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Profile Media: Ernie Alexander

Identifying a gap in the publishing field and filling it took dogged persistence – but it paid off

Entrepreneur

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Ernie Alexander

Passion and perseverance – that’s what it takes to build a company. So says Ernie Alexander, founder and marketing director of Profile Media. And he should know: under his initial guidance, the fledgling company has grown to become a major player in the financial data publishing field.

In 1991, Alexander was a would-be publisher with little practical experience and big dreams. “Since graduating from Rhodes University, I had worked in several positions in the financial services industry; first doing my articles, then as a financial manager and, finally, as a trader.

While these jobs taught me invaluable lessons, particularly regarding what it takes to run a business, none of them were truly satisfying,” he recalls.

Alexander’s time as a trader had helped him identify a gap in the market: there was a strong need for current, user-friendly information that would make the markets more accessible to a larger audience. This realisation sparked Alexander’s first publication, The Financial Markets Handbook.

Alexander was undeterred by the fact that his idea was initially rejected by a number of publishers. He decided, instead, to follow the route of self-publication. Equally undaunted by his lack of experience in the field, he viewed publishing simply as “a series of logical steps to be followed”.

More challenging was getting potential clients to share his vision. “I literally wore out shoes knocking on doors in the effort to sign up participants in the book. I didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer – if someone refused to grant me an appointment, I would go to their offices and wait for them to see me,” he laughs.

His tenacity was paying off, but there were still hurdles to be crossed – most notably, securing finance for the project. Rejected by his bank and a number of other financial institutions, Alexander once again followed an unorthodox route, persuading two of his larger clients to pay their participation fees upfront, rather than on the date of publication, and using the resulting monies to cover printing costs.

“That was the turning point,” Alexander says. “It made the business a reality.”

It also set the tone for Profile Media’s business. Alexander admits that it wasn’t easy to gain buy-in for an idea that had yet to be executed, but believes that it was delivery on the promise that made all the difference. “This made it possible for us to gain our clients’ confidence,” he says, and that, in turn, made it possible for Profile Media to produce more titles.

“After the production of the first handbook, I realised that we’d hit on a formula that worked. The next step was to look for new products,” says Alexander, adding that he found this surprisingly easy. “It all just happened. And after two years of producing The Financial Markets Handbook and gaining an agency for a second product, The Euromarket Dayfinder, as well as some other industry-related services, we decided it was time for growth.”

To make this goal a reality, Alexander needed two things: firstly, IT experience and secondly, a partner. He found both in a company called TASC (Pty) Ltd, which merged with Profile Media in 1992. Having obtained the clout to investigate more opportunities, progress was rapid:

Profile Media quickly developed a range of other financial print and database products, including The Stock Exchange Handbook and The Unit Trust Handbook, both of which are available electronically. In addition, Profile Data was established to develop shares and funds databases.

Alexander is proud of the fact that Profile Media has not only survived but thrived, under extremely tough market conditions, even outliving some of its earlier competitors. He attributes this success to the fact that the company has always been quick to notice opportunities and exploit them.

“Our decision to publish off an electronic platform is a case in point; it has helped us reduce our turnaround significantly, while many competitors are still hampered by the slowness of manual platforms.” Also important is the company’s meticulous attention to detail, vital in an industry where mistakes are not forgiven lightly. “Not that we pretend we don’t ever make mistakes. But when we do, we make reparations as quickly as possible,” Alexander says.

This is in line with his ethos regarding customer care. “It’s imperative that you look after your clients. Although you may spend enormous time and effort pursuing new clients, it’s often more lucrative simply to maintain and strengthen the relationships with your existing ones.” Alexander’s final words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

“Starting a business is like running a marathon with an unknown finishing point. You have to keep going because you don’t know where that finish line may be. Plan your business carefully, learn all you can about your chosen industry and understand important aspects like revenue and cash flows. Then pursue your dream with everything you’ve got.”

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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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.

CEOwise

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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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