- Player: Thomas Schmidt
- Company: TomTom Telematics
- Position: MD
- Visit: telematics.tomtom.com/en_za/webfleet/
To be a successful company in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing market, you need three key ingredients: Access to markets (which starts with products that clients need), short-term agility and long-term goals.
Consider the epic success of Apple. Steve Jobs was hungry and fast — he drove his teams to achieve more in less time. But he also had a long-term vision that directed the business’s trajectory. True innovation is the result of looking five to ten years into the future, and laying the groundwork now for where the company needs to be then.
TomTom started out in 1991 as a software provider for Palm Pilots, long before the Internet was a thing, or GPS had been opened for civil usage. Today, the listed company’s latest acquisition is Autonomous, a business that focuses on navigation systems for driverless cars. Over the course of almost three decades, TomTom has consistently focused on what comes next: What do consumer and business clients need, where will technology take us, and what will be possible in the near future, enabling greater efficiencies?
Thomas Schmidt, MD of TomTom Telematics, unpacks the five lessons TomTom has learnt while developing world-class solutions for the consumer and B2B markets worldwide.
1. Focus on the problem you’re solving, not on the product you produce
Companies that are too fixated on what they do, instead of where technology and markets are heading, will often find themselves left behind. The most common example is Kodak, who refused to see the dangers digital photography posed. Instead of seeing themselves as a company that helped people capture moments, they saw themselves as manufacturers of films and cameras. The rest of course, is history.
Robust businesses reinvent themselves, adjusting solutions to fit the market and making use of technological breakthroughs. “In 1991, the founders of TomTom launched a company called Palmtop,” says Thomas.
“They designed and created the software for digital organisers. In principle, it was like a smartphone with no connectivity, and included a digital bible, a digital cookbook, a personal organiser, a calendar and a whole host of other features. By the late 90s it even included a digital map, which they had licensed through Tele Atlas, a Belgian company that developed very basic digital maps.”
Here’s how it worked: You bought a PalmPilot, purchased the map software, uploaded it to your device, and then purchased the cables and mountings that you’d need to instal the whole system in your car. It was complicated and something that only techies were really trying out, but it triggered something in the TomTom (at that stage Palmtop) team, who recognised that if they could remove the tech hurdles to get there, they’d democratise navigation.
The company had been a forerunner in the personal organiser software business. Based on where they believed the market was heading however, they began to shift their focus to hardware, and began manufacturing personal navigation devices (PNDs), complete with digital maps licensed through Tele Atlas.
By 2003 the business had been rebranded to TomTom and their first device, the TomTom Go, was launched. From there the business consistently grew 400% year-on-year, and an IPO was concluded in May 2005.
In hindsight, the shift looks simple, but in reality, it’s never easy to reinvent yourself as a business, unless you’re agile, adaptable, and willing to focus on the best solution, rather than what your current product stack looks like.
2. Always look ahead
Great visions always precede technological solutions. If they didn’t, nothing would ever progress or change. The companies capable of those visions become the trailblazers and game-changers that shape industries, solve problems and drive greater efficiencies.
The evolution of TomTom’s dynamic map data is a perfect example of this mindset in action, because the team kept asking what would make their product more useful to consumers. They had the device, and a digital map. What they didn’t have was mobile data.
Instead, Tele Atlas had vans driving around, capturing everything. It was time consuming, expensive, and meant maps were always out of date. They also weren’t dynamic.
“When you consider the fact that 15% of a map’s data changes yearly, we knew there was so much more we could do with this product if we just had the right tools, and developed appropriate solutions,” explains Thomas.
TomTom’s team started by looking to the future: What did they want this product to look like? The answer was simple: They wanted a navigation system that was dynamic and up-to-date. If anything happened, a user would know within minutes. This would include traffic, accidents, traffic lights that weren’t working, delays — anything and everything that would add value to a motorist or business with vehicles on the road. Today, this includes data drawn from how a vehicle is operating and how the driver is performing, right through to its location with regard to a dynamic map, and the capability to send companies and clients up-to-date information.
The technology that has made all this possible came after the idea of what the team wanted to achieve. With the right starting point, they were able to develop solutions that were possible. “We had millions of units on the road. We created a functionality that allowed users to update information on the map when they plugged it into their computers to update the software.”
The problem was that it was a slow process. By the time TomTom gathered the data, sent it to Tele Atlas, and the changes were implemented and released in an update, months had passed. Consumers lost interest because it took so long to see a change.
So, the team went back to the problem to engineer a different solution. “We went back to the data we were collecting, and started comparing that data with the map. What were speed averages on different roads? Based on this, we could predict times of the day when you could expect traffic congestion and delays. We also paid attention to roads on the map that no one used, or areas with no roads that nevertheless had traffic. These were flagged as out-dated areas on the map, and we could send vans to check those areas only. It was all based on historical data, but we were adding more information to the map on a continuous basis.”
The next component to be added to the mix was telematics. Thomas’ company, Data Factory, was purchased by TomTom in 2005. “Telematics brought more data early on to TomTom. This was real-time data that could be deployed elsewhere. In the early days we were using trunket radios to capture data, but it was all fed into the system. An average car spends less than an hour on the road each day. Compare this to six hours for a business car, and up to 12 hours for a truck, and you’ll get a view of how much data we were actually collecting. The trick was to continuously ask how we could use the data, and what we could do with it. It was not yet a dynamic system, but we were constantly moving forward and improving. We kept asking, ‘If we had this, what could we do with it?’”
TomTom also made another decision, and offered to purchase Tele Atlas in 2008. “We recognised that the future was fresh, up-to-date data. If we owned the maps, we can streamline the process. Two different companies, even working in partnership, create a lot of delays.
“Increasing efficiencies wherever you can is in our DNA. That’s what we do for customers. And it’s why we’ve been able to offer our customers up-to-date dynamic maps that are data-rich and create a seamless customer experience.”
3. Adapt to the future
This takes the ideal of looking ahead a step further. On the one hand, looking ahead is focused on the lane you’re currently in, and envisioning how you can change customer lives. But it’s also about paying attention to how the world is changing, and what the future will bring.
TomTom is currently a software and hardware developer. The business has four divisions: TomTom Consumer, TomTom Automotive, TomTom Licensing and TomTom Telematics. In each case, hardware and software solutions are deployed to drive efficiencies and cost savings, from consumers with a TomTom device in their vehicles, cars with onboard systems designed by TomTom, telematics systems that track a business’s entire transport and logistics solution, to the map data as one of the sources for Apple’s map solution.
But TomTom is looking much further than the solutions it currently offers. “TomTom democratised navigation, and today it’s available in multiple different ways; your phone, a device, your car. We understand this and move with the times. We expect technology disruption to go on and things to change even faster in the future. Today we manufacture devices. We don’t believe we will still be doing this in the long-term future. How our solutions will be accessed will change. We are also now investing heavily in the navigation systems and maps autonomous cars will use. This isn’t a big revenue stream for us now, but it will be incredibly important in the future, and we will have solutions ready.
“To stay alive, you need to be smarter, faster and the master in your specific area of competence. At our core we bring customers, data and development together. It’s always about the best experience and solutions.”
4. Be fast, agile and adaptable
Even though TomTom is a listed company, its controlling shareholding rests in the hands of four people — all of whom are entrepreneurs. “TomTom’s original founders still head up the business and drive its vision, and the four different business units are run by MDs who are entrepreneurial as well,” explains Thomas, who is one of those MDs, and who by his own admission could never be a standard employee.
“Data Factory was the third business I built, and I sold it to TomTom in 2005 because I knew this was the best way to achieve international growth. 12 years later I’m still here as MD of the Telematics business because our CEO and founder, Harold Goddijn, convinced me to stay and grow the exciting business unit. The fact that we’re given so much autonomy to grow each business unit as a company makes us fast, agile and adaptable. It’s the essence of this business. We all have a fiduciary duty to our shareholders, but we also have long-term visions that allow us to be trailblazers in our industry.
“We’re not executives who begin to implement projects and then leave. We’re focused on long-term, industry changing visions that will change the way our customers operate and do business. That’s what gets me up in the morning and keeps me constantly engaged and excited.”
The business is also run on a system of flat hierarchies, which Thomas believes is a key ingredient to TomTom’s success. “No single giant can know or understand everything. To remain relevant, businesses need fresh ideas, and these come from open and collaborative teams. As the leader, you don’t need to come up with all of the ideas — but you do need to be open to fresh thinking, even from your juniors. Have an open door policy, and listen to ideas when they are shared with you. That’s how you push the envelope.”
5. Give customers what they need, not what they want
Listening to customers is important, but you also need to look beyond their current needs if you’re going to be a game- changer — both in your own industry, and in terms of what you can do for your customers.
“Take note of your customers’ pain points and deliver solutions that create value, but you can’t innovate if you only listen to what your customers want. You need to be delivering to their needs, otherwise you’re just an executor and not an innovator.
“It’s up to you to jump to the next step that they can’t see yet, and often don’t even realise is possible. Customers are focused on the now — we need to be looking five years ahead.”
How do you stay ahead of the curve though? Thomas believes it’s all about asking the right questions.
“Consider the question, ‘What if we had unlimited energy for free in the world?’ So many people stop there and don’t ask further, because it’s seen as an impossibility. And that’s what kills innovation. If you remove that obstacle, and instead look at what this would mean for the world, you can start shaping a different future.
“So, what would it mean? It would mean an unlimited water supply, because we could easily make drinking water from salt water, at little to no cost. What does unlimited drinking water mean? An unlimited food supply, because water is the biggest restrictor. Once you start asking the right questions, you reach a future that you want to be a part of and make happen — and that’s when you start finding solutions.
“Solar is already doing this, at 50% of the cost of other alternatives. The latest technology delivers at 50% of the price, and it was developed because the right questions are being asked.
“This is how we operate. We are always dreaming about what we could do. This allows us to create solutions. They don’t always work, but we’re hungry, and when we fail we fail fast, learn the lessons we need and push on. We’re always heading in the right direction, and changing the shape of what’s possible.”
Balancing Business And Investment Risks
It is vital that entrepreneurs develop additional revenue streams and create wealth outside of their business to ensure their financial security. Sheldon Friedericksen unpacks the benefits of including Fedgroup’s Secured Investment offering in a diversified portfolio.
Entrepreneurs tend to have a natural affinity for risk-taking. While carefully calculated, they bet big on their businesses, often going all-in when investing financial resources to start and grow their companies.
“Given this commitment, many entrepreneurs view their business as their ultimate retirement plan. This can be a mistake, because it places all their proverbial financial eggs in one basket,” explains Sheldon Friedericksen, Chief Financial Officer at Fedgroup.
As an entrepreneur, it’s important that you consider how a diversified investment portfolio that spreads risk can offer greater financial security, while still delivering robust returns.
“Paradoxically, while most successful entrepreneurs excel at diversification – they often pursue multiple opportunities, or pivot their business to exploit new gaps in the market – their investment portfolios seldom follow suit,” continues Friedericksen.
Exposed to volatility
This inherent appetite for risk means entrepreneurs often also employ a different approach to investing. “Allocations tend to reflect this risk profile, with portfolios heavily skewed towards high risk, high return assets such as equities.”
However, entrepreneurs need to carefully consider their asset allocations, taking into account their business in relation to their other investments. “As the sole or majority shareholder in a business, an entrepreneur already has massive exposure to equity risk, whether the company is listed or not,” says Friedericksen.
It’s also important to insulate investment portfolios from the potential impact of stock market corrections. The recent slump in the value of shares in companies that were previously considered mainstays in the portfolios of astute investors and leading fund managers has highlighted the variability in risk inherent in a concentrated equity investment approach.
“Since the start of 2018 a range of blue-chip JSE-listed companies have shed significant value as equities shrugged off positive market sentiment and reacted to weak economic fundamentals and, in certain instances, corporate governance irregularities,” says Friedericksen.
In the face of these developments, he believes that entrepreneurs should ask if they can solely rely on stock investments, especially when the bottom drops out of heavily-weighted shares like Steinhoff?
“While investing in equities has long been considered one of the best ways to achieve above-average returns, in the context of an entrepreneur’s risk profile there is always a need to include lower-risk, secure investments in your portfolio to ensure a degree of security and certainty.”
Your capital secured
A suitable option is Fedgroup’s Secured Investment participation (part) bond offering, which combines fixed, high returns with capital security. “We created our Secured Investment product to help investors earn a higher level of income than that offered by money market funds, while protecting their capital value.”
Part bonds are a low-risk, high-yield fixed deposit investment fund backed by first mortgage bonds on a physical properties.
This type of secured investment offers predictability with a fixed, guaranteed interest rate for the full term of the investment, allowing for accurate calculations and projections on growth.
“It is also a type of collective investment, which is governed by the same strict regulations as unit trusts and is regulated by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (formerly the FSB). This means invested capital is secure and protected by law.”
Income or growth
Entrepreneurs can choose to invest for income, as interest earned at the nominal rate of 8.75% p.a. can be paid out monthly.
“Alternatively, investors can choose to invest for growth. By reinvesting the income, investors benefit from the power of compound interest, earning an effective rate of 10.9% p.a. over the five-year investment period,” continues Friedericksen. Investors also have the flexibility to switch from the growth option to the income option without attracting penalties.
What’s more, Fedgroup charges no fees on the investment amount, or on the interest earned, so returns aren’t eroded. “Our income is earned from the properties we finance and the interest income generated.”
Since launching its Secured Investment offering in 1990, Fedgroup has experienced significant inflows from both institutional and private investors, particularly for lump-sum cash investments. “We are currently managing over R2 billion within our Secured Investment portfolio,” confirms Friedericksen.
“Investing in assets that are counter cyclical to the industry within which entrepreneurs operate, and including more conservative, stable investments like our Secured Investment in a portfolio, is a smart diversification strategy for any business owner. This investment approach mitigates risk and offers greater financial security, which ultimately enables entrepreneurs to pursue a more aggressive business strategy,” he says.
The benefits of investing in a Secured Investment:
- A high-yield, no cost fixed deposit investment
- A low-risk investment that is secured by first mortgage bonds on physical properties and is highly regulated
- Every property investment opportunity is objectively analysed and evaluated against a strict set of criteria, with a maximum of 75% of the asset value loaned for the mortgage
- The fund has close on double the ratio of security (value of the properties) to outstanding loans (value of mortgage bonds), ensuring that investors are well protected
- Offers predictability with a fixed, guaranteed interest rate for the full term of the investment
- Offers flexibility to invest for income or growth to meet specific investor requirements
Public Private Partnerships Can Work For Entrepreneurs
Property Point will develop 16 small business in the property sector of which two thirds are youth and women owned.
In a landmark partnership for collective economic growth in South Africa, the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD) joined forces with Property Point, a Growthpoint Properties initiative, to develop more small businesses for South Africa’s property sector. DSBD has allocated a R5 million grant to Property Point for a one-year small business development programme as part of its Enterprise Incubation Programme (EIP). This breakthrough initiative is the first public-private partnership of its kind in the property sector. It will develop 16 small businesses in the property sector of which two thirds are youth and woman-owned.
For this unique 16-business intake, Property Point’s programme is powerfully market driven. It will raise the profile of the entrepreneurs and strengthen their competitiveness, with a deep focus on market integration. The programme aims to create market linkages for these small businesses that will see them included in procurement opportunities in the broader property sector, as well as Growthpoint. It is expected to set new benchmarks for small business integration into private sector supply chains.
Estienne de Klerk, CEO of Growthpoint South Africa, says: “We believe in the principles of social and economic transformation and empowerment on all levels, and we are committed to achieving this. As a hands-on property owner, we own and manage our buildings – we recognise our unique position to develop small businesses to increase their access to market opportunities. We are proud to contribute to this pioneering public-private partnership designed to deliver on South Africa’s transformation, small business, economic growth and job creation objectives.”
Shawn Theunissen, head of Property Point and head of Corporate Social Responsibility for Growthpoint Properties, says:
“Property Point’s objective has always been to contribute to South Africa’s economic growth. Using a best practice model, we have delivered positive results in our new partnership with government. This will escalate our impact on transforming the economy at a crucial time when South Africa is dealing with high unemployment and low economic growth.”
The beneficiaries of the Property Point and DSBD partnership have advice on how other entrepreneurs can make the most out of similar programmes:
Advice from Zoleka Ngema of Senzee Trading
- Be honest this helps you define your position and helps you view the real issues in your business.
- Do every task diligently every business is different and what works for one might not work for you, so working diligently personifies the tasks and therefore adds value to your business.
- Lessons are continuous remember & do the tasks done as these will create a cycle of growth even after the course is over.
Advice from Sibongile Shikwambana of Sandwind Coatings
- Be fully present, participate and take advantage of every single opportunity
- Drive your own business agenda; recognise that you and no one else can make your business successful
- Build and maintain meaningful relationships.
Advice from Teko Motlhabi of Techmo Air
- Try to be present and involved with all the activities and opportunities handed to you
- Ask for help from the Programme Managers and the rest of the team when you need it
- Create relationships with your fellow entrepreneurs and collaborate.
How SMPs Can Support Businesses Looking To Internationalise
Key findings from a new global research report from ACCA suggest Small and Medium Sized Accounting Practices (SMPs) recognise many of the key challenges and opportunities that internationalising SMEs face in today’s global economy. This provides them with an excellent platform towards providing additional value-added support to clients.
Much has been written in recent years about how SMPs are experiencing a growing number of commercial challenges that are disrupting the client services they have traditionally relied upon for revenue.
Equally, many have argued that more SMPs need to consider whether diversification into new advisory services could be the key towards the sector’s future success. However, such change can be difficult when talent flows in the sector are uncertain and competition is fierce.
Whilst not appropriate for everyone, ACCA was therefore interested to explore whether international trade is one area where SMPs’ unique experience and expertise might lead to the development of new service provision.
Our findings suggest that many SMPs are equipped with an excellent platform towards providing additional value-added support to clients. However, despite SMPs stating that most of their clients had been involved in some form of international activity over the last three years, their current provision of relevant support remains highly focused around a small number of limited areas.
The new report, Growing Globally – How SMPs can support international ambitions, also revealed the following about internationalisation and the relevant advice landscape for SMEs.
Although the research was global, specific findings from five key markets have also been extracted and presented. These markets are Ireland, Malaysia, Nigeria, Singapore and the UK. They were selected on the basis of their representation of markets in various stages of economic development, and their global and regional importance to international trade.
SME internationalisation today
- Just under half (45%) of SMEs said the main benefit of internationalisation was access to new customers in foreign markets. Increased profitability (35%), faster business growth (33%) and access to new business networks (30%) followed.
- Both SMEs and SMPs considered ease of doing business and high growth potential as the most important factors when choosing an export destination. Geography was seen as less important, which may be a result of new technologies reducing its significance as a perceived barrier.
- Both SMEs and SMPs recognised foreign regulations as the most significant barrier to internationalisation. For SMEs, the second most important was competition (27%) though for SMPs it was foreign customs duties.
- In terms of the future, SMEs’ international ambitions are focused on building the capacity of their business (45%), building networks in foreign markets (45%) and introducing or developing more products and services to market (44%).
The advice landscape
- A wide breadth of professional advice and support is used by internationalising SMEs, who tend to reach out to different sources as they move along their internationalisation journeys. Government or relevant public agencies (39%) are the most widely used source of professional advice, closely followed by lawyers (35%) and then banks (33%).
- Accountants are most likely to be used by SMEs when looking for support on international tax, regulatory compliance, foreign exchange and accessing external finance.
- Only 9% of SMPs said they had no clients who had been involved in any international trade activities over the last 3 years. Importing and exporting activities were the most common, as was participating in broader international supply chain networks.
- SMPs mainly rely on internal and informal resources when advising clients about internationalisation. However, this gradually shifts towards a reliance on more external and formalised resources as practices grow in employee size.
- Just under half (47%) were not members of any networking organisation, potentially missing out on valuable resources that could enable the development of more effective forms of international support.
Using these findings, ACCA conducted a series of interviews and roundtables with SMPs and SMEs globally. The subsequent insights were used to develop recommendations on how practices can look to develop their international advisory provision.
- Specialisation is key – For those developing their international advisory provision, it is vital to first identify an area of the market where you believe your practice has the opportunity to effectively develop its expertise, resources and intelligence to best suit the needs of your clients. SMEs’ demands for international advice vary according to sector and size of business. Building a market focus is more likely to make any future expansion of international support more achievable and successful.
- Adopt a strategic mindset – Identifying where you could best add value in terms of international support requires SMPs to think strategically and embark on initial planning and research. The best place to start is with existing clients rather than prospective ones, as they provide a readily accessible (and more approachable) evidence base to explore where demand is likely to be greatest. Making efforts to understand your clients’ internationalisation needs can then help you shape your wider international advisory offering.
- Expand your international network – Networks are integral for the development of new professional advisory services but particularly with regards to internationalisation. This is because global value chains often necessitate close and efficient coordination of activities between businesses. SMPs should therefore aspire to become the central referral point for clients looking to find the most appropriate source of professional advice.
- Invest in professional development – Practices must have highly skilled staff with the appropriate intellectual knowledge for clients to recognise the value in the services offered. Creating a structured programme of learning activities for staff around international trade could be useful for SMPs looking to upscale their international advisory provision. This could involve introducing formal learning activities across more technical areas of international trade (such as tax, compliance and foreign exchange) as well as working with other firms to develop knowledge networks where staff can learn, collaborate and access good practice.
As SMEs continue to seek new ways of engaging in international trade, partly brought about by developments in technology, practices are being presented with opportunities to develop and widen their international advisory provision.
For some SMPs providing additional support to clients involved in international markets will not be feasible or practical. Nonetheless it is important for all practices to continue recognising the changing realities of how SMEs are operating globally.
The key challenge in taking advantage of such opportunities is centred on the risks that inevitably come with the business model optimisation required to provide new and relevant client services.
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