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Net#work BBDO: Mike Schalit

Fearless approach to the power of originality drives one of SA’s top agencies

Monique Verduyn



Mike Schalt of Network BBDO

Ask Mike Schalit about the origins of Net#work BBDO and he’ll tell you that one of South Africa’s hottest ad agencies was born out of naïve optimism. “We launched the business in May 1994,” hes ays. “It was a time when the entire country was at a standstill and everyone had adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude.

People were storing toilet paper, but we were ridiculously positive. I think that’s why we succeeded; we were committed to making it work.”

Schalit had trained as a copy writer and had left TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris to co-found Net#work BBDO with long-time colleague Keith Shipley. Both were keen to create something of their own, having worked in the shadow of other agency heads for a long time. Today, Net#work BBDO is recognised as one of South Africa’s most adventurous agencies.

Its power billboard for Nedbank is a case in point: the agency won a Gold Bullet and the first-ever Jury Chairman’s Choice Award at the 2006 Annual Young Guns International Advertising Awards, as well as a 2006 Silver Loerie for Outdoor & Ambient Advertising.

A world-first, the power billboard, currently positioned at a school in Alexandra, produces solar energy that powers its kitchen, saving it nearly R3 000 a month on electricity bills.“We realised early on that we had to have differentiators if we wanted to survive and grow,” says Shipley.

“We chose to define ourselves through our ethos and value system, which turned out to be an amalgamation of extremes – a combination of discipline and design with spontaneity and vibrancy. To this day our people have to live according to those values.”

By the end of their first year, Schalit andShipley had employed 20 staff members. The business was entirely self-funded and cash positive from day one, although they did have assistance from global advertising group BBDO in the form of access to international accounts, the first one being Nissan.

Shipley notes that one of the early difficulties was that clients love the energy of a new company; at the same time, they also need security. “This had a lot to do with how we presented the company to potential clients in the beginning.

We went in with confidence,often leading even ourselves to believe that we were more established than we actually were. That, coupled with our creative ability, helped to seal many deals.”Abdulla Miya, who is today MD of Net#work BBDO, joined the company ten years ago.

Miya was brought on board because he shares the same value system. Shipley adds: “That is the difference between successful and unsuccessful companies. You have to attract partners who share your vision.”Schalit and Shipley took on BBDO South Africa group responsibility in 2004, with Schalit becoming group executive creative director, and Shipley the group CEO. Miya was joined by Julian Watt as executive creative director.

Schalit, ranked by his peers as South Africa’s top creative director for seven years in a row, is quick to point out that he is not averse to hiring people who are better at their jobs than he is,and may even earn more. As the creative leader in the company, Schalit ensures that the team constantly innovates.

“Our business is dynamic, and we are never afraid to take risks and make mistakes.”One of the challenges that Shipley and Schalit recall was taking the company beyond the “honeymoon” phase. Both agree that any customer base has great empathy for a new company, yet almost overnight clients reach a point when they expect you to be as professional and practised as any of your competitors.

“We learnt that fairly early on,” says Shipley, noting that their bank encouraged them to run the company as a fully fledged business right from the start.”Another early challenge was aligning capacity with client requirements.

“That happens maybe twice a year,” Shipley notes wryly. The fact is that you either have too much business for your resources, or not enough.”The company does not achieve its bottomline at the expanse of fun and pride. Shipley notes, however, that substantial backend systems are in place to liberate the creatives. “You cannot have chaos in our environment. Imagination needs strong bedrock on which to flourish.”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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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.






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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Company Posts

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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