- Player: Pepe Marais
- Company: Joe Public United
- Claim to Fame: Medium Business Entrepreneurs of the Year Award, 2018
- Visit: joepublicunited.co.za
Almost losing your business (three times) can have a profound effect on you. When Pepe Marais and Gareth Leck sold their small but profitable agency a few years after launching it, they were excited.
They didn’t realise they had just relinquished control of their dream over to someone else. It took them a few years but they managed to buy their business back – which was almost immediately followed by losing their biggest client, a media buying mistake that wiped out their cash flow.
These challenges didn’t break the entrepreneurs though. It just gave them clarity and focus. The result? Today Joe Public United is South Africa’s largest independent agency, with a turnover northwards of R780 million.
Here’s how Pepe Marias views scale, and what you can learn from his journey.
Q: In what way is a scalable business essentially different from a business that cannot be scaled?
I would think that a business that is capable of generating ongoing business from the same customer is more scalable than one that is not. For example, if you are in the awnings business and you sell an aluminium awning that needs zero maintenance, you will struggle to scale. Whereas a wooden decking business may be easier.
An annuity income business is always more scalable than one that is not.
Q: In your own business, what fundamentals needed to be in place before you could scale?
We built the plane while we were flying it. As we grew, we improved our systems and processes. We also over time systematically built a stronger and stronger team. Ours is a people business, we sell our thinking.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced while scaling your business?
The day we nailed the purpose of our business to its walls, it went into exponential growth mode.
Before that date, we had grown from two people to thirty people over a period of ten years. After that, we would grow from 30 to 300 over the next decade. Slowly our culture started to disintegrate.
It was this experience that gave me the insight as to the importance of culture. I believe that it will be the strength of our culture, the conviction of what we believe we exist for, that will take us from 300 to 600 people and beyond.
This is the greatest challenge we have faced through our growth, and one we are slowly getting right again: Alignment of all people within our organisation to our Purpose, Values and Vision.
Q: What was the biggest lesson you learnt, and how has it impacted your business model, or how the business is run operationally?
The biggest lesson I have learnt is that the worst thing that can happen is the best thing that can happen. We retrenched a board member of our business for racism in 2006. He went on and joined our biggest client and fired us a few months later.
We lost half our business overnight. This traumatic episode would lead us to finding our greater purpose as a business, and without it I don’t believe we would have achieved what we have thus far.
The worst thing that can happen is the best thing that can happen. This insight has reduced my fear of failure in life.
Q: How important is the mindset of the CEO in relation to a business’s ability to scale? What did you personally need to develop in order to have the ability to achieve scale in your organisation?
Critical. What we perceive, we can achieve. This is why vision is so important.
But true vision starts with deep introspection and self-development. I have had a business coach since day one. I have heavily engaged with Nancy Kline’s ‘Time to Think’ methodology, and I have had various deep-thinking partnerships and attended transformational workshops and many more.
And then there is our great leadership team. If you are dreaming of scaling, start building your dream team today. We have an executive team that has been together for more than a decade, and it is only starting to bear fruit now.