Players: Pippa Capstick and Ursula McDonald
Company: A Country For Jane
Trial Run Media is a start-up that took marketing and advertising doyens, Pippa Capstick and Ursula McDonald, eight months from concept to market launch.
It’s not their first foray into entrepreneurship though. Together, Pippa and Ursula McDonald have over 45 years’ experience in the advertising industry, and have worked at some of South Africa’s and the UK’s most prestigious advertising agencies.
Having worked with some of South Africa’s biggest blue-chip clients, they identified frustration in the corporate world over the lack of advertising channels with measurable ROI. It was this that eventually triggered their desire to become entrepreneurs.
“We wanted to start a business that would change that,” says Pippa. “We knew the world didn’t need another traditional ad agency. But we also believed we could add something new and different to the industry.”
And so, the partners’ first business – A Country for Jane – was born. “Our focus from the beginning has been on adding measurable value to brands and business using innovative tools and ideas that give companies a measurable return on investment, while also innovating their business model,” explains Ursula.
A Country for Jane is nearly two years old and has grown to service around 25 clients. “But while we were building CFJ, we were thinking a lot about how to measure ROI,” adds Pippa.
“The traditional and expensive advertising channels like TV, print and radio offer limited measurable ROI and our clients hadn’t found success when using them. We started thinking about innovative platforms like Netflix, which offer on-demand viewing as opposed to appointment viewing, which basically means waiting for a week to see the next episode.
“Trial Run Media was born based on this idea. It offers on-demand sampling of products linked to automatic data capture.”
Trial Run is a global first and launched initially across 50 malls in Gauteng, and will extend to malls nationwide, as well as retailers, corporate offices, airports, and gyms.
Entrepreneur chatted to Pippa and Ursula about their start-up experiences, and what they would change if they could do it all over again.
Q. What do you wish you had known before you started your business?
Pippa: We wasted about a year trying to sell innovation to potential clients. I wish I had known that rather than selling ideas to clients, we had the passion, capability and perseverance to make them happen ourselves.
I think we thought we needed a ‘big brother’ to help us execute, but we have found that support is everywhere. We have been incredibly lucky. The support we have needed has materialized every time we have needed it. We work with incredible partners who have opened doors for us and championed our thinking.
Ursula: I think we expected it to be hard. We were under no illusions that it would be difficult to build two businesses at the same time. It takes longer to reach some sort of financial security than you expect and you have to reinvest so much of your profit into growing the business.
We have chosen to offer value up-front to potential clients by doing proactive work so they have a good idea of what we are asking them to pay for. This isn’t the easy route. It’s risky and demands a lot of work from our team without any certainty that we will be paid, but it’s delivered great results.
I think when you start a business you have to have the right team. You need people with a start-up mentality. The corporate mentality is different. Also, working in such a close environment has its challenges. Maintaining boundaries is a challenge but one we have got better at.
Q. Given hindsight regarding your start-up journey which areas of the business would you spend less time and resources on and why?
Pippa: I think the start-up journey is filled with very dark moments and very high moments. While everyone is working 24/7 for very little reward, it’s important that you never forget that each person is feeling something different.
For some its financial insecurity, for others its pressure from partners because there’s always the uncertainty that what you’re working on will succeed. I think while you are planning every move and giving it tremendous energy, you have to keep an eye on every team member and ensure they feel safe and supported.
Also spend time on celebrating wins. When the team feels there is momentum the energy levels increase and so does the belief that what you are trying to create is worth the struggle.
Ursula: I think I would have spent more time on ensuring we had the right team. It’s incredibly challenging when you have so much at stake.
It’s very hard to find a team that can commit to earning a fraction of their normal salary or working ridiculous hours or delivering a superior service without access to the resources they need. There is a lot of improvising. It’s a challenging environment that a lot of people find stressful.
Q. What have you learnt from mistakes you’ve made?
Ursula: Get help from people who are better than you. Don’t think you can succeed on your own. Come to terms with the fact that you will suffer some blows and lose your way from time to time. But never give up.
We got great feedback about Trial Run from the beginning, but putting it together has been a monumental effort. We’ve learnt that you will impress some people and not others and that’s okay.
Know that you will arrive at work every day with more on your plate than you think you can handle. It will take longer than you think and every time you see another potential client there will be another bit of feedback that requires more effort. Feedback is your friend. Don’t take it personally and use it to build a better service no matter how much work it requires.
Pippa: Our biggest mistakes have come when we have lost focus. The entrepreneurial journey requires everything you have. When you get tired, you lose momentum.
This moves the launch date further and further until you think you’ll never get there. I’ve learnt that maintaining momentum is so important. Don’t take your eye off your end goal.
It costs you money and time. And don’t get lazy about chasing every opportunity, no matter how small. Some of our biggest wins have come as a complete surprise when we expected a meeting to be a waste of time.
Q. Knowing what you know now – what would your best practical advice be to new entrepreneurs?
Ursula: Find the best partners you can find: People who are excellent at what they do and have the work ethic to match.
You also need to know where you’re going, because often you won’t know how you are going to get there. The problem is that without a vision of what you want to achieve, all the challenges and hurdles will derail you.
Work out fast how you are going to sustain yourselves while you work on bigger projects. It’s best to start with multiple revenue streams so that you have some money coming in all the time. Don’t rely on just one product or one idea. If it fails to gain traction, you’ll end up defeated.
Nurture your network. In the beginning your friends and their networks will be your first clients. Know that you will have to work on small projects to gain the trust of clients before you get bigger, more profitable ones.
Finally, take calculated risks. Don’t just look for financial support from traditional places like banks. There are many new fintech platforms that can help you finance assets or give you a business loan if you need it.
Pippa: The first two years are going to be rough. Uncertainty will be your best friend. Choose a business partner that will keep you brave and do the same for them when they are scared.
Accept that this is not a ‘get rich quick’ route and that you will work harder than you ever thought possible. Know that you will have to do most of the work in your business and prepare to learn every day how little you actually know.
Don’t ask people if they think your business is a good idea. If you have to ask, you don’t believe in it and when the going gets tough, you’ll give up.
We have found ways around every challenge like finding financing, building a competitive business model, getting our software done even when we had limited resources.
People want to be part of something great and they will lend their support if they can see you have what it takes to deliver. If you believe that you have something to offer the world and you are prepared to fight for it, jump! It will be the greatest and most rewarding adventure you’ve ever taken.
Q. What insights have had the greatest impact on your start-up journey?
Pippa: For me it’s been about execution. Do it yourself. If you wait to find someone else to execute your idea because you don’t think you can do it, you’ll be waiting a very long time.
Just start, and the people who can help you will find you. Make sure your idea is different, that it has a chance to succeed in a highly competitive and difficult economy. Start with the business model and make sure it is viable. Ensure it is a solution to a problem experienced by enough people that they will pay you to solve it.
Put yourself out there. Talk about your ideas even though some people won’t believe in them. If you push through, enough people will hear your pitch and want to hear more.
Ursula: The people you choose to take with you on this journey will make all the difference to not only your success, but also how you handle your setbacks.
This is not only in terms of their skill set but also the energy they bring to the team. It’s the positive energy that helps you get through the challenging days, as well as those you want to have around to celebrate the wins.
No matter how much you have achieved in your career remember that you are starting again. Don’t be arrogant. No project should be too small.
Every interaction gives you an opportunity to impress someone new that could become a brand ambassador. In the words of the great entrepreneur Richard Branson, “Fake it until you make it.”
And finally, having the right business partner is critical. You will need to take turns being strong and picking each other up on difficult days. No one is perfectly energized and motivated every day.
Having a partnership with someone that wants to see the business succeed but also genuinely cares about you, is priceless. An authentically human partnership is comforting for your employees and helps to foster a culture of empathy.