The first rule of scaling your business, idea or concept is to do things that don’t scale. Matt Brown, founder of Matt Brown Media and host of The Matt Brown Show, a local podcast focused on bringing great ideas and entrepreneurs together to drive personal and business growth, intuitively built his business on this very principle.
“I should have given up after two weeks,” says Matt. “My downloads were almost non-existent. But it wasn’t about the downloads. If I could give just one person the information they needed to push through and not give up on their business journey, I was achieving my why.”
Although at the time podcasting was a relatively new medium, Matt understood their ability to generate huge amounts of trust and attention in a very short space of time. Podcasts sit comfortably at the nexus of authenticity, storytelling and conversation. Two years later and Matt consistently receives feedback telling him how much his show has impacted entrepreneurs and their ability to see through their challenges and hold onto their dreams.
“It’s incredibly motivating to know you’re creating something of real value and that you’re making a difference,” he says. “It’s what’s kept me going when things have gotten tough as well.”
Over and above the motivational factor, there’s a solid business case for creating loyal fans as well.
Kevin Hale, a partner at Y Combinator, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful incubators, has a simple philosophy: The best way to get to $1 billion is to focus on the values that help you get your first dollar to acquire your first user. He believes that if you get that right, everything else will take care of itself.
Entrepreneur and lead developer of Gmail, Paul Buchheit, agrees. According to the advice he most often shares with start-ups, it’s always better to seek deep appeal and to create something that a few people love, even if most people don’t get it right away.
The lesson is simple: Large-scale, long-term success depends on creating a product or service that truly surprises and delights your customers. But you can’t achieve that if you’re too focused on the big picture. If you’re too worried about building a R1 billion business, you’re not taking the time and effort to think about the individual customer experience.
It’s all about the why
“It’s funny, but failing in six different businesses actually taught me this lesson,” says Matt. “Success often comes after the lessons that failure brings.”
So how do you find your big idea? According to Matt, you fail — a lot. “If you don’t know what you really want to do, it’s either because you haven’t had real success — and realised you’re still unfulfilled — or you haven’t failed. Without failure, there are no lessons to push you forward.”
The problem is that you can’t fail if you don’t take risks. You need to start. And then figure out what’s working and what’s not working. “Are you in love with the vision? Are you making money? If you have a vision it’s about making it work, and where there’s passion, there’s a will and a way. There will always be people wanting to buy innovative products or prepared to change for the right reasons — you just need to offer them the right solution.”
If there’s one thing Matt has learnt along a journey spanning one hundred episodes with some of South Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs, it’s the value of passion and hunger.
“It’s what you do every day in the trenches that culminates in something of value. You need to be hungry for experiences and lessons and what you can take from them,” he says. “I’ve asked over 9 000 questions over the past two years, and this is the only consistent question I ask: Why do you do what you do? What’s in it for you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
“Even though I’ve spoken to so many individuals with different stories, experiences and backgrounds, their answer is consistent, and it’s the golden thread that binds them together. They always speak about contribution. Not about the money, but the contribution they’re making to the human race or beyond themselves.”
In other words, they have a ‘why’ that they pursue relentlessly.
“Unlike in my other businesses, what I was trying to do with the podcasts was very clear and simple to me: I wanted to work towards something that can make a difference to one person, and start there. That’s the purpose of life; to make a difference to humanity. When you look back and you ask who you became, will you be happy with the answer? Will you know you followed your purpose, or even had one?
“You need to have an idea of who you want to be, and then paint a vision around what that looks like. Start with the vision, and then enjoy the beauty of becoming, because that’s what life’s about — failing, learning, succeeding and growing as a person — and in the process of doing that, contributing to someone else as well.”
Pivoting the big idea
Matt Brown Media launched as Digital Kungfu in 2016. It was Matt’s ninth foray into the entrepreneurial space. Six businesses had failed, and two he had built and sold. He was heading up innovation at a major advertising agency, driving the digital products division of the group and thinking about what his next entrepreneurial play would look like, when he started realising how completely out of reach everything he did was for SMEs.
“I started thinking, what if we gave big agency thinking to SMEs? They can’t afford big agency fees, but if they had access to the knowledge, it could really drive SME growth.”
Envisioned as a digital media agency for SMEs, the podcast was a way for Matt to create content that would support the launch of the business. “I wanted a way to distribute my ideas, give SMEs access to experts and build the brand through a medium that was largely untouched in South Africa, which is why I chose podcasting. It’s on-demand content that really suits busy entrepreneurial lifestyles, and it was still a blue ocean, with very few players cluttering the market.”
There were a few things Matt hadn’t thought through. For one, he’s an introvert, and although he liked the medium and wanted to create content with industry experts, he didn’t want to conduct face to face interviews.
“My first interview was with Arthur Goldstuck on tech trends. It was a skype interview, and he was typing messages to other people while we chatted. It was full of errors. I sent him the questions ahead of time, and without face-to-face rapport it was hard to take me seriously.”
In fact, Matt had already interviewed the likes of Vinny Lingham, Allon Raiz and Rich Mulholland before he even used a mic. But, practice makes perfect — as an interviewer, in the way he shapes narratives, and most importantly he began to enjoy the process of face-to-face interviews. If you put in the time and effort, you will increase your skills and comfort levels, you just need to stay the course.
That focus has been a huge influencing factor on the growth of the now rebranded Matt Brown Show. “The people I interviewed enjoyed the concept. My interview style is really different, and we often have a lot of fun. They recommended me to other people, and slowly my brand started growing, in terms of listenership, my local profile and the calibre of people I’ve had on the show.”
Slowly and organically, Digital Kungfu pivoted into Matt Brown Media. The podcast became the product, and seeded the way for a media company, which is what the business has grown into, hosting blockchain/crytpo events that are streamed live and then syndicated on podcast networks around the world. This formula is clearly working with one of Matt’s events trending in the number one hashtag position on Twitter — the first podcast to achieve this feat in the history of South African media.
“If I hadn’t started something I believed in and really enjoyed, it wouldn’t have grown into what it is today. If your foundation is right, it will grow into something that other people care about and want to support.”
The Matt Brown Show
Matt thought he was building a digital consultancy. What he was really building was a media company, and almost two years into his journey, he realised he needed to rebrand the business and the show to reflect that.
“The vortex of what I was doing was entrepreneurship; digital was an enabler but not the core. I’m building a brand that gives you information that you need at the right time. How I do that might change. It started out as podcasts, and this remains a viable medium. According to research undertaken by Matt Brown Media, the addressable market for podcasting alone is 16 million people. When I do a keynote address and ask how many people listen to podcasts, 80% of the room put up their hands. We know that 50% of all growth in podcasting happened in the last 12 months. There’s a huge competitive advantage to being a first mover in this space. But it’s also not where the money is right now.
“For over a year people were asking me why we didn’t do video. I answered ‘why play in such a competitive space when I’m in such an untapped space?’, but the truth was that I wasn’t ready. I recently hosted the biggest live event on blockchain in the country — 600 people in a room, and we released the live video and podcast post the event. I’ve learnt that in order to create a sizeable impact, entrepreneurs need to behave like a media company and tap into as many channels as possible.”
The decision to rebrand the show with his own name was also deeply personal for Matt. “This was a big risk for me. Now whatever happens, good or bad, my name is linked to it. There’s no escaping your own name, but it also adds personality and authenticity to the brand and the media we create, which is important. Ultimately, we want to give our users a narrative that supports their business and personal development. Narratives are personal by nature, and so the brand needs to be personal too. If you want to make something truly immortal, it must be based on your name, and you need to make your name worth something.”
Business is about personal growth
I often ask this question: Would you agree with the statement that your only barrier to achieving what you want is your own limitations? The answer is always yes.
Learn to shift your perspectives
I spent a lot of time saying ‘I don’t play there’ because I wasn’t ready to go into video. Instead, I needed to ask ‘what would it look like if I did play in this space? That’s how you evolve and grow.
Change your story and change your life
If you tell yourself something isn’t working, that’s the story that becomes fact. You need some sense, and to pivot if necessary, but don’t give up.
Use triangulation to find your truth
I call three people and ask them what they think about an idea. It allows you to pull yourself out of your own head, and evaluate different perspectives. It’s also a good way to stop obsessing over negatives. When a service provider let me down at a big event, it was all I could focus on. Triangulation gave me a different perspective, particularly when someone I respect told me that the people in his circles — his peers — really believe in what I’m doing.
Tell a story, and people will listen and learn
It doesn’t matter what information you’re sharing, people respond to narratives. If you’re able to craft a message that people understand and care about, you will tap into a loyal fanbase, and really help your customers at the same time.
Find your competitive advantage
If you outwork everyone around you, and really care about what you’re doing and what your customers need, you will achieve success.
Podcasting is seriously hard work
It’s easy to produce content, it’s hard to create really great content. If you’re willing to put in the work, this will always give you a serious competitive advantage. In addition, if you care more about your relationships than your competitors, you will win.
Access to market is everything
In media, this means you need the right distribution channels — it doesn’t matter what you’re doing if no-one knows about you — but it’s true of any business. How are you accessing your market? If you can’t answer this question, you don’t have a business.
Ask for help
Not asking for help is the number one sin that so many entrepreneurs make. You aren’t invincible. If the market isn’t ready for you, or you need to pivot to solve a problem, you get through it by asking for help and advice. We all need support systems. I’m lucky — I have 99 people whom I’ve interviewed to reach out to, but we all need a network, and we all need to pick up the phone — and then pay it forward; help someone else in return. I’ve learnt entrepreneurs — even in competing industries and companies — will bend over backwards for each other. You just need to ask.
Listen to the podcast
For his 100th episode, Matt Brown is in the hot seat. Entrepreneur editor Nadine Todd interviews Matt about starting the Matt Brown Show, the many lessons he’s learnt and mistakes he’s made, and unpacks why this is just the beginning of the journey.
To listen to the podcast, go to www.mattbrownmedia.co.za or find the Matt Brown Show on iTunes or Stitcher.
Taking It To The Malaysian Market – Karl van Zyl Of Antipodean Café
Karl van Zyl approach has always been logical and simplified and he highlights three principles that he believes to be critical in the food and beverage industry.
Karl van Zyl has a 17 year history in the food and beverage industry in South-Africa and now applies his skills and knowledge in the extremely vibrant and competitive Malaysian market. I had a very interesting conversation with him to explore both similarities and differences of both markets and to share his accumulative learning of this industry to those entrepreneurs considering to open a restaurant or café.
He has a history working for the Mikes’ kitchen and Fishmonger groups in South-Africa fulfilling a range of roles from being a General Manager to Operational Manager. Currently he both manages an well-known Café called Antipodean and facilitates the opening of new cafes’ in Klang Valley, Malaysia.
Karl shared that his approach has always been logical and that applying sound basics has always served him well. Would you eat the food served at your restaurant and really enjoy it? Posing questions such as the aforementioned to yourself as a restaurant owner or manager helps you to be aware of the quality of your operation and to always keep the customer in mind when making decisions.
One of the key learnings that he shared was to get a very good and experienced team of waiters together that has previous restaurant or hospitality industry experience. He strongly advises quality over quantity when it comes to waiters and fondly remembers one of the waiters that he managed whom could take orders from a group of twenty people and remember each order from the top of his head.
It is not only about quality of service to the customer but also when there is a small but quality team of waiters operating then their earnings are much higher and they will feel valued and happy as opposed to a large group of waiters competing for relatively small rewards.
Karls’ approach has always been logical and simplified and he highlights three principles that he believes to be critical in the food and beverage industry:
- Quality of food
- Quality of service
He adds that in addition to the above principles your location should of course be in area with very good ‘foot traffic’.
When the entrepreneur venturing into the food and beverage market considers the right suppliers it is a critical factor to go and visit their facilities, thoroughly check their quality and enquire which other quality brands they are supplying in addition to buying at good prices.
In his view comparing the Malaysian food and beverage market to the South African market there are a lot more Malaysians eating at restaurants than in South Africa. One of the reasons for this is that there are a lot of ‘street café/restaurant’ options with quality food at a very low price due to the restaurant not being air-conditioned and making use of for example plastic chairs and tables.
Personally the author has found much more twenty four hour food options and countless varieties of food compared to the South African market. If you are awake and hungry at 3 am in the morning in Kuala Lumpur, no problem! You also will not be limited to only 24 hour fast food options, almost any type of food that you desire will be available that is if you know where to go off-course.
As a matter of interest Karl regards the prices of restaurants in general in Kuala Lumpur to be better than in South Africa and holds the service levels in KL in higher esteem due to it being more ‘personal’ and customer orientated. He believes that South African food matches the quality of Malaysian food but that there is however much more variety of food available in Malaysia.
Karl pointed out that it is possible to have people from all five continents represented in one night at a restaurant as the food culture in Malaysia is very diverse and so is the cultural phenomenon in general in Kuala Lumpur.
What Comfort Zones? Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable Says Co-Founder Of Curlec: Zac Liew
Zac Liew was offered to be CEO and Co-founder of Curlec at the age of twenty six and took up the offer knowing that he would be engaged in a steep learning curve. Curlec is a FinTech company that is redefining the customer experience for Direct Debit.
Botanica Deli, Bangsar South, Malaysia a vibrant environment where a number of entrepreneurs and office workers go to meet and have great food and coffee. I walked into the Deli to meet a man that might just possess the ‘entrepreneurial gene’ if indeed that gene exists.
Zac Liew always wanted to venture onto the exciting yet challenging playing field of entrepreneurial ventures having his dad and mother as examples. His father a lawyer, whom ventured into property development and his mother whom started the first chain of liquor stores in Malaysia.
His parents’ ventures interested him from a very young age and helped to ignite the entrepreneurial fire in this very young CEO and co-founder of Curlec. Zac is a qualified lawyer whom also did a stint in the banking industry but at all times he had a burning desire to do something entrepreneurial and always had an interest in tech.
To him tech was always logical and simply made sense within this ever changing business environment within which we as entrepreneurs launch our start-up ventures. He also enjoys the challenging demands that the tech environment places upon his problem solving skills.
The Creation of Curlec
Zac Liew was offered to be CEO and Co-founder of Curlec at the age of twenty six and took up the offer knowing that he would be engaged in a steep learning curve. Curlec is a FinTech company that is redefining the customer experience for Direct Debit. They are the first Malaysian software company to enable online Direct Debit payments in Malaysia. One of the core principles that Curlec was founded upon is to Build great tech that solves a basic need.
Zac together with his co-founders Steve Kucia and Raj Lorenz found a simplified and effective solution to collecting money on a recurring basis. Normally recurring billing and collections is a big issue for SMEs’ and other options were exceptionally costly and timeous.
Zac pointed out that the size of the issue of recurring collections exceeded all expectations and that is one of the reasons that their start-up phase has been successful and gained very good traction in the market.
Curlec has a razor sharp focus on only two products which enables them to focus on giving a great service and customer experience. Curlec cuts through the normal levels of bureaucracy of big companies and has a laser focus on their customers.
How does this apply to start-up entrepreneurs?
Create a product or a system that is simplified, very user friendly, cost and time effective, and more importantly that solves a very challenging issue within the market place that adds great value to customers. Underpin this by being customer centric.
I asked Zac to enlighten me on the key learnings of his journey thus far and also share success principles that has served him well in business and in his life in general. He pointed out that he believes that every entrepreneur should get comfortable with being uncomfortable and venture outside the boundaries of their own comfort zones.
‘Be comfortable with making mistakes’ he says. Get feedback learn from it and integrate the useful feedback in your thinking and in practically applying solutions.’
As business and life has a natural and general ebb and flow to it persistence is a key factor to your success. Accept challenges as they occur and realise that the mind of the entrepreneur should always have a problem solving focus. As a fan of combat sports, Zac shared the following quotes that resonates with him:
“The more you seek the uncomfortable the more you will become comfortable” – Conor McGregor
“I have been training under the dark lights so that I can shine in the bright lights’ – Anthony Joshua
As a writer I have always been fascinated by the wisdom imparted by philosophers and masters of their respective fields. I am even more excited and hopeful for our future when I hear wisdom ‘rolling of the tongue’ of a twenty six year old entrepreneur:
‘Be idealistic in your ideas but be pragmatic in actualising them. If things are not working out do not be stuck in that. Take what you can learn from your experiences and move on.’
Tech has the inherent power to reach the far ends of the world seamlessly and when we have more and more tech entrepreneurs solving big consumer issues and thereby making this world a better place we can be more and more hopeful of a better future.
Don’t Be ‘Outside Standing’ On Your Own Exponential Growth Says Serial Investor, Jimmy Phoon
Serial investor Jimmy Phoon is proud of his and his team at Alps Global holdings in achieving a $300 million valuation.
It was a usually warm and humid afternoon in Malaysia as I walked into the foodbar at Fashion library in Kota Damansara, to meet a man who has a deep understanding of leveraging capital mechanisms in order to achieve exponential business growth.
Serial investor Jimmy Phoon is proud of his and his team at Alps Global holdings in achieving a $300 million valuation. He doesn’t speak to the ‘wrongs and rights’ of investments as he believes there are many ways in approaching an investment opportunity. He does however, firmly believe in the MOC (Miracles of Capital) organisations’ (of which he is a senior alumni member) approach to exponentially grow a company and having a clear exit strategy such as selling at a desired price or publically listing the company.
Jimmy enthusiastically highlighted the difference between them, as he names it a ‘feasible’ and a ‘bankable’ business investment. In offering a simple differentiation between the two terms he explained that ‘feasibility’ simply means that the business is making money, whilst ‘bankable’ means that the business is not only making money but that there is a clear succession plan and exit strategy in place.
As an experienced international entrepreneur and investor he recognises that a vast number of entrepreneurs are very well versed in the market mechanisms of their respective industries yet not equally adept at the capital mechanisms that underpins the exponential growth of companies. He points out that when a company has very good management in place, has a clear and attractive dividend policy to its shareholders, and in addition a well-defined and practical exit strategy it will increase the appetite of investors in general.
He describes the MOC to be an international platform to teach the mechanisms of Capital to entrepreneurs and investors. The MOC is the trifecta of business incubation, acceleration, and investment. One of the core principles of business investment that the MOC teaches and which Jimmy firmly believes in is collaboration between companies and entrepreneurs.
This means the willingness and openness to merge your unique skills as an entrepreneur, the unique offering of your company, profit and loss, with the skills, products and offerings of other companies with the end goal of exponential growth of a newly formed company. This approach can create a big win for all involved.
But what is ‘Outside Standing’?
The aforementioned discussion led to Jimmy sharing one of his favourite sayings:
“Be outstanding or outside standing” – a tongue in the cheek way of saying that by truly understanding and applying both the mechanisms of the market and capital you can experience the exponential growth of your company or alternatively by not fully applying both mechanisms it is then highly likely that you will be a witness from the ‘outside’ to the exponential growth of other companies and unfortunately not your own.
Jimmy’s’ accumulated learnings allows him to assist his team in building an ‘IPO’ compliant company that is formed with a collaborative approach towards a planned and well executed exit. That is part of his mind-set which is to do ‘big things’ and keep a distance from ‘small things’ for as an investor this man is always after exponential growth. He fosters a creation mind-set which is to create a bigger picture through leveraging and combining market and capital mechanisms.
One of the key ‘take always’ for me as an entrepreneur is to be much more open to collaboration in order to add value to others and in turn receive value such as exponential growth. Understanding the market mechanisms within your industry is not enough to multiply business performance, taking a keen interest in the capital mechanisms at play will take major strides towards actualising your bigger picture.
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