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Elephants in Main Street: Stephen Blades

A different take on teambuilding helps one player differentiate itself from its competitors.

Juliet Pitman



Stephen Blades of Elephants in Main Street

If, when arriving for a team-buildingsession, Stephen Blades’ clients expect to shoot each other with paint balls, racedirt bikes or do their best impression of Kamp Staaldraad, they will bedisappointed. Rather, they might find themselvesplanning, filming, producing, editing and acting in their own movie about wheretheir team is going. Or they might create a newspaper as a team of“journalists”, reporting not on their past, but on their future, writing thenews for the year ahead. Alternatively they could get a crash course indarkroom photography and do an exhibition of black and white photos thatcapture the culture of their organisation. It’s a different take on teambuildingbut then Blades’ vision has always been a little left-field, somethingevidenced by his company’s name. “I was on honeymoon in Thailand on anincredibly busy main road that was congested with cars, and there, cruisingthrough the chaos, was an elephant. I wanted to create a company that capturedthis ability to cut through the noise andmove steadily forward amid chaos. So that’s where the company name, Elephants in Main Street, came from,” he says.

Takingteambuilding to the next level

Blades’ ingenuity lies in takingteambuilding – long plagued by a reputation for being arbitrary, contrived andunable to teach lessons that can be translated back to the real work context –to the next level. What the company offers is fun andcreative stuff, but its true value resides in far more than this. Traditionalteambuilding uses team-centred events to help participants come to grips withchallenges, team dynamics and differing opinions and, in so doing,learn about how their view might differ from other people in their team. Theend goal is that everyone works together. But Elephants in Main Street seeks to go a step further.“The kinds of exercises we organise help people to develop a tangible pictureof their company’s vision, mission, values or goals for tomorrow. Getting ateam to understand these things, and work towards them with a common purpose,is one of the biggest challenges facing companies today,” Blades explains.

Translationis the secret ingredient

Underpinning everything is one of thecompany’s key differentiators – a focus on ensuring that what is learnt in theteambuilding is relevant to, and can be applied in, a real-life work setting.The idea is to be not only innovative, but high-impact as well. Blades has aunique take on how to make this happen. “The translation should take placebefore the teambuilding even begins. Many companies want to have a team-buildbecause they think it’s the done thing, but we won’t work like that. We want toknow precisely what they want to achieve upfront. Some 70% of the work involves uncovering their desired outcomes and then planning the events accordingly.This is where the translation starts. “If you go into a teambuilding exercisenot knowing what you want the experience to teach your team, of course theywon’t take any applicable learnings back to the office. You’re doomed from thestart,” he says.

Meetingmarket demands

Blades and his team have invested agreat deal in developing a unique suite of products. He explains, “We havefive: Creative Expressive, like the movies, newspaper and photography sessions,which focus on culture and goals; Creative Technical, in which participantsaddress the way in which they solve problems; Cognitive Experiential, in whichthey learn through practical experience; Socialisers, which falls into the moretraditional teambuilding focus of getting people to know each other and worktogether; and Creative Adventure, which includes adventure-type sessions for morephysically inclined people.”

This combination of carefully craftedand differentiated offerings allows Elephants in Main Street to take a customised approachto meeting a wide variety of client requirements. “Different companies havedifferent needs. Some of them may want the more traditional type ofteambuilding sessions, so we meet that need as well, but we always make surethat what we offer is well thought through, relevant and different from thenorm,” he says. The company serves clients all over theworld; South Africa is theflagship office but it has expanded to the UK,Singapore, Dubai,Namibia and Australia. Andwhile its services may not be the cheapest in the industry, they’re effective,helping the company and its clients to cut through the current economic chaosand keep moving forward. Much like that elephant in the Thai traffic.

  • Company: Elephants in Main Street
  • Player: Stephen Blades
  • Est 1995
  • Contact: +27 11 476 7300

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.


25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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