Passion and perseverance – that’s what it takes to build a company. So says Ernie Alexander, founder and marketing director of Profile Media. And he should know: under his initial guidance, the fledgling company has grown to become a major player in the financial data publishing field.
In 1991, Alexander was a would-be publisher with little practical experience and big dreams. “Since graduating from Rhodes University, I had worked in several positions in the financial services industry; first doing my articles, then as a financial manager and, finally, as a trader.
While these jobs taught me invaluable lessons, particularly regarding what it takes to run a business, none of them were truly satisfying,” he recalls.
Alexander’s time as a trader had helped him identify a gap in the market: there was a strong need for current, user-friendly information that would make the markets more accessible to a larger audience. This realisation sparked Alexander’s first publication, The Financial Markets Handbook.
Alexander was undeterred by the fact that his idea was initially rejected by a number of publishers. He decided, instead, to follow the route of self-publication. Equally undaunted by his lack of experience in the field, he viewed publishing simply as “a series of logical steps to be followed”.
More challenging was getting potential clients to share his vision. “I literally wore out shoes knocking on doors in the effort to sign up participants in the book. I didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer – if someone refused to grant me an appointment, I would go to their offices and wait for them to see me,” he laughs.
His tenacity was paying off, but there were still hurdles to be crossed – most notably, securing finance for the project. Rejected by his bank and a number of other financial institutions, Alexander once again followed an unorthodox route, persuading two of his larger clients to pay their participation fees upfront, rather than on the date of publication, and using the resulting monies to cover printing costs.
“That was the turning point,” Alexander says. “It made the business a reality.”
It also set the tone for Profile Media’s business. Alexander admits that it wasn’t easy to gain buy-in for an idea that had yet to be executed, but believes that it was delivery on the promise that made all the difference. “This made it possible for us to gain our clients’ confidence,” he says, and that, in turn, made it possible for Profile Media to produce more titles.
“After the production of the first handbook, I realised that we’d hit on a formula that worked. The next step was to look for new products,” says Alexander, adding that he found this surprisingly easy. “It all just happened. And after two years of producing The Financial Markets Handbook and gaining an agency for a second product, The Euromarket Dayfinder, as well as some other industry-related services, we decided it was time for growth.”
To make this goal a reality, Alexander needed two things: firstly, IT experience and secondly, a partner. He found both in a company called TASC (Pty) Ltd, which merged with Profile Media in 1992. Having obtained the clout to investigate more opportunities, progress was rapid:
Profile Media quickly developed a range of other financial print and database products, including The Stock Exchange Handbook and The Unit Trust Handbook, both of which are available electronically. In addition, Profile Data was established to develop shares and funds databases.
Alexander is proud of the fact that Profile Media has not only survived but thrived, under extremely tough market conditions, even outliving some of its earlier competitors. He attributes this success to the fact that the company has always been quick to notice opportunities and exploit them.
“Our decision to publish off an electronic platform is a case in point; it has helped us reduce our turnaround significantly, while many competitors are still hampered by the slowness of manual platforms.” Also important is the company’s meticulous attention to detail, vital in an industry where mistakes are not forgiven lightly. “Not that we pretend we don’t ever make mistakes. But when we do, we make reparations as quickly as possible,” Alexander says.
This is in line with his ethos regarding customer care. “It’s imperative that you look after your clients. Although you may spend enormous time and effort pursuing new clients, it’s often more lucrative simply to maintain and strengthen the relationships with your existing ones.” Alexander’s final words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Starting a business is like running a marathon with an unknown finishing point. You have to keep going because you don’t know where that finish line may be. Plan your business carefully, learn all you can about your chosen industry and understand important aspects like revenue and cash flows. Then pursue your dream with everything you’ve got.”