Connect with us

Lessons Learnt

The Popimedia (Mega) Success Story

The three founders of Popimedia started a Facebook marketing company before most ad agencies even knew (or cared) what Facebook was. Today it is a social media trendsetter, and has just been sold to the Publicis ad network for more than R350 million.

GG van Rooyen

Published

on

Popimedia-south-africa

Vital Stats

“’What is Facebook?’ This was a question that often came up during the early days of Popimedia. Ad agencies didn’t know anything about it,” says company CEO Daniel Levy. “We even started putting a slide into our presentations just to give people a basic understanding of what Facebook was.”

Eight or nine years ago — a veritable eternity in technological terms – the whole ‘Facebook thing’ hadn’t quite caught on yet. Sure, people had created profiles on the platform — they were sharing pictures, stalking exes and sending each other Facebook Gifts (remember those?), but the site hadn’t become the digital leviathan it is today.

Today, Facebook is deeply embedded into our global culture, with more than a billion people using the site every day. Back then, though, things were very different.

Related: David Perel Of Obox On Chasing Multiple Dream

Early Adopters

Interestingly, South Africans were eager adopters of the platform, with the country quickly showing a very high number of users relative to its size. But what you couldn’t find on Facebook, were brands.

This wasn’t a purely South African phenomenon. For a long time, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was very reticent about allowing brands onto the platform. This would obviously change, but change would be slow.

Yet, even before Facebook had decided to take the plunge, Popimedia had found a way to post interaction with a brand in a Facebook news feed. The hacker amongst the trio of founders, Gil Sperling, had found a way during the Dark Ages of 2007 to cobble a few lines of code together that would allow this.

Fast-forward to 2016, and Popimedia boasts a cutting-edge ad-tech platform and a long list of blue-chip clients. Moreover, the company has recently been acquired by advertising juggernaut Publicis — making it the first ad-tech company to ever be purchased by a traditional ad network.

How did the founders of Popimedia accomplish this? And what lessons did they learn along the way?

Find your niche

“We had some great early successes,” says company COO Ryan Silberman. “So, we were pretty impressed with ourselves. However, when we went looking for funding, everyone turned us down. No one wanted to invest.”

Why didn’t VCs want to invest, despite the fact that the Popimedia team had clearly struck upon a very promising concept?

“Someone who we approached for funding eventually levelled with us and explained that we were too scattered. At that time, we hadn’t really defined who we were and what we did. We had all sorts of interests — from magazine distribution to vehicle wrapping,” says Levy. “We were hedging our bets, not truly committing to anything.”

The Popimedia team realised that they needed to find focus. They were throwing the net wide. Instead, they needed to focus and refine their business model. Growth would lie not in expanding their interests, but instead by focusing on what they did best.

Related: How AutoTrader Anticipated Change

Bootstrap your way to success

Popimedia-marketing

Popimedia is a tech company that created a great piece of software, grew quickly, and was then sold to a large company. So, at first glance, it seems like a perfect local example of the sort of Silicon Valley start-up that’s often lauded by the likes of Y Combinator and TechCrunch.

But the founders of Popimedia warn against buying into fables of angel investors, gargantuan valuations and bullish venture capitalists.

“I often go to California on business, and I’m always amazed by the start-up culture there,” says Sperling. “The focus is purely on software and coding, not on running a viable business. The aim is to build something quickly that can be sold at a huge profit.”

According to the Popimedia founders, this isn’t a model that can easily be transplanted to South Africa.

“We don’t have the culture of VCs and angel investors and huge valuations that you see in Silicon Valley. Building a company with the sole aim of selling it as quickly as you can doesn’t work as easily here. You need to find a viable business model and usually bootstrap quite a lot,” says Levy.

Popimedia’s meedee8 — a social platform for agencies and brands — is the engine that has driven a lot of the company’s success. In the early days, it was very simple, but today it is a powerful tool that allows clients to manage social media campaigns easily and track results reliably.

“When I conceived of the new and improved platform, I initially thought it would cost loads of money to develop. By working hard, however, I realised we could develop it with the limited resources that we had. I worked with our developers, juggling projects and freeing up time that could be used to work on the project. It wasn’t easy, but we managed to create the platform with the relatively small team that we had. It showed us what you can do when you don’t just throw money at a problem,” says Sperling.

Related: Quick Shift Deva Kate Emmerson On Crowdfunding

What has made the platform so successful?

“When it came to ad tech, a lot of our competitors were charging a massive fee for their services, meaning that clients received very little for their money,” says Silberman. “A lot of agencies and brands didn’t really understand the technology, which made it easy to take advantage of them. Our platform provided value. Clients were suddenly getting a lot more for a R100 000 spend, which meant that the platform was very enticing.”

But it wasn’t just the value on offer that made meedee8 so attractive. Right from the start, Popimedia knew how to demonstrate that value in terms that would impress clients.

“We realised that clients love graphs and shiny dashboards. Right from the start, we created an interface that would excite clients. A cleverly-designed dashboard allows a client to get a real understanding of the impact a campaign is having,” says Sperling. “Offering real value is obviously important, but it is equally important to demonstrate that value in terms that are easily understood.”

Hire slow, fire fast

With success came growth, and before long, Popimedia needed to start hiring more staff. As three founders who had spent most of their time developing a platform and bootstrapping a business, functioning as managers was new to them. Hiring competent staff turned out to be particularly tricky, with many of their hires ending in disaster.

“We grew too quickly and hired the wrong people,” says Levy. “We hired young people who had no experience and couldn’t be relied upon. We suddenly had a team of 40, but they weren’t being terribly productive.”

Learning from their mistakes, the founders started being more selective in who they hired.

“We took more time when interviewing and hiring someone, and started focusing on people who had good track records at reputable institutions,” says Silberman. “We became very selective in who we would allow into the company.”

They also started thinning the herd. “Today, we have a team of 35, yet our turnover has grown 10-fold,” says Levy. “The difference is, everyone who’s working here now is making a real impact — everyone is adding real value.”

An added benefit of being highly selective during the hiring process is that it has created a self-policing system. “Our staff is very protective of the culture that’s been created here, which means that they are quick to weed out the people who don’t fit in. We rarely need to fire anyone these days.”

Empower staff

Hiring the right staff has been one part of the battle, empowering them to do their best has been the other. Like many founders, the owners of Popimedia were reluctant to let go of the reins and adopt a more hands-off approach.

“Staff can’t be truly productive and add real value if you don’t empower them to do so. At some stage, you need to stop trying to do everything yourself and allow your staff to take over,” says Silberman.

“Even if someone can’t do something precisely as well as you can, you need to let go,” adds Sperling. “If they can do it 80% as well as you can, that’s good enough.”

“Your staff will surprise you,” says Levy. “If you place your trust in them, they will rise to the challenge.”

Lessons Learnt

3 Lessons I’ve Learned In Krav Maga That Have Changed My Approach To Business

This fighting style packs a big punch on and off the mat.

Kristina Libby

Published

on

krav-maga-tactics

I started taking Krav Maga lessons this year at the recommendation of both my personal trainer and my therapist. I was physically assaulted years before in a nice neighbourhood in Washington, D.C. at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday.

Not a time or place one would expect to be attacked, and it has had long-lasting impacts on my mental and physical health. My trainer and my therapist, for different reasons, thought that learning a fighting skill would help me address the assault and move forward. It turned out to do much more than that.

Krav Maga is a military fighting system developed for the Israel Defense Forces. It is derived from a number of other fighting systems like boxing, wrestling, judo, etc. Those fighting forms were combined together to create a system for effective self-defense that is not based on bulk, height or gender. It is based on winning.

My first day at Krav Maga was scary. I did not feel like I was winning. I pushed back tears as my instructor Mike took me through different fighting stances and beginner moves. As I was learning to balance on my feet, he looked over at me. I was scared.

The terror and fear of the attack I had experienced years ago came flooding back. I kept flinching away and cowering as he came closer toward me. He looked me in the face and very slowly spoke to me: “The moment you get attacked, you are not the victim. You become the attacker.”

The moment you get attacked, you are not the victim. You become the attacker

This is a fundamental phrase in Krav Maga. It’s the idea that you don’t allow yourself to become the victim. If you are attacked, you attack back – stronger and more aggressively – because your job is to protect yourself.

In business, you are always at some point or another going to be the victim of an attack. This could be small, such as someone who leaves a negative product review, or big, such as a company slandering you or trying to take over your accounts.

The question is: How do you respond? Prior to Krav Maga, I would have been a little bit more “nice.” I would have shrugged my shoulders, known I would rebound in the end, or receded into a position of victimhood.

Not anymore.

My job is to protect myself and my company. It’s to protect my employees and my customers. And, Krav Maga has taught me to do that not from a position of victimhood but from a position of preparation. The only way to ensure you can attack an attacker is to have the skills to fight. In business this means:

  • Aligning your A-team: Ensuring you have a lawyer, an accountant and a good PR firm at the ready.
  • Preparing yourself: Ensuring you understand where threats can arise, what those threats may be and developing a plan to respond to them.
  • Preparing your team: Ensuring your team knows that you don’t play the role of the victim and that when attacked you address the situation head-on from a position of educated authority. This is about mindset for both leaders and employees.

Related: The 5-Hour Rule Used By Bill Gates, Jack Ma And Elon Musk

You will get punched in the face. Understand what that feels like

krav-maga-fighting

In my Krav Maga training, Mike will punch me in the stomach for a few minutes at varying levels of force. The intent is that I will get used to getting punched in the stomach.

He has me stand with my arms to my side, stomach muscles tightened and solar plexus alert. I can’t punch back. I can only wait and anticipate the blows, tighten my muscles and understand that practice punches in the stomach are the only way to prepare me for punches to my stomach (or anywhere) in a fight.

The first time he did this, I was terrified.

Now, I understand that the momentary pain makes me stronger, less afraid of the intentional punch or kick someone years down the road might throw at me. In business, this lesson is incredibly useful and has changed the way I think about planning and development.

Sometimes you need someone to punch you in the stomach.

The role of an advisor or a consultant for your business is the same role as Mike is playing when he punches me in the stomach. He knows what it’s like to get hit and he wants to ensure that if I do get hit, the shock of being hit won’t be debilitating.

Hopefully, those advising you are also seeing the future ways your business can get punched in the stomach. Their role is to help you avoid those punches by preparing you for the little bumps and bruises you’ll see along the way.

As a business owner, then, it is your role to:

  • Find advisors who have been punched in the stomach (metaphorically) and allow them to watch you along the way. They will know when you are careening too far in the direction of something dangerous and hopefully prepare you for the inevitable danger.
  • Allow the little punches to your stomach to be seen as training bumps. These small upsets should be dealt with as upsets, not massive failures. They are preparing you for bigger and more aggressive assaults down the road.

Related: Here’s What Jeff Bezos Prefers To Work-Life Balance And Why You Should Live By It

Even blindfolded, we can win

There is an exercise that Mike has me do, where I close my eyes and he attacks me. The intent is that I use the skills we have learned to ward off the attack. When I was attacked years ago, it was nighttime, and the attacker snuck up and surprised me. As such, Mike’s simulation is the hardest emotional thing I have to do all week. That is, until I actually do it.

Normally, I don’t do the counterattack move perfectly. I use an open-palm heel strike instead of a punch. Or, I use a knee rather than a kick because I know my knees to the groin are stronger. It doesn’t matter. I’m still able to disarm him (when he uses a knife), knock him away and clear enough space to get away. I still win.

I win not because I have perfect form, or a super-human strength but because I don’t give up. I don’t stop fighting until I win because I don’t have the luxury of losing. Losing means victimisation. I don’t want to be the victim.

When I was assaulted years ago, I didn’t give up either. I fought on the ground and then standing until the assailant ran away. I screamed and kicked and refused to let him win. I didn’t have any training then; I won only because I had grit and a desire to live through the attack.

Now, I have more training but at the end of the day, I won’t be an expert. Few of us ever will be. The thing that all of us can do though is refuse to give up. We can refuse to let the attack keep us down. We can refuse to let the attacker win.

This is the Krav Maga lesson that I think is the most impactful for women business leaders. We are going to get attacked – every day. Often, we will not see the attack coming. We will be blindfolded in some way by lack of time, lack of awareness or lack of funding, and the attack will come.

The only thing we can do, the thing we must do, is know that even blindfolded we can continue to fight. We can refuse to be the victim. We can continue to raise and punch back. Because if there is something I know about female entrepreneurs, is that we all have a lot of grit and a lot of heart.

In the end of the day, heart and grit win fights.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Continue Reading

Lessons Learnt

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.

Dirk Coetsee

Published

on

karl-van-zyl-interview

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.

Related: What Comfort Zones? Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable Says Co-Founder Of Curlec: Zac Liew

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:

  1. Quality of food
  2. Quality of service
  3. Pricing.

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.

Related: Don’t Be ‘Outside Standing’ On Your Own Exponential Growth Says Serial Investor, Jimmy Phoon

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.

Continue Reading

Lessons Learnt

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.

Dirk Coetsee

Published

on

zac-liew

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.

Related: Brian Tan Of FutureLab.my – Bridging The Knowledge Gap Through Social Learning

The Creation of Curlec

curlec-malaysia-mobile-appZac 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

And

“I have been training under the dark lights so that I can shine in the bright lights’ – Anthony Joshua

Related:  Zac Liew Channeling The Fire Of Authenticity: Asia’s’ Top ‘YouTuber’, Joanna Soh

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

SPOTLIGHT

Advertisement

Recent Posts

Follow Us

Entrepreneur-Newsletters
*
We respect your privacy. 
* indicates required.
Advertisement

Trending