For me it started way back in '85 when I got the taste of my first sales. I was 9 years old. My father used to like to show me how to do weird things from his childhood. To this day he can still remember how to play games with my son which would never occur to me. That time it was weaving "Scooby Doo's". I weaved my first one, then my second, and on it went. I soon took them to school to show off and low and behold, started selling them. That's where it started for me. That revelation where you come to learn that you can produce things and sell them for pocket money. You'll have a similar anchor point no doubt.
In '88 at 12 years old I started delivering newspapers in the mornings. Getting up at around 5:00 to get on the bicycle to go and deliver newspapers before school. We had to go out once a month to do cold calling and sign up new customers, that's no mean feat for a shy 12-year old. And I had the most gorgeous BMX, a metallic red "Predator" with red wheels which my father bought me in '86 as a birthday present. It wasn't long before that jumping, wheelie-ing, ramping street eater got bogged down by a custom-welded rack on the back which my father made. And which ruined the look and the performance but helped immensely with the weight of the newspapers. (I still have the messenger bag I used to use in those days as a reminder and a keepsake). Later, I think in 1989, my father bought me one of those ATB Bombers - a metallic blue one, which with its larger wheels helped to get around easier. But in 1991 I gave up newspapers because it was getting in the way of martial arts classes. Nevertheless a good learning school. In sickness and in health, in wind and rain, the papers needed to be delivered. But my pocket money got cut down to R35 a month after I stopped doing that. Not ideal.
In the years in-between, as a teenager, I used to help my father wire houses after hours and on weekends. Come to think of it I never demanded extra money - that was dumb. He used to do odd private jobs to help us get by. He had two boys to put through their studies coming up. During this time he was also studying after hours to be an electrical engineer. You do what you can with what you have. My grandfather used to have a trucking business for coal and what-not. My father and his brothers used to have to work on those trucks to repair them - must be where he got the idea ;)
Then In '92 I won the school science fair first prize with my PC project which was an open PC where you could see all the components work. I redrew all the diagrams of all the components on the computer. My first graphic design experience.
In '94, after Matric during the December holidays, when all my buddies were on their summer rage in Margate, I was working as a gopher on Hendrina Power Station. Even my parents went on holiday for two weeks while I was left home alone in a new town to work. You cannot imagine how hot it gets inside those mills that grind the coal, you simply can not. And so after six weeks I made the cash that was going to be my pocket money for my first student year. The majority of which went into my first computer which I built mostly from someone else's spare parts.
In '96 I had to go find student work. Counting cars didn’t come up often enough. When my fellow fulltime students were attending class, I had to leave at 11:20 to be in time for my 12:00 - 18:00 shift at the Surveyor General's office where I worked on Project Miracle to digitize all the maps. Fulltime student, half day worker. It was hectic, but so much fun to have a weekly paycheck. Unfortunately didn't have enough time to prepare for the Operational Research II exam in July of '96 and went to watch Mission Impossible at Sterland rather than go write the exam. Resulting in me only earning my qualification in 1998 instead of 1997 because I was dragging that subject. Luckily that was the only one. That's the way it goes, but the movie is still firm favourite and an ongoing theme.
Graduated from Pretoria Technikon in '98, I was now a qualified InfoTech, and I still have the National Diploma to prove it. Just unfortunate that when they rebranded the Technikons to Universities of Technology they didn’t upgrade everyone’s National Diploma’s to Degrees as they’ve been giving out since their rebranding. Bygones.
I always tried to innovate at the companies where I worked. Added a help system to the one system I took over at Executive Decisions. Saved Boethringer Ingelheim lots of money in courier fees by sending their data automatically to branches via Diginet lines. Developed a Bar Till System for them that links staff tabs to Payroll. Etcetera.
Then in 2002, I became weary of taking instructions from a "boss". It was time, and in the middle of the fallout from the Y2K/dot-com bubble bursting, I started my first proper business. Cashed in my pension. Paid the tax-thieves. Ready to make some coin on my own. Sat a whole day in person with the graphic designer to design the logo. Majorly refreshed my graphic design skills that day. Had just done my first website as an after-hours project. Had some consulting opportunities set up, which got abruptly sabotaged. Things were looking good.
During this time I developed some software that automatically downloads new files from an FTP server. I knew the group of IHD companies would be interested in this software. I made the fatal mistake of going to IHD to discuss the possibility of this software. They quietly started their IT-team on something similar. BMS showed some interest. But when I went to demonstrate the product the first time the installer bombed! Soon afterwards IHD announced their competing software was almost ready. BMS quickly lost interest opting for the free option coming up.
What saved me during this time was my adverts in the Yellow Pages of all places. It's the one place where if someone phoned 9 out of 10 times the business happened. Like magic. But now times have moved on. Did some consulting work for the Reserve Bank of Malawi, had my own chef, house and cheaffeur during my stint in Malawi. Thereafter I developed a website authentication module which was purchased by such clients as BetaTrac and Accpac.
But I wanted to be a multimedia magnate, I just loved the medium. And so in 2003 I developed a multimedia product on a CD which documented all Ferrari models since 1976 in great detail to showcase my capabilities. Information was displayed based on several permutations, every time you visit a model you'd get different information, different photos, different sounds, different videos. Took me 3 months to do all that work full time. Got permission from all in sundry to re-use copyrighted materials. Contacted CAR magazine to distribute it alongside their magazine, they were in as long as it didn't cost them anything. Which wasn't a problem because I was going to sell advertising on each car page. Contacted Ferrari in Italy. They indicated that they don’t intend to develop the project further. It was done but it was a dead end.
Took the product around and got proof of concept projects from Investment Cars for Lamborghini, and Alfa for their 147 model, and Porsche Johannesburg showed great interest. Investment Cars couldn’t get permission from Lamborghini to use their trademark in such a manner. Porsche JHB couldn’t get funding. Alfa didn't come to light. All dead ends.
I had chased this dream for eight months. My money was running out. In the meantime I did some consulting work for Cargo Carriers on their first data warehouse. Lost some nice follow-up work when I negotiated too hard with Two-Inc on the price. But I wasn't about to let them run over me.
I moved my attention to Retail. Developed skinable software based on the same principle that will display anything you want on video. Approached Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro. Rosebank Mall at the time had just installed those TV’s at the Zone on the ceilings of the walkway, but couldn’t get them interested. Mass Mart’s Pedro Cassimiro showed some serious interest. The Gaming distributors also showed good interest. Vivendi used it to drive their stall at Rage in 2003. But otherwise guess what? Dead ends. Had some fair interest from Phase 2 CDs in Menlyn Mall. Ran a proof of concept in-store there for a month, but they didn’t want to pay for it at the end of day. Complete and utter, big, fat dead end.
Now, what you won’t know is that I spent so many hours and sleepless nights working on this product that I developed Bell’s Palsy while I was completing it. Which is terrifying let me tell you, because there’s a chance that your face won’t recover. I challenge anyone to go and try to sell anything and cold calling on people while afflicted with BP. GOOD LUCK! You can’t smile, well you can, but you look like an idiot. You drool. If you drink anything the liquid runs out of your mouth. You wear an eye-patch because otherwise you could lose your eye-sight - because your eye can’t close itself. And half of your face is expressionless. It’s as if the clocked stopped. Some people get it on both side at the same time. That must be hell. But I was trying to survive at the same time. I absolutely had no other option but to interact with strangers and prospects.
To top it off, I didn’t have medical aid anymore at this stage, so had to go through the hassle of going to a state hospital for treatment. Only to be told by the Cuban doctor at the end of the day - and I mean at the end of the day whole day sitting at the hospital - that I need to chew Chappies.
Luckily a couple of weeks later I recovered almost completely on that side of my face. And as soon as I did, I got a gig to do some work for Anglo Coal to migrate a third party’s software which Anglo Gold had been using to their business via an independent contract house, Neil Smith I think it was. The wolves at the door could be kept at bay a little longer.
But the [insert any colourful adjective, it will apply] that had the contract was a rude so-and-so who used to walk into my house like he owned the place and threw his Porsche Boxster keys on my counter one-time-too many. So we had a fallout and even though I had completed the migration ahead of schedule and was promised a performance bonus, as you can imagine I’m still waiting on that bonus. What was interesting about him is he learned about score-carding from the professor who designed the production line for the Mercedes Benz C-Class. Fun fact.
Then in early 2004 I was forced to switch gears, I was broke, the wolves were breaking down the door. Things weren’t working out as I had hoped and planned. I put my CV out and got a contract at Nedcor as a group SQL Server DBA. There, I joined an elite 7-member dream team. Between us we were responsible for 280+ SQL Servers and 2000+ Databases embedded into the bank’s infrastructure. We were also project members of all new projects the bank intended to implement that had any sort of Microsoft database back-end. My innovation streak kicked in again and I developed software that trawls the network infrastructure and audits servers.
In the meantime it wasn’t long before the Yellow Pages ads were renewed and the magic started working again. Got a gig to redesign FASTdate’s website, then developed Job Management software for Ornico Media and a tool that generated Media Lists for their clients. Also sold an extremely expensive Primera CD machine to Momentum, but promptly got into an argument with a top executive because he didn't appreciate that it had to be calibrated after its travels. And so forth.
In the meantime my finances recovered and property prices soared sky high. My house’s value had doubled in 5 years! I refinanced it and took the dividends to focus all my attention and resources to go into business full time again. Rented offices in Randburg and employed developers, designers, technicians, sales representatives, a cleaner and a receptionist and offered several IT-related services. But note to self : October isn’t a great time to plan business and open offices, it’s odd tax-timing also. Rather make such moves in March, after your annual bonus has paid out and you’re well rested.
But the offices were open and the traffic at the launch party was afflicted by two limousines which I hired that were parked outside the gates at the slipway (my first Guerilla Marketing activity). Soon after I won a nice contract to develop Medical Practice Management software integrated with Debt Collection Software. In the meantime websites for clients were being developed, corporate imagery for clients were being created, computers were rolling out the door, advertising was being sold. Life was great!
And then, in 2007 everything came to a grinding halt. I had loaned too much money in my personal capacity against the invoices that was due on the software development project. The project was complete, but the client wanted to start from scratch, on a project that was ready to be rolled out across the country?! No way. I terminated the agreement. It was time to re-evaluate. Had to let staff go. Rented out my house and moved into the office. Converted one office to a bachelor pad and one of the toilets into a shower.
Changed tactics. Almost ran into millions of rands of profit to develop Rua Vista extension 14, but the deal fell flat on the last farm seller. Tried to go into the video rental business, got an FPB license, the works. Had this massive plan to roll out kiosks across the country at service stations. It was going to be great, but then it wasn’t. There was no money left. Five months later got to the office only to find the locks had been changed. I was late at paying the rent. Called the landlord, Richard Bartlett, who was an absolute gentleman. Explained the situation, had 18 months left on the lease and nowhere to go, and had signed surety on it. Richard, bless him, told me that he doesn’t believe in pushing people deeper into quicksand when they’re down, he’d let me out of the lease but I’d have to pay the late rental as well as catch up the rent in-between the place being empty and him getting a new tenant. I’d have to vacate the premises which was now my office as well as my home.
And so in June 2007 I moved into an Ex-girlfriend’s garage and placed the rest of my belongings in storage. I sold my house and made another 33% on top of the initial purchase price and paid off my debts two months after. In-between I got lucky. I got a job immediately at Credit-U and three months after the rug got pulled I could move into my own place again, and accross the road from work too, but not before ending up in hospital with a kidney stone in each urinary pipe, thought I was dying that time. But as for business I was done. It had been too heartbreaking to see everything crumble to dust.
The innovation continued, and the IT Exec at work - Dalene Opperman - was so impressed with what I had done she created a management role for me so the plebbs that started work there before me could report into me. I was the Systems Support and Development Manager. Ran a modest 1.6 million Rand budget and a team of 3 techies. Life was good. That's also the place where I met my lovely wife. She's a tigress, she later saved my life in 2014 during a car-jacking when she knee'd a car-jacking oxygen thief who she saw was going to pull the trigger to his .45 which was centimeters from my face. The bravest person I know. Not to be messed with.
But before all that 2010 rolled along and my son was born. I became a consultant for ABSA bank on Project Cromwell. After that project closed I joined a project at ABSA with Monocle and DHS documenting the source-to-target mapping on some of the bank's systems to be used in their Ab Initio implementation. Then when that project closed I was asked to do some work for them in Treasury on their BA300 and BA330 reports which goes to the Reserve Bank. Also did some interesting technical process drawings for them when they realized I have a talent for such things during all that. It was like a whirlwind.
And just as I was about to move to Liberty to consult for them on a Risk Analytics project in 2011 my old friend BP came for a repeat visit. This time, on the opposite side of my face. I was the laughing-stock of simple-minded coworkers who somehow didn’t realize that the same thing could happen to them? Luckily I had medical aid and could seek out a specialist. Who told me that the chewing Chappies approach is used by doctors to give patients something to do while their facial nerves grow back. He prescribed some proper medicine to stop the nerve from retracting and to make it grow back faster. Days before my job move kicked in my face healed. It feels somewhat like your mouth feels after a visit to the dentist. Instead it’s your whole face that recovers and starts tingling while it’s coming back to life. And then you just feel the world’s relief that you’ve recovered and you give thanks.
Then, one day a friend unexpectedly brought me a brand new book. Fried. Said I should read it. It’s about Burnout. I did. It was 5 years later and I realized I was burned out, still. I didn’t realize it, but it was eye-opening to say the least. And that’s when my healing started.
Consulting gigs came and went. Got back into DBA work at M&F after Liberty, then jumped to Discovery to build their first HR data warehouse. Thereafter moved into Management Consulting for 2 years at KID who contracted me out to FNB Business where I supported the FNB Lending systems and interfaces that were move from FNB Wealth to FNB Business. That was a mess! Did that for two years and then moved to Standard Bank to work on their JCAPS to CDS migration. 30 Baker street must be the nicest building to work in in the world. Apart from the narrow corridor on the second floor leading to Daily Buzz it was perfect, vistas as far as the eye can see in every direction. Got roped into the Market Risk to Reservoir migration after the JCAPS project, and thereafter finally into Global Risk Data Store migrations. But in the final analysis I didn't enjoy the last two projects all that much. The most red tape I've ever come across in my life over there. Quite off-putting.
In-between I had started no less that five e-commerce stores. That ka-ching you hear when a sale comes through has become my new addiction.
In May 2019 I was ready to step into the fray once more and I gave notice that I was terminating my second fixed-term consulting contract extension with Standard Bank a little early because I had seen in a local magazine that they were going to build co-working offices right in the neighborhood where I stayed. Appealing to my mind to say the least. June 2019 arrived and I was ready to jump in to expand my own business interests once more. But not before my 9-year old decided that he’s not going to stay at his grandparents for the holidays, this after he had been sick and played sick for 2 weeks even before the holidays started. So I lost a few weeks on my restart. (If you ever read this my boy – I love you with all my heart! - but I can't work and concentrate when you're home and I'm the only parent on duty, you're too busy). Luckily the offices' opening was delayed by a month. And I was fortunate enough during this time to be able to re-brand and retool my service offering completely, which I then relaunched in September 2019 from the esteemed co-work offices in question. Not to mention the Impi Skateboards brand and trademark I was lucky enough to buy out during this time.
And then, there was that ominous "dun-dun-dun" music. You know the one, that ominous oh-no sound. September 2019 rolled along and I was hyped up. I thought it was going to be an entrepreneurs utopia, a synergy-fest of note, that the big-time was once again upon me - boy was I wrong. The uptake in the co-work space was low. And for the life of me I could not interest a single business in the direct vicinity in any of my services. Out of about 200 businesses - which includes a retail, office and obviously a co-work mix - there was almost zero interest. It later dawned on me that 99% of the people who operate and live in that area do not want to think that they enrich you by doing business with you. They'd rather drive a ways off where they can't be seen than have the convenience of a relationship with a fellow resident and entrepreneur. Bygones.
And so, both my business and personal cash flow reserves were running low for the first time in years - to say the least. I had just maxed out my overdraft to buy a brand new motorcycle out of the box to be able to zip between the co-work offices and Standard Bank, who were seemingly interested in my consulting services once more, but the negotiations bombed out at the last minute. And that's when the "dun-dun-dun" became a cacophony.
I had barked up the wrong tree. There was no option but to look for "work". No business-angle. No consultation-angle. No room to be picky and choosy this round. Just looking to survive. And then the good Lord smiled upon me once more and I got a gig in the same area where I stay - which turned out to be one of the most frustrating gigs of my life - working for a "body-shop" who "supplied" contractors to a subsidiary (at the time) of Dimension Data. Working for the weekend on the infamous Toyota One software suite's reports as a Developer. But it didn't matter. A roof over your head, clothes on your back, food on your plate, and as a bonus being able to pay all the bills is a blessing in and of itself.
The Good news is that the project team appointed saved the project that was way behind in just 4 months. The Bad news was that the project was saved and there wasn't more work on the project. Not that it mattered too much because of the levels of frustration. But as an encore, I was approached to join a different subsidiary of Dimension Data (at the time, again) as a Data Architect to develop their Data Warehouse. And eventually, the motorcycle really became useful. Six weeks later, COVID19 hit.
Two weeks after it hit, DD elected not to renew my contract. After I was able to save their subsidiary more than a million Rand a year on cloud computing fees. Go figure. But, then I started hearing the orchestra warming up to play the "dun-dun-dun" sound in the background. And I was determined to shut them up. But how?
To top everything off I learned that the "body-shop" was actually basically raping me on my rate by R200 per hour. So good-riddens to them! When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. I had a few hundred thousand Rand worth of stock in storage - did I mention I've also been an e-commerce entrepreneur since 2016? - but sales became "lackadaisical" since the beginning of 2019. I had managed to open a Seller account with TAKEALOT in the beginning of 2020. My only option was to try getting my stock moving out the door. On 20 May 2020 I activated my Sellers account with around 217 product lines on offer on the day. It worked like a charm. The orchestra was sent packing with a kick on the back to each member. To give you an idea of my June and July 2020 : I sometimes had to pack Number 6 boxes to send to both their JHB and CPT warehouses on a week-by-week basis. The day was saved. I could relax. I tried but couldn't get it right.
Then in July of 2020 some ground work I had done in 2015 to try and do some project management work paid off BIG TIME. Let me explain. In 2015, being the busy body I am, I had learned of a business who had just purchased new premises in Sandton, and so since I was consulting down the road in Sandton to a medical aid company I thought I could be able to run their renovation project while consulting. It didn't go far unfortunately. Firstly my builder was actually someone who had done some handyman work for them before and broke their front door. That was Strike-1. Secondly my contact for kitchens, cupboards and plumbing submitted a quote a couple of times more than my competitor. That was Strike-2, and I was out, that time.
Fast-forward 5 years, and they contacted me again to tender to remodel a floor on their current building, as well as renovate their whole new building, and to restore the building they were vacating. I was fortunate enough to complete that project in record time. And I'm happy to report that I also made record money on the project, enough to carry me into the middle of the following year in truth.
The point I'm trying to make is that if I had given up and just sat on my laurels none of these opportunities would never have presented themselves. As a caveat, my accountant actually reminded me of this. He wanted to know where all the money was coming from and I told him it was just luck. He called BS, and said that he thinks it's because I'm always looking for opportunities to move forward and get ahead. I could not disagree. And that is the crux of the story, isn't it? You as the entrepreneur have to keep on digging and trying and clawing yourself out of the muck. And there are no guarantees. The one moment you're on top, the next you're on the bottom. What matters is to never give up.
Which brings us bang up to date.
I’ve been described in personality profiles as:
• “Firm and determined”
• “Committed, confident and requiring”
• “Efficient, self-assured and ambitious”
• “Skillful, rational and independent”
• “Adventurous, committed and competitive”
And so it goes on. I just describe myself as "rambunctious, indomitable, and gritty".
It’s been 35 years since my Entrepreneurial journey began. In fact, 17 years between 1985 and 2002, and another 17 years between 2002 and 2019. Did I mention 17's my lucky number? The third is in progress, but looking back on the road since 2002, it has been lonely. It reminds me of Whitesnake's Here I Go Again (check it out below). And truthfully, in a lot of the deals and work I referred to before it was someone who knew someone else who introduced us and I got the business.
So if you’ve lived this life and you need some support, or if you’re looking to go into Entrepreneurship, or you’re in the thick of it, whatever it may be. I’m here.
Be it representation, interaction, a shoulder, advice, brainstorming, backup, a third wheel, whatever it may be. I’m ready to get balls rolling for you, with you, around you, in directions no-one can imagine.
Talon, Mr. Dynamic ;)
Good Lord I pray you give me strength to carry on.
Because I know what it means, to walk along a lonely street of dreams.