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How Nicholas Bell Got 10x Growth Right And Sky Rocketed Decision Inc

Successful businesses are built through a series of challenges and solutions. Nicholas Bell doesn’t just deal with challenges as they arise though. He sets goals, determines what’s stopping him from reaching them and puts strategies in place to eradicate any and all obstacles.

Nadine Todd

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Vital stats

  • Player: Nicholas Bell
  • Company: Decision inc
  • Launched: 2008
  • Turnover: R116 million
  • Visit: decisioninc.co.za

Successful businesses are built through a series of challenges and solutions. Nicholas Bell doesn’t just deal with challenges as they arise though. He sets goals, determines what’s stopping him from reaching them and puts strategies in place to eradicate any and all obstacles.

“I don’t ever want a challenge to slow me down,” he says. “You can let a setback derail you, or you can use it as an opportunity to learn and carry the business forward. I believe it’s important to dissect everything — even opinions and advice I don’t initially agree with. Mentors have taught me that it’s important to be adaptable and that nothing in business is hard or fast. We’re constantly faced with new sources of data needed to grow our business, and I’ve learnt that the only real question is whether you’re willing to use that data to drive the business forward.” 

Related: Nick Bell: In Search Of A Billion-Rand Business Model

Getting started

In many ways, Bell fell into entrepreneurship. He was studying to be a CA and built a merchandising app for SAB on the side. “One of my biggest strengths has always been the ability to understand the business outcomes a client wants to achieve and to help them translate that into a solution that leverages technology to bring about improvement,” he says.

“I had a friend who worked for SAB, and they had a challenge tracking in-store information around their products. I knew I could build a simple solution that would give SAB the insight they needed.”

But once Bell had built one solution, he acquired more clients, and by the time he was preparing to do his articles at EY, SAB gave him a three year deal as part of their merchandising programme.

“I chose to go into business. There was limited risk. I was 22, living with my parents. If it failed I could go back to accounting and EY.” Within a few weeks Bell had registered his business, Business Intelligent, and was actively working towards building up a client base.

“In the first year I built the business up to two developers, an admin assistant and me. I was involved in development and sales. Our turnover was R700 000.”

Years of continuous growth

By the second year turnover had grown to R1,6 million. Eight years later Bell would hit his target of R100 million, three months before his 30th birthday. Now his sights are set on building a R1 billion business that will show a 10x return. Here’s how he’s developed a strategy that will get him there.

By 2013 Bell had been in business for six years. His turnover was R21 million, he employed 25 people and his clients included Simba, Harmony, ArcelorMittal, SAB, and Sibanye Gold. He believed he’d built a business that was exceptionally scalable.

When he was chosen by Endeavor to pitch at an ISP (International Selection Panel) to join Endeavor’s international members, he focused on the fact that Business Intelligent helped businesses make better decisions through technology.

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“I presented business intelligence (BI) as a massive global industry encompassing all other industries, highlighting that we were scalable because we catered to every business’ needs.”

The ISP disagreed. “Endeavor likes technology as a rule, but the ISP believed that if it’s not your own IP, you won’t scale. You’re also open to disruption.”

“I wasn’t in complete agreement. First, I did think we were scalable. Yes, we earned hourly rates, but we were also selling and packaging software. Our scale would also come from the ability to implement these preconfigured and packaged solutions in a significantly shorter period of time to our competitors, whilst still being able to charge a similar price, giving us margin scale into the future. I also knew that we would never build our own products because we couldn’t compete with international corporations who spend hundreds of millions on R&D.”

Related: The Case for Business Intelligence

Use feedback to critically evaluate your business

Bell didn’t dismiss the ISP’s concerns out of hand though. “The feedback made me look at the business critically and evaluate our strengths and weaknesses. One strength was that we embedded on top of these platforms and we did it quickly.

We also understood business objectives and were able to match solutions to needs. But we didn’t own our own tech, and at that stage we were reliant on a single vendor, Qlik. I realised that the ISP’s question was a relevant one: What would happen if Oracle bought Qlik and suddenly we were one in 3 000 other partners?”

When Bell got back to South Africa, he sat down and asked himself the following questions: Does someone else control our licence to trade? Is our business open to disruption by forces we can’t control? Who pays us? Who bills us? Is our relationship with clients or agencies?

“We were going to remain a services firm, but I saw the risk, and I realised that if I was serious about building a business with a turnover of R100 million, I had to make some changes.”

Recognise potential business threats

One of the biggest threats Bell recognised was the risk of high concentration in clients or products. “We had over 50 clients, so we didn’t have client risk, but we did have product risk.”

Qlik is a specialist business intelligence provider, which presents the risk that it could be acquired by one of the large global software vendors.

“There’s also the risk that a partner stops liking you or working with you. Once we became Decision Inc we moved as quickly as possible to extend our partnerships to SAP, Microsoft, Adaptive Insights, Alteryx and MicroStrategy.”

Bell’s licence to trade was no longer built around one partner contract which could be disrupted. Next, he turned his attention to IP.

Ensure you can duplicate your intellectual property

“We’re an intellectual business that relies on human capital. Our IP resides in a lot of individuals’ heads. We needed to get it out of heads and into the business. What we could do in five weeks with 25 people was incredible. Our speed of business was high. But it couldn’t be easily multiplied — 75 people couldn’t do it quicker; it’s not sustainable to work at that speed and it gets exponentially more complicated. The solution was to find a different model.

“As a discipline, business intelligence is a small space at the top of the operating and decision-making pyramid. However, we make a massive impact on our clients’ strategies and operations. But because we impacted executive decisions, which were implemented at an operational ERP, CRM and data level with different service providers, our three month contract created 18 months’ work for someone else.

“If we wanted to grow, we needed to grow our share of wallet. We focused on growing the business down the line by leveraging great client relationships, which were a big competitive and strategic advantage, and moving down the value chain.”

To prepare for the growth he was targeting, Bell started reading the works of competitive advantage and strategy guru, Michael Porter.

“Porter calls them adjacent services, which basically means additional services that are along the same information continuum. This was a way to potentially solve two problems: We could increase our wallet share and IP through one strategy. We needed to stop being a BI firm, and become an IM (Information Management) firm.”

There are six disciplines that work hand-in-hand in the information continuum: BI, strategy (how to use your information to support strategy), data management, enterprise performance management; content management; and advanced analytics.

Related: Entrepreneur BB Moloi’s Inspiring Story of Rise To Success Through Grit And Hard Work

Up until this point, Bell’s company had focused solely on the BI component, which was high value, but at the top of the decision-making pyramid. To grow wallet share, he needed to leverage the excellent client relationships he had built up, and offer additional services down the value chain, implementing the strategic decisions that his company’s insights and data had helped shape.

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This would cement the business’s IP as well, as few companies successfully worked across all six disciplines. He needed a framework that supported teams with different areas of expertise that worked together to cement his differentiator.

Should the new skills be developed in-house, or did it make more sense to merge with another firm that had the requisite skills? Bell chose the latter approach.

“My management team and I met a local entrepreneur through Endeavor who worked in a similar space to us. We were both IM firms, but while we concentrated on BI, his firm was focused on other areas.

“We recognised that we shared the same problem. We all wanted to increase wallet share within our client bases, we didn’t have enough internal IP and scaling a services-based business is tricky at best.

What you should look for in a partner

“Together however, we could mitigate these challenges. Our shared disciplines also meant we could service five of the six disciplines in the information continuum — as a single service provider.”

A third business joined the discussions, and with all three partners believing in Bell’s vision and agreeing that they could do more together as a cohesive unit, a share-swop was done and the three businesses became one new entity: Decision Inc. Bell is the new company’s CEO, but all three are shareholders and managing partners.

“In many ways Decision Inc was a start-up,” says Bell. “We had a fresh, engaging offer for the market, but we weren’t starting on zero. We had billings, sales, a marketing and HR department, proper financial structures and most importantly financial insights.”

Even more significantly, the new firm, with a turnover of R65 million in its first year, was able to merge, combine its insights, and work as a team to bring new offerings to the market and all of their client bases.

Growing together after the merger

“Our first year together was all about trading, getting active in the market as Decision Inc and building our internal culture. Our firms were small enough to make merging and creating a new culture relatively seamless. We had a united vision, and our employees understood the benefits that a larger business offered them.

“In year two we made our major shift from BI to IM, which enabled us to move down the value chain. A lot of this growth and development is internal, but because we’re cash generative, we can invest in additional growth as well. We recognised the areas where we wanted to expand our services, and we made two additional acquisitions.”

In 2015 Decision Inc grew from 75 to 125 people. “This is a human capital business. HR and culture are incredibly important, so we focus a lot on career and leadership development, performance management, client engagement and satisfaction reviews. We like success — a lot. We’re here to grow, but if you’re part of our organisation, this needs to resonate with you. We have 250 clients, which gives our employees a huge opportunity. We spend significant effort on finding and developing the right talent that thrive in a high energy, high impact environment and are excited by the challenges of working with like-minded individuals to achieve our goals.”

Bell is passionate about his business, employees, partners and clients. His core focus has always been on helping his clients make better decisions and build bigger and more profitable businesses as a result, but he’s also acutely aware of the fact that he works long, hard hours because he wants to build an asset of value.

Related: Why You Should Follow Your Dreams – Not Your Passion

Ensure your effort leads to wealth

“In our early days, I recognised that we were doing a lot of activity, so where was the reward? All the effort in the world won’t automatically lead to wealth. Putting in effort is only worth it if your strategic aim is real growth.

“Too many entrepreneurs only learn this when they’re trying to sell their businesses. Instead, it needs to be an element integral to your growth strategies from day one: Who will pay you for your business? Have you built a business separate from you that holds and retains value?”

Bell recognised that by 2016 Decision Inc had the right clients, skills and opportunities. “We were our own constraint on growth,” he says.

“We didn’t need more clients, we needed more managers to go out and service them. We needed to improve our engagement processes, and our various teams’ abilities to work together and cross-sell and cross-deliver.

“We had already leveraged our client base and IP, now we needed to increase our human capital capabilities. We had the tools we needed, we just had to leverage them within the organisation. The investment had happened; now the focus was on scale.”

In addition, the cost to expand your services within an existing client’s organisation is far lower than acquiring a new client. All of this meant that Decision Inc’s margins were steadily growing, and not just its turnover.

decision-inc

“These are all crucial points when you’re building an asset of value: We’ve built an organisation that has its own institutional IP, which is shared throughout the organisation, our margins are strong, and the business is not dependant on me as the CEO.”

This did not happen without a clear focus and strategy in place. “The development of second tier leadership was so important,” says Bell. “One person’s ability to have a vision of the future would never be enough to grow the business we envisioned.

“Our business makes an impact on the frontline, so how our people engage with customers is of paramount importance. A strong middle-management meant we weren’t burdening the top tier, who could focus on top-line strategy, while the business as a whole was delivering on our value proposition of how we improve service.”

Identify what you need to reach the next stage of growth

In March 2016 Decision Inc took its first external investor on board, private equity firm Capitalworks through one of its subsidiaries, SA Enterprise Development (SAED). “Up until this point we’d relied on working capital only to fund our growth. Now we’re taking a big jump, and for that we need capital. We’ve proven that we’re able to acquire and merge businesses, and that our corporate culture supports new people joining us. We understand the transition process.

“We’ve also recognised that acquisitions are a good growth strategy for us. We’re now looking at other geographic areas, starting with Australia, and if we get that right, then the UK and EU. We believe the best way to achieve this growth is to merge with local partners in those areas, and so we are once again on the acquisition trail. This investor-led strategy will see the business doing 40% of its work offshore with a R500 million turnover in five years.

“There’s no exit strategy at this time, but we want to grow value that we can unlock at the right multiple, at the right time. Through key man development, customer concentration, and spreading our geographic risk, we’re building an asset of value that justifies the effort.

“I want a multiple of ten for this business. We will be global; we will operate in four different currencies; we will have a geographic spread and multiple key clients. That’s the goal.”

Related: Miles Kubheka of Vuyo’s on Getting the Science of Pricing Right

Moving beyond price

One of the biggest challenges Decision Inc faced was that of price. “As a business, you are always measured against your peers. If you’re seen as a tech provider, then you’re measured by what your competitors are saying. It doesn’t matter what you actually do, and what your real differentiators are, what matters is what clients think you do. Once that happens, they’re benchmarking your price point without understanding the value you offer. This was our problem. The market’s understanding of the service we delivered was what constrained us.

“We have a very customer-centric focus. We’re not commoditised, and we can’t compete on price. Our service differentiator is unique. We just needed to find a way to make the market see that.” Bell had to go back to the drawing board.

You can’t articulate who you are if you don’t understand it yourself

“We’re not a typical tech provider, because we don’t just sell products. We’re also not consultants like McKinsey, Deloitte and Accenture. Those organisations are expected to charge high prices for their IP and human capital. As a tech company, we’re expected to charge commoditised prices. The reality is that we sit in the middle. We have products and IP that we bring to the table. How could we show this value to our clients and distance ourselves from our perceived competitors?

“We have the strategic ability to bring tech and people together in such a way that we can analyse your business, service your entire decision-making needs through one vendor, and then implement any tech decisions that are made.

“But this still wasn’t enough. So we looked to our track record. We’ve done 500 projects in 2016, we have a 90% customer satisfaction rate, and 250 clients are billed annually. The referrals speak for themselves.

Have a clear conversation with your customer

“This helped, but it still wasn’t enough. Ultimately what we needed to do was be able to prove the value we bring to an organisation’s bottom line. When we go in to a client, we need to be able to say ‘We can save you R50 million, and charge you R500 000 to do it.’ More importantly, we need to quantifiably prove it.

“From that moment on we were charging on capability and not on an hourly rate. Today that’s the conversation we’re having with clients. We’re not having conversations around price and hourly rates.

“The ability to have this conversation has made a huge difference in how we engage with clients, and ultimately on our bottom line and growth trajectory.”

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

Lessons Learnt

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.

Entrepreneur

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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.

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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.

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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.

Related: How Dinesh Patel Pivoted OrderIn Into A Successful Food Delivery App

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).

Related: Benji Coetzee Never Worked In Logistics, Find Out How She Launched Empty Trips A Successful Logistics Marketplace

Finding solutions

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.

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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’.

Nadine Todd

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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.”

Related: Erik Kruger Explains How You Can Become A BetterMan And What That Means For Your Business

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

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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.”

Related: Fear As Foe And Friend: How To Master This Important Relationship

Focused direction

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-book

Read This

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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