Three years ago Ezra Ndwandwe called a meeting with his staff and told them he was embarking on a new venture. He would no longer be ‘selling time’ as a consultant. He was getting into the TV business instead.
It’s a credit to Ndwandwe and his leadership style that his employees did not immediately panic about their job security. Having built up Dual Point Holdings, an extremely successful consultancy firm, over the past eight years, Ndwandwe wants to remain loyal to his consultancy clients, and so he has developed a competent and well respected team of consultants to cater for those clients’ needs. “The art of delegation is paramount to growing a business,” says Ndwandwe. “I’ve managed to delegate so well that I only need to oversee our consultancy accounts now, freeing me up to follow the next steps in my own entrepreneurial path.”
While his team’s core focus has remained on managing transformation, business process re-engineering, diversity in the workplace and effective change management for some of South Africa’s largest corporations, Ndwandwe has been focusing on how the concepts of Idols and The Apprentice can be used to create a uniquely South African entrepreneurial reality TV show. His vision, titled The Big Break, pits MBA alumni against business owners who have developed their skills ‘on the street’ and focuses on weekly business challenges that require innovative thinking.
Creating New Avenues
As an entrepreneur who supports local business growth, Ndwandwe wanted to find a way to build a business that would foster a ‘can do’ spirit amongst other budding entrepreneurs. “Since 1994 there have been so many exciting changes in this country, but we have not been good at creating new industries,” he says. “We have followed the same formulas, and while most of those concentrate on important services, it is new industries that will grow the economy and open new employment opportunities.”
With that in mind, Ndwandwe had three key aims: to find a way to meld his vision of business growth in South Africa with a sustainable business idea; to find and foster the pioneers that will open new avenues in South Africa’s business landscape; and to create and develop a self-sufficient and sustainable business community and ideology. After months of brainstorming with his team, the concept of The Big Break began to take shape, and once SABC and Ndwandwe signed a five-year contract, calls for entries began.
The show is not for the contestants alone. “In my experience, if you speak to a cross section of South Africans, 99% will say they want to start their own business, but only 2% will know how. The desire to participate in the mainstream economy is there, but the know-how is often lacking.
“We designed the show based on that premise: 60% of it is entertainment, and 40% is education. We want viewers to indentify with participants but also learn from the tasks and challenges they need to perform. Through the show we want to demystify entrepreneurship and show why certain principles and disciplines are important in business. We want people watching the show to walk away thinking ‘ah, so that’s why it’s so important to brand my company, and this is how I go about doing it.’ We want them to learn while they are being entertained.”
A Broader Community
The launch of The Big Break on SABC 3 is only the first step in building the brand. “My vision is to create an entrepreneurial platform that fosters business ideas and a local business community,” explains Ndwandwe.
“Most of Government’s solutions have a shelf life. Eventually enterprise development grants will dry up, and BEE will have run its course. We need to create a self-sufficient business community now.”
In line with this ideal, The Big Break incorporates a number of different platforms. Launching alongside the TV show is an online site that members can use to vote for their favourite contestants, offer contestants advice with their various challenges, ask questions and give answers to each other, and network with people who have similar experience.
“The show will only feature 12 contestants but hundreds of people have applied. We wanted to create a development model for them too,” adds Ndwandwe, who has partnered with GIBS to develop a course designed specifically for those entrepreneurs, called 12 Steps from Concept to Market. This certified course will form the basis of The Big Break books and DVDs, due to launch in 2012. “The show is the face of The Big Break brand. It’s a fantastic vehicle through which to build brand equity and excite South Africans about business opportunities. But it’s the online platform that will enable us to grow. Through the website we are bringing advertisers into direct contact with entrepreneurs. The entire site is dedicated to their target market.”
Ndwandwe’s vision is to extend the brand into Africa and beyond once the concept has been proven in South Africa.
Ezra on Launching Your Own TV Show
The Vision. “This took the most amount of time. We developed and discarded a few models before we came up with something that we thought would work for the contestants and engage the audience. It took a lot of research into current and past reality shows and how the audience responds to different models. We realised that it was particularly important for the audience to vote. Business is about influencing your community, and we hope this message comes across through viewer participation — for the contestants and the audience.”
Sponsors & Partners
The Big Break has signed a five year contract with SABC 3. The show pays SABC for the slot, although it has recouped most of the costs of developing and filming the show through sponsorships. “The sponsors we concentrated on were brands that wanted to target local entrepreneurs, or would benefit from product placement on the show. Our partners include GIBS, BMW, Southern Sun, SA Gold Coins and Independent Newspapers.”
“It has taken almost three years from the idea to the actual launch of the show. Normal working hours ceased to exist for me during the brainstorming stages, and later as we got close to the launch of the show. An idea is one thing, but success lies in its execution, and that takes hard work. The TV show is only the beginning for this brand, so we needed to get everything right from the start.”
The Big Break launches in September 2011. Each week, 12 contestants will face a multitude of business challenges, with the show’s judges and viewers votes deciding who continues to the next round, and who leaves the show.
The winner of the season walks away with R5 million to invest in their business or as seed capital for their business idea and the top five participants win scholarships to study at GIBS.
Viewers are encouraged to submit their own business plans for evaluation and they stand a chance to win up to R500 000 as seed capital at the end of the season. They also stand a chance to win a Madiba silver coin to the value of R1 250 every episode and a gold Madiba coin to the value of R30 000 at the end of the season.
Ezra Ndwandwe began his career with blue-chip multinationals such as Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser and SAB Miller where he filled executive positions. He is the founder and CEO of Dual Point Holdings and the chairman of The Big Break.
Michael Goldman joined the Gordon Institute of Business Science in early 2000 to launch the GIBS Forum and Executive Conferences offering at the school. He is currently a full-time senior lecturer at GIBS.
Wendy Luhabe is a recipient of many global and local awards for her leadership role. She is featured regularly in the South African media as one of South Africa’s most powerful women and is currently chairman of Vendome SA.
Quentin Wray is the newly appointed publisher of Independent Online and is the former editor of Business Report, South Africa’s largest financial daily newspaper.