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

Sunday 13 July 2008

The way to a man’s heart

I have often wondered about opening up a coffee shop or a restaurant. And lately I have heard so many of my friends share such similar ideas with me. I think I know where this desire comes from. You can establish the best restaurant in the neighbourhood; you can feel good about your work; your customers will get to know you, and they will love coming back if you delight them time and time again. You don’t need to have over 10 billion served; you don’t have pressures to IPO; you don’t have to have a Web site and market survey cards because you will know your customers - you can do a honest day’s work and you can put your heart into it, and your customers will feel this and they will support you and promote you.

A short time ago I met some people for dinner at the Grillhouse in Rosebank. Joel Katz and Saul Mervis were there as usual to look after us and we had such a great night out. The place was buzzing. Why do people love going there? Yes, the food is delicious and the service is fantastic, but more than this you always feel special there. They make such an effort to get to know their customers who keep coming back for more.

I remember at the turn of the century one of the giant fast-food burger chains in the US launched an advertising campaign that I want to re-visit here. A “restaurant style hamburger” was the new product in town and it was being sold at a non-restaurant price. The advertising was all over the place. It went like this, “How much would you expect to pay for this high quality restaurant style hamburger? 8$? 9$? 10$? Nope. It is now only 3.95$ And that’s not all – we don’t have waiters bothering you and you can be in and out in no time.” A restaurant burger without the restaurant - a quality meal in a hurry … stop! The whole point of a quality meal is the fact that you sit down in a relaxed environment with friends. Who would pay R100 for a take-out box of prawns from a fast food joint? If you are gonna spend the money then make a night of it.

The good things in life take time - quality is about what comes naturally; and we know we can’t cheat nature. The words “quality” and “fast” just don’t go together. A quality experience can’t be rushed. The progress paradox strikes again!

So, back to reality here in Johannesburg. Yes, you can have the no. 1 restaurant in town and feel good about your establishment. Compare this to the entertainment world where if you are not in the top 10 you are no where. The music and motion picture industries are very cruel this way. The media has conditioned us to judge someone because they have not made it into some list of highest grossing box office receipts. Have you heard some of the rubbish bubble-gum music that is raking in the money? This is not about quality – this is all about the mediocre mainstream and about mass marketing. The Grillhouse is tops and no Fortune 500 list can take away from this. And we should be applying this type of thinking to all businesses.

If you simply look at your bottom-line as a measure then you are never going to be on top. I am sure the people of the Grillhouse make a good living, but this is not what struck me when I was there for dinner. I saw a team of people who were excited, enthusiastic and full of smiles. Actually, the whole place was full of smiles. This is a business that one can clearly see has been built as a labour of love. And their customers love going there. This is what leads to true success.

A mentor of mine once told me that true success means doing today what you did on your first day. Just keep doing things from the heart; just keep being passionate about your work; just keep doing what you love doing and don’t ever think for a minute that there is something better out there. And if you make some money then that’s great, but don’t go changing – just keep doing what you loved doing back when it all began. There is nothing like a pile of money to give one the illusion of self-importance. And always try and remember these famous words, “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything”.

Look at the best doctors. I mean, look at the ones who have been treating a community of patients for over a decade. Look at the compassion they have. Watch how they listen to you the next time you go and see them. This is what they love doing. And this is why we trust them. When people make a difference to your life you keep going back for more. And the Grillhouse is one restaurant where people keep going back for more. Many restaurants have good food. What keeps us going back is that we are made to feel special when we are there. It is the overall quality of our experience that inspires us. Focus on delivering quality to your customers and the rewards will follow.

Nothing instant ever leads to anything good. Instant coffee, instant gratification, instant messaging, instant whatever – it is all crap. The good things in this world take time. Building relationships means being hands on. And that takes time. Switch off your cellphone and make time. Invest this time, not because it is the right thing to do, but rather because you love doing it. Invest this time with your customers and they will conspire to reward you. Someone sent me this great quote once: "If you find a job you love, you'll never have to work again”.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Monday 7 July 2008

Success is a state of mind

What is the game of life all about? And it must be a game considering how so many people are trying to win. What exactly we are all trying to win is still a mystery. Someone sure has painted a picture of a grand prize because this game is taken very seriously. Perhaps it is more than a game. Considering how organised this event appears to be then perhaps it is even a sport. But sports generally have teams and this game seems to be more about every man for himself. So many people are running on this treadmill that I am surprised it has taken this long for people to start saying that the magnitude of this race has reached a point that is beyond belief. Where are we all racing too I ask myself. And why is everyone in such a hurry?

I hope to give some insights into true success today. True success comes from realizing one’s genuine purpose. And if it is really all about money then perhaps a bank guaranteed reality check is needed. Read on.

In these tough economic times one has to remember the fundamentals, because without them true success will never be attained. No one can deny that the business world is going through some major changes yet again. Sentiment is shifting and people are speaking about getting back to basics. Yes, I agree that technology has created new ways of operating. And yes, I agree that people are for more sovereign than ever before. And I definitely agree that one person can make a difference in an age where a Web site can cause an incredible shift. But no, I don’t agree that the fundamentals can change. That is why they are called “fundamentals”. No matter if you are a one-man business or a team of people, the work you do should be about making a difference and not just about making money. A business has a purpose beyond just making money. The visionary companies of the past 50 years all stood for something that represented far more than just the bottom line. And that is what a successful economy is about. As Henry Ford once said "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business."

A wise man sent me this in an e-mail recently: When people want to free themselves from their humdrum workaday life, they go on vacation. They rent a cabin with half the rooms they have at home and sacrifice many of the conveniences they generally rely upon. They rough it. And then they feel free. When you let go of those material things you have become attached to, then you can start to be free.

I included this text above because it gives us a very compelling insight into what the measurements for success are about. Mother Theresa once said that we can't do great things in this world, only small things filled with great love. And this is what true purpose is about. When you really love doing something then that is when true success will follow. And remember, money is only one way of measuring things. One thing is for sure, that quantitative measurements only stimulate the treadmill. I will be the first to admit that having money provides one with an abundance of choices, but there is only one real choice, and that is whether you want to use your resources to help others.

I found this text on the Web called “What is success?” Let’s take a look: To laugh often; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty; To find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; This is to have succeeded.

Perhaps the progress paradox is more about how we measure success than anything else. The renowned psychologist, Erich Fromm, provides some interesting insights into this menacing paradox when he wrote, “All our machines are designed for quickness; the car and aeroplane bring us quickly to our destination – and the quicker the better. The machine which can produce the same quantity in half the time is twice as good as the older and slower one. Of course, there are important economic reasons for this. But, as in so many other aspects, human values have become determined by economic values. What is good for machines must be good for man – so the logic goes. Modern man thinks he loses something – time – when he does not do things quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains – except kill it.” What really interests me about this text is the reference to speed. The rate at which so much new wealth has been created in the past decade has captured the world’s attention. And then the rate at which so much of it disappeared in the past year is even more intriguing. And this is what treadmills can do to you if you don’t take time out to smell the roses. Slow down. Remember that famous quote that goes, “Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat.”

Treadmills, by the way, never really get you anywhere. Treadmills don’t even represent a destination - you always get off right where you started. Life is a journey – cherish it.

Let's end off with yet another quotation. One I used quite recently. Let's revisit it here and then end off today's VLOG. It is from Albert Schweitzer who once said "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful."

Posted by Ronnie Apteker

Tuesday 1 July 2008

Vottle Vooma

Another month whizzes on by, and with that, we are past the half-way mark of this intense year. Here are the highlights from Vottleland from the month gone by:

- we had a big drive to migrate parts of the site onto Ajax - this is very much in line with global Web 2.0 trends and has already shown significant increases in performance for us, both in terms of page loading times as well as saving many tens of thousands of database queries a day

- we are also on a drive to improve our 'natural SEO' (different to the 'paid-for' Google reach through Adwords) mainly through the use of SEO-friendly URLs - this again is very much the trend not only for the largest global players in the classifieds space, but on the Web in general - we already have the structures in place to support this and should be rolling this out gradually over the next week or so

- we are now live with Premium listings and Featured adverts - these are part of our paid for services whereby users can pay for premium Vottle space with their credit card - we are going to put some focus now on marketing these new services

- we are busy with a test for our first sponsored links campaign with Dial Direct – we’ve had a good initial response in the first two weeks - if the test phase is successful then the plan will be that they upgrade to a paid-for service - there are a couple of other potential customers in the pipeline, and we are looking at improving the granularity of our internal stats to help sell advertising to potential customers who require detailed per-subcategory stats

- we are busy making further strides in our effort to move completely towards a Linux based platform - we are currently busy migrating our automated data feed engine

- we are busy investigating various options to effectively identify and deal with abuse from an IP address level - this is proving challenging since it is difficult to determine the validity of a particular IP address (legitimate Web crawlers or malicious hackers) so we are also looking at throughput control

Posted by the Vottlers