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Upstarts

How BrightRock Is Rocking The (Industry) Boat In Only 5 Years Since Launch

In a mere five years, BrightRock has managed to carve out a strong position for itself in the fiercely competitive insurance industry. How has the company so successfully taken on powerful and entrenched competitors?

GG van Rooyen

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Vital Stats

  • Company: BrightRock
  • Players: Leopold Malan, Suzanne Stevens, Schalk Malan and Sean Hanlon
  • Established: 2011
  • Annualised premium income (API): R595 million
  • Visit: brightrock.co.za

The South African insurance sector didn’t perform particularly well during the 2015/2016 financial year. In fact, the industry posted below-inflation growth of around 4,5%. Compare this to the year-on-year growth that BrightRock enjoyed over the same period — a staggering 72% — and you realise that the founders of the company have accomplished something very impressive.

BrightRock has established itself in an industry that is capital intensive and dominated by entrenched players. How have the four company founders managed this?

Changing the game

Sectors such as financial services and insurance can seem impossible to upend, especially when you take a moment to consider the obstacles. There are powerful players who have been playing the game for a long time, and you are dealing with potential clients who often don’t even really understand what they’re buying into. Products can be complex, so educating people on how your offering is different isn’t always easy.

Related: Business Partners Limited Explain What It Takes To Have The X (Fundable) Factor

“It’s often said that the insurance industry is quite innovative, but when you really look at it, you realise that policies have been looking pretty much the same for a long time now,” says BrightRock co-founder and executive director of distribution Sean Hanlon.

“All four of us had been in the industry for a long time, and we realised that things could be done differently. There was a market for a different kind of policy.”

Leopold Malan, executive director of processing adds: “When we started BrightRock, we wanted to bring about change in the industry by providing cover that is both relevant and appropriate to each and every individual client, and continues to match the needs of clients as their lives change.

Four years after our market entry, we are pleased to see the substantial take-up of our needs-matched product offering. The flexible design of our cover also allows us to provide up to 48% more cover for the same premium, allowing greater affordability initially and over the long term.

“In our first year, 47% to 53% of our policyholders wanted traditional, lump-sum cover. However, an overwhelming 71% of our policyholders now opt for needs-matched insurance through product options that allow them to shift their cover as their needs change.”

BrightRock entered into a saturated market, but it approached the industry in a unique way. In a sense, it created its own playing field.

This is a good example of how a traditional industry can be disrupted. Moreover, it shows that disruption need not necessarily be driven by technology. Disruption can be created just by tweaking existing offerings. A new company like BrightRock doesn’t have a massive legacy and loads of existing clients that so often lock a large business into its existing model.

The important thing, though, is to take advantage of this freedom — to not simply fall into existing patterns of doing business. Starting a new company offers a unique opportunity to reassess the way in which things are done, and to change it. 

Educating the client

Whenever you offer a completely new way of doing things, prospective clients need to be educated and shown why ‘new’ is in fact also ‘better’.

As mentioned, it took a while for BrightRock clients to adjust to the company’s new offering. So how did BrightRock manage to change clients’ minds?

Well, the company was savvy in the way in which it marketed itself. Right from the start, it realised the need to create clever marketing content that explained its offering.

Related: Turnover Doubling Every 10 Months – Honeybee Has Set Its Sights To Scale Speedily

“Bringing a new brand with a new way of doing things to the market isn’t easy,” says Suzanne Stevens, executive director of marketing. “Educating the consumer is a tough task, and we knew that we couldn’t outspend our competition. To address the issue, we designed a marketing model that started with a content-based approach on platforms we could own. For example, we built a green-screen studio in-house and partnered with journalist Ruda Landman to create videos that explored the change moments in people’s lives. This was a good way to look at insurance in a personal way — to make the implications of insurance real, and to show how life changes dictated insurance needs.”

The campaign was so successful, that BrighRock eventually sold the idea to kykNET as a show called Veranderdinge. BrightRock also made the decision to try to do away with much of the jargon and complexity often associated with insurance policies.

“We made sure that all materials were simple and easy to understand,” says Stevens. “We also endeavoured to make the claims process as hassle-free as possible and to allow a client to speak to a human being whenever they wanted. In the end, it all came down to empowering the client to have a meaningful conversation — to understand our offering and ask pertinent questions.”

When it came to selling its policies, BrightRock decided to go with independent brokers who sold various policies.

“We wanted our offering to prove itself,” says Schalk Malan, actuarial executive director. “We wanted experts in the industry to be able to compare our offering with those of others, and let it speak for itself. We were confident that we had a product that could stand on its own and benefit from comparison.”

Growing successfully

brightrock-insurance-business-south-africa

Key to the success of BrightRock has been its ability to scale successfully. It is something many companies struggle with, since quick growth leads to increased complexity. Managing this complexity is key.

“There are great advantages to being a new start-up,” says Hanlon.

“When you’re small, you can react quickly. As you grow, though, this becomes harder. With this in mind, we made the decision to put systems in place early on. And having spent time on it from the very beginning, we were able to grow quickly.“

Related: What types of insurance should I take out for my SME?

“We focused on creating a simple platform that was accessible enough to be used both internally and externally. It was all about stripping out unnecessary complexity, since this would slow down the on-boarding process, both in terms of new clients and new employees,” says Stevens.

Leopold Malan is quick to add, however, that systems and processes can only take a start-up so far. “It takes a good five to ten years to thoroughly implement the systems and processes needed. It is not a simple task. This means that, during the first few years of doing business, your systems will let you down. And when this happens, you need good people in place who can take up the slack.”

BrightRock’s founders have been careful to place the A-players and experienced managers needed to manage growth.

“When it comes to scaling, you’ll often find that it’s the human capital element that limits growth. You can grow your client base quickly, but you need good people who can actually manage the workload. Getting new clients is great, but you need to be able to retain them,” says Hanlon.


Key learnings

  • Don’t be drawn into doing things the way the industry has always done them. A new company has the power to do things differently.
  • Educating consumers in a clever way is crucial when bringing a unique offering to market.
  • Systems and processes are important, but try to stay as agile as possible. Don’t let red tape throttle growth.
  • Have the right people in place who can help you keep growing, even when your processes let you down.

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Upstarts

Watch List: 11 Teen Entrepreneurs Who Have Launched Successful Businesses

These teens are proving that you don’t need a driver’s licence – or the ability to vote – to create and execute a successful start-up.

Diana Albertyn

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In South Africa youth entrepreneurship is encouraged as the best way to build the economy. Teens are no longer relying on tertiary education to jumpstart their careers, as many high school students become budding entrepreneurs. From make-up to confectionary and tech-centred ventures, youth entrepreneurship is taking the business world by storm.

“It’s easier than ever to become an entrepreneur, and technology has a lot to do with it. You’re a tech-savvy millennial, and Internet and mobile technologies make it easier to connect and identify with people, based on shared values and ideals,” says Michael Freestone, founder of the MJF Group. “All entrepreneurs wonder if their companies will succeed, but you don’t really know until you try. So, do it while you’re young and have little or nothing to lose.”

And that’s exactly what teenagers across the country are doing. While being a teenager is stressful enough, without worrying about marketing and your bottom line – these young entrepreneurs thrive on success, which must be their secret sauce to their winning business ideas.

  1. Rabia Ghoor
  2. Cory Nieves
  3. Nathan Woodrow
  4. Isabella Rose Taylor
  5. Mikaila Ulmer
  6. Moziah Bridges
  7. Tony McPherson
  8. Anthony Veck and Malvin Musanhi
  9. Reabetswe Nkonyane, Phumla Mvila, and Thandokazi Mtshakazana
  10. Omphile Sekwele and Didintle Nkambule
  11. Fisokuhle Lushaba and Wendy Nkosi
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Upstarts

10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

The future of entrepreneurship has never looked so bright…these young entrepreneurs share their wisdom around building a successful business.

Nicole Crampton

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Natural Talent Can Become Your Success

Thabo-Khumalo

Thabo Khumalo

Thabo Khumalo – ToVch

“I learnt to design and sew while assisting my mother who was a seamstress, and that is when I realised that I had a talent to create,” Thabo Khumalo explains. “But I never knew I was an entrepreneur.” Thabo Khumalo started his company ToVch in 2010 and has since appeared in South African Fashion Week, Soweto Fashion Week and Mpumalanga Fashion Week.

Khumalo has a small but engaged audience, who he communicates directly with. “The brand has a dedicated audience, and the social media presence also allows me to continuously scan the fashion environment to keep up with external forces.”

The Lesson

One of the most challenging aspects of launching his businesses was marketing the brand with limited funds. He used social media and word-of-mouth to market. “On social media, people share your brand with others simply because they want to,” says Khumalo. “It’s a powerful platform, and it does not cost anything.” Khumalo built up his company using support from a strong online network, which became his marketing strategy.

Read more on How Fashion Start-Up ToVch Built A Brand Presence With Only A Little Budget.

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Upstarts

For Founder Of National Tekkie Tax Day Having A Higher (Business) Purpose Keeps Her Driving Forward

The NGO space isn’t easy. It’s a constant uphill battle to connect scarce resources with the vulnerable. Annelise de Jager has persevered in this space because she’s tapped into her personal purpose and values.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Annelise de Jager
  • Initiative: National Tekkie Tax Day
  • Launched: 2013
  • Visit: www.tekkietax.co.za

Use your purpose to drive you forward

Connect your purpose with what you do, and you’ll find untapped reserves of perseverance and the discipline needed to achieve your goals.

Purpose before profit is not a new concept in business. In fact, it underlines the motivations behind some of the most successful entrepreneurs. It’s also not reserved for social enterprises alone.

However, it is in the social entrepreneurship and charitable spaces that living one’s purpose first found a foothold, mostly because without a strong purpose, the work would just be too hard, and many would give up.

Annelise de Jager, founder of National Tekkie Tax Day, unpacks how she’s used living her purpose to drive her forward, even when she’s faced almost insurmountable challenges and disappointments.

Make ‘living a life that matters’ intrinsic to everything you do.

“I was lucky in that I didn’t ever need to sit down and say, ‘I want my life to matter, so I need to do x, y, z’,” says Annelise. “It was intrinsic for me. However, in the past five years I’ve become acutely aware of it, and I’ve seen how important the ability to look beyond oneself is when you’re facing disappointment and challenges.

“It helps you look beyond the now, find a solution and keep pushing on, because there is a bigger goal at stake. The biggest revelation for me has been that anyone can figure this out and use it as a tool to achieve their dreams and purpose — you just need to trigger your intrinsic motivators.

Related: ReWare Did One Crucial Thing That Most Entrepreneurs Are Too Afraid To Do

“Figure out what’s really important to you, and then align this with what you’re doing, in both your business and personal journeys. Robin Bank’s Mind Power and Shaping your Destiny courses are a great place to start.”

Don’t be afraid to ask what’s next

Critical to Annelise’s journey has been the realisation that when goals are met, we need to ask ourselves: What’s next? “Too many people achieve their goals and then feel adrift. You should meet your goals. Your ultimate vision should change. That’s growth, and it’s critical if you want to keep moving forward.

“Our experiences inform our knowledge base and world views, and so as you live and run your business, that view should be changing, bringing with it new challenges and perceptions. Don’t be scared of it; embrace it.”

Annelise went to Potchefstroom University to study social work where she joined the university’s musical revue group, the Alabama Student Company. “Alabama was given the opportunity to tour Taiwan, but I was about to graduate. Travel is high on my personal values list, so I started a second degree in communications to stay in university — and — in Alabama.”

New experiences can be the source of great ideas and strength

Studying communications opened Annelise to a new discipline that she loved. “Marketing and communications are so filled with energy — an energy social work didn’t possess. I loved both, and I wanted to find a way to meld them together. This would ultimately shape my business, The Marketing Team, after I’d been a social worker for a few years. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plans based on new experiences; they can be the source of our greatest ideas and strengths.”

Related: Reel Gardening Warns That Innovation Is Never Easy

No experience is ever wasted

“We spend too much time trying to plan exactly what we should be doing, where and when, instead of following our hearts and instincts,” says Annelise. “No experience is ever wasted. Once I discovered my love for communications, I questioned whether I’d wasted four years studying social work. I hadn’t.

“Both disciplines became the bedrock of how I would assist the charitable space in South Africa. Experiences open our eyes, our hearts, and our understanding. They give us empathy and patience. They allow us to view things from other perspectives. If you want to really make a difference in other peoples’ lives, these traits are invaluable.”

Be open to finding answers in unexpected places

“By 2004 I felt rudderless,” says Annelise. “I’d been running my own business, handling communications and marketing for NGOs, developing campaigns and even assisting NGOs to run more as businesses than under-funded organisations, but it didn’t feel like I was doing enough.

“Part of the problem was that you can only give people the tools to work with, you can’t make them use them. Another problem was under-funding. Corporates spend billions each year on CSI projects but they don’t like to fund salaries and basic operational expenses.

“It’s frustrating because volunteers can’t do what needs to be done — most households need two breadwinners, which limits the availability of volunteers to assist.

“I was looking for a way to add more value. Should I start my own NGO? Where could I make the biggest impact? I’d been offered an excellent coaching position, which would allow me to walk away from the problems this sector deals with daily. It was tempting, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

“At that time I attended the Global Day of Prayer in Argentina on behalf of a client. It was at that conference that I had an almost supernatural experience. I left knowing exactly what my purpose was.

“How these realisations come to you is less important than the fact that you’re open to them. Deep down I knew what I wanted and needed — I just needed the courage and fortitude to follow my path. My experience in Argentina gave that to me because I allowed it to.”

Always find the strength to persevere.

Nothing worth doing is ever easy. In the NGO space, this is particularly true. “I developed the idea for National Tekkie Tax Day because NGOs constantly asked me to help them develop funding campaigns. I developed this fundraising model when I launched Casual Day and ran the project successfully for 18 years.

“But I also believe the NGO space can benefit from a more unified mindset to overcome donor confusion and fatigue. This is my new focus, but it’s difficult to get organisations to shift their mindsets. National Tekkie Tax Day is a step in this direction.

“It encompasses 12 national NGOs and 1 000 regional organisations across five categories — but there’s one product and one national marketing drive. Donors can choose a category to support.

Related: How Fintech Zoona Is Solving Customers’ Real Problems

“I’ve needed to persevere to help NGOs see the benefits in working collaboratively, and corporates to see the benefits of supporting the operational costs of NGOs.

“I don’t have a high profile job at a top company. People don’t call you back in my world. And yet you need to keep pushing forward against incredible headwinds.

“I wake up each morning and repeat the mantra that my success helps everybody; my failure helps nobody. There won’t always be easy wins, but with the right purpose you can persevere. You can make a difference.”

Support National Tekkie Tax Day on 26 May 2017

12 national charities | 1 000 local charities | 5 sectors to support

Animals, Bring Hope, Children, Disability, Education

Available at Toys R Us, Clicks and Babies R Us or online at www.tekkietax.co.za

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