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