Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The camera never lies - ya well no fine

It has been said that the camera never lies but this past week I have a whole new take on this expression.

And another thing about photos, because these last few days I have been taking a lot of them; yes, the thing with photos is that you have to take a lot of them because so many of them turn out kak. What you think looks good for a split second often looks pretty dull later.

What am I trying to say here... Well, I am trying to figure this out myself. Let me see if I can find the words before I wish us all a cool new year. Let's see. In life, like in photography, we gotta keep snapping away. We never know which ones will turn out great. And when it comes to cameras, they do sometimes lie. And that is why we must never abandon our sense of judgment. I wrote this recently on this VLOG but I will re-visit it here: if things seem too good to be true then don't throw your logic out the window! If things seem too good to be true then accept they are probably too good to be true! But, never never never give up (as Winston Churchill once said). The more we try the luckier we get! And that is the entrepreneurial spirit in a nutshell. That and of course, taking chances. Rather ask for forgiveness than permission.

In 2009 I am going to follow my gut feel like never before. I would rather walk away from something early and take it on the chin than go down a path because of some lovely picture someone showed me. That picture is often not what we know to be true and yet we follow the path knowing very well that there is trouble ahead.

So, thank you cameras, and computers, for giving us an another entertaining year. And thank you to all my Vottle friends for making the journey worthwhile!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Ho ho ho

Something else I read on the Net this week; also too good not to share.

Great Orators of the Democratic Party...

'One man with courage makes a majority.' - Andrew Jackson

'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' - Franklin D. Roosevelt

'The buck stops here.' - Harry S. Truman

'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.' - John F. Kennedy (By the way, this is an exact quote from a speech given by Army General Omar Bradley in 1953, just a few years prior to JFK using it in his inaugural speech. JFK or his speech writers recognized a great quote, but none credited Bradley for one of the greatest patriotic quotes of all time - plagiarism, anyone?)

And now, for today's Democrats...

'It depends what your definition of 'IS' is?' - Bill Clinton

'That Obama - I would like to cut his NUTS off.' - Jesse Jackson

'Those rumors are false .... I believe in the sanctity of marriage.' - John Edwards

'I invented the Internet.' - Al Gore

'The next Person that tells me I'm not religious, I'm going to shove my rosary beads up their ASS.' - Joe Biden

'America is--is no longer, uh, what it--it, uh, could be, uh what it was once was...uh, and I say to myself, "uh, I don't want that future, uh, uh for my children."' - Barack Obama

'I have campaigned in all 57 states.' - Barack Obama

'You don't need God anymore, you have us democrats.' - Nancy Pelosi (said back in 2006)

'Paying taxes is voluntary.' - Sen. Harry Reid

'Bill is the greatest husband and father I know. No one is more faithful, true, and honest than he.' - Hillary Clinton (said back in 1998)

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Stock Market Gyrations

Read this on the Net - too good not to share :

Helium was up, feathers were down.

Paper was stationery.

Fluorescent tubing was dimmed in light trading.

Knives were up sharply.

Cows steered into a bull market.

Pencils lost a few points.

Hiking equipment was trailing.

Elevators rose, while escalators continued their slow decline.

Weights were up in heavy trading.

Light switches were off.

Mining equipment hit rock bottom.

Diapers remained unchanged.

Shipping lines stayed at an even keel.

The market for raisins dried up.

Caterpillar stock inched up a bit.

Sun peaked at midday.

Balloon prices were inflated.

And Scott Tissue touched a new bottom.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Intense = results

Perspective is a key fundamental in any business. If I look at the ventures I am currently involved in, I have a very different perspective to most of my partners. This is not a good or bad thing, it is just a fact.

I think that someone who has just entered into a start-up for the first time will have a very different take on things when compared to someone who has been living and breathing start-ups for over a decade. Now, I may be stating the obvious here, but often to these new recruits it is not obvious at all. For example, I asked my one partner if everything on our one particular venture was going good. And he said yes. Now, I know there is nothing wrong, but I don't think that everything is going good either. Far from it in fact. My view is that we are highly vulnerable. I say this because I have been doing this a long time. Just because nothing is wrong does not mean everything is good either. And, before I get shot down, those who know me will always tell you I am very positive person. I always see the glass as half full. I am not talking about being positive, I am talking about insight, and about perspective, and intensity.

A quick detour for a minute here: I have a comedian friend, who recently told me he had a great year, because his turn over had doubled from the year before. He said he was very happy with the year gone by. I see things differently. I see a guy, capable of so much, and who should have seen his turn over quadrupled in the past year.

I remember over a decade ago, when I was very active at IS, I remember there was some excitement from the hosting unit because in one year our web hosting business had tripled in size. And I remember at the time that my brother came down on everyone like a sledgehammer. Because the industry had in fact grown at over 500% that year. So, we were fast asleep from his perspective - he was right!

Back to the venture I was discussing above. Yes, just because things all seem ok, does not mean they are ok. For example, we have one test client on this particular venture, and we can't assume they are happy simply because we don't hear them complain. From around February next year we will be going on a big drive as we launch this new venture into the marketplace, and then we need to make absolutely sure that all our new customers are happy. This means that we need to speak to our current test client, and make sure that they are indeed using the service, and we need to listen to their feedback. We need to be proactive! We need to be intense about our mission.

Intensity gets results. I think there is a link between intensity and proactivity. Perhaps I am stating the obvious again.

To conclude today's VLOG, intensity is not something you can just turn on and off. It is like attitude. Either you have a good attitude or you don't. Either you are intense or you are not. One thing I have learnt in life though, intensity gets results!

Next year things are going to be intense!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

You can never call too much, only too little

You can never care about a customer too much, only too little. Try driving someone crazy with attention, it is almost impossible. But you can drive them crazy if you simply ignore them. Yes, doing nothing drives people crazy.

So, the other day I ask someone about the status of something we are working on, and I get told "I never heard back from them". What does it mean when someone says "I never heard back from them". Proactive people never say things like this. Proactive people call, and if they don't hear back, well, then they call again, and again, again... luck always favours the persistent!

Most of the world is reactive. How many times have you heard someone say "The deal didn't happen, because they never got back to me." This is the difference between the rich and the poor, in my view; between the proactive and reactive.

Of course, this is just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Back the jockey!

There is that old expression that goes "you should back the jockey, not the horse". Well, I think it goes something like that. Now, I never quite understood what it meant exactly, but I do like the sound of these words. I interpret it as something to do with backing people. Now I know many people make a lot of fuss over a good horse; they are beautiful and majestic creatures and they are expensive animals to have in one's stable. But, horses aside, people are what make the difference!

Yes, I have said and written this many times, you never back ideas, you back people. You back a person who you think is going to get the job done, and if they don't get it done then you might as well do it yourself. And, of course, if you do it yourself then what were you actually backing. So, think of what you actually are investing in; think of what you are backing!

At the moment I am busy going through what is on my plate, and, I am think about the "effort/reward ratio", and, something is not stacking up. Looks like some of the jockeys I am backing are still in the starting gates. Time to make some changes.

One last think to think about, the special children of the world. Ask any parent if their children are special and you know what the answer will be. Yes, all children are special. And this is what we look for when we invest, yes, the special people. So, with all these special children in the world, where do all the ordinary adults come from?!

This has been one intense year; I am looking forward to next year - lots of new things to try, with a smaller, more focused group of jockeys.


Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Monday, 1 December 2008

Vottle vibes

Can you believe it, the year is almost over - wow, this was one intense year!

On the Vottle side we are learning many lessons, some good and some bad - next year we are going to change direction a bit... more to come on that in the near future.

And, here is the news from this month gone by: there have been two main focuses this month. Firstly, we have made numerous security enhancements, which should help prevent various types of automated attacks on the system. We have also redone our CAPTCHA (human word verification) mechanisms, not only to be more secure, but also more user friendly. Users can choose to display new CAPTCHA's if they are too difficult, and also we have included an audio version for users who are blind or visually impaired (we actually have such users!). There are a few areas that still need refinement, but we have certainly made some good strides forward in keeping the site clean and safe!

Secondly, we have begun some back-end restructuring of our code which should allow far greater flexibility in adding, removing and changing content on the site. This will benefit us in many areas. It will allow more options for banner advertising, placing of more relevant and interesting content on many of the pages, allow new content to take the place of old content that is static throughout the site. We will also be implementing new landing pages and even some competitions, all of which will be easier to integrate with the site because of this code restructuring.

Finally, our upgrades are continuing to grow! In November we had an almost 50% increase in revenue - thank you to all of you for making this happen!

Posted by the Vottlers

Saturday, 29 November 2008

True wonder

I love the Internet. It never ceases to fuel my need for inspiration. This is what I found online recently:

A group of students were asked to list what they thought were the present "Seven Wonders of the World"

Though there were some disagreements, the following received the most votes:

1. Egypt's Great Pyramids
2. Taj Mahal
3. Grand Canyon
4. Panama Canal
5. Empire State Building
6. St. Peter's Basilica
7. China's Great Wall

While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student had not finished her paper yet. So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list.
The girl replied, "Yes, a little. I couldn't quite make up my mind because there were so many."
The teacher said, "Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help."

The girl hesitated, then read, "I think the 'Seven Wonders of the World' are:

1. to see
2. to hear
3. to touch
4. to taste
5. to feel
6. to laugh
7. and to love."

The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. The things we overlook as simple and ordinary and that we take for granted are truly wondrous!

A gentle reminder - that the most precious things in life cannot be built by hand or bought by man.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Saturday, 22 November 2008

The B is for bullshit!

The news this past week was bleak. Imagine if a giant like General Motors had to go under. Wow!

And with the GM woes we hear this new curious term again "bailout". This is not a good thing! Aren't we trying to cheat nature here? And isn't how this mess happened in the first place, because we have been cheating nature for too long now. That is why things are collapsing all around us. So let nature then takes its course and let the bubble burst. We can't patch the dyke forever - let the thing do what it wants to do. Eventually something is going to have to give.

This bailout term really is setting a bad precedent. Corporations are getting the message: if you mess up then don't worry, a bailout plan is on the horizon. And don't worry about those fat bonuses you got, er, you took, because you can keep them, and we will still bail you out. What a bunch of bullshit!

The B is for bankrupt not for bailout. This is some new age term like those other terms I heard in the last 10 years, exit strategy and hedge fund. Unbelievable bullshit!

What exactly do hedge fund people do? What difference to they make to the world? What do they add to society? And what exactly is an exit strategy all about? If you love what you do then who would want an exit?

Maybe I am just naive, but one thing I do know is that you can't cheat nature. The bailout bullshit is all about trying to cheat nature, and cheating nature is what caused this mess in the first place. When will we ever learn!?

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 16 November 2008

It has been a very stressful and busy week. I think for everyone. So, here is some light relief I found on the Net:


1) You believe in Santa Claus.
2) You don't believe in Santa Claus.
3) You are Santa Claus.
4) You look like Santa Claus.


At age 4 success is . . . not peeing in your pants.
At age 12 success is . . . having friends.
At age 16 success is . . . having a drivers license.
At age 20 success is . . . having sex.
At age 35 success is . . . having money.
At age 50 success is . . . having money.
At age 60 success is . . . having sex.
At age 70 success is . . . having a drivers license.
At age 75 success is . . . having friends.
At age 80 success is . . . not peeing in your pants.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Something to ponder

Someone sent me this - I can't stop thinking about the words here :

the beauty of life is change
the beauty of change is adaptation
the beauty of adaptation is growth
the beauty of growth is learning
the beauty of learning is knowledge
the beauty of knowledge is wisdom
and the beauty of wisdom is a better life

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 9 November 2008

A person's character is their destiny

I watched an inspired movie recently. I have seen it years ago but I watched it again now. The film is The Emperor's Club.

It has a great message. And in the film there is some highly compelling dialog: A man's character is his destiny.

For most of us, our stories can be written long before we die. The worth of a life is not determined by a single failure or a solitary success; my other students taught me that. However much we stumble, it is a teacher's burden always to hope that with learning, a boy's character might be changed, and so, the destiny of a man.

Yes, personality opens doors, but character keeps them open!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 2 November 2008

V is for victory, and for Vottle ...

Excuse the colourful headline but summer is here and we are high on life.

And yes, another month gone by and here is the news from Vottleland.

We are back in Sao Paulo for the next few days... the classifieds venture here ( is in good shape - check it out.

The main news from the Vottle side has been the implementation and rollout of our new banner serving software. To date we had only very simple software developed in-house, but our advertising requirements have grown and there has been a need to cater for various complex delivery options which appear to be commonplace in the world of online banner advertising. Our new open-source banner serving software lets us configure and manage our banner ads with a high level of flexibility to deliver ad campaigns that exactly meet a customer specific's requirements. This is a particularly cool rollout since this type of service is often very complex and usually outsourced to a third party.

Then there has been much focus this month on assisting with the development of our sister site Flii in Brazil. The rollout of phase two takes place now in this new month and this will introduce many new features. Everything is on track, content is increasing steadily together with page views, users, and even the sites ranking on Google. Although it has not yet been formally released to the public, the site is gaining more and more external users as Google search results increasingly direct users to the site. Richard van Cutmein has been in Brazil with the team for over two weeks (I just joined him today), the main purpose being to transfer knowledge and experience to the team, and assist with advice and development of more complex issues such as security and integration with systems specific to this deployment.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Never abandon your sense of judgment!

Every now and then something comes up that sounds too good to be true. And we all fall for this. Yes, I do believe in miracles and luck and magic, but more often than not when something is too good to be true it is exactly that!

When someone comes selling you a story that sounds unbelievable then have some salt on hand. Never abandon your sense of judgment, especially when it comes to people.

When someone comes with an investment opportunity where you are going to double or triple your money in a year, for example, then try some eye drops and check the fine print again. But, leaving the paperwork aside, when it comes to investing, the biggest move we will ever make is in another person. We invest in people, not in business plans or paperwork. So, when it comes to truly investing, always look to the omens and follow your instincts. If you have a uncomfortable feeling about someone, then, in my experience, you always land up with a headache.

Everything that is in important in life involves people, the rest is just details.

So, listen to your heart, and once again, let me emphasize: never ever abandon your sense of judgment!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Culture and brands

There is a big difference between building a brand and building a culture. While both are very important things, they are indeed quite different.

The one is generally considered an external thing and the other is characteristically an internal thing. But both do rub off on the other. They definitely both have an effect on the other.

I feel that most people who want to make money talk about building brands. Whereas, people who talk about their staff and the inspiration in the company talk about building a culture. I think this is why partnerships, or groups of people working towards a common goal, can be a very effective vehicle.

The one thing that stands out for me is the attitude of most when it comes to brands and cultures. I hear the majority of people talk about how they need money for these endeavours. One can't build a brand without money or one can't create a culture without money. While I agree a company needs some money to do just about anything, building a brand or a culture has less to do with money than it has to do with hard work, inspiration and just plain risk taking. Yes, a guerrilla style campaign, for example, is about taking risks, and a cultural event with the desire to align a group of people is also about taking a risk.

I have met many financially successful people (I need to qualify this) who have built big companies and go on about their brands. But when I talk to their management no one seems to be happy. Perhaps they should have spent an equal amount of time growing people, aligning them, in an effort to create an exciting company culture. And conversely, you meet just as many people who are so excited about their company culture, but they just wish they could get more momentum in the area of sales and marketing.

I think you get my point this fine Sunday. As the old saying goes, it is all about balance!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Monday, 20 October 2008

Make or take

Making money is what capitalism is about. But taking money is another thing all together. Taking money is about greed and bullshit, and that is capitalism gone wrong.

Anyone who ever built anything, or created any value, always killed themselves in the process. Show me one business that is cooking and I will show you someone behind it that is killing them self. A person who kills them self to climb this mountain is always totally energized and also, they have the ability to energize others. Everyone works hard... we are not talking about that. We are talking about beyond working hard!

When one kills them self it is an all out effort to climb the mountain. Capitalism in its most inspired form is about pushing the envelope, taking risks, outfoxing your competitors, setting the pace, and it is about killing yourself. But, getting a fat bonus as a hedge fund manager is not about any of this. This is about taking, not making. It is the domain of parasites! Well, that is my view.

And, as for ideas, well, I always say the same thing: ideas are cheap. As Einstein once said, it is about 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Yes, it is about killing yourself. And don’t confuse coming up with a cure for cancer, for example, as an idea. That is about implementation and innovation. In other words, the idea to cure cancer is worthless, but the actual cure is not.

I was reminded of a good expression the other day: don't play the person - play the ball. Yes, rather make it than take it!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The best way to receive is to give

Luck has so much to do with just about everything in life. The key then is to work out how you can make yourself luckier!

Now, there are many wise sayings here to consider, like "luck favors the persistent" and "the more you practice the luckier you get" etc.

Yes, and they all true! But there is more to it than that. Well, at least, that is my view. I think if you are good to people then you generally seem to have better luck. And, the more sincere you are, and the more genuine, also seems to play a role in influencing your luck.

But, many cynics out there will see being kind as a sign of weakness. They will tell you there are no nice guys at the top. I know many good people right at the top. And yes, I also many not so good people at the top. Whatever the make-up is for people who become great leaders all I know is that, from my perspective, the best way to receive is to give.

I think many people often confuse kindness for weakness. While one can be a good person and generous and spirited, it does not mean one has to be a push-over. As one business partner always says "One can be tough minded but not hard hearted."

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Sticks and stones

As much as I am all for freedom of speech one also has to be sensitive about the words they use, especially when it comes to leadership. Ranting and raving is sometimes what we do, but we always regret it afterwards.

Words are powerful and we should chose our words carefully, especially when in a heated situation.

I read this recently and it struck a chord with me:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

Our character is our destiny. And the words, actions and habits we live are what define who we are and where we are going.

Yes, sticks and stones can break my bones but whips and chains really get me going! Ok ok, we needed a funny moment there, especially in these anxious times.

Remember to use words intelligently and sensitively. What you say to someone today could have a lasting effect well into the future.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The Grapes of W.

Our friends at Wantitall are exploring some new territory. They have enhanced their search facility to break out beyond the "super search" provided by In other words, non-Amazon products can now be added to their massive mix and searched for. For example, try search for the stunning cabernet wine that Tiaan Burger and his family are producing. Yes, the grapes of Welbedacht are now on

Go to the and do a search for the Meerkat. This is another delicious and gregarious wine that the Burger's produce. And it is also on the site.

The vision here is to extend the fantastic online retail infrastructure that has been developed to allow third parties, like Welbedacht, to feature their products on the site. As the Wantitall team continues with their expansion plans into new territories, like the UK and Brazil, it is an important step to be able to facilitate the showcasing and selling of South African leading products.

October is going to be a bumper month with all that is going on with the Vottle team, and the Wantitall crew, and the development. There is a lot on the go and it is all very colourful and exciting. Also, watch out for our e-Procurement offering which is coming soon, and for our new corporate lifestyle centre which is being launch next month.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Vottle Rocket

Wall Street blues marks this month gone by but in Vottleland things are looking very colourful!

There is a lot to report on, so let's jump in:

- Flii is now open publicly ( although it has not yet been officially launched : The team in Brazil is steadily working on some minor changes and customizations and have recently done their first 3rd party data import! All of this means the number of ads are growing steadily, and while the numbers are by no means significant as yet, it's providing a good platform for testing the system.

- We have also begun work on providing an interface for a basic edition of the site to be available to mobile devices.

- EFT and credit card progress for upgrades (Vottle Featured and Premium adverts) : In the next few days we will also be ready to accept payment for upgrades via EFT to complement our credit card payment mechanism. We have also improved the security around the upgrade process so that users no longer need to be registered or signed in to upgrade their adverts. We are trying to make the process as simple, safe and attractive as possible.

- The filter for trusted users : In our non-stop effort to keep Vottle safe/clean and free of spam, we have implemented further measures to help us in this never-ending battle. First off, we implemented a trust mechanism, whereby users who continue to post 'clean' adverts eventually become 'trusted' users, and will no longer have all their adverts monitored. This will free up much of the time spent on auditing adverts that are not likely to be unwanted, and letting us focus on adverts that still require auditing. We have also implemented warning notices on some areas on the site (Services, Business Services, Jobs) in an attempt to deter people from placing spam adverts.

- The favicon : The Vottle brand is now being subtly enhanced by the inclusion of a 'Favourite Icon' which should appear next to the Vottle URL in the address bar of the browser whenever the site is visited. It will also appear next to the Vottle name if the site is saved to a user's 'Favourites' list.

- The banner serving software : Our corporate banner advertising is also gaining some momentum, and we are finding ourselves having to cater to new requirements here on a regular basis. Up until now we have used simple custom built software to serve banners in a very basic manner, but we will soon be rolling out a fully fledged banner serving tool to cater for every possible advertising need. This will enable us to sell any type of banner in any manner a customer could want, while also improving our statistics gathering and still maintaining the entire system in-house, rather than outsourcing. This will keep Vottle as lean and mean rather than having to follow traditional outsourced methods where banner serving can be slow and beyond the control of the primary website administrators.

- The requirements for corporate banner advertising are also resulting in some layout changes on the site : We are shuffling some content around, most notably the removal of the detailed 'Vottle Specials' and 'Cool Posts' sections, which are now accessible from a link on the menu under the main search bar. This allows us to feature our skyscraper ads more prominently on the site. We will continue to look at ways to better utilize the site’s real estate. Watch out of our tag clouds which will also be appearing on the site in the very near future!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Flii market

Well, you can go and take a peek. Check out Richard, Neil, and everyone on the Vottle side, well done! This new Brazilian classifieds site rocks!

At this stage this is still a seriously BETA site. In my view the site is solid, but is brand new, and at the moment everyone is involved with test driving and polishing. Also, there is a big campaign to accumulate some inventory - we need some content before the Flii officially gets launched.

So, if any if you who read this speak Portuguese, and if you have something you want to try sell in Brazil, then the Flii is the name of the game.

Go and check out and please send us feedback if you have any - you can mail us on

Sao Paulo, you are one great city - we look forward to coming back next month!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Don't shoot the messenger!

So much of our mission, all of our missions, is about communications. It is about the delivery, and not so much about the message. It is about how we say it, and not about what we say. This is a challenge we all face, every day.

So much in life is about delivery. If a person is a bad communicator they will typically get shot down, and the message will be discarded, no matter how significant or important it is. That is how it is.

We all gotta learn to be better at selling - selling is a key aspect of communications. If people don't buy it then a war may break out, even if deep down what you say is exactly what they believe. If you can't finds the right words, or, if you don't say it in a way that gets their buy-in then things can go horribly wrong, and more often than not, they do!

If we can't communicate then it doesn't matter how many ideas we have, or how clever we are, etc. Nothing matters if one can't engage others in civilized conversation. Communications is vital to one's well being and we all need to think about how to communicate effectively. When I go to the toilet at work (yes, I have to go now and then) and it always amazes me when I am standing there doing my thing and someone walks in and suddenly turns to me and goes "I need to talk to you urgently". What?

If you want someone to take you seriously then go and see them - don't try and talk to them when you bump them in the toilet. A few weekends ago some guy bumped me in the mall and says to me "Ronnie, I really need to talk to you". So I said "Sure - no problem - give me a call on Monday and let's chat or set up a meeting". And he said, "Can't I talk to you now". And I said, "I am in a hurry - I am on my way to meet someone". And he looked at me funny and mumbled something. And then this clown coughs up "Why can't we talk now?" So I called the police. Seriously, I said to him "We never planned on meeting now - you just happened to bump into me - I am in a hurry". So he said "Fine, I will call you on Monday then". And guess what - I never heard from him! The usual story.

In short, our basic problem is that they have no idea how to communicate - if something was so important or so urgent then he would have called ages ago. Was this guy in our story walking around the mall for the past year hoping to bump into me.

Effective communications is also about making an effort. The other day, back at IS, another intriguing guy says to me, when I walked past him in the corridor, "Ronnie, I have been looking for you all week - I need to talk to you". What ?

Three Jehovah’s witnesses tracked me down, and my mother and my rabbi never have a problem finding me. What was he on about? He even said he tried to call me. Interesting, because I never got any messages or any emails saying he was looking for me. I never got a note on my desk or under my door. Nothing! And this is the bottom line: say what you mean and mean what you say. That is what a big part of delivering the message is all about.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Just do it

I always loved that slogan that Nike shared with the world: Just do it. This says it all.

I want to share something with you today. It is the story about a guy I met; a young man that was in trouble. He got retrenched. Yes, it is a sad story and something the world is experiencing a lot more of in these darker times. He called me up because he had a friend who knew me and he asked if I would help him. I was more than happy. He seemed like a friendly, gentle soul and from the homework I did his colleagues all liked him. So, I found out what positions were available back in our office and I set the ball in motion.

I spoke with this young man a couple of times afterwards and we e-mailed each other a few times too. I also spoke to my colleagues at work and asked them to please interview him and to give him their attention.

A week goes by and I have not heard from our young man or from my colleagues. I first go and ask my work friends what the deal is and they tell me that are interviewing other candidates too for the position we are exploring. I call our young friend up and I tell him that my friends at work are looking at other candidates and that he needs to turn up his seriousness and intensity. I tell him to “Just do it.” I tell him that he needs to be direct and honest. I tell him that he needs to look them in the eyes and say, “I want this job. I need this job. I can do it. I will not let you down. I am going to exceed your expectations.” I told him to stay on them like a hawk. I told him to persist. And suddenly, our story takes a turn. Our young fiend says to me that he will not do this. He then tells me, “If they want me they will call me.” And then he also went on to say that what I suggested was not his style. Style? What has style got to with this? This is about substance.

I went back to my partners and asked them why they never hired this young man. And they laughed. They told me that he wasn’t hungry. Perhaps that is why he was amongst those who got retrenched in the first place. I still can’t get those words out of my head: “If they want me they will call me.” What?

Go and get what you want! Of course, the question that I ponder now is how spoilt was this guy? How much did he really need the job? How much did he really want the job? And to think, when I gently told him, proactively, that he should be honest and direct with them he got funny with me. And to this day he never even said thank you to me for trying to help him.

Show some conviction, man. Show that you are hungry. Look them in the eyes and say, “I can do it!” Show some passion. Show you are serious. Of course, the question is: are you hungry? And of course they looked at other people. You never displayed any seriousness. You never made any real effort in their eyes. And eyes are what this is about – eye contact. E-mail gets you nowhere in life. When will we ever learn?

Everything in life is about communications. “How” we express it as opposed to “what” we actually say.

Communications is the most fundamental thing in the world. If we can't communicate then it doesn't matter how many ideas we have, or how clever we are. Nothing matters if one can't engage others. The real challenge in life is not about what you say, but rather, about how you say it. Communications are vital to one's well being and we all need to think about how to communicate effectively. E-mail, for example, is efficient, but not effective.

The other day I went to the toilet at work (yes, I have to go now and then) and it always amazes me when I am standing there doing my thing and someone walks in and goes “I need to talk to you urgently”. I just have to laugh. Please, if you want someone to take you seriously then go and see them - don't try and talk to them when you bump them in the bathroom. The other day some guy bumps in the mall and says, “Ronnie, I really need to talk to you”. So I said “Sure - no problem - give me a call on Monday and let's chat or set up a meeting”. And he said, “Can't I talk to you now?” “I am in a hurry - I am on my way to meet someone.” He looked and me funny and mumbled something. And then he says to me “Why can't we talk now?” So, I called the police. Seriously, I said to him “We never planned on meeting now - you just happened to bump into me. I am in a hurry. I have to go.” He said he would call me on Monday. Guess what? I never heard from him. The usual story - you never hear from them. And in short, their basic problem is that they have no idea how to communicate. If something was so important or so urgent then he would have called me ages ago. Was this guy walking around the mall for the past year hoping to bump into me?

Today’s message was about communications, and about getting things done. I hope I did this effectively.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Brazil bits and bytes

Mr. van Katwijk is in Sao Paulo for the big week, and this is what he can share with us, "Yes, today was the day we have been working very hard towards for the last two months. I still think that given the resources and more importantly the time constraints that we had, we can really be proud of what we have achieved so far.

In reality the site went 'live' last week Friday. Today was the official delivery date for the beta release, and this Wednesday is the official announcement (internal to Abril) about the product launch. The 'hard' (public) launch will be in about two weeks time, though we will scale down the feature set slightly so we can use the remaining time to concentrate on getting the important features working 100% and ironing out some small bugs.

We will also revisit some look-and-feel issues, as the general consensus is that the site currently comes across as being for a young market segment. A new logo and unique catch phrase will be on the cards, and we will focus on delivering a combination of features that on the whole will out-do that of any competitor - a tough challenge but a necessity for a market that locally has a lot of competition.

On the whole, the site is generating some good feedback and only positive suggestions, so all indications are that we are on the right track."

The site
will publically available soon once the soft launch period is over. The next few weeks are about testing and refining and then the hard launch will be set in motion and the site will be released to the public here in Brazil.

In my view the site looks stunning and Richard and Neil and everyone on the Abril side have done some amazing work here!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The T bird is coming !

Here's an old classic story: There was this eighty year old fellow who went into the church and entered the confessional. He said to the priest, "I am eighty years old, have a wife and four children and eleven grandchildren. I have always been faithful ... but last night I met two eighteen year old girls and we had sex all night." "When was the last time you were at confession?" asked the priest. “Never," said the old man, "I'm Jewish." "Then why are you telling me?" asked the priest. "I'm telling everyone," said the old man.

Yeah, we are on route this Saturday to join the head Vottler Richard in Sao Paulo. In just a few days he is going to flip the switch and we will be live in Brazil. Terry, hold on to your hat, the ride is about to begin! Oh yes, the T bird is Terence from - this is his first trip outside of South Africa.

Lots happening! We will keep you posted.

Brazil, please be good to Richard, he is burning the midnight oil and pulling out all the stops - the site we are rolling out next week is hot. We will share the Web address with you when we go live. Yup, will be telling everyone!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Are you a salesman?

Ask a group of people if they are in sales and see at how many of them say yes.

But hang on, aren’t we all in sales? Aren’t I selling to you right now.

I remember this quote I once read, “You never close a sale, you open a long term relationship." This really inspired me as selling is about listening, and listening is about building relationships. When you convince someone of something a sale has been made. Selling is not just about exchanging some product for a sum of money. Selling is about persuading someone to go on a date with you, selling is about getting someone to agree with your point of view, selling is about convincing someone to give you their time. And for any of these one needs to be respectful, professional and polite. If you want to get someone’s attention then listen to them.

So, I would like to share with you an experience that I had a while back and I hope whoever experienced this with me reads this and learns something. A young guy from a financial services company calls me up and tells me he would like to meet me. He continues to tell me about the work he does and I listen. He asks if he can come and see me and I say, “Sure, and can you tell me what you want to see me about?” And he says, “It won’t take long.” So, again I ask him if he can give me a hint as to what he would like to discuss with me. And again I get no answer. So, I give him my e-mail address and ask him to please send me some of his thoughts and I will get back to him as to when we can meet. He says great. About 10 days later I get an email from him telling me he had a car accident and that he couldn't email me sooner and attached to his email is a fat word processing document – my worst. So, I open this document and have no idea of what it means as I am the least financially oriented person you will ever get to meet. I e-mail him back and ask him what that document was all about and what he would like to discuss with me. A day or so passes and I get a message to call him. Reluctantly I call him back and get his voicemail. I leave a message. He calls me back the next day and drives my poor secretary crazy as he says he needs to speak to me urgently and that he wants to come and see me that afternoon. I was on an important call which went on for almost an hour and he was waiting on the line and giving my secretary a very hard time. Eventually he says he will call me again later which he does. I am now getting pretty irritated and I am not feeling inspired to invest any more time entertaining this person or his ideas, to which, I still have no idea what they are about other than they have something to do with financial services. So, he calls me again that afternoon and I take his call and he tells me he wants to come and see me. I actually want to put the phone down but out of respect and as a courtesy I listen. I tell him that he has given me no clue as to what he would like to speak to me about and that I am getting annoyed by now. He still does not listen and insists that he needs to see me right away. I ask him straight out if he is trying to sell me insurance or something. Turns out he wants to sell our company some kind of pension fund scheme. You can work out the rest of this.

Why don’t people listen? Why are so many people so unprofessional? If you want to sell to someone you need to listen. If he would have been straight forward with me from the start at least I would have respected that. Now I feel no inspiration to listen to anything more he might have to say. I can appreciate a sales-person who is pushy. I always admire chutzpah, but when someone goes by the book I get pretty uninspired. “By the book” is all about the head. Do things from the heart. Be honest. Be loving. Be good. And watch the results. Remember that a company is a vehicle for expression, and work is just love made visible.

Selling is also about being creative. Which is all about listening to one’s heart. And on that note, let me leave you with a good story which will help to sell my point to you this fine weekend. An old Jewish trader was called before the emperor. The emperor told him he had been looking for something all over and no one could find it for him. He had finally asked the Jew in desperation. "Sure", said the Jew, with a vision of a huge profit flashing before him. "I can get anything". "Price is no object", said the emperor. The Jew’s eyes opened wide. "Just tell me what and it will be yours." he said. "I want a poodle", said the emperor. The Jew scratched his head. "A poodle?" he said. "A very difficult problem, your majesty, but I can do it." "Are you sure?" asked the emperor. "Sure I'm sure", replied the Jew. "But it will be very very expensive." "I told you money was no object" replied the emperor. "Just as long as I can get one." "Do you want a big one or a small one? asked the Jew. "A big one" the emperor replied. "Even more difficult, your majesty" said the Jew. "It is much harder to find, but I can do it.” he scratched his head again. "What colour do you want?" he asked." A black one" said the emperor. "That is the most expensive of all" said the Jew, "but I can do it." "Money is no object. Just get it." said the emperor. "You will need to be patient" said the Jew. "Just leave it to me." He went backwards to the huge doors of the audience chamber, bowing as he went. "Just leave it to me and it will be yours." he repeated. As he went out of the door, he turned to the footman standing there. "Tell me," he said. "What's a poodle?"

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Buried treasures

They say it’s not who you know, it's who you know had a nose job. They also say that where there's smoke, there may be smoked salmon. Let’s see. What else have we got buried away this fine winter's day. Oh yes, how about that fable from our old friend Aesop. And speaking of treasures, they say that money talks, but most of the time if you listen carefully enough the only word you will hear it say is good bye. And for those of you who think money can’t buy happiness then you probably just don’t know where to shop. Also, my health insurance is killing me; it’s costing me an arm and a leg. Ok ok, I was trying to be cynical or silly or something, and I was just trying to get your attention before we jump into our discussion for today.

A week ago I posted a fable from Aesop. And, the question I want to ask you today is: What do you have buried? I know so many people who have so much buried. And in so many senses of the word. Why do we hide money under our mattresses when we could put it do good use. And why do we ignore what is in our hearts. Following your dreams means taking a chance with your resources, and it means following your gut instincts. Yes, it means standing for something (and not falling for anything). You see, ladies and gentlemen, if you keep these resources (and desires) buried then you might as well bury your dreams alongside them.

An entrepreneur, in my opinion, takes chances. And entrepreneur would rather ask for forgiveness than for permission. This means that the buried lump of gold needs to be put on the table. And if it goes, then it goes. But without playing your hand you will never know. We are entering into a period of incredible anxiety and tough economic conditions. So, it would make sense that people would be burying their valuables more now than before. But I don’t buy it. True entrepreneurs will listen to their hearts and they will make bold decisions. And if they hit a brick wall, well, they will simply try again. This is how it works. No one ever got anywhere by burying their head, or their gold, in the ground.

Gandhi was once asked in an interview what he thought of Western civilization. And I remember the answer; it makes me ponder, and chuckle. He said, “I think it would be a very good idea.” Civilization is about progress. And progress comes from struggle. And risk taking is never without its struggles. Now, I am not saying that you must go and blow your hard earned savings on some crazy scheme, but I am saying that life is for living, and in these times of great uncertainty it would seem that nothing is a given and there are no sure things. So, take some chances. Believe in yourself. Be yourself. After all, these days it is even risky keeping money in the bank it would seem. So, if you have something buried away then let it out, and challenge yourself. And if you are interpreting what I am saying today along the lines of “spend your money” well, that’s just one idea. And not a bad idea when you consider how the falling Rand has led to such dramatic price increases on so many of our favourite goodies. But this is only one viewpoint. And not the most inspiring one. By buried treasure I am referring to those ideas, those passions, those talents, that you have deep inside you. Let them out. Write a poem. Sing a song. Dance like there’s nobody watching. And embrace life’s wonders.

In one of my favourite books, The Alchemist, we learn about a shepard and his incredible journey to reach the pyramids. All because of something that came to him in a dream. And in his journey he goes to hell and back, risking everything, and never really knowing if he would find his treasure. Faith is what keeps him going, and the wisdom of knowing that life truly is a journey. There is a compelling irony in the end when he reaches his destination only to discover that what he was looking for was right under his nose, and had been there all along. Read the book. You will cherish it and it will inspire you.

Life truly is about a journey and as we all know, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Your buried treasure is what that first step is all about. The journey is what lets you revel in these treasures. The journey also gives us perspective. And this is something that is needed in a big way in these mediocre times. More often than not, people are anxious about their disposition but if they had to count their blessings they are doing more than ok. These buried treasures I speak of today are in abundance. You all have them. So, use them, and embrace the journey.

Most of the time what we search for is a treasure we already have. Especially in the world of business. Why do so many great businesses suddenly fall from grace. Because some leader had still to go on a journey to hell and back to discover that things were actually more than ok back at the ranch. And this is becoming a greater paradox in this era of intense soul searching. We watch CNN at night, and we read the newspaper, and we think the world has gone mad. Well, the only thing that is mad will be if you don’t use the gold you got. Now I am I am not saying live reckless lives, but live. End of story. Just do it, as Nike says. If you had a week to go and you had treasures hidden somewhere, then what would be your plans for these buried dreams? Let me end off with a quote I found that inspired me, "Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Saturday, 16 August 2008


A miser had a lump of gold, which he had buried in the ground, coming to the spot every day to look at it.

One day finding that it was stolen, began to tear his hair and lament loudly.

A neighbor, seeing him, said, "Pray do not grieve so. Bury a stone in the hole and fancy it is the gold. It will serve you just as well, for when the gold was there you made no use of it."


So, the question for today: What do you have buried?

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

This piece of text is on an alternative medium

Although difficult to accurately define, alternate media can be seen as the use of tactile and non mainstream media options in an effort to reach the increasingly illusive and all important consumer. On hearing the word alternate, the first question that springs to mind and rightfully so, is alternate to what? The answer to this is widely left open to interpretation, but essentially it is an alternate to the print, radio and TV options which have and in many respects still are the favoured media of traditional above the line campaigns.

I recently was invited to participate in a venture being headed up by a brilliant young guy called Dan Goss. He is leading a humble and tight unit called Top of Mind. They are breaking ground in the alternative media space. I have asked Dan a bunch of questions and he has given me some insightful answers. Let's jump in. "Alternative media can be narrowed in focus to ambient media which many people associate with underground or guerrilla style campaigns, but I believe ambient media and alternate media do not have to have such sinister, invasive or dark connotations at all! They are simply media options which are now available to advertisers who are trying to reach consumers who are busier, more mobile and more on the go than ever before. When this is coupled with the fact that we are experiencing an explosion of media options and a fragmentation of main stream media - just consider how many new magazine titles are on the shelves, how many new TV channels are available and the multiple newspapers that consumers can choose to read - it is clear to see why alternate media is now more important than ever before." Dan is spot on. Think of this forum here. This blog is considered alternative media at this point in time. But, let's project a few years into the future. The Web is going to be the most important point of contact when it comes to the consumer at large.

In the late 80's in America it was widely accepted that in order to reach 80% of the female population all an advertiser would have to do would be to place one prime time advert on three main stream TV channels. It would require far more strategy, planning and budget if one wanted to achieve the same objective today. So, as the life of the brand looking to influence consumers has become more challenging, so they have been forced to consider alternate media channels. For advertisers in many respects the good old days are gone. Just consider how easy an advertiser's task would be if there was only one billboard available on the M1 highway and that consumers were not as skeptical as they are today. Think of the Marlboro cowboy telling consumers to smoke Marlboro and hoards of consumers rushing off and doing just that!

So, in an effort to engage consumers in a meaningful way alternate media takes a close look at consumers' habits and looks to engage and interact with them at the right time and place so as to influence their decisions and brand perspective. "Overseas we are seeing budgets being shifted away from traditional media and towards alternate media in a significant manner. Proctor and Gamble is considered a leader in this sphere and they are aggressively shifting their budgets from TV to online strategy. Philips launched a shaver for men using only You Tube and their sales outstripped even their most aggressive forecasts!" Again, Dan points out that the old way of doing things is starting to change, and a forum like this one here is going to be become more mainstream with each passing year.

"As soon as you mention online in South Africa people are quick to note that we do not have the Internet penetration of a country such as the US. This is true and what is all the more interesting is that even with their high Internet penetration the fastest growing alternate media in the US is the in-store media channel. Savvy advertisers have caught onto the power of retail. Not only is it the point in time when the actual purchasing decision is made - it is widely accepted that 70% of purchasing decisions are actually made at the moment of purchase - but it is also the place and point in time which continues to see increasing consumer numbers and traffic. When one considers the power and reach in a local context we note the following: Shoprite sees over 10 million unique customers a month and a staggering 434 million transactions a year. AC Nielsen reports that 65% of South Africans have shopped in the Shoprite group in the last 12 months."

Advertisers are quick to defend traditional media based on its reach, but when one considers the above numbers it is easy to see why this belief is changing and will continue to change. The in-store environment is offering the perfect alternative to traditional media and spend is being allocated to this new medium. We now regularly see in-store TV screens, we are familiar with in-store radio and it is common place to see advertising messages on the points where we sign our credit cards.

Dan gives us a compelling closing comment, "The alternate media revolution is upon us and with the continued growth of alternate media it might not be too long before the alternate becomes the mainstream."

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The big idea!

Where are all the good business ideas in the world these days? Wait a minute. Maybe the first good idea is to find good people. In a time when the world is a giant pressure cooker I hope we finally getting back to the most important fundamental, which is people. Ideas don’t move mountains, people do. People inspire us, not things. And that’s where ideas come from; they come from people.

I spent a lot of time each month with young entrepreneurs who come to me with various business ideas. I am always amazed at their spirit and their enthusiasm. But I often get frustrated when I leave a room thinking, “Those guys just don’t get it.” This is just my opinion here, and I could be wrong, but to me business is not about a great idea, or great enthusiasm, or great business plans. Sure, that is important, but business is more about heart and soul. If you were hiring someone and you had the choice between someone who was very smart and full of ideas or someone who had a great attitude, then which one would you chose. In today’s society we tend to look at someone’s CV from the point of view of how much experience they have, and how many degrees they have, and how many awards they have won, etc. But imagine hiring the smartest guy in town with the worst attitude. I would rather have a team of humble people who don’t moan and complain, who aren’t arrogant, and who have the ability to listen, than a bunch of know-it-alls who think they are doing you a favour. A person with a good attitude can come up with good ideas if encouraged and trusted.

The point I am trying to get across this fine Sunday is that good people will have good ideas. But good ideas might not necessarily mean good people. Put attitude before aptitude. Some of the true visionary companies were all about people. The ideas came later once the fundamentals were in place. We are talking about companies like Disney, Sony, Coca-Cola, and IBM. Companies we all know and love.

In one of the most inspired books, Built To Last, the authors take us on a journey of discovery when they compare the habits of the world’s most visionary companies. In their research they share with us the 12 shattered myths of business. The first and most important myth that the authors describe goes as follows: It takes a great idea to start a great company. They then go on to explain the reality: Starting a company with a “great idea” might be a bad idea. Few of the visionary companies began life with a great idea. In fact, some began life without any specific idea and a few even began with outright failures. Furthermore, regardless of the founding concept, the visionary companies were significantly less likely to have early entrepreneurial success than the comparison companies in our study. Like the parable of the tortoise and the hare, visionary companies often get off to a slow start, but win the long race.

I meet so many people who talk about money and money and more money. And there big idea is generally about how to make it, money that is. And this always leaves me feeling quite uninspired. There is no easy money in this world. Nothing easy is good. And don’t forget the old saying: easy come, easy go. Those people who have some suspicious sounding idea of how everyone is gonna rich fast always seem to land up on their ass before no time at all. Come on, start working on relationships. Start working on the things that truly count. Do that and the rewards will follow. As will the ideas. We all have a sense of humour. We all have imagination. We are all an “ideas man”. But we aren’t all good listeners or leaders. Let’s focus on people. The ideas will follow.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Friday, 1 August 2008

Ideas don’t move mountains, people do

After not looking at any potential new movie projects for the past year I read another synopsis for a feature film recently. I liked the concept a lot but I felt the story needed to be explored a bit further, and more importantly, I thought the characters had not been developed enough. But that doesn't really matter at this point. What is important is the person who gave me this story. He had a good way about him, and that is why I was keen to read what he had put down on paper.

I asked him about how he intends to make the film. He told me that the budget was super tight and that they will be utilizing all kinds of new technology to keep the costs down. All of this sounds good, but, it is not technology that gets a film made. People make movies, not technology.

As per my first piece on this forum, I want to re-iterate that you only ever invest in is people. You don't invest in film scripts or business plans. Think about this: a VC firm or a merchant bank sees many business plans in any given week. These ideas on paper are worth nothing. They are just words, and words come by pretty easily to most. Talk is cheap, as the saying goes. What makes these plans potentially worthwhile are the people behind them and the value they bring to the equation.

I remember back when Internet Solutions started off on its trajectory of exponential growth. The first customers that came on board were nervous. Many of them asked us tough questions, like "You all look like a bunch of kids. How long are you going be in business for?" I know they never meant to insult us; they were just concerned, and rightfully so, that they would be investing their time with a bunch of green guys who may go out of business soon because those are the odds. In short, these customers were looking for peace of mind. They weren't buying into technology, they were buying into people. They took it for granted that we knew what we were doing, but they wanted to know that we were going to be around to look after them long after they signed their contract.

Let's get back to the film story now. When someone sends you a screenplay there are a bunch of leading questions one should ask. Such as: what experience have you had making films? And, do you have a distributor who is committed to releasing the film? Other key questions should include: what is the budget for the film? How do you intend to recoup your investor's funds? Do you have any talent that have come on board the project, like bankable actors, etc.? Have you done some market research? Will people be interested in the story you want to tell? And the list of questions goes on and on. These are all pertinent business questions. Yes, they don't have much to do with the art of film making, but if you are going to ask someone for money for your art then you should consider the business imperatives that go hand in hand with your proposed venture. In my experience over the past 8 years of investing in artists I have really struggled to truly connect with anyone (except for a couple of people) on the fundamentals that underpin any venture. But when you do get this balance and alignment right, magic happens. In the past year I have been very privileged to connect with a group of talented and driven programmers who are doing some very cool things on the Net.

Einstein once said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I have met so many of these "genius" artists over the years and they all go on about how brilliant their ideas are. I do love many of their ideas but I would love them more if someone was prepared to suffer for their art. I have not found too many people willing to put their money with mouths are when it comes to their great ideas. And I am not referring to risking everything you got. I am just hinting at someone stepping out of their comfort zone.

Einstein said another compelling thing which I have been thinking about a lot this past year, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." This is why I took a break from feature film adventures for the past year. I was starting to go insane. And, following on from my previous blog entry here, I think I was digging for oil in the Karoo! Luck certainly has not been on my side when it comes to my adventures in the local screen trade. Perhaps I have just been plain stupid. As that one guy who posted that comment on this site said, referring to a survey where successful entrepreneurs spoke about luck, "Everyone has luck, I just did something about it." What I am trying to say is that doing something about it when the omens are telling you otherwise, is just an uphill battle. Call it bad luck or call it just dumb. One thing is for sure, the next time I embark on one of these journeys I won't do things the way I have done them before. And most importantly, I will make sure that the place we go digging at does have some evidence of oil.

If I look back at the Footskating film, I think we had a good bunch of people and a good plan. But I do think now more and more that we were digging in the wrong place. I was really happy with the end product. I like that film a lot. It was innovative and quirky, and it had heart. It is currently on M-Net and for the most part we have been getting some good feedback. I know it is not everyone's cup of tea, but I like it, and even though I lost money again, I have no regrets. But I did learn a hard lesson through all of this. Yes, luck is something you need to recognize. I have been digging for a long time, and the more I practice the luckier I get. But, I still haven't got it right yet and I am convinced, more and more, that I have been looking for oil in the wrong place.

Now what I am saying here is open to a lot of interpretation. Rest assured I am more positive than ever. I just needed some time and perspective to figure out where the oil is. My nose is itching again; I think I picked up the scent finally! Well, I hope I have!

But, this piece here today was not about where to look for oil, but rather, about who to go digging with. So, I think the last question I am going to ask my new film making friend is this: Are you convinced there is oil where you currently want to dig?

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Vottle Vibes

There is lots going on in Vottleland - here are some of the highlights from the month gone by:

- since we went live with paid for upgrades (at the start of last month) we have had 28 successful credit card transactions
- some changes were made to our banner scripts to accommodate the Outsurance banners - we are also investigating the possibility of using a proper banner administration and serving tool to increase flexibility even more
- we have become members of the OPA
- our Vottle blog ( has been registered on

Much of the month has been focused on our initiative in Brazil. Richard van Kutmein is the man of the moment - here he is reporting on the spot: "Vottle's Brazilian sister site, Classitop, has had a language engine built so that the site can seamlessly change between English and Portuguese. The majority of the site has already been translated, this in just over two weeks. We are in the process of bringing up a staging server in Brazil which will have a fully operational site up and running in their environment in the next few days. We are also in the process of customizing this site for this purpose, and much of the development work will be carried over to Vottle in the near future as enhancements are developed."

Posted by the Vottlers

Monday, 28 July 2008

You don't have to be smart to make money

No one can deny that so much of the Western World is bent on pursuing cold cash. Ask a bunch of high school graduates what they want to do when they leave school and 9 out of 10 will say "we want to make money".

So, if making money is important to you, then one has to consider how does one go about achieving such a goal? You often hear people refer to smart individuals with expressions like "he is a clever guy, he is going to make a lot of money". There certainly seems to be a strong sense that smart people make money. Now, I know many smart people with money. But then I also know many many smart people with no money. And of course, I also know many pretty dumb people who have made money too. My conclusion is that you don’t have to be smart to make money.

In my short life I was lucky to have made some money at a young age. I am still not sure how it happened. I don't think I am dumb, but I don't think I am that smart either. I am certainly hard working and I never give up. Now, in my case, I was never trying to accumulate wealth. I was trying to do something magical and inspired. The fact that our work suddenly was valued with some large amount was a mystery to me. But, I was not going to complain. Now, I know all the cynics out there are going to be very quick to dismiss what I am saying here, but I am used to it by now. If I was passionate about creating ice sculptures, say, then I would have pursued that, but I am not sure how much money I would have amassed from such a journey. Even if I persisted and got really lucky. I mean, how much money is there to be made sculpting ice. Of course, I am just using this as a silly example. Perhaps if I looked into this further I may discover that there is indeed money to be made in the ice sculpting business. But it would not have mattered. The money would not have inspired me. Following what I am passionate about would have been the primary motivator. But, enough of this. Let's move on. The point is, that people typically excel with endeavours they love working at, and, if they make money along the way, well, the way I see it, that is a bonus.

There is a famous story, about an interview with American tycoon J Paul Getty. When asked about the secret to his vast fortune he commented, "The secret to success is this: you wake up early, you work hard, and you find oil". Yes, luck plays a big part of any business venture. If you love the work you do, and even if you work at it like there's no tomorrow, there is no guarantee things will be a success. If you have bad luck then all bets are off. Now, not that success is measured by a number, or a dollar sign, but today I wanted to talk about the pursuit of material wealth and what the ingredients are that are needed to achieve this goal. Luck, in my view, is a key element. It has been said that luck always favours the persistent. We all know Gary Player's famous quote that goes "the more I practice the luckier I get". But there is also something else to consider: where you dig for oil! Yes, the more you dig the luckier you will get, but if you did for oil in the Middle East you are bound to be a lot luckier than if you dug in the Karoo, for example. Follow your nose, watch for the omens - you can make your own luck!

Let's face it. Some guys are just idiots, clear and simple; they bark up the wrong trees all the time. But I will say it again. You don't need to be smart to make money. You need to be persistent and you need to have luck. I know plenty of monkeys in the world that have made big money, by selling stuff to other monkeys. One thing though that they are all is persistent, and they treat their customers well. "The customer is king", they will tell you. But, the vast majority of them appear to spend very little time looking after their staff. But for the customer they will bend over backwards! I think it is the smarter folk, or let's say, the more inspired or perhaps even the more humble, that treat everyone the same. Treating your co-workers with respect, and giving them the same time, if not more, than you give your customers, appears to me, to be the domain of the more enlightened.

I got to know this one guy many years ago. He seemed like a very nice person. But he had no problem selling luftgesheft. He would sell you a car with a lemon engine and it didn't seem to worry him. He made a lot of money from his efforts, and he was certainly persistent. He was quite a charming guy, which also must have helped. But, I know one thing to be true, he won't hang on to that money for long - easy come easy go. He certainly was not that enlightened or inspired or smart. Just as he took your money and sold you rubbish, so someone would do it back to him. This is how it generally how it seems to work.

The most important thing I ever learnt in life is that you don't invest in ideas, you invest in people. Technology doesn't make money - people make money! And people with luck can make a lot of money. I was taught that you would rather invest in a bad business with good people, than in a good business with bad people. Of course, a good business with good people is first prize.

What is luck then? Someone people say luck is all about timing. When we started Internet Solutions are timing was indeed fantastic. The fact that a bunch of like-minded people came together, who were all living at home, free of the pressures and responsibilities that go with raising a family or paying off a bond, the fact that such a group could focus for seven days week, at something they loved doing, well, that was very very lucky. But, making the business work, in a market with many competitors, many who had long track records and deep pockets, well, that had less to do with luck than it had to do with chutzpah, risk taking, passion, dedication and obsession. You could cross the street tomorrow and meet the person of your dreams and land up getting married. That would be luck - good timing! But, making the marriage work is not about luck. It is about commitment and sacrifice. It is about passion and integrity. We had many competitors within the year we started out, and they all made us nervous with their size and experience. But, we gained the dominant market share and have held on to it for 15 years now. And that has very little to do with luck. Of course, this is just my perspective, I could be wrong.

A very wise man once told me that business is about 10% seichel (smarts) and 90% mazal (luck) and those you use more seichel always land up making less money. When you get too clever for your own good you often go and mess things up. Don't mess with a winning formula! And don't forgot who you are and where you have come from.

I think the key to all of this is to be honest with oneself. We all have to play the cards we are dealt. And, when it comes to cards luck is important.

You can indeed make your own luck. Let’s look at one more example before we end off. IF you drive around all day cursing people on the roads and cutting people off and giving people the finger, well, then someone is going to take you out. On the other hand, if you are respectful of others, and you smile and greet people and you generally give a shit about those around you, well, that is probably going to bring you better luck. I guess that old cliché rings true here: the best way to receive is to give.

So, to end off, let's throw out a curve ball to all those who are in hot pursuit of cold cash. Let me end of with something else Mr. Getty once said "If you know how money you have then you are not really rich."

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 27 July 2008

You’re as rich as you live

I often quote this line from a movie that goes “Every man dies, but not every man lives.” The movie is Braveheart and even if you have seen it years ago watch it again now. Speaking of brave hearts, this fine winter's weekend I want to explore the progress paradox with respect to money versus experience. Wealth is so typically measured by a number in this day and age. So, how would you say you scored? What number did you achieve? Sounds kind of silly doesn’t it. If you had a week to live would you be worrying about a number? Life is a journey and journeys are about experiences.

With the recent economic downturn in America the world has become increasingly more anxious. I have been listening to more and more people ask the big question of late, “What is it all about?” Surely it can’t be about a number. And most definitely it should not require a number to dictate the riches you could realize in this world. My oldest friend Alex once told me that you are as rich as you live. It has taken me many years to truly understand these words. Also, I realize that my soulful friend was way ahead of his time.

As the world looks within its soul to find answers we are going to experience an increasing move towards the more spiritual aspects of life with respect to business and wealth. Humour, romance and love will once again become the real treasures as we move back to more qualitative life because we realize that life is truly short and uncertain. You are as rich as you live but are you as rich as you own? And by asking this I am exploring the idea of living versus accumulating. To own things or to own experiences is the question. Yes, what about experience versus possessions – which side are you tending towards. Someone I met recently told me a story about a man with money who meets a man with experience. After the meeting the man with the experience now has the money and the man with the money now has the experience. And isn’t this what life is about: experience. Life is a journey. And the journey is about living to the fullest. It is about feeling and about growing. If life were about a destination then having a fortune of possessions would make sense, as you would have arrived in the quantitative world. But where exactly are you arriving at?

I found this next exercise on the Internet. It is a different sort of quiz. And it goes to help illustrate that we are indeed as rich as we live. Let’s check out this quiz. It will make you think. 1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world. 2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners. 3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest. 4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize. 5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress. 6. Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners. How did you do? The point is, none of us remember headliners of yesterday. And these are no second-rate achievers. They are best in their fields, but the accolades and certificates are buried with their owners. Here's another quiz; see how you do on this one: 1. List a few teachers who helped you on your journey through school. 2. Name three friends who helped you through a difficult time. 3. Name five people who taught you something worthwhile. 4. Think of a few people who made you feel appreciated and special. 5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with. 6. Name half a dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you. Easier? The lesson? The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones who care. And having a rich life is about caring. And you can never care too much, only too little.

Life is about sharing. And the most important thing you can share or give to anyone is your time. The richest people I have met in the world are always giving of their time to those people who they care about. Having a rich life is to be surrounded by love, compassion, support, laughter, and friendship. In a world where people are questioning their value systems and looking at the financial markets with disbelief, there is going to be great movement towards the more qualitative aspects of life once again. I wrote a few weeks back that we shouldn’t be climbing mountains on our own. The significant things are not meant to be done on your own. The journey is about sharing. And what we share are experiences. This is what makes life so inspired and so colourful. And the richer the experiences the richer your life will be.

The most wonderful times I have ever experienced are when I am surrounded by the people I love; when we are all together, drinking and eating and laughing. This is when I feel most alive. Living a rich life means taking time out from the rat race. It means slowing down the treadmill. And yes, as we know that time is money then it also means less money. Money, as the cliché goes, does not buy happiness. So, what does? I am not going to attempt to answer that question here, but I can say that some of the richest people I know are not the biggest moneymakers in town. Their lives are rich and their contributions evident. Let’s end off with a line from another of my favourite movies, “The powerful play of life goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Dance like no one is watching

We all need to laugh more. This is a key element of success when it comes to business, the universe and life in general. Laughter is food for the soul. It gives one perspective. And in an era filled with incredible anxiety and uncertainty, perspective, and laughter, are needed more than ever before. Especially in the world of business.

I remember that famous saying that goes: Dance like no one is watching. Love like you have never been hurt. And work like you don’t need the money. Well, we should add to that: laugh like it could be your last breathe. Because when you laugh like this you breathe more peacefully afterwards and you see things clearly. And laughter is just what the doctor ordered this fine winter.

You know, about a decade or so ago we never had call waiting, and call forwarding, and cellphones, and voice mail, and e-mail, and I could go and on. We never had all this stuff; and we survived. Actually, we did more than survive – we laughed, and we celebrated life. Have people got more to say these days or something? What is it?!? My opinion is that we actually have less to say these days; and we spend more time saying it. Go figure. It’s the progress paradox. This is pure quality VS quantity dynamics at play. One has to laugh. I mean, people are calling each other, and faxing, and e-mailing to discuss who did what on some stupid reality TV show. I have never watched nonsense like Big Brother, for example. But so many people used to talk about it. I have my own big brother, and his name is Alon. And he is far more interesting than a TV program. And we don’t need cellphones and e-mail and voice-mail to communicate. We get together, and we share ideas, and we laugh.

Laughter is what gets us fired up. Laughter is what inspires us. Laughter feeds our passion for life. And for adventure. Laughter is good for business. And the laughing business … oops, I am getting a bit carried away here. It’s probably because, of late, I have been exposed to some brilliant new people, whose business is making people laugh.

In a world where everyone is taking everything way to serious, the only thing more dangerous than failure, is success. Seriously, I have met so many rich, young people in my life, and I must tell you, I prefer the older folk. At least they know how to laugh. Stop taking yourselves so seriously, ok! And lighten up will you. Stop analyzing everything. Tolstoy once wrote, “The more we live by our intellect, the less we understand the meaning of life.” I love Leos. They always hit the nail right on the head.

Someone called me once, after reading an article I had written for a newspaper, and asked me what kind of model I followed. I was very flattered by the kind words this person used but I was a bit confused by the question that was asked. I have never prescribed to any model. The only thing I have always tried to do is listen to my heart. You see, my heart can’t take cellphone calls. My head does that. So, my heart has lots of time to do what it needs to do. And my head is along for the ride. And on this journey the two conspire to make people laugh. I hope this makes sense. And just in case, I have a good line I found for all you cynics out there. If anything, it will make you laugh. Take it away Emo Phillips, “When I was young I used to pray for a bike. Then I realized that God doesn't work that way, so I stole a bike and prayed for forgiveness.”

So, speaking of laughter and dancing, let’s enjoy this weekend as I leave you with a funny story I got from my Rabbi. So, a modern Orthodox Jewish couple, preparing for their religious wedding, meets with their rabbi for counseling. The rabbi asks if they have any last questions before they leave. The man asks, "Rabbi, we realize it's tradition for men to dance with men, and women to dance with women at the reception, but, we'd like your permission to dance together." "Absolutely not," says the rabbi. "It's immodest. Men and women always dance separately." "So after the ceremony I can't even dance with my own wife?" "No!" answered the rabbi. "It's absolutely forbidden." "Well, okay," says the man. "What about sex? Can we finally have sex?" "Of course!" replies the rabbi. "Sex is a mitzvah within marriage, to have children." "What about different positions?" asks the man. "No problem," says the rabbi. "It's a mitzvah." "With the woman on top?" the man asks. "Sure," says the rabbi. "Go for it! It's a mitzvah." "Can we do it doggy style?" "Sure! Another mitzvah." "On the kitchen table?" "Yes, yes! A mitzvah!" "Can we do it on rubber sheets with mirrors on the ceiling, a bottle of hot oil, a vibrator, a leather whip, a bucket of honey and a porno video?" "You may indeed. It's all a mitzvah." "Can we do it standing up?" "No, No, No!" cries the Rabbi. "Absolutely never standing up!" "Why not?" asks the man. "Could lead to dancing."

Posted by Ronnie Apteker