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Lessons Learnt

Retroactive’s Business Lessons Learnt While Building A Successful Business

Mike Sharman, Ben Karpinski and Bryan Habana spotted a gap in the market for a digital agency that focused on aligning clients and brands with sports. Here’s how finding a niche, the right team and being a little obsessed are the ingredients you need for a successful start-up.

Diana Albertyn




Vital Stats

  • Players: Mike Sharman, Ben Karpinski, Bryan Habana and Shaka Sisulu (Retroviral Chairman)
  • Company: Retroactive
  • Majority Shareholder: Retroviral
  • Visit:

One’s a retired sporting legend, another a sports fundi and the last guy happens to be a digital marketing maven. Together they’ve launched a business that’s set to conquer their worlds combined. Retroactive was borne out of a love for sports and creative marketing.

“We are massive sports fans at heart. Not just fans of teams, but of everything that sport represents and provides people with in life,” says Mike Sharman, co-founder of Retroviral Digital Communications.

“It’s a religion to many people, primary entertainment to others. But we felt that many times it was just treated as this secondary thing that people in the agency world would pay token attention to.”

Mike, along with former Springbok rugby player Bryan Habana and sports authority Ben Karpinski, believed sport needed just as much, if not more attention than anything else, as sport is a living breathing thing in life.

“Sport gives brands and companies unique opportunities to showcase themselves, and within sporting fans we have people who are loyal, dynamic and have focused interests that are worth engaging with. We believe we can tell the stories of this world, gather the insights, and translate it to relationships and content that will be unforgettable,” says Mike.

Why is it important to diversify business models and business channels?

Mike: The smartphone changed our lives and continues to do so at a rapid rate, with evolving technology and improving accessibility to new demographics. So, what worked around mainstream media in the past could be obsolete now. It’s not enough to know where the eyeballs of your target market are going nowadays — you need to be operating in those spaces, continually evolving. Today’s consumers are spoiled for choice and expect personalised ways of doing things. We must find ways of being part of that.

Related: 7 Foundational Values Of Brand Cartel And How They Grew an Iconic Business From The Ground Up

What advice can you offer other entrepreneurs on identifying market opportunities and spotting gaps?

Ben: You need to know what your audience wants, you need to have a hunger for finding solutions to their problems, and never stopping until you find them. There are always opportunities, and if you can’t see them then you just aren’t trying hard enough.

How are you aligning your skills and market knowledge with a business venture?

Bryan: The transition period from a professional athlete to the life after is currently one of the most talked about topics in sport. While it is challenging rediscovering yourself and where you fit in or what you want to be doing, I’ve kept myself busy engaging with people within the network I was able to create while playing rugby.

I was fortunate during my career as a rugby player. At the start of my journey, social media opportunities were very limited, yet the landscape exploded with so many different channels towards the twilight of my playing days.

Now that I am a former player, I look at things through the lens of a ‘regular member of the public’; I’d like to see authentic, fresh, engaging content being posted onto social media. This is where I can use my knowledge as a player (and understanding of the inner-workings and constraints) and my connection with some of the biggest brands, globally. I’ve worked incredibly hard to cultivate a personal brand that I believe will have longevity long after my career.

I also studied a Business Manager course during my last season of professional rugby that allowed me to learn basic skills and concepts from various fields of expertise like accounting, law, digital strategy, and marketing, to name a few.


Diana completed a BA in Journalism in 2010 and has honed her skills as a newspaper reporter, senior communications specialist and most recently worked at a weekly magazine as a writer. She joined the EMTS Group in 2016 as a writer for Entrepreneur magazine and SmartCompany Networks. Passionate about honing her writing skills and delivering exceptional client results, Diana continues to keep a finger on the pulse of industry news and insights.

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Lessons Learnt

#Wealthiest List: 8 Self-Made Millionaires On How They Built Their Wealth

These inspirational self-made millionaires built businesses with nothing less than hard work and sheer determination.

Catherine Bristow



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1. Nick D’Aloisio Wrote a Million Dollar App At Age 15


At the age of 15, Nick D’Aloisio wrote an app while sitting in his parent’s bedroom in the UK. At the age of 17, D’Aloisio sold his app Summly – a mobile news summarisation app to Yahoo for a staggering USD 30 million.

As one of the youngest millionaires, D’Aloisio is also the world’s youngest entrepreneur to be backed by venture capitalists – having secured seed funding from Sir Li Ka-Shing, Hong Kong’s billionaire, as well as raising USD 1.23 million from celebrity investors, including Yoko Ono and Ashton Kutcher.

“The number one thing I did that I think was wise was to get, through some of my advisers, was a Chairman; basically someone who was a very experienced business person, an industry veteran — Bart Swanson, who had been at Amazon and then Badoo. Then, myself and Bart really started finding people and growing the team.”

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Lessons Learnt

7 Cannabis Industry Millionaires Making It Big In The Marijuana Business

These entrepreneurs have capitalised on a new market set to continue to grow rapidly as more countries legalise marijuana across the world.

Catherine Bristow



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1. Brendan Kennedy


Brendan Kennedy worked on job sites as a carpenter to pay his way through university, with his eyes set firmly on becoming an architect, until the allure of Silicon Valley changed the course of his direction. While working at technology start-ups Kennedy began thinking about the possibilities that medical marijuana provided.

“I was really sceptical of medical cannabis,” he says. “It took a year of having conversations with patients and physicians and hearing the same story, repackaged but essentially the same, over and over and over again, where my scepticism eroded and I became a believer.”

In 2013, Kennedy and his partners applied for a licence from Health Canada and launched Lafitte Ventures, which was later renamed Tilray. Today, the company is a global leader in medical cannabis research, cultivation, processing and distribution.

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Lessons Learnt

Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt




You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:


The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.


The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.


It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.


It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.


Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

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