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The Rise And Rise Of Skinny Sbu Socks

Sibusiso ‘Skinny Sbu’ Ngwenya took a rather esoteric hobby of sock collecting and turned it into a viable and exciting business opportunity.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital stats

  • Player: Sibusiso ‘Skinny Sbu’ Ngwenya
  • Company: Skinny Sbu Socks
  • Established: 2013
  • Contact: skinnysbu.co.za

You know what’s cool and fun? Not socks, that’s what. Socks are boring and dull – unless you’re a marathon runner searching for the perfect non-chafing sock, it’s a grudge purchase at best. There is no way to take an item like a sock and make it ‘cool’.

Well, as it turns out, this isn’t true at all. Socks are cool — more particularly, socks that are colourful, distinctive and bold are cool. As a clothing item, the sock is experiencing something of a renaissance. Although distinctive socks were popular in the European courts of the 16th and 17th centuries, they were relegated for many, many years to the underclass of the undergarment.

No longer. The sock is back. And one of its biggest enthusiasts is Sibusiso ‘Skinny Sbu’ Ngwenya. Moreover, Ngwenya is no late-comer to the sock revolution. Even as a child, he enjoyed collecting socks.

Related: How Merchant Capital And Retroviral Were Built To Sell

Start small

When his collection had reached epic proportions, Ngwenya’s mom asked him why he didn’t start selling socks on the side. Was there a market for it? As it turned out, there was. He started out simply – buying socks that were on sale at large retailers and reselling them to friends and acquaintances. He had a good eye for style, and people were keen to buy what he was selling.

Lesson: Ngwenya didn’t start by investing loads in his sock business. His mass-produced socks were acting as minimum viable products (MVPs). He wasn’t going to make a lot of money from them, but he now had an elegantly-stockinged foot in the door. Ngwenya had evidence that he had discovered a viable business opportunity.

Build a brand

Even at the start, Ngwenya realised the importance of creating a brand, especially in the fickle and image-conscious world of fashion.

“I looked at all the big fashion houses and realised that a lot of them were named after the people who had founded them, so I decided to call my brand Skinny Sbu Socks,” says Ngwenya.

As the company has grown and it has started to create its own high-quality products, Ngwenya has positioned the brand at the premium end of the spectrum.

“Don’t be apologetic about your pricing. If people believe there is value, they will pay the price. We want to attract people who don’t mind paying R200 for a pair of socks.”

Lesson: Be sensitive to perceived value. Why are Apple products so expensive? Sure, they’re expensive to produce, but people are also willing to pay a lot for them. Thanks to the great user-experience and elegant design, Apple products have a very high perceived value.

Perception is reality

Before Ngwenya had even properly started producing his own sock creations, he was thinking about his brand image. He bought socks from Mr Price, repackaged them, and gave them away to celebrities at the South African Fashion Week. Suddenly, celebrities were posting images of ‘his’ socks on Instagram.

Lesson: Thanks to social media, there are more marketing opportunities for small businesses than ever. However, there is a lot of noise out there, so you need to find a way to stand out. Giving something away for free is always a good way to get people to ‘endorse’ it.

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Stick to what you know

Even though Skinny Sbu socks are now unique creations, they still aren’t produced in-house. “We focus on design and have the actual sock production outsourced. Our socks are made from high-quality materials and need to be perfect, so we leave the production to people who know what they are doing. Design is our area of speciality, not production.

Lesson: “Do what you do best and outsource the rest,” management guru Peter Drucker famously said. By trying to take on complex functions such as manufacturing too early, you can easily end up bankrupting your business. Stick to what you know and outsource the rest.

GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.

Lessons Learnt

(Podcast) ‘Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern: ‘I’m Addicted To The Hustle’

How this week’s ‘How Success Happens’ guest overcame personal struggles and built an empire.

Dan Bova

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I didn’t know what to expect when we scheduled an interview over breakfast with today’s guest Andrew Zimmern. As you may know, the chef, writer, restaurateur and TV personality made a name for himself traveling the world and eating some, well, bizarre foods on his hit travel/food show, Bizarre Foods.

Turns out our breakfast was pretty normal – we didn’t dig into a fresh plate of scrambled brains or anything – but the conversation was anything but typical.

Over the past couple of years, Zimmern has built a true empire around his name with books, TV shows, restaurants (including his new Twin Cities joint Lucky Cricket), and a production company, but as he very candidly told me, the road to success has not been easy. He has gone through a lot of personal pain on his journey, and he says it is a daily endeavour to keep himself moving on the right track.

As Zimmern explained, over the course of his life, he’s had problems with substance abuse, depression – even homelessness – and he was very open about sharing the lessons he’s learned along the way about coping and finding redemption. We also spoke about his dear friend, Anthony Bourdain, and about the struggles of feeling overwhelmed that most of us face.

Related: Gareth Cliff Shares His Tips For Starting Your Very Own Podcast

But don’t get me wrong, he’s really funny, too! There’s nothing “normal” about Andrew Zimmern. Hope you’ll enjoy our conversation, thanks for listening.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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How BrightRock Is Disrupting The Insurance Industry With These 2 Pivotal Strategies

Developments in technology, and clear communication are positioning BrightRock to disrupt their industry and transform the consumer experience.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Sean Hanlon, Leopold Malan, Schalk Malan, Suzanne Stevens
  • Company: BrightRock
  • Est: 2011
  • Visit: www.brightrock.co.za

BrightRock was started around a dining room table in 2011 by four people with years of industry experience and — importantly — a diverse set of complementary skills.  They wanted to make changes to an industry with an age-old methodology by allowing customers to co-create a solution that precisely meets their individual needs, and adjusts as those needs change. Today, BrightRock is the fastest-growing insurer in the intermediated individual life risk market. It also provides underwriting management services to funeral parlour businesses and, more recently, has entered the group risk insurance market, offering its needs-matched approach to employees.

The founders of BrightRock, established in 2011, knew the life insurance industry all too well, and they found its methodology wanting. “Traditional life insurance lumps all the individual’s needs into one policy,” says CEO Schalk Malan.

“It’s a methodology that has been around for centuries. We started afresh and looked at how we could design life insurance based on individual requirements. Our cover is designed to exactly match each specific financial need. Because there is no waste, it’s more cost efficient and sustainable. And if circumstances change and our customer needs more cover, it’s easy to get it because needs-matched design enables the policy to change in line with changing needs.”

1. Embracing digital technology to provide needs-matched insurance

Suzanne Stevens, marketing executive director at BrightRock, points out that this type of innovation achieves efficiency (cost savings) and effectiveness (higher returns). “By harnessing digital technology, we have made our operations more efficient, and aggressively lowered costs by up to 30% for our customers. Every rand they spend with us works harder for them. That’s the benefit of a solution designed around the customer.”

BrightRock’s founders took a similar approach. ‘We ditched legacy thinking in favour of creating a product that is intuitive and easy to navigate. An enormous amount of time and effort went into writing and designing that system, and creating the optimal customer journey.”

Related: How BrightRock Is Rocking The (Industry) Boat In Only 5 Years Since Launch

Unlike clunky legacy systems, BrightRock’s platform is modularised, and was built according to the agile principle of rapid delivery cycles. The result is a technology stack with longevity, that is also flexible enough to be tweaked when needed.

“The advantage of the technology available today is that you can plug things in and pull them out as required,” says Suzanne. “That’s one of the enablers of a truly disruptive mindset. To step away from accepted norms and find new solutions requires curiosity and creativity, as well as a lot of courage to go up against large incumbents in the market. There is always resistance to new technology, although we are fortunate in this country to have one of the most innovative insurance sectors in the world.”

2. Effective communication is critical

These disruptors have set themselves above the rest through one surprisingly simple tactic —  effective communication. They agree that it simply doesn’t matter how world-changing your product or service is if you don’t communicate it to the right audience at the right time. New companies that fail to communicate their remarkable new development will quickly be pushed aside by other disruptors. Without a clear communication strategy that reaches the audience in the industry you’re trying to disrupt, you’ll set yourself up for failure. A key question to ask when you are developing your communication strategy is simply whether people understand what you do.

“Because the premise for our product was fundamentally different from anything on the market, communication and clear messaging were critical to convincing our clients to put their trust in us,” says Schalk.

“It was especially important to educate insurance advisors so they would understand what we were doing, why we were doing it, and how it was better than the other options available. That was key to disrupting the individual life market.”

Currently, BrightRock employs 380 staff, has experienced 40% year-on-year growth, and has an annualised premium income of more than R1,3 billion. The company has recently entered the group risk environment with a similar offering that addresses many of the same shortcomings of traditional group risk products. “The inefficiencies of the structuring of group products has meant that, to remain competitive, insurers have cut the benefits offered to employees, undermining their sense of financial security. Change is needed, and we believe our needs-matched philosophy positions us to change the group risk market too.”

‘We ditched legacy thinking in favour of creating a product that is intuitive and easy to navigate. An enormous amount of time and effort went into writing and designing that system, and creating the optimal customer journey.”

Unlike clunky legacy systems, the BrightRock’s platform is modularised, and was built according to the agile principle of rapid delivery cycles. The result is a technology stack with longevity, that is also flexible enough to be tweaked when needed.

Related: BrightRock’s 5 Entrepreneurial Tips For Start-ups

This iterative, modular approach typically begins with defining the strategy and programme plan upfront, delivering a core capability fast so it can provide benefits immediately, and then continuously improving with regular, incremental capability improvements to achieve the objectives of the strategy. It’s an approach that fosters closer collaboration between stakeholders, improved transparency, earlier delivery, greater allowance for change and more focus on the business outcomes.

“The advantage of the technology available today is that you can plug things in and pull them out as required,” says Suzanne. “That’s one of the enablers of a truly disruptive mindset. To step away from accepted norms and find new solutions requires curiosity and creativity, as well as a lot of courage to go up against large incumbents in the market. There is always resistance to new technology, although we are fortunate in this country to have one of the most innovative insurance sectors in the world.”

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The 9 Obsessions You Need To Have To Become A Self-Made Millionaire

Here’s how to stay focused on your millionaire goals.

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The ones who succeed weren’t handed a golden ticket; it wasn’t chance that helped them cultivate their fortune. To reach millionaire status, you must be driven to reach your dreams. You must be obsessed in order to be successful.

These are the nine obsessions that give every self-made millionaire an edge in creating success and wealth.

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