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Webmail: Jeff Ellis

Success in business is often about arrogance – but there are some exceptions

Juliet Pitman

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Jeff Ellis of Webmail

“I” is a word very seldom used by JeffEllis, MD of Webmail, one of South Africa’s largest free e-mail providers with728 000 active users. To questions like “What is your leadership style”, and“Tell us a bit about your career path”, “we” is always his pronoun of choice.Viewed against the backdrop of what he has personally achieved to be in theposition he is in today, this humility is nothing short of intriguing.

Ellis started his career as a bank tellerfor First National Bank, filling various roles there before dabbling in smallpublishing ventures, and for a time doing a stint running a fruit juice barbranded with Barney the Dinosaur. He made some mistakes, got into debt and,with a wife and two small children, needed to find a way out of it quickly. Hejoined Webmail as a salesman when it was in its infancy and within a year wasappointed Sales Director.

But for all this, he’s still not willing totake much personal credit, preferring to talk about his team. Perhaps this isthe secret to his enormous success at running such a dynamic sales force.“There’s no ‘I’ in team,” he says simply.

Ironically, he places a high degree ofimportance on individuality. “I don’t believe that people all have the samepersonalities; you need to deal with them differently. We manage people asindividuals,” he says.

Investing this amount of time in people canbe time-consuming in a business with a notoriously high staff turnover (Ellispoints out that they can have a turnover of 60 salespeople in six months). Butin the end, Ellis believes it’s what makes the team great. “The trick is thatno one leaves here on bad terms – we encourage and support people as much as wecan, but if they leave, it’s because they decided it wasn’t for them, and we’refine with that.

“I know that finding my niche took a whileand we don’t want to stand in their way of doing the same thing. And I think atestament is that although we go through a lot of staff, we have never firedanybody. But what we do find is that people who stay, stay forever.”

Asked what motivates him personally, Ellisis quick to answer. “Family. Everything I do is for them. I want to retire tothe coast at 40,” says the 33-year-old. Perhaps it’s because family is such animportant personal motivator that it comes naturally to Ellis to treat hisstaff as part of a big family. “We have a very diplomatic leadership style,” hesays.

He understands that getting the best out ofpeople is about the little things, like constant feedback and keeping them inthe loop about new deals that have been signed. “We celebrate success; it’s agreat motivator because people want to be part of something successful.”

At the same time, he understands that hisstaff want to make money. For this reason, their commission structures are veryhigh. There are also motivational meetings and incentives like weekend getawaysto help keep motivation levels high.

In terms of dealing with non-delivery, theapproach is once again supportive. Staff who haven’t met their targets undergoMonday training sessions and although these are not a punishment, no one reallywants to be part of them, so people work harder to meet criteria laid down.“They don’t want to be seen to be failing,” Ellis explains.

“We try to get people to the point thatthey believe they can achieve anything,” he says. “The fact is, they can. Everyday I see ordinary people achieving extraordinary things.”

This ‘can do’ attitude informs thedirection of Ellis’s personal goals as well. “If it’s going to be, it’s up tome” is his personal motto, and his career and success attest to the fact thatan individual is in control of his own destiny. That, and being hardworking.“If the lift to the top is full, you have to take the stairs,” he saysphilosophically.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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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andrew-zimmern

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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Lessons Learnt

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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elon-musk

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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