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