Friday, 27 June 2008

Comic timing!

Are you in sales? Are you a salesperson? No, you may answer. Are you sure? Isn't everyone in sales?! Aren't we all trying to "close" all the time. Every time you convince someone of something a sale is made. We are all trying persuade people all the time. Selling is, as the saying goes, about the gentle art of persuasion.

To sell one needs to listen. Yes, selling is more about listening than about talking. And this has a lot to do with timing. One needs to know when to listen, especially in the context of selling in the corporate environment. Persuading a customer to buy a new service is more about listening than anything else.

To sell one needs to build trust. That is where listening comes in. If people trust you it is easier to persuade them of your point of view. How does one build trust? Well, for one thing, always be honest, and be consistent and reliable. And of course, listen! Making people feel comfortable is key. Humour always helps. Making people smile and laugh, as opposed to aggression and ruthlessness, is always a good thing.

So, with that introductory detour down stating the bleeding obvious lane, I want to introduce the hero of our story here today, the comedian. Comedy is all about timing. Now, time must be the ultimate story teller, because people always says that time will tell.

Let's see, we have scratched the selling surface, and now we are talking about comedians, time and storytelling. Selling is about listening, and, comedy is also about listening. Seriously, a stand-up comedian, for example, needs to listen more than they talk. They need to be "with" their audience all the time. Now this implies that comedy is also about selling, and it is. A stand-up comic has to close a deal every 10 to 15 seconds.

Let's look at the make-up of a comedian for a brief moment. Good comedians often have insight and vision – they see humour where others don’t and they show us a more colourful and funnier way of seeing the world. Comedians need entrepreneurial flair - like a photographer who is not afraid to get up close, they need to take advantage of exploitable moments. I was one told that greatest comedy, like the most inspired entrepreneurship, is about managing risk - the comedian needs to push the envelope, and manage the risk.

Now, a comedian also has to maintain the trust of their audience. If comedian looks at their watch or reads notes scribbled on their hand then the trust with the audience will be broken. A comedian can't take out notes on stage. Imagine David Copperfield taking out notes and going "So how do I make the lion disappear again". We all wonder how magic tricks are performed. If we ever see how the trick is done the illusion will be over, and our trust and curiosity diminished.

Stand-up comedy is like magic. The best comedians make it look so easy but it is not at all. So much work goes into each minute of the artist's performance. There is so much preparation and planning - it is a craft as well as an art. And a magician, like a comedian, can never show how the trick is done. If a comic pulls out crib notes then the illusion is lost and the magic disappears. A comedian ultimately has to memorize so much - this is part of the magic.

The other thing about selling, is one has to have fun. A comedian has to have fun with their audience - it can’t be clinical. One has to have heart! The guy on stage has to be laughing too. He has to be in to it. He has to be friends with everyone - he has to be a part of the group.

So, to recap, selling is all about persuasion, and, persuading an audience to laugh is about selling. Now, a person with a sense of humour doesn't necessarily make for a good stand-up comic. This has a lot do with discipline and practice. Even the best athletes, for example, who often make it look easier than it actually is, need to practice and practice. And so do comedians. And sales people! A sense of humour does not allow for a stand-up comedy show - practice does - the sense of humour lets you prepare your material.

Athletes aren't born to win races, for example. They are born with an inclination, a purpose. The rest requires discipline and practice - it requires training. In the same way, a comedian is born with an inclination - a sense of humour. Again, it requires discipline, hard work and training. Selling too is a discipline. The best sales guys have a system and a framework, a way to keep yourself on track. A way of discipline, and it requires a lot of hard work. Hard work that is made to look easy.

A comedian, like a sales person, needs something to sell. Something they believe in, something they would use themselves. We are talking about material. The sense of humour is what leads to the material. The passion is what leads to the products and services that a sales person touts.

Now, when it comes to delivery, less is more. Like saying I love you too often - it can be destructive, like you're making up for a lack of something. It is hard deliver less. It is easy to go on and on. Think of email, why do people send out such long emails? I once heard someone say "I would make my email shorter but I just don't have time". It takes effort to simplify things.

To conclude we better end off on a punch line. So, for starters, let's remind everyone that laughter is the best medicine. So, always go out on a high note. When you got their imaginations captured, end it, and say good night. When the sale is closed, that's it! Never push it too far (because we all tend too). And as for a funny ending, well, I am going to finish off and get home, I am not feeling quite myself today. I guess what I am trying to say is that I want to get home so I can feel myself.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Monday, 23 June 2008

You don't have to be smart to make money

The one thing I learn more and more is that you don't have to be smart to make money. Now, not to say that life is all about making money. For from it in fact from my perspective. But, when it comes to making money, there are many interesting observations that have become more evident as I get older, er, wiser, or something.

People who make money are persistent, passionate, respectful, and whole bunch of things. But you don't have to be smart to make money. A good dose of chutzpah helps and being a mench is key. Charm never hurt, and of course, the most important ingredient, luck. But one does not have to be an academic to make money.

I know many many smart people who have no money and I know many rich people who are not smart. In fact I remember a very wise man once saying that making money is about 10% seichel (smarts) and 90% mazal (luck) and those you use more seichel always land up making less money.

Yes, when you get too clever for your own good we generally mess things up. So, don't mess with a winning formula! Don't forgot who you are and where you have come from - stay grounded, be humble!

And always remember to say what you mean and mean what you say.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Not pushing the envelope any more!

This story of not sending any more goods to our local post office from now on, here in South Africa, has received some incredible airtime yesterday. It actually made it a front page story on the Business Day and also got its own street pole notice all over the place. Check this out:

Also, have a look here too:

This is not a good sign for South Africa but my friends at are certainly more excited than ever about what this opportunity represents. The demand for their service is about to go up a big notch or two!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Pictures with purpose

Martin Luther King once said that there is no progress without struggle. All of the mountains we have to climb are what build our character. Every struggle we face gets us one step closer to our true sense of purpose.

Many years ago I was involved in a film making adventure in Los Angeles. I am referring to the story of “Purpose”. A moral fable for our times set in the high tech world of Silicon Valley at the turn of the millennium. This was an adventure in story telling of an all new American dream where quality continually seems to be pushed aside in the name of quantity. We shot the movie during October to December of 2000 and then we spent the first the next 5 months in post-production with the end result being a provocative and well timed movie.

“Purpose”, in my view, is a concise pop epic – a contemporary tale set in the world of San Francisco Dot Com startups. With the collapse of the then tech stocks, it was a innovative film to explore as fiction, the culture of greed that possessed a city associated in the past for its counterculture, romance and secular spirituality. But enough about the movie. Let’s move on.

Movies are about telling stories with pictures. They are about expression and they are about sharing a message with the world. At least, from a qualitative perspective that is what it’s all about. From an artist’s point of view, a motion picture represents an opportunity to inspire the world and provoke different thoughts in its audience. From a business point of view the commercial movie capital (like the rest of the business world today) seems to be all about the numbers. The purpose of the movie studios appears to be all about profits, fame and ego (not necessarily in this order either), everything else second, including the picture. That is probably the primary reason why there are so many bad movies out there (and along the same train of thought why there were so many Dot Bombs back then).

It is less and less about the message or the art and more and more about the money making formula. And that was my biggest struggle. Coming from a relatively sheltered environment and trying to comprehend this new world of slick talkers and shady dealers, where money is paramount, left me feeling very disappointed with Uncle Sam. Coming from South Africa the culture shock was quite overwhelming and the level of capitalism I was exposed to has left me feeling very anxious about the future. I always thought that capitalism was about free markets, competition, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. The form I experienced was more about ruthless tactics, brute force and aggressive confrontational interactions. I learnt that there is a fundamental difference between making a movie and the business of movies. Considering we made a movie that explores the theme of making money VS making a difference I find that the end result of my newly acquired wisdom and knowledge to be a divine series of ironies. At the very least, there is enough material for another script.

I could write endless VLOGs based on what I was exposed to in America. But for today I want to focus on “purpose.” I went to Los Angeles with a purpose. The movie has a purpose. And this VLOG has a purpose. Each one attempts to make some kind of a difference in the world. And in my efforts to contribute a verse to the powerful play of life I learnt some very hard lessons that have shaped my thinking and set me on an inspired path.

The end result of my American misadventure, well, I had a very big bite taken out of me. I had to fight for my life. There were so many times when the pressure and stress was so bad that I just wanted to run away. But I didn’t. I spent weeks not sleeping and I spent days upon days practically making myself sick from anxiety. I sit here now typing up this VLOG, quite calm and content, with no regrets, and the message I want to share with you all is about team spirit and perspective. The most fundamental thing I learnt in the past year, the thing I always admire at IS, is that life is a team sport. I was gung ho and inspired on my movie making mission but I was trying to climb a mountain on my own and in doing so I almost lost my way.

Life is short and uncertain and it is rare and precious. The good things in life are those things that are born in love. Focus on the quality and the quantity will sort itself out. And when pursuing your purpose seek out those who share your vision and work together as a team. Work on relationships and work on trust. Remember, nothing that is done alone in this world is as fun as when it is done as a team with people you care about. So, let me leave you with a line from one of the world’s best movies, “Every man dies, but not every man lives.” Have the courage to follow your dreams because life really is short. And when you chose to climb that mountain then go find others who will embark on the journey with you. And don’t stop progressing. The pyramids are getting closer and closer. And with it, so is your true sense of purpose.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 8 June 2008

This e-mail will be the last one we send you

Letting people go has never been an easy thing to do. Retrenching people has never been easy. Telling a man in his forties who has a family to support that you know how it feels (when the truth is you have no clue how it feels) is not something any of us are well equipped to do. Or worse, not telling him anything and instead sending him an email telling he has been made redundant is something that none of us will ever be equipped to do because it should not be this way. Real leaders will never behave like this.

I think an important consideration in today's anxious world is not only how we behave with respect to our co-workers but how we communicate with them, literally. And by this I am not referring to one’s tone of voice or mood or demeanour but rather to whether you communicate face-to-face or via some electronic means that may be convenient but really not appropriate. How can you retrench someone via cold keystrokes? Surely this cannot be healthy in the long run? If our Western world keeps going like this just now you will be dealing with robots – faceless machines that lack emotions. There are many that would argue that this is already the case in America, for example, but this is another VLOG altogether, actually, this would be a collection of VLOGs. I better be careful what I say.

We need to understand what cellphones and e-mail are meant for. We send off messages in every direction and we land up creating more problems than we realise. We think we are being effective and we confuse this with being efficient. So what if you can let a whole department go with one e-mail. So what if you saved an afternoon of your time by sending an SMS to that unit that is about to become redundant. In the long term you are doing a lot of damage and this will land up taking up far more of your time in the future.

I read this in an American newspaper a while ago: Teaching at a state university we instructors get to know our students fairly well. A colleague once mentioned that he had told his communications class of his plans to propose marriage. A student spoke up and said that he had recently asked his girlfriend to marry him. “What was her answer?” my friend asked. “I don’t know,” the student replied.” She hasn’t e-mailed me back yet.”

Is this what technology has done to us? Have we replaced face-to-face communications with cold keystrokes and wireless telephony? Life is about relationships. And business is about relationships. With your staff and your customers. And with your suppliers. I could go on and on. Real business is about people. Look at the core of any institution. You will find a group of people who speak to each other in the flesh. I know these are times of fast foods and slow digestion but we better slow down or we are going to crash.

We can’t cheat nature. It is not natural to grow at the speed of light. The good things in life take time. A good business takes time. Spend quality time with your staff and your customers and the numbers will sort themselves out.

What is the purpose of your business? Is it about making a difference or is about making money. If you really want to make a difference then start working on relationships. A good, solid business works on trust. Inspired companies gain people’s respect. People who make a difference feel proud about the work they do. And this is through the good as well as the bad times. How can letting someone go via a cold email message be conducive to any of these ideals? No wonder today’s youth are so drawn towards violent movies and offensive music – in a world where email has become so easy, we are all far too trigger happy.

Come on folk, the next time you have something important to communicate with someone you claim to care about then do it over the phone or face-to-face. Whether it is good news or bad, don’t send a fax from your PC and don’t fire off an email or send an SMS message. Let’s start putting all these electronic communications tools into perspective so that the progress paradox does not become more of a reality.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Vottle Vooma

A lot has been happening here in Vottleland. A lot of development and some cool new features. Here are the highlights from this month gone by:

- we have moved to a model whereby there is one class of user now (no more registered VS non-registered users) - there is still a registration feature, but the way it works now, every new user posting an advert is technically registered on the system - our new user model allows easier user maintenance, but most importantly it makes posting and managing of adverts by users a lot more intuitive and does not require a formal registration process for them to create a profile

- new look and feel with things like Featured adverts, Premium adverts, and the new look home page (which now lists all the categories in alphabetical order - not sure what took us so long to go this route) - the challenge here lay in the ability to provide many more categories than any of our competitors and still be able to display all of these in a concise and logical format in single page without having to scroll down through lots of content - and we think we have finally accomplished this very nicely with our on-demand, dynamically expanding categories

- very cool picture zoom feature - this imaging feature enables users to easily move from one image to another using either the mouse or keyboard, and without having to open and close individual popup windows - it will also by default expand very large images to screen size so that the entire image is viewable (as opposed to expanding beyond the borders of the page making large images difficult to see) - it also enables users to expand thumbnail images everywhere on the site as opposed to just the advert view pages - this makes navigation quicker and easier as users do not always have to click through to a new page to get a better view of a potentially interesting advert

- the integration with Netads is now complete and the results so far are encouraging

- we now have corporate banners on the home page (which we start selling from this new month), as well as sponsored links in the top 3 categories - our first test case is going live from this new month with Dial Direct

- the actual advert view page has a new look and feel with lots of cool new icons and a logical new layout - the new layout displays images higher up on the page since it is often the images that catch and hold a user's attention to an advert - also, all user functions for an advert (such as contact the seller, add to favourites, report this advert, etc.) have all been consolidated in a single block near the top of the page and it is much more user friendly

- we have put a lot of focus this past month on improving the user's experience and usability of the site in an effort to keep the user on our site (reduce bounce rate)

- we are still working on improving the structuring of our categories to make them more logical and user friendly - this includes splitting our Property section into two categories (For Sale and Rental) since this category is very large and often difficult to navigate

- we will also have the ability to attach sub-categories to more than one parent category, as some subcategories may logically fall under more than one parent, and users often cannot find what they are looking - for example, some users will look for 'Room to Rent' under Property rentals, others will look for it under 'Accommodation' - this way we can serve the same content easily under multiple logical categories.

- text searches have been enhanced - besides simply searching the body of an advert for the relevant text, we now also suggest categories or subcategories that might be relevant to a user's search in the search results

Posted by the Vottlers