Retroviral rebrand

Mike and I started Retroviral in 2010 on the premise of working with brands to make great content and stimulate the two-way communications that are possible on the internet. The company has grown and what was four people in an office 3 times too big for it at the start of last year, outgrew its space and moved into a new office. It’s incredibly rewarding the see the work that’s done for clients, but also the lives of our staff that are enriched in experience because of the goal we set out to achieve almost five years ago.

We decided to give the brand a refresh this year. Nicework did some great work with our brief, and this is how it’s turned out.

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Tips for aspiring digital entrepreneurs

First published in Finweek, I was asked to share some tips for aspiring digital entrepreneurs. Here is what I put down, being a collection of my insights from experience in the entrepreneurial industry.

Put 20% of your net asset value at risk

office-workingEntrepreneurs usually start working on their business before leaving the support and financial stability of a job. For two reasons, being able to risk losing a significant portion of one’s net wealth is important when making the decision to become a digital entrepreneur. Firstly, the significance of the business must be scary enough to keep someone focused on their objective and up at night worrying about how they’re going to make it a success. It’s their skin in the game that puts the business on the map of their personal wealth portfolio with upside significant enough to justify having left their job in the first place. Secondly, digital is a fast moving industry where businesses must scale or grow, or fail, and fail fast. Entrepreneurs should be prepared to spend on marketing and systems and hire someone to sell. Digital isn’t an organic growth industry – and is the reason why M&A activity is so high in the field.

Found your business with your alter ego

Entrepreneurs often make the founding error of starting a business with a likeminded friend. At the outset, this appears to be a good idea because they think the same way and agree on the same things. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, he highlights that creativity comes from when science and the humanities intersect, Jobs saying, “I like that intersection. There’s something magical about that place.” The quiet maths nerd should pick out an extroverted artsy type, rather than compounding their blind spots by hiring or founding with like-minded people.

Don’t issue your company shares all at once

“Let’s go 50/50” makes sense starting a company. It aligns the merits and share in the downside. All too often, the founding shareholders’ commitment and value-add in the startup years change, and then the equal shareholding makes less sense. One simple approach is to agree to issue new shares every year for the first three or five years of getting the company going, and allocate to those that have contributed in the prior year.

The Founders Dilemmas is a great read on the subject and discusses various scenarios for founders.

Integrate industry with digital

In much the same way as the industrial revolution inspired mechanisation of processes and moved people from physical labour to mental challenge, the digital revolution has the ability to connect ourselves with the world around us even more deeply. Digital entrepreneurs’ initial foray into economic value creation was somewhat obscure – building platforms like Facebook and Twitter and only later worrying how to monetize them. The next chapter will involve braver moves where the efficiency of digital systems revolutionize industry. Think Uber for transport, Nest for self-learning home heating.

Diversify your hiring plan

stocks-webOne of the benefits of running a digital business is that younger staff usually “get it” before the more experienced staff. The lower cost of overheads and ease of integration with the youth appears at face value to support hiring a team of smart university graduates. While growing one’s own timber might be attractive, what ever it is the entrepreneur is selling, still needs to be sold. The bigger purse strings are still held by corporate executives, who also probably don’t “get it,” at least just yet. So for every youngster hired, another experienced person who brings network and impetus to your team should also be appointed.

Give it away to get it back

Control over your company is indirectly related to your financial success. Be the king or be rich, there is no being both. By hiring A-team players with similar values and work ethic to the founders, they’ll still be able to delegate and delight in the work that the employees deliver. Success is more closely associated with the team that is hired than what the founder can do in a day.

Begin with the end in mind

At some point in a company’s future, entrepreneurs will either be speaking to a bank, an investor or an acquirer about their interest in it. If one keeps their house in order, have processes and policies in place, and see to the right financial and regulatory governance is adhered to, they’ll find favour sooner than later.

Believe in yourself

Next weekend, thousands will descend on East London to participate in the Ironman 70.3. This video is for all of you, who are doubting yourselves, in the amount of training you’ve done, whether you’ll make the cut-off, or manage to survive Bunker’s Hill – twice.

Believe in yourself. It’s the best race-fuel you could dream of taking. There are people out there doing more, just because they have this belief on their side.

2015 – My stock portfolio view

This time last year, I blogged about my view on the upcoming year in the markets, and which shares I’d be holding to try and keep up with the Jones’. My sentiment at the time was that the US would return to growth and that the South African economy would come under pressure. Although the Rand didn’t give up as much as I’d expected, the US economy certainly carried on gaining momentum.

The results of my portfolio, at time of writing excluding dividends, is a 21% growth in ZAR terms, relative to the S&P500 gaining 18% and the JSE Top40 gaining 13,5% – also, both in Rand terms. My star performers were Coronation, Naspers and Visa, with Netflix and Sasol dragging their heels. I had also thought Google would gain further that the 10% it did – but it seemed a year of sowing for the search giant. Below is the detail, including the 2013 distribution in value.

2015 – well, what could happen in the coming year? Starting at home, Eskom blackouts and postal, metal and mine worker strikes will likely be back again next year – the lower end of the market finds itself in a high relative inflation environment with short term unsecured debts to pay, without much further option in terms of payday financing. The reality of South Africa’s move away from its reliance on resource exports towards uncompetitive services as well as inefficiencies in government will subdue returns for listed companies operating in SA. Growth into Africa will only provide significant contributions to earnings closer to 2020.

Europe and Russia will tick along with very little excitement. The Middle East will battle to come to terms with the “new oil normal”.  The US, on the other hand, is where I feel the action will happen. Interest rates will rise towards the end of the year, increasing demand for the dollar, strengthening the currency. Technology, healthcare and industry sectors will deliver great returns, likely into the low double digits.

My portfolio picks for 2015 focus on companies that are looking into the future and bringing solutions to market that address the challenges the middle of the bell curve aren’t entirely aware of as yet – or have discounted their solutions too much today. Let’s call it the “Futurist Portfolio” dedicated to the visionaries and implementors, including:

  • Novo Nordisk – creating diabetes medication and delivery devices for the millions of overweight people about to be diagnosed with type II diabetes
  • Airbus – building the fleets that will carry the world’s travellers in efficient aircraft
  • Apple – sitting on $155bn in cash – has options in terms of payments solutions or possible acquisitions to further monopolise the smartphone services industry. They could easily buy Morgan Stanley, PayPal and Tesla, with change to spare.
  • Alibaba – The behemoth Chinese online goods store, will put the capital it raised at IPO into growth and be keen to win investor sentiment through return
  • Tesla – Although American fuel is now more than 30% cheaper than it was last year, the future of driving and the opportunity for market share penetration as the current price discount is good.
  • Google (who owns some interesting possibilities in Uber, Glass, and robotics firm Boston Dynamics) will explore wallet and cloud services and rise with the move towards online retail
  • Naspers will continue to grow through it’s portfolio of e-commerce holdings and benefit from the rising tide of emerging market technology adoption. I’ll hold shares in USD, though.

If I could, I’d buy shares in the leaders who run these incredible businesses – in the way I discussed listing oneself on the stock market a while ago. Seeing that I cant, here’s my preferred weighting of these companies to hold for 2015. Let’s see how they do!

You’re too young to be an entrepreneur

In July, I went to New York with the lads from Webfluential with the aim of talking to PR and content agencies about providing the service in the US, and speaking to entrepreneurs about their experience in getting their small businesses to market there. It was very clear to me that the entrepreneurs, or at least the successful ones that had sustained themselves to tell their stories, were older than us – mid forties, energetic, engaging men and women, unlike the 30 somethings we (generally) have in South Africa. That flagged a question that I’ve been pondering since – what is the right age to commit to being a full time entrepreneur? The rationale I’ve brought to reason suggested that the older, the better. Here’s why.

For an entrepreneurial venture to be successful, it must add economic value to its target audience. It must fend off competitors and attract market share to operate sustainably in the world. Traditional industries have long operated at scale and kept young minnows at bay due to their competitive nature, raising the hurdle for new entrants. If a new operator is to enter the market, by implication it has to service a niche or finite gap in a wider market. To understand the gaps, how long they’ll remain gaps, and how to best exploit them, the entrepreneur should have deep understanding and experience in that market. This track record and prior experience in the market implies that a better suited entrepreneur for success is an older, networked, wiser one.

The technology industry is an outlying benchmark determining the average age of an entrepreneur. The competitive advantage that the youth have over older guys is the ability to risk time and be able to code. In the same way that Gates, Jobs and Dell, all born at a similar time, outperformed the market in computer hardware and software solutions because they could build hardware and sell it better than others trying the same at that time. You don’t see rising hardware or software entrepreneurs these days, nor will you see young Zuckerbergs bringing apps or social platforms to market from now on.

CEOs are entrepreneurial. They back the jockeys in their respective teams to grow and sustain their business. Their experience in previous market circumstances, in competing companies and skills earned in people management and EQ can only come with years of experience. The most trusted and most respected CEOs typically come from the more experienced quartile of a staff complement.

Entrepreneurs don’t like risk, although everyone assumes that they do. With so much to lose, they have to learn to take incredibly calculated risks, with the possibility of returns of such significance that their efforts are rewarded. A propensity for risk favours the youth. Calculated risk taking favours the old hand.

Success lies far more in the execution than it does in the great idea preceding its execution. A young mind could have the most brilliant ideas to bring to bear, but the naivety could be the devil in execution’s detail.

Mimetic desire is the unconscious tendency to adopt the aspirations of our peers, driving us to become aware of the wealth of the few successes of entrepreneurs and abandon corporate jobs to follow suit. Since leaving my job at RMB at the end of 2013, I am emailed and contacted weekly by young, aspirational enthusiastic people wanting to cash in their corporate chips and go it alone. They’re drawn to the entrepreneurial challenge for reasons I often can’t relate to. Where the takkie hits the tar – it’s more often than not, a very treacherous, lonely, terrifying place to be, and certainly not for everyone.

Buffet and Icahn – the hallowed investor grand masters of Wall Street – are mankind’s best examples of entrepreneurs. They backed the best jockeys to execute the businesses they saw would shine. Why is it that young people want to become entrepreneurs without punching their job cards in a few companies first? I’m certainly not playing down the benefits of entrepreneurial thinking, or trying a out a little sideline e-commerce store, for instance, but do think that the early demise of a would-be success later in life is something we can afford to avoid.

In South Africa – Christo Wiese, Michael Jordaan, Jannie Mouton, Johann Rupert and Patrice Motsepe are some of the cream of our entrepreneurial crop. The common thread between them all? None of them could code.

But just because you can – doesn’t mean you should become an entrepreneur. Just yet, at least. Rather just enjoy this video clip and turn up for work tomorrow.

Graduating from white kort-broek to GQ’s best dressed

To disclaim, I have never been a good dresser. I have always appreciated fine fabrics and a bespoke suit, but never really pushed the envelope on dressing in an edgy or trendy way. I enjoy slim fitting European brands like Hugo Boss, Ben Sherman and Diesel.

I’m lucky to have been included in the 2014 GQ Best Dressed Men top ten. Below is a little video put together at the photo shoot.

Top tips for being a better man this summer

This isn’t a narcissistic article about what’s required to be me, nor suggesting that I’m an ideal man. What it is, though, is a collection of thoughts and observations from men I’ve met in life that inspire me to be more than my current self. Being a man, these days, means different things to different men and women, so it got me thinking of how I could do a good job of it. Here are some of mine thoughts on the subject, and I would enjoy yours.

Review your guiding principals

The principals and values I live by get tested most when I’m doing very well, or really badly at life. My Dad had a great set of values that he passed on to me, which I find simple and sound:

  • “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.”
  • “Women first.”
  • “Give everything your damn best shot.”

By understanding what success means to you, not only helps inform what you should, and shouldn’t be doing on a daily basis, but also what is it that you’re working towards.

Start competing in the Human Race

It’s called the Human “Race” for a reason. It’s supposed to be competitive, on every level. If I’m slacking, others out there are sweating away at my discipline and will beat me. By competing amongst my peers, I improve my skills, learn and grow.

Muhammed Ali said “The fight is won or lost away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before the dance under the lights.” I do my best to keep training for life. Less complaining, more action. And obviously, the best part about fighting your own dragons, is that you come out a dragon-slayer.

Inspire others

The world is way bigger than me and my worries, successes and toils. As a man, it is my obligation to concern myself with family and community. By looking broader than your inner self, one can, and should, take an interest in things like  parent’s retirement one day, a friend’s fledgling business, or that person battling a terminal illness or setback that could do with some help.

My good friend Mark Fox’s father in law told me that one of the foundations that he built his marriage on was to inspire other relationships. How’s that for keeping yourself on the straight and narrow!

Invest in your own retirement

Men shouldn’t rely on their children. Most especially, for money. Each month, I put money aside and deploy it into an investment strategy for my future. It’s easy to pass the bucks and the responsibility to your retirement fund manager, but I try as far as possible to take an active interest in my own investments. If you don’t already own shares, go and execute a trade on the market. You’ll find yourself thinking more about the consequences and your initial decision.

Grow your own STEM cells

Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths are the building blocks of human progress. By taking an active interest in a passion point that allows me to build something, my inner caveman feels satisfied.

Appreciate good food

I want more than the average bowl of chicken noodle soup. Whether eating out or making a meal at home, I’ll always try something new, find out how its prepared and where it comes from. Obviously, this provides a great reason to connect with friends..

Subscribe to an international weekly

My view of the world grows as I travel. One of my favourite feelings is arriving in a new city, and feeling absolutely insignificant there. You, your worries and your life just don’t matter as much as you imagine they do. To proxy for this when I’m not travelling, I read avidly about the dynamics and events that shape the world. Time, Bloomberg Businessweek, Entrepreneur, Business Day and Fortune magazine help keep my current and, where possible, interesting.

Going viral. From Ebola to content and the secret sauce behind it.

This week saw the worst Ebola outbreak in history. It’s been talked about on the television, radio and social media. Everyone you talk to, knows that it’s happening, and deep down, whether a conscious awareness or not, has a little tinge of fear that they might contract the deadly virus.

At the time of writing, 1201 people had been infected. 672 have died.  The WHO had contributed $200m to containing the epidemic.

For the amount of press this outbreak has received, those numbers don’t seem to really stack up.  When was the last time you read an article about Malaria? Last year, there were 207 million infections. 700,000 deaths. So what’s behind the fact that Ebola is literally “going viral” and other more noteworthy news articles are not? What makes content go viral, and importantly, what can you do to infect your network with your brand, message or personality?

My research online indicates that the correlation between content produced that fights for “most shared” and “most read” outstrips the science and subsequent articles relating to the factors that make content go viral, much like Malaria vs Ebola.

Aristotle pondered this in 350 B.C. Berger and Milkman produced a paper on viral spread. The New Yorker ran an empirical model with all their content over a three month period. Forbes looked at video virality. Other articles gave scientific and empirical evidence. Here’s my shortlist of boxes to tick to give yourself, or your content, the best shot at the big time.

  1. First comes an emotional hook and subsequent psychological arousal. Something that you can easily relate to, have experienced, or that threatens your status quo (or mortality).
  2. Content invoking extremes of positivity or negativity, awe, disgust, terror or joy. Think of how many photos you see of ugly looking babies on your FB timeline, whose parents believe them to be the MOST beautiful humans new to planet earth.
  3. Credibility and worth of a good article. Long form, researched content with infographics and great pictures appear to do the best in terms of rapid diffusion.
  4. Applicability – insider information or content with practical value to an audience tends to create an email forwarding sequence, or the presentation of “Top 10 lists.”
  5. The right author for the content and the channel it’s positioned in. A highly influential personality sharing their views on a digital platform or global magazine will naturally garner further reach that a classified in a local paper.
  6. **Bonus points for LOLcats, memes, or unicorns, obviously.

In summary, Aristotle was probably closest. Ethos, pathos, logos. Credibility, emotion, logical format. Additional tactics in the form of date of posting, layout and re-posting will add to the virality equation.

Content is a currency. A value exchange. Your audience’s lives enriched in exchange for their time to engage with your content. The more value they receive, the more likely they’ll read it, and then share it. And help it go viral.

The evolution of the web

Some might look at the World Wide Web as a story of creation over seven significant time periods. Others might see it as a story of evolution through daily, incremental improvements and additional services or experiences.

Nonetheless, the history of the web is a short one, with the first piece of HTML code being written in 1990. This post is going to look at the major chapters that have shaped the web and the current key forces at play that will impact our favourite place to learn, engage and transact in the coming years.

1) Websites

At the turn of the century, there were a mere 20 million web domains registered globally. Today, the number of websites online is close to 1 billion. Most companies, personalities, associations (and even the odd pet) have their own website. As early sites offered little in the way of two-way communication, the only feasible option to stay up to date with new content was to subscribe to RSS (remember that?!), or literally punch the domain into your browser on a weekly basis.

2) Search Engines

The challenge with having a huge number of websites living online was the simple mechanism to index, categorise and display appropriate websites for a given search query. Remember Excite or Magellan? Probably not – because Google and Yahoo clouded them out. The race was on to make the first page of a search engine’s results.

3) Search Engine Optimisation

In the absence of other feasible ways to discover the incredible websites that had been crafted for the web, the SEO industry was born. Link farms, backlinks and finger-pointing at competing SEO companies through site audits created the market for coders to adhere to search engine friendly meta data.

4)Paid Search

Who better to come up with a solution to the SEO campaign manager’s nightmare than the search engines giants themselves? Microsoft, Yahoo and Google offer comprehensive paid advertising options on their search engines, but also on affiliate websites, display networks and subsidiary companies. Bidding on keywords for industries like insurance, banking and motoring, have driven specialisation of campaign media managers to extraordinary heights.

5)Social

Whether the social web came about to solve the internet’s riddle of being able to discover newsworthy content in real time, or simply to interact with others, is unclear. Social status updates, links to valuable places on the web and two-way communication with brands and people were previously out of reach, but are now within everyone’s reach (like replacing fan mail with tweets directly to @KatyPerry).

6)Content Marketing

Staying relevant to a target audience means drumming up interest in the brand, industry or its people by sharing great content. Think about how Red Bull content doesn’t expose their product, but inspires a certain lifestyle. That’s great content marketing. Brands drive conversions after the fact by using remarketing banners to target their audience – ultimately not just selling goods on an Ecommerce site – but selling eyeballs too.

7)Influencer Marketing

Using celebrities to endorse products is a staple in Marketing 101. Access to online audiences amassed by the celebrities makes influencer marketing more tangible and feasible for brands to do. From an SEO point of view, having hundreds of credible inbound links from the influencers’ websites to the digital point of sale, and creating the “earned” media component of the Earned, Owned & Paid trifecta makes perfect sense.

The Internet touches billions of people on a daily basis. As this number grows, so too will the ubiquitous role that it plays in the connectedness of everything. Wearable technology, the internet of things, big data and possibly even a move away from email (and cat videos) could be future chapters of this story we’re lucky to be experiencing in our lifetime.

7 insights about running your own small business

At the end of last year, I left the world of investment banking to pursue the running of my own businesses, namely Retroviral together with Mike Sharman, SA Cardiosynthetics and Webfluential. Now, over four months in, I’ve been lucky enough to experience some rather interesting insights and observations. I wanted to share these for those that are running their own businesses, and those considering leaving the security of a paycheck to follow their dream.

The most rewarding and challenging part in the year so far has to be the investment in human beings:

1. Investing in the right people is possibly the best investment you can make.

Not everyone is passionate about their work, but if you can find people that eat, sleep and talk about their passion made work with that twinkle in their eye, then you’ve got a possibility of seeing them thrive. I’ve also realized that a lot of people don’t appreciate their own potential, and by you trusting them and believing in them to do something well, they tend to surprise both you and themselves in the end.

2. The people you hire don’t think the same way you do, and that’s a great thing.

Mike and I work so well together because we think in polar opposites. We cover for each other’s blind spots and can generate something remarkable by discussing it from differing points of view. I’ve been attracted to like-minded people in my relationships and friendships in the past, but the richest connections have been with people totally different to me.

3. Hiring people with the same values and culture as you makes you worry less

Growing a business has given me grey hair this year, literally, in trying to cover off the cracks and segregation of tasks as new team members join. We’ve always looked for “A Team” players, but the recipe clicked today when I read AirBNB’s letter to their staff about keeping the culture. The better aligned to a culture your team is, the more likely they are to mesh together well, and not require you to corporatize through processes and procedures.

4. You get more done when you delegate and work with a team to deliver something together

I find that the time between 8 and 5 flies by – meetings, guidance and conversations fill the day at the expense of actual deliverables. To do more, I have to brief well, delegate to them, and trust and believe in them to produce their best.

Personal insights applicable to me, but also to others that I’ve seen working in our high energy offices off Grayston Drive are:

5. Your best insights don’t happen when you’re at work

In the shower, at a client, sitting on a bicycle, swimming, or walking outside of the office are when insights and ideas happen for me. The more I’m behind my screen, the less valuable commercial and innovative thinking I do.

6. Success, or failure, happens as a process

Before attempting my first Ironman event earlier this month, I read a lot of articles about DNFs. Every athlete’s account was the same – their failure to finish was not as a result of a single event, but a sequence of events that they chose to let happen.  They went out too hard on the swim, drank too little on the bike, didn’t eat enough solids, and fell apart on the run. One of my least favourite moments this year was sitting in a client’s office being told how horrible our service to them had been, and were fired from the job. In hindsight, it happened as a sequence of small issues and oversights that turned into a catastrophe. Similarly, success doesn’t happen in a short period of time – it’s through a collection of little wins and positive steps forward to a final result.

7. Very few people are truly interested in your ultimate success

The story behind David Wheatley and my journey together in the patenting, production, and now commercialisation of a heart valve replacement is quite remarkable. I tend to discount this because I’ve been doing it for 8 years, but it’s fun to tell the story to someone that hasn’t heard it before, and their reaction is normally the same – quite impressed, a little bit jealous, but always very intrigued. I wont call it a “fame” factor because it’s not that, but there’s a certain pedestal that you get put on and it’s a very awkward place to live. I’ve found that people like to gravitate towards the light of something unique – not necessarily because they just want to be your friend, but by somehow associating themselves with you, they somehow share in the warmth of that light. It’s weird, and I haven’t yet been able to put my finger on the rationale behind it, but your own success appears to be quite a lonely road to walk. The people that are on that journey, though, are the ones that count most.

I’ll hopefully have a few more things to share with you in the months to come. Right now, I’m going for a walk.

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