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Going it Alone

Most entrepreneurs swim against the current. Some more than others. Jason Ray is living proof that you can prevent your growing business from turning into the one you left – and that it’s possible to remain uncompromising on the stuff that’s close to your heart.

Juliet Pitman

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Jason Ray has a story for any employee who’s ever been fed up with working for a large, bureaucratic organisation and harboured dreams of starting a business and doing things on their own terms.

It is possible to do the work that you love with people you like on your own terms.

In 2006 he and three colleagues left agency giant Ogilvy and started boutique agency Under the Radar.

“The idea was to get quietly rich by doing beautiful, quality work on our own terms with clients we chose to work with,” he says.

They set three cardinal rules:

  1. We only work for clients we like. (“You don’t do good work for people you don’t like.”)
  2. We don’t pitch for work. (“The pitch is the agency tap dance dog-and-pony show, beauty parade of bulls**t. We wanted our work to come through word-of-mouth.”)
  3. We only work on big business. (“We wanted a maximum of ten clients and we never wanted to spread ourselves too thin and become the agency we’d left.”)

They may sound idealistic, unrealistic and even arrogant, but they were borne of entrepreneurs having been there, done that and knowing very clearly what they did and did not want to do in future.

“Doing things on your own terms doesn’t mean you don’t chase business. We relentlessly chase business, but within our selected client base because we know those are the people for whom we can do our best work,” says Ray.

Choosing to be small doesn’t need to preclude growth plans either. “We want to grow into Africa – but again, with our clients as they expand their presence there,” he says.

Having rules also doesn’t necessarily imply inflexibility. Ray is as aware as the next guy that things change. In early 2012, he bought out his three partners in a “very amicable parting of ways” and the agency became Radar. And for a brief period the company even allowed itself to break Rule 2, as Ray points out, “For a very short period to gain a specific piece of business – and we’re now closed again for pitches.”

Today Radar is a R60 million billing agency – certainly not big in agency terms, but quite big enough for someone who’s embraced small as the new beautiful.

Vital stats

  • Player: Jason Ray
  • Company: Radar
  • Est: 2006 (Buy-out in 2012)
  • Turnover: R60 million
  • X-factor: Beautifully crafted, clean, strategically sound work done on their own terms.
  • Connect: www.radar.co.zaJason@radar.co.za

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Local Funder Finds New Ways to Help SMEs Grow. Read His Story Here

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Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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