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Masters & Savant: Roger Smythe & Reto Reolon

Animation production company blazes new trail in the advertising industry

Juliet Pitman

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Roger Smythe & Reto Reolon

It’s one thing to break away from the security of the only job you have ever known to start a business. Taking that business in four years from two to 20 employees is something else. Roger Smythe and Reto Reolon have achieved both with animation production company Masters & Savant, which boasts a client list of the country’s most formidable advertising agencies, including Hunt Lascaris, JWT, Network BBDO and Tequila. In an industry that is constantly breaking new creative ground and demands something unique and special with every delivery, it is perhaps an advantage that neither of them has any formal business training; it is precisely because they do things differently from everyone else that they have been so successful.

After learning the creative ropes at their previous company, the pair realised they had the skills and talent necessary to run their own operation. “We saw a price gap in the market for a smaller, dynamic animation company that could offer the same service and talent but at competitive rates. With the overheads of only two people, we managed to do that,” says Smythe. But they weren’t content to remain a two-man band for very long. Right from the word go Smythe and Reolon have focused on establishing a slick, professional outfit that would set new creative standards. Smythe describes himself as “exceptionally pedantic” and the pair put a great deal of effort into deliberately planning many aspects of the company’s journey. Take for example the choice of company name. “Masters is a fictional name indicating technical ability or ‘mastery’ and Savant is another, implying creativity,” explains Smythe. In an industry where presentation is everything, choosing the right name was vital and the company’s brand promises exactly what it delivers: creativity and technical talent.

One thing you can’t plan, however, is exactly how fast a company is going to grow. “We were astonished at how well things went initially and how much work we got,” says Smythe. Surpassing even their ambitious hopes, the company grew quickly but the pair managed this growth with a mixture of flexibility, juggling skills and common sense. “Our policy has been to get the work first and then put whatever we need in place to make it happen. There’s no point building an infrastructure if you don’t have the work to feed it,” says Smythe. He and Reolon have also made the difficult transition from doing everything themselves to delegating tasks to people who have specialised skills. Which is where great people come in, something Smythe feels strongly about. In an industry driven by fashion and trends, there is the very real danger of being flavour of the month, only to find yourself out in the cold six months later. But Masters & Savant has managed to achieve the difficult balance of continued cutting edge creativity and long-term sustainability. Smythe puts their success in this regard down to choosing the right people to join the company. “Animators are a bit like fine artists, each with their own particular style. We’ve tried to make sure we have a mixture of all types, from people who can do slick corporate stuff, to those who specialise in a grungier look or someone who’s particular talent lies in Disney-style animation. So we continue to get work because clients know that we have the creative talent to respond to any need.”

Then there’s their attention to detail in everything. “You can spend so much time thinking about the craft that there’s the danger of forgetting you are dealing with people. Part of holistic customer service is paying attention to things like the food you serve at presentations,” says Smythe. But they never forget that their key differentiator is their talent. “That’s why clients come to us and it needs to be reflected in the work we do,” says Smythe. Unlike skills, talent can’t be learned, but if their track record is anything to go by, Smythe and Reolon possess the type of talent sufficient to shape an industry.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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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.

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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

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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.

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“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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