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Lowe Bul: Matthew Bull

A commitment to liberation has turned this agency into an award-winning powerhouse

Juliet Pitman

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Lowe Bull

When it comes to creativity, Matthew Bull’sphilosophy is simple: don’t be boring. Pretty obvious for someone working inthe advertising field, except that it’s advice that few creative people reallytake to heart. Borrowed from UK advertising guru, David Abbott, it’s aphilosophy that speaks of continually pushing the boundaries, doing thingsdifferently, changing the status quo. It means creating excitement – in bothclients and consumers. And for Lowe Bull, the advertising agency founded byMatthew Bull, it has also meant success. Lots of it. It’s meant signing clientslike Nike, Nandos, Axe, Coca Cola and, most recently, Hansa. And it’s meantawards. Having recently returned from the Cannes International AdvertisingFestival (where he was selected to be the South African judge in 2000), MatthewBull is in proud possession of two gold Lion awards (for the company’s pressand radio adverts for Axe deodorant) and two bronze awards (for the Axe pressand Anti-smoking outdoor adverts).

“This is a tough business and it’s easy tobe ordinary. You have to constantly remind yourself to be exceptional,” saysthe 43-year-old, who started the company with partners John Pace and IanCalvert, as Bull Calvert Pace in Cape Town in 1996, with founding client, theCape Times. Bull approached the global Lowe & Partners network, looking forfinancial backing, but was turned down. “Initially they told me they investedin going concerns, not start-ups, but my partners persuaded me to go back tothem. So I gave it one more go and sent a business plan over,” Bull relates. AUK meeting with Sir Frank Lowe turned out to be auspicious in two respects:firstly, Bull and his partners received R800 000 in return for Lowe &Partners taking a 26% stake in the business and secondly, the meeting was heldin the offices that Bull himself would later occupy as worldwide chief creativeofficer for the Lowe group in London.

Looking back on those early days, Bullsays: “We were fanatical believers in ideas and we were incredibly andwonderfully naïve. The beautiful thing about naïvety is that it means you don’tknow what you can’t do. We weren’t afraid to try new things.” This earlyculture is something he and his management team have fought hard to retain asthe company has grown and expanded, but, as Bull points out, this hasn’t alwaysbeen easy. When the agency lost the Smirnoff account, which made up 40% of thecompany’s revenue, a retrenchment of a third of its staff presented a seriousthreat to morale. But as Bull points out: “I realised that how you let peoplego is vitally important to the people who stay behind, because it shows themthat you care. We tried to treat people in accordance with our principles.” Andwhen the agency took over Johannesburg-based Lintas, Bull recalls a meetingwith staff during which he put across a clear but uncompromising message:Either fit in with what we stand for or leave.

“When you start a business it’s like acultural impersonation of yourself but as it grows, the culture becomes dilutedand you don’t really articulate these things until you are in danger of losingthem,” he explains. What Lowe Bull stands for is something he’s given a gooddeal of thought to lately, especially in light of recent partnerships that thecompany has entered into. And what he’s come up with is ‘liberation’. “My dutyand the duty of my leadership team is to liberate the people within the companyso that they can be themselves and express themselves – because that’s when youget the best creativity,” he says. Again, this might seem obvious but theimportant thing is that he’s onto something, because the net effect is anaward-winning team that delivers exceptional work. And that’s anything butboring.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.

Nicole Crampton

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Entrepreneurship in South Africa is at an all-time high. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), total early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by 4.1% to 11% in 2017/2018. This means numerous new, exciting and promising small businesses are launching and growing.

To ensure you know who the innovative trailblazers are in the start-up and small business space, here are 50 of South Africa’s top establishing companies to watch, in no particular order:

  1. Livestock Wealth
  2. The Lazy Makoti
  3. Aerobuddies
  4. Mimi Women
  5. i-Pay
  6. AfriTorch Digital
  7. Akili Labs
  8. Native Décor
  9. Aerobotics
  10. Quality Solutions
  11. EM Guidance
  12. Kahvé Road
  13. HSE Matters
  14. VA Virtual Assistant
  15. Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
  16. BioTech Africa
  17. Brand LAIKI
  18. Plus Fab
  19. LifeQ
  20. Organico
  21. 10dot
  22. Lenoma Legal
  23. Nkukhu-Box
  24. Benji + Moon
  25. Beonics
  26. Brett Naicker Wines
  27. Khalala
  28. Legal Legends
  29. The Power Woman Project
  30. Aviro Health
  31. AnaStellar Brands
  32. Data Innovator
  33. Fo-Sho
  34. Oolala Collection Club
  35. Recomed
  36. VoiceMap
  37. ClockWork
  38. Empty Trips
  39. Vula Mobile
  40. SwiitchBeauty
  41. Pineapple
  42. The Katy Valentine Collection
  43. OfferZen
  44. KHULA
  45. Incitech
  46. Pimp my Book
  47. ART Technologies and ART Call Management
  48. Prosperiprop
  49. WAXIT
  50. The Sun Exchange
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How 28-Year Old Entrepreneur Adam Fine Is Leveraging The Global Phenomenon Of Five-A-Side Football

Adam Fine of Fives Futbol discusses how he leverage a global phenomenon and the value of strategic partnerships in business.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

Nothing about Adam Fine is by-the-book. The 28-year-old entrepreneur describes himself as a slightly big child. He’s the CEO of one of the most exciting start-ups in South Africa, having leveraged the global phenomenon of five-a-side football to start a business that has grown almost as fast as the game itself. Not bad for a venture that was launched with the princely sum of R85 000 — Fine’s life savings at the time.

He started it in 2011, with a strong focus on corporate social investment and making a positive social impact. It was by forming strategic partnerships that Adam really managed to grow Fives Futbol. He’s opened pitches in prime locations that serve both the school and corporate markets, while still being accessible for social impact interventions in local communities.

Related: 3 Local Entrepreneurs Share Their Business Challenges And How They Overcame Them

Pivoting at the right time is key to growth

The challenge:

In the last 18 months, Fives Futbol has trebled in size, and achieved some amazing milestones — it now employs 50 full-time staff, and 80 part-timers. It’s one of the factors that drives Adam, as many of his employees support up to eight family members. It’s now also represented in four provinces and 15 locations around the country. By September, there will be 18.

Quick growth means you have to be able to pivot quickly when things do not go according to plan, and mostly they don’t, Adam says. “If things are not working you should be able to ‘pivot’, to shift your focus. And do it fast. It’s not a sign that things have gone wrong by any means, on the contrary, it means you have the insight to recognise that there is a problem with the assumptions on which you have built your business model. The decision to pivot is a big one, and not something to be taken lightly. It requires you to take a hard look at your reallocation of resources, and to do it with an open mind.”

The solution:

In Adam’s case, construction delays, councils taking their time to approve, or having to put money into rolling out sites as opposed to marketing, means the promotion of a new site will slow down, for example, because the business does not yet have a large marketing budget.

“When we run behind on the construction of a new site, R40 000 can suddenly become R100 000 — but here’s the thing: If a deal comes along that will probably harm your business in the short-term but enable significant long-term growth, sometimes you have to juggle what you have so you can make it work.”

The Lesson: Choose your investors carefully

Fine says he’s lucky to have a solid group of investors that he has cultivated over six years. “Their input is invaluable. They’ll say, ‘slow down’ or ‘have you thought of this?’, ‘have you factored in that?’ The ability to develop a good relationship with our investors has had a significant impact on the success of the company. Over and above money, they provide wisdom, guidance and connections.”

His relationship with his investors is key. While many entrepreneurs make it just about the money, Adam understood something else — he has a pretty cool brand with a great cause behind it. So, while investors are asked for money all the time, he was able to offer something more than just a business idea — alignment. He generated enthusiasm for the ‘why,’ behind the business. Like most of us, it makes investors happy to know that they are helping to make a positive difference.

And while it’s easy to bandy about the word ‘partnership’, Adam has worked hard to make that a reality. He set out to find like-minded people who are passionate about the business and the cause, which is why they are able to serve as great resources for advice and insight.

Related: Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

“The best way to ensure that you and your investors have a valuable and lengthy partnership is to make sure that everyone is aligned on the vision.”

This includes Adam’s team. The internal culture of an organisation is vital to its strength and growth. “Without our team we don’t have a business for investors to support — our people are critical to our success. They’re the executors of the vision at the end of the day.”


The Lesson:  The value of strategic partnerships

Much of the growth of Fives Futbol has been fuelled by finding the right sponsorship partners in key industries. To overcome the challenge of a limited marketing budget, Adam has secured sponsorships with big brands like Adidas, Total Sports, Debonairs, and Klipdrift, allowing Fives Futbol to use their access to communities as a marketing platform to derive income as well as scale. And it works both ways.

“Because we have a national footprint and a team of people, we run activations for our partners, which also provides us with an ancillary revenue stream,” he says. “Knowing how to join forces with other businesses has been a key factor in making the business successful. Our strategic partners have enabled the business to leverage their brand to give us more exposure. When it works well, a strategic partnership can be just what you need to speed up the growth of your business.”

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Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

The advent and advancement of the online marketplace has led these entrepreneurs to successfully build and grow their ecommerce empires.

Diana Albertyn

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South Africa’s ecommerce market is worth R10 billion per year. By 2021, the number of online shoppers is expected to have reached 24.79 million.

“Our recent research on SA shows people are browsing three hours or more on their mobile phones and 25% shop online. They trust local brands,” says Geraldine Mitchley, Visa senior director for digital solutions in sub-Sahara Africa.

These entrepreneurs have cashed in on ecommerce and launched successful online stores that have either established their dominance in the market, or are taking the e-tailing world by storm.

Here’s how these 15 ecommerce capitalists are making money using the Internet:

  1. Aisha Pandor
  2. Andrew Higgins
  3. Kerryn Tremearne
  4. David Davies
  5. Andrew Smith, Paul Galatsis and Shane Dryden
  6. Trevor Gosling
  7. Nicholas Haralambous
  8. Justin Drennan
  9. Neo Lekgabo
  10. Ryan Bacher
  11. Tracy Kruger
  12. Luke Jedeikin
  13. Tarryn Abrahams
  14. Sascha Breuss
  15. Antonio Bruni
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