) decided to diversify in the 1960s and 1970s. RCA wanted to become a conglomerate, and therefore decided to acquire companies that focused on industries as diverse as carpeting, frozen foods and car rentals. Things did not go well. These endeavours had a disastrous effect on the company’s bottom line.

Frustrated employees purportedly even started referring to RCA as Rugs, Chickens and Automobiles. This attempt at diversification was one in a long list of bad decisions – decisions that ultimately resulted in RCA being purchased and broken up by GE.

But there are countless examples of companies that managed to diversify very successfully: Disney was once just an animation studio, today it has its fingers in countless pies, including a list of theme parks. Once purely a maker of computers, the bulk of Apple’s revenue now comes from cellphones. One of Amazon’s biggest money makers, meanwhile, is its cloud-computing service, which boasts a long list of large companies as clients.

“Diversifying successfully requires a careful balancing act,” says Blake. “You don’t want to lose focus completely.”

It also helps if there is some cross-pollination between your various ventures.
In the case of RCA, the company was throwing the net too wide. Apple applied
its technology and flair for design to a related field.

“While Blake Holdings may have begun as a collections company, it utilises its technology — alongside its already-existing databases — to render services across the verticals of contact centres, customer service, customer analytics, WiFi, marketing and data analytics, to name a few,” says Blake.

“These specialties all build and feed off each other, making it easier to not only launch successful new ventures, but also to hone the innovation capabilities of the existing ventures. With the advent of the digital age, previously distinct verticals have now become converged business solutions.”

Think like a start-up

The Virtual Agent is a recent addition to the Blake family of companies and an excellent example of the organisation’s approach to diversification.

“The Virtual Agent is a realty solutions company that has emerged from our experience in database services. And, like many of the successful ventures we’ve undertaken over the last decades, it wouldn’t have come to be if not for a curiosity to seek out new ways of making things better and improving industries,” says Blake.

Getting The Virtual Agent off the ground wasn’t easy, though. The Blake organisation was sailing into unchartered waters, and not everyone was convinced it was a good idea.

Related: Work Smarter Says Matsi Modise

To push the project through, Blake adopted a lean start-up approach. With Debbie Leo-Smith (an ex-estate agent) heading up product development, creation of The Virtual Agent offering was kept small and cost-effective.

“We brought The Virtual Agent to market very quickly. It was an industry ripe for disruption, and we acted decisively. The venture broke even five months after we came up with the concept. That’s the speed at which you need to operate, even within a large organisation. There’s a hunger, a desire to innovate that tends to fade into the background the more resources a business has access to. If you want to be successful, you need to find a way of holding onto that hunger.”

Paul Smith is a writer and startup scientist. He currently manages an accelerator, Ignitor, which helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Ignitor has developed a new model that significantly improves early stage start-ups odds of success. His primary research interests include understanding the behaviours of expert entrepreneurs, as well as, how to most effectively support high potential start-ups. Follow him on Twitter and visit his website.

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10 Gary Vaynerchuk-Approved Success Strategies

The VaynerMedia founder gets real about drive and ambition.

Nina Zipkin

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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

gary-vaynerchuk-entrepreneur

“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”

gary-vaynerchuk-entrepreneur-quote

“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 Entrepreneur.com.

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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

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wealthy-people

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

sleeping-habits

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

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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 Entrepreneur.com.

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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.

SAICA

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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.

Visit www.saica.co.za

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