- Player: Brian Altriche
- Company: RocoMamas
- Launched: 2014
- Visit: RocoMamas.com
Like many successful individuals, Brian Altriche experienced a life-changing event in his mid-20s. A car accident left him with a broken leg and a broken arm, stranded in hospital over Christmas and New Year’s Eve. He’d also suffered a head injury, and while the time in hospital was making him re-evaluate his life path, the concussion had altered him in a subtle but significant way.
He became obsessed with visualisation: Visualising his life path, what a brand should look like, how customers would experience a particular offering — nothing happened until he visualised it down to the tiniest detail.
Twenty years later this fanatical relationship with the power of visualisation would lead directly to the launch of RocoMamas, arguably one of the most successful new brands in South Africa’s restaurant industry and the leader in fast casual dining.
Altriche has taken his concept from three stores to 49 in 18 months, and is spearheading South Africa’s renewed love affair with the burger.
So how does a kid who attended 11 different schools, and has no education beyond matric, launch such a successful and universally loved brand?
The answer lies in the details, and in learning from what Altriche himself calls his ‘fabulous failures.’Altriche left South Africa after matric to airbrush Harleys and leather jackets on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. The late 80s and early 90s were a time of change.
The Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and apartheid was coming to an end. Altriche wanted to be a part of something, and returning home to a new South Africa seemed the most obvious choice.
He moved to Yeoville and started painting signage for restaurants. This soon grew into any and all branding that restaurants needed. Altriche had no tertiary qualifications, but he was creative, and a fast learner. He was paying attention to branding and marketing, and figuring out what customers responded to. And then his accident happened. Two changes followed.
First, he decided to go into the restaurant game himself
“It was the ideal business model. A small stock holding, because everything is perishable. No debtors. Once your customer is through the door you take the order, manufacture, distribute and charge for it, and get paid, all within an hour. The trick is to get the customer into your store.”
Second was the focus on visualisation
“After the accident my memory changed,” he says. “I need to see something to understand and remember it. Before we opened our first RocoMamas store I obsessively walked through the entire concept in my mind: what did the store look like, smell like, sound like? What did the food look like and taste like? What was the customer’s experience from the moment they walked through the door until they left? Every detail lived inside my head before we began.”
But Altriche also had almost two decades of experience under his belt, and a few hard-won lessons, thanks to failures that were essential to his overall success — starting with his very first foray into franchising.
“I opened a Longhorn Steakhouse in Pretoria. It was a lead balloon,” he says. “My gut told me the location wasn’t right, but I didn’t listen. On paper it looked great — a good suburban, high-LSM area. Once I opened, it quickly became apparent that there were no office parks in the area, which meant no lunch trade, and the residents were primarily retirees whose kids had left the house. This was not the right demographic for my steakhouse.”
Through sheer grit and determination Altriche hung on for a year. And he paid his school fees
“I learnt how to run on a lean staff, about stock holdings, operations, and the make-or-break power of location.”
Finally, he gave up, accepted his losses and got out of his lease, thanks to the landlord reneging on a contract clause.
“Failure is part of the equation of success. I call them my fabulous failures. You can’t achieve greatness without failures and risk.”
Armed with a sizeable debt, Altriche took his equipment and approached Fats Lazarides, who at the time had opened five Ocean Baskets. Altriche would be his first franchisee.
“I opened in Southgate. The lessons I had learnt were valuable with the second business. Thanks to Ocean Basket I paid off my debt, had a nice living wage, and walked away with R240 000 in profit when I sold it in 1998.”
Altriche isn’t scared of working hard, and he’s always on the look-out for a new challenge
During his tenure with Ocean Basket, he found a partner and launched Passionade, a pre-mixed passionfruit and lemonade soft-drink in a can. The partnership did not end well, with Altriche squeezed out of the business.
“I didn’t hold a grudge,” he says. “For them it was just business. It would have hurt me far more than them to hold on to anger and disappointment.”
Running two businesses had taken its toll. Altriche arrived at the office at 6.30am and worked until 10am, then he’d open the Ocean Basket, return to the office, go back to the restaurant for the lunch trade, back to the office, and finally close up the store.
One day a case of energy drinks arrived for him to sample for the store, and Altriche was hooked
“I was exhausted, and those energy drinks really helped. I realised there was a definite market for that product.”
He found a chemist in the UK who could create a formula with Taurine as its active ingredient, secured a funding partner in South Africa, and called the energy drink Mad Bull. In 1998 he sold his Ocean Basket store to concentrate fully on the energy drink. It was a mistake. “I hadn’t taken into account that the Ocean Basket store gave me a great living wage that was suddenly absent when I started running a start-up. To this day I regret selling that store.”
But what’s done is done, and Altriche doesn’t believe in dwelling on things you can’t change. Instead, he threw himself into Mad Bull and GoGirl, a sugar-free version of the energy drink aimed at female consumers.
And then Red Bull sued over naming rights. Altriche and his partners lost, and Mad Bull was renamed Mad Buzz. It was the beginning of the end for the brand, not because of the name change, but due to corporate decisions made as a result of the court case and the money lost while fighting Red Bull.
Altriche, a gut-feel entrepreneur who relies on reading the market’s pulse and responding to consumer needs, did not see eye-to-eye with the MBA-educated marketing representative of the private equity majority owner of the brand.
To recoup losses, the decision was made to rebrand along with the name change. Altriche vehemently opposed the move.
“When you launch a brand, there’s a marketing curve,” he explains. “First you capture your outliers, your cult followers. They are critical to the success of your brand. They need to go the distance with you, even as you gain mass appeal. They’re influencers. With RocoMamas, they have been influential on social media. The same was true of Mad Bull, and then Mad Buzz. We had a fun, edgy marketing campaign for the name change, with street pole ads that said: ‘SA’s first Bull Fight’. Our early adopters loved it. They saw Red Bull as the bully.
“The shift in direction happened too soon. There’s a critical moment in every brand’s growth curve when you move from early adopters, to early mass market, to mainstream or general mass market. The key is not to lose your early customers. They need to feel appreciated and heard. They’re big influencers, particularly if you haven’t reached general mass market level yet.
“We shifted focus and lost them. We had a sizeable stake in the local market — about 15% — but not enough to lose our early adopters. I didn’t agree with the direction we were taking, and wasn’t adding anything to the new vision. I sold my share to my partners and moved on.”
Altriche sold Ocean Basket before he was 30, and a few short years later had his biggest failure to date. By that time he was in his early 30s, he’d lost two brands he’d created, he’d had a failed restaurant and he’d sold the one business that was doing really well. Worse still, the R240 000 he’d made from Ocean Basket and invested with a broker became R80 000 overnight after the 9/11 attacks in the US. Panicking, Altriche pulled his money out.
But, entrepreneurs are resilient, particularly if they accept the powerful role failure plays in eventual success. Altriche took stock of where he was, and visualised what he wanted his life to look like.
“I wanted a break. Through the natural way I visualise things, I realised I wanted to go back to running a restaurant, earning a decent wage, and being in control of my own business.”
Altriche had identified Spur as the franchise he wanted to own. But joining one of the oldest franchises in South Africa was easier said than done. The franchisor was fiercely loyal to existing franchisees who got first dibs on any new locations or stores.
“First, I got a loan from FNB. Then I did my own negotiations with the landlord at Southgate and got a good installation deal. I tap danced to open that store. It took me 25 phone calls just to get a meeting with Spur. I cut my hair, donned a collared shirt, and got a testimonial from Fats. Before they would even consider my application, Spur asked all the franchisees in the area if they wanted Southgate? No one did.
“I wasn’t focused on ROI. I worked that business, growing it step by step. I paid off my loan and earned a decent salary. Today it’s a massive business and I still own it. One year later I opened a second Spur with a 50% partner. We opened in the Carlton Centre in December 2006. It was a big risk. No one knew what was going to happen in that area. We stuck it out and today it’s also a great business. Trust in Joburg’s CBD is growing. The equity partners that I’ve developed are gems.
“I’ve bought two more Spurs over the years. I sold one, and closed the other. We bought into the idea of the regeneration of town leading up to the World Cup. Maboneng and Braamfontein have been a success. Hillbrow hasn’t. The recession hit and everything ground to a halt. It’s now full of empty and highjacked buildings.”
By 2007 Altriche had regrouped and was ready for a new challenge. “Sushi bars were everywhere when I lived in California,” he says. “When I returned to South Africa in the early 90s our market wasn’t ready for them, but almost 20 years later I thought it was.”
Altriche let Spur know what he was doing, and the franchisor gave him its blessing. He opened a Yume in Clearwater Mall and Monte Casino before selling the brand.
He’d learnt another valuable lesson, this time not from a failure, but interestingly from the success of his brand. “I had a lot of fun with the branding and the overall look and feel of the Yume experience, but throughout building and launching the brand I realised I never, ever wanted to eat sushi again. I still don’t.”
The lesson? Don’t launch something if it’s not going to hold your own attention. “Through my own reaction to sushi I began to doubt how long the market for sushi bars would last. I didn’t think I could build it into a large, vibrant brand with stores across the country. It was too niche and trendy.”
But this was the seed for RocoMamas. What wouldn’t get old and tired quickly? What dining and food experience would hold South Africa’s attention, across demographics, standing the test of time? “While that idea was percolating, I was grappling with the fact that my two teenage daughters considered fast food normal. I hadn’t grow up with that. In the US you get some fast food that’s still made like it was made in the 50s. It’s real food.”
The idea for RocoMamas was taking shape, becoming more real day by day, as Altriche started visualising what this dining experience would be like
“Initially I was going more gourmet, but I’ve learnt to walk through my ideas; feel them out from every angle. I wanted to see how the concept should fit together and work. What is the full brand experience? What does it look, feel, smell and taste like?
“You need to be able to under-promise and over-deliver and so I asked myself what that looked like? I wanted the concept to be franchisable. Colour, branding and food — everything needed to be replicable, but still based on fresh cooking. That was important.”
By being completely obsessive, Altriche has achieved his goal. 90% of RocoMamas’ menu is freshly prepared and cooked. The only items each store needs to buy are frozen fries and baked rolls. “The meat we buy is fresh. We spent a lot of time getting that right. All of our meat is from the same butcher who is audited by Spur. He’s a passionate youngster, born and bred in butcheries. We march to the same beat.”
The idea behind the smashburger, which Altriche has trademarked in South Africa, also came from the US. “There was a burger place I loved. It was run by a husband and wife team, and he smashed the burgers. He used meatballs with no binding agents, and he’d place them on a hot skillet and smash them down. You lose no juices with that method. Everything squeezed out of the meatball is immediately sealed into the patty. The entire idea was based on memory and obsessively walking through the vision.”
A well-run business is much more complicated than the customer perceives. “That’s the point though,” says Altriche. “It should be simple for the consumer. There are so many parts to make this work seamlessly. We’re targeting a market that is generally loyal to the big brands. The right marketing gets them through the door, but the atmosphere keeps them here. We’ve created a comfortable environment for anyone, with delicious, fresh food that will always be a firm favourite. Burgers are sexy again, but they’ve always been a food that everyone loves.”
As with Yume, Altriche presented the idea to Spur, and they gave him their blessing. “I opened two stores, and my brother-in-law became my first franchisee, bringing us up to three. Then Pierre van Tonder, CEO of Spur Group, told me Spur wanted to be involved. I’d designed the concept with franchising in mind, and I’d already had a lot of franchisee enquiries, so the partnership was an obvious next step. I had created the branding, marketing and look and feel of the brand, but Spur has the franchising know-how. The Spur Group is a master of systems, processes and training manuals, and these are a vital cog in a franchise’s success. We have taken this brand to incredible heights.”
RocoMamas has become an overnight household name, but longevity is going to come through slow, careful, sustainable growth, which is exactly what Altriche is doing.
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.
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.
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.
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!
That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room
Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.
When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.
You likely think of Amazon.com, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.
Like that time back in 1995.
That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.
The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.
“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”
Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”
The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”
“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.
So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.
It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How Sureswipe Built Its Identity By Building A Strong Company Culture
Culture is unique to a business, it’s the reason why companies win or lose.
A company’s culture is its identity and personality. Since this is closely linked to its brand and how it wants to be viewed by its employees, customers, competitors and the outside world, culture is critical. The challenge is understanding that culture contains unwritten rules and that certain behaviours that align to the culture the company is nurturing should be valued and cherished more than others.
At Sureswipe, the core of our culture is that we value people and what they are capable of. We particularly value people who are engaged, get on with the job, take initiative, are happy to get stuck in beyond their formal job descriptions, and who sometimes have to suck up a bit of pain to get through a challenge.
We include culture in everything we do, so it’s a fundamental element in our recruitment process. In addition to a skills and experience interview, each candidate undergoes a culture fit in the form of a values interview. We look for top performers who echo our core values (collaboration, courage, taking initiative, fairness and personal responsibility) and have real conviction about making a difference in the lives of independent retailers. If we don’t believe a candidate will be a culture fit, we won’t hire them.
If we make a mistake in the recruitment process, we won’t retain culture killers, even if they are top performers. This is such a tough lesson to learn, but it liberates a company and often improves overall company performance.
Culture should be cultivated, constantly communicated and used when making decisions. At Sureswipe, we often talk about what it takes to win and have simplified winning into three key elements: A simple, yet inspirational vision; the right culture; and a clear and focused strategy. The first and third elements can be copied from organisation to organisation. Culture on the other hand is unique to every business and can be a great influencer in its success.
Catch phrases on the wall are not the definition of culture
A strong culture is purposeful and evolving. It’s what makes a company great, but also exposes its weakness. No company is perfect and it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad. Without it, we cannot ensure that we are protecting and building on the good and reducing or eradicating the bad.
Mistakes happen. That’s okay. But we are very purposeful about how mistakes are handled. Culturally we’re allergic to things being covered up or deflected and have had great learning moments as individuals and as an organisation when bad news travels fast. It’s liberating to ‘tell it like it is’ and almost always, with a few more minds on the problem at hand, things can be rectified with minimal impact.
Culture should be built on values that resonate with you and that you want to excel at. In our case, some are lived daily and others are aspirational in that we’re still striving for them. In each case we genuinely believe in them and encourage each other to keep living them. This increases the level of trust within the team, as there is consistency in how people are treated and how we get things done.
We are always inspired when, after sitting in our reception area, nine out of ten visitors will comment on the friendliness of staff. We hear their remarks about how friendly the Sureswipe team is or a potential candidate will talk about the high level of energy and positivity they experience throughout the interview process.
These are indicators that our culture is alive and well. It’s these components of our culture — friendliness, helpfulness and positivity — that cascade into how we do business and how we treat our customers and people in general. Being able to describe your culture and support it with real life examples is a great way to communicate and promote the type of behaviour that is important and recognised within the organisation.
Culture doesn’t just happen
We are fortunate that culture has always been important to us, even if it wasn’t clearly defined in our early days. As we grew it became important to be more purposeful in the evolution of our culture. About four years ago, the senior leadership team and nominated cultural or values icons were mandated to relook all things cultural.
A facilitator said to us, “You really love it when people take the initiative, and get very frustrated when they don’t.” That accurate insight became core to our values. We love to see people proactively solve problems, take responsibility for their own growth, initiate spontaneous events, change their tactics or implement new ideas. It energises us and aligns to the way we do business.
We celebrate growth and love to see our staff getting promoted due to their hard work and perseverance. We recently had one of our earliest technicians get promoted to the Regional Manager of Limpopo. It was one of the best moments of 2018.
Be purposeful with culture, describe it, communicate it and use it in all aspects of business. Culture should change. Don’t allow phrases like ‘this is not how we do things,’ or, ‘the culture here is changing,’ to stifle the growth and development of your culture. When done correctly change is a good thing. Culture is driven from the top but at the end of the day it’s a company-wide initiative. Design it together with team members from different parts of the organisation to get the most from it. And then make sure everyone lives and breathes it.
The best ROI is achieved when you stop wasting money.
Peter Drucker once said that businesses have two main functions — marketing and innovation — that produce results. “All the rest are costs.”
If you agree, that means that the average business has a lot of fat to trim. Obviously you can go overboard trying to cut costs too. My philosophy has been to look at some of the general areas where you can add some efficiency but not at the expense of impairing your most valuable resource — your focus.
The following cost-cutting measures will do that. Think of these as adding value to your company, whether it’s time, creativity or a closer connection to your consumers.
Uncover inefficiencies in your process
This is where I begin. In fact, it was analysing the inefficiencies of legal communication and knowledge sharing that led me to create Foxwordy, the digital collaboration platform for lawyers. I noticed that attorneys in our clients’ legal departments were drafting new documents from scratch when they could pool their knowledge and save time by using language that a trusted colleague had employed in a similar document. Business is all about process. When you create a new process, or enhance an existing process, you will drive cost efficiency.
Refine your process, then automate
If existing processes are lacking, it is time to create process. If you have processes, but they are not driving efficiency, it’s time to redefine your process. Either way, a key second step is refining processes that are needed in your business. Only then can you go to automation, since automating without a process will result in chaos — and won’t save time or money. Similarly, automating a poor process is not going to give you the cost-saving results you are looking for.
Thanks to the Cloud, there are very accessible means of automating manual processes. For instance, you can automate bookkeeping functions with FreshBooks and use chatbots to interface with clients — for very basic information. If you’re a retailer, a chatbot on your site can explain your return policy or address other frequently asked questions. Automating such processes allows you to spend more time focusing on clients and customers. Technology alone isn’t a panacea for all business functions, but if you find something you’re doing manually that can be automated, take a look and consider how much time and process definition automation would save you.
Rethink your outreach
Marketing and outreach are usually big and important challenges for an organisation. In my experience, there are two main components to successful marketing — knowing your customers and using the most effective media to spread your message. For the first part, I recommend polling. There are various online survey services that offer an instant read on what your customers are thinking. You may think business is humming along, but a survey could reveal that while consumers like your product, a few tweaks would make it even better.
For the second part — marketing messaging — once you have a firm idea of your marketing messaging, Facebook is a great vehicle for outreach. The ability to granularly target customers and create Lookalike audiences (from around 1 000 consumers) can help grow your business.
Scrutinise your spend history
There are tools that can help you assess spend history and find cost-cutting opportunities. For example, you might be able to take advantage of rewards or loyalty programmes to reduce common business expenses, like travel, or consolidate vendors for a similar function. If you have a long-standing relationship with a vendor, negotiate better pricing.
The most important elements to keep in mind are resources that make your company special. Your company may be built on one person’s reputation and expertise. Guard against tarnishing that reputation with inappropriate messaging in advertising or social media. If your company’s special sauce is intellectual property, protect that too. But everything else — ranging from physical property to salary and benefits — are costs and should be considered negotiable. — Monica Zent