- Players: Jacques du Bruyn and Ruan Oosthuizen
- Company: Flume
- What they do: Digital marketing agency
- Established: 2013
- Visit: flume.co.za
Digital marketing agency, Flume was launched in February 2013 as a typical start-up. “It all happened fairly quickly,” says founder Jacques du Bruyn. “Ruan and I started talking about launching our own company late in 2012, and about three months later Flume was up and running. It was a two-man show; we didn’t have any staff yet, and I don’t think we’d even secured our first client before we started out.”
The founders first focused on social media, but soon realised that they wanted to do more than just manage clients’ social media campaigns.
“As your business grows, you find out what you’re good at,” says co-founder Ruan Oosthuizen. “Over time, we became more of a full-service agency. We didn’t just want to manage campaigns, we wanted to help create them.”
By offering a one-stop service, Flume grew quickly. “By both creating content and managing campaigns, we were able to offer clients an end-to-end service. So instead of needing two or more agencies, our clients only needed one,” says Jacques. “Also, because we were sub-contracting work out to other agencies, we could offer excellent value for money.”
Of course, taking on the big boys as a small start-up is never easy. Flume’s impressive growth over the last four years has been the result of very hard work. And while Jacques and Ruan might have launched without any staff, they quickly needed help. Finding the right people became an absolute necessity. Here are the lessons they’ve learnt while putting together a strong team.
Set a good example
“You need to walk a fine line when dealing with staff,” says Jacques. “When you start out, you tell yourself that you’ll be the best boss in the world — that you’ll treat people like adults and never micromanage. The truth is, though, that you can’t be everyone’s friend. And we certainly made some questionable hires early on that required a lot of micro-management. So, you do need to be the boss and you do need to manage.
“That said, we also believe that you need to set a good example. We hold ourselves to the same standards we hold our employees to. We don’t view ourselves as privileged. We don’t have special parking or private offices. We also manage, but we don’t micromanage. We hire good people and trust them to get the job done. Lastly, we treat every staff-related issue based on its own merits. You need certain rules, but you can’t be too rigid. People have lives and demands outside of the office, and you need to be realistic about that.”
Learn to delegate
Hiring staff is always a challenge for a start-up. Not only is money tight, but you’re competing for top talent against larger and more established business. But Jacques and Ruan warn against trying to save money when hiring.
“You need to hire top people who can help you manage and grow the company,” says Ruan. “You want experienced and senior people who you can delegate to.”
“When you first start out, you have no choice but to do everything yourself,” adds Jacques. “However, when you start hiring good people, you realise that there are plenty of things you aren’t good at, and that others do better. So, you need to stick to what you’re good at and learn to delegate to others. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Hire the right people, and then trust them to get the job done.”
When Flume started to grow, Jacques and Ruan needed help — and they needed it fast. However, instead of hiring too quickly, they decided to take their time to find the right people.
“When you’re growing, you’re often desperate for extra people, so you hire too quickly. That tends to end in disaster. Rather tough it out in the short term and wait until you find someone that you know will be a good fit,” says Ruan.
The founders have also realised the importance of a thorough interview process. “We don’t hire based on a single interview,” says Jacques. “We often interview prospective employees separately, and we’ve also learnt the importance of a test. You absolutely need to see an example of the work that the employee would offer. You need to see how the person performs under pressure, and you need to find out if the person will be able to do the specific work you need done.”
Hire from your network
How do you find good people? Most companies place an ad or use a recruitment agency. While these strategies can work, the founders of Flume have found an even better strategy: They hire from their network.
“We’ve come to the realisation that things tend to go far better when we hire from our network. Generally speaking, the people tend to be a better culture fit,” says Jacques.
“The fact of the matter is, when people in your network make a recommendation, they are essentially ‘vouching’ for someone. So, in a sense, they are putting their own reputations on the line, which means that they’re not going to point you in the wrong direction. Because of this, we recommend first trying to fill a position from within your network. There will be none of the financial incentives imposed by recruitment agencies to get the role filled as quickly as possible.”
Understand the value of HR
Despite still being relatively small — Flume now has around 20 employees — the founders are already in the process of hiring a full-time HR manager.
“You shouldn’t underestimate the added complexity that comes with the hiring of each new staff member,” says Ruan.
“Managing and hiring people can quickly become your full-time job if you’re not careful. As the founder, you need to be growing the business, not dealing with every HR issue. It’s simply too time-consuming. Many young companies feel that they can’t justify the hiring of an HR manager, but we believe that it’s invaluable, since it frees up so much of your time.”
Managing people will quickly erode your time as your business grows. If you don’t put the right systems in place, it can become a substantial barrier to growth.
How We Went From 0 To A Million In Sales In 6 Months
It became a numbers game. How Version Eight is winning 2018.
In November 2018, I left a very cosy position at a flourishing retail company in order to pursue my own destiny. Version Eight was born on 1 February 2018.
Everyone told me starting a business in today’s economic climate will be tough, and boy were they right. However, through a bit of luck, some hard work, and out of the box thinking, we managed to turn over our first million rand in sales within our first six months.
Now, for the record, hitting the seven figure turnover mark in six months is nothing to write home about, and that is certainly not the purpose of this article. The purpose of this article is to share our key ingredient with you so that you can possible achieve the same growth within your business, whether it’s an existing, new or business you are still dreaming about.
So, How Did We Do It?
The answer is quite simple, we did it through digital marketing.
Well, to be honest, not having had capital to spend on our own digital marketing at first, our first few clients were signed through cold calling as mentioned on the Big Small Business Show with Allon Raiz.
Only after signing our first three clients did we have some money to spend on online marketing services like Google Ads.
In Aug 2017, I wrote an article on this very website named “Beginners Guide to Digital Marketing in South Africa”. In the article I talked about the four fundamental pillars and how they form part of an effective digital marketing strategy.
We only incorporated three of the pillars, as one of them was more aimed at B2C businesses, and being an digital advertising agency meant we were B2B driven.
1. Search Engine Marketing
If you read the guide, you will notice that search engine marketing was the number one pillar on the list, and with good reason.
In a nutshell, we knew that 90% of all online sales and enquiries started with a search engine and that is why it’s something we started implementing as soon as we could. In the beginning organic traffic was slow, so we spent a very small amount on search engine ads.
Having the knowledge and understanding how Google AdWords work, I strategically bid on keywords that indicated that someone was looking for digital marketing help.
We made sure to find keywords that got a decent amount of searches per month but didn’t have a lot of competition, and yes, these kind of keywords do exist, you just need to know how to find them. This meant that we ended up paying very little for leads that enquired about online marketing services.
2. Social Media Marketing
Next up was to start working on a social media strategy.
Again, not having had a lot of cash floating around, we thought LinkedIn would be the best place to start. The professional network is amazing for connecting with potential prospects and that is exactly what we did.
By connecting with the right people, being active on the platform and sharing knowledge on a weekly basis, it was only a matter of time before we started getting private messages of people and companies looking for digital marketing services. Not to mention, this strategy was completely free.
3. Email Marketing
Another pillar I mentioned in the guide was email marketing. After cold calling prospects and finding the emails of key decision makers it became a numbers game. We knew that no one would know who we are and therefore we had to provide some form of value up front if we wanted to build some credibility.
Soon after we launched we created a Social Media Advertising Guide and all it was a 90 page PDF and 40 min video talking about social media advertising and how one can go about advertising on all the different platforms.
You can download our amended 2019 Social Media Ad Guide Here for Free.
As expected most recipients found it interesting but didn’t feel the need for our services, however, for every 50 people emailed, 21 would reply. And out of every 21 replies we about 1-2 meetings. Like I said, it became a numbers game.
WRAPPING IT UP
As mentioned earlier in the article, we did not end up using all four pillar (SMS Marketing), however, we’ve had great success with the above three.
In six months we did over a million rand in sales, and by the grace of God we are still growing, and you can too! I truly hope this article has opened up your mind to the power of digital marketing and if used correctly, and consistently, it can most definitely change your business for the better.
I do understand that not everyone is a digital marketing wiz, and for those I want to say, read, learn and experiment with online marketing as much as you can.
For those interested I would recommend doing a digital marketing course. Not only is it affordable, but it will allow you to scale your business.
Make sure to visit the Digital School of Marketing if you want to learn more about some of the best and accredited digital marketing courses around.
Blood, Sweat And Tears – The Journey To Becoming Emerging Entrepreneur Of The Year®
You see the awards, the magazine features and the highlight posts on social media. But building a successful business from the ground up is a really tough journey behind the scenes. Outsourced CFO co-founder Louw Barnardt opens up to Entrepreneur Magazine about what it actually takes.
I can tell you about all the exciting successes. I can mention things like two to twenty-six professional staff in under five years, more than R500 million in growth funds raised for SMEs, some notable awards and many other things that make the headlines. This is a part of the story and we do try to stop and celebrate the successes as we go…
What I would rather share with you are the trials and tribulations, the challenges and heartaches of the process of building a company. It is in this trail by fire that one learns the most about being a good entrepreneur. The most challenging of times often determine your path and hold the best lessons.
For me, blood represents the big losses. Bleeding financially is definitely a part of the journey. Very few companies have started up without some months or years of bootstrapping, of keeping it lean. For us, that meant continuing on articles salaries for more than a year after we had qualified. It took years to get to and exceed market salaries. This has been a painful sacrifice, but one that all founders need to make in order to get out of the rat race. Live a few years like no-one would so that you can live the rest of your life like no-one else can.
Relationships are also often counted among the losses. Many a time we have invested a lot into a staff member only to see them jump for a better deal. Many times people close to you try to steal ideas or copy direction. It hurts, but it has definitely been a reality.
Sweat represents hard work. Outsourced CFO was built on many long hours of hard, focused work. We’ve made this fun by working from coffee shops on weekends or from the beach for a day. But hard work has definitely been a part of getting things to where they are today. Nothing worth building is easy. Don’t start a business if you want to work less!
Sweat also means stretching. Coming from a finance background, there are dozens of core skills that you need to teach yourself in order to be successful at business. Sales, marketing, public speaking, networking, people management, technology. It is a process of continuously stretching your mind and your abilities. Treat learning like a superpower!
Tears just refer to literal tears. I have yet to meet an established founder who has never come home after a ridiculously tough day to a good cry in the dark. The journey has massive emotional asks. Disappointment, rejection, temporary defeat (which feels like failure in the moment) and other experiences are a part of the game. You have to learn how to dust yourself off, refocus and keep moving forward. But sometimes it’s okay to just shed that tear. Heaven knows I have.
Fate has a cruel sense of humour
The funny thing is that our biggest successes have very often been followed in quick succession with our biggest disappointments. The week we received the Premier’s award as one of the top two Emerging Companies in the province is the same week we had to postpone paying our own salaries. The month I came back from honeymoon early in our second year of business is the same quiet April that we had to seriously consider if we should continue with business. The list goes on! Business teaches you in a very real way to hold both the extremely high and extremely low moments at the same time.
Pivotal moments and the grind
In every young company’s story there are pivotal moments. Things that happen that change the game. I’ll share two of ours with you. At the end of the very April month mentioned above, we won the contract to become the national financial service providers to Microsoft’s BizSparks Program, allowing us to work with the top 10% of a pool of one thousand tech start-ups being incubated by Microsoft. This set us on a course to become the leading authority in the country on finance for tech start-ups.
Another such moment was the Fundraising Readiness Program that we ran with Investec, where we helped over a dozen private companies prepare for and pitch for growth capital. The brand association and fundraising processes that came from this also changed our trajectory. These pivotal moments change your game – but don’t take anything away from the weeks and months of hard grind in between them.
Entrepreneurship is a team sport
No great company has ever been built by one person. It takes a village to build a business. I have been blessed with two co-founders that I have been friends with for over a decade. Their work and support as well as that of our team (which include my sister Dore too) has been the secret sauce to our success. Don’t try to go it alone. Surround yourself with likeminded people who share in and contribute to your vision.
The road to building a successful company is a steep and rocky one. It is scattered with high mountains as deep valleys. You will need patience, dedication, willingness to sacrifice and a sincerely, fierce belief in your vision for the road. But if your why is big enough, you can get up every morning and make that dream a reality!
SA Entrepreneur Takes First-Of-Its Kind Business To An International Level
Jo Farah shares some insights on his entrepreneurial journey as Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) gets underway.
South African-born entrepreneur and creator of the world’s first environmentally friendly sneaker care product – Jo Farah says entrepreneurship has always been part of his DNA, and making a valuable contribution to society his ultimate goal.
The founder of Sneaker LAB – an innovative business that’s managed to create a first-of-its-kind, biodegradable sneaker care product, delivered his sentiments on entrepreneurship and his entrepreneurial journey as Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) kicked-off in 170 countries around the world this week.
Farah, who’s been mentored and groomed by his entrepreneur father, says developing a successful business has always been part of his life’s plan. And while he managed to establish a few start-ups during his entrepreneurial journey, which includes founding a guerrilla marketing agency in South Africa, and producing ads for the likes of Adidas, New Balance and Puma it still wasn’t enough.
After returning from the United States in 2008 with just one thing on his mind – to help cure South Africa’s conundrum by creating jobs for the unemployed, and in-turn fostering economic growth, Jo invented a one-of-a-kind sneaker care product, and put shoulder to the wheel to establish his business in 2013.
Starting a sneaker care product range was a natural choice, especially considering Jo’s passion for sneakers, street wear and urban culture. He also wanted to create a complimentary product to accompany the list of sneaker brands that has inspired him over time. Jo’s work behind the scenes commenced in earnest and in no time he conducted enough research to support his theory – there was a gap in the market for branded sneaker care products. He knew that he was on a good wicket.
“There already was a range of non-branded products on the market, but my research revealed there was a healthy appetite for branded, environmentally friendly sneaker care products. That spoke directly to my business model,” he says.
Today, Sneaker LAB has placed Cape Town on the map with its premium global status – it’s the only sneaker care product range in the world to be Green TAG certified, environmentally friendly and biotech driven. Its products are water-based, readily biodegradable, and the packaging is suitable for recycling. The business also operates internationally, in 50 countries across Africa, with an experiential brand store in Braamfontein Johannesburg; as well as downtown Los Angeles in the USA; Asia and Europe. The business is growing by the day, with a store in Tokyo set to open soon.
As an entrepreneur he’s grown in leaps and bounds, and despite many changes along the way, his sentiments on entrepreneurship remain.
“Inspiring potential entrepreneurs to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and embark on an entrepreneurial journey is one way of solving some of the world’s most critical problems, and freeing the economically marginalised,” Jo says.
He urges young aspiring entrepreneurs with an entrepreneurial mindset to take the plunge and to channel time and energy into developing their business ideas into something tangible and workable that could generate good long-term financial returns.
“People will tell you that it can’t be done, but believe me, it can. All you have to do is to believe in your idea and to work hard and smart and you’ll reap the benefits,” Jo says.
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