A Fortune At the Side Of The Road

Published 10 years ago
A Fortune  At the Side Of The Road

“I slapped him in the face,” laughs Michael Eilertsen; the face belonged to Sir Richard Branson.

“I said ‘We are going to do a high five’ and he didn’t understand what a high five was… as I high fived him, his hand was floppy, so I hit him. And there’s a photo with [my hand on Branson’s face] and there I am smiling.”

There are many differences between Eilertsen and Branson, including their understanding of a high five, but there are also similarities.

“I think that we push boundaries like Richard does.… He wasn’t scared to take on the corporates and wasn’t scared to take on the established companies.”

It all goes back to childhood. When Eilertsen was in standard eight his parents made it clear to him that he would not get any pocket money. In 2000, during his first year at the University of Johannesburg, his penury and entrepreneurial spirit helped him create his company—Breakfast Boy.

The idea was a peach. Eilertsen sold breakfast packs for R10 ($1.08) during the morning bumper-to-bumper traffic in Johannesburg. His customers had little time for breakfast. It was simple: a muffin, a Snacker bar, fruit juice, fruit, yogurt, a spoon, a mint and a piece of paper with the business lesson of the week.

“[People] started phoning and booking and ordering breakfasts. Within two months I was employing my whole entrepreneurship class and they were at different intersections in and around Jo’burg. Eventually that just exploded and we started getting phoned to do promotions, because we were varsity students, and we were doing about 400 breakfasts per morning.”

After a customer bemoaned that they didn’t serve coffee, Eilertsen bought cofee-dispensing backpacks, also known as rocket packs, from Nestlé and increased the insulation so that the coffee would stay warmer for longer. The response was overwhelming and Eilertsen traveled to the United States to buy the rights for the rocket packs for the whole of Africa.

“If you set out to be a sideline player that’s all you’ll ever be. If you set out to be the best in your neighborhood then that’s all you’re going to be. You’ve got to set out to not only be the best in Johannesburg, but the best within Gauteng, the best within South Africa, the best within Africa; and if you don’t have that sort of mindset or mentality your business will never be anything more than that,” says Eilertsen.

The rocket packs were a success. Nestlé received numerous calls about them and Eilertsen became Nestlé’s selling arm in South Africa through a marketing firm, Major Tom, where he was a partner. A month later he landed a deal with South African Breweries (SAB), took over their beer backpacks, and after that he landed a three-year deal with Coca-Cola, for The Coca-Cola Cup.

“At the time, I had a warehouse full of 50,000 hectoliters of beer, we were at every concert there was. We had over 200 promoter girls working for us; we had access to every sports day because we were distributors and [at only 21] I was living the dream.”

After South Africa landed the Soccer World Cup in 2006, Eilertsen sold the business and used his knowledge of the streets to launch his next project, Boiling Point Marketing, which had people hand over their business card for a cappuccino.

In two years, Eilertsen had a database of more than 300,000 clients. He wondered what to do next.

On a morning in 2007, while taking a shower, LIVEOUTLOUD began to take shape. It was to be a luxury magazine for a select group of people by invite only.

“It [the magazine] has got to show their lifestyle and how they do all these things out loud and how they’re living out loud. And that’s where the name came from.”

The thing that separated the magazine from other publications was its unconventional approach to the industry.

“We’ve been specific that on any of the businesses that we start, we do not employ experts… we rather want to get out own ideas and create our own freshness,” says Eilertsen.

Within weeks, an offshoot, LIVEOUTLOUD Events, was launched.

“We started putting together these insane once-in-a-lifetime events that would allow our advertisers to bring all their products together and they could meet our subscribers face-to-face.”

Then Eilertsen noticed that some of his clients were missing their flights to the events. And since they hosted the events, why not sort out their travel arrangements too? This new business was TRAVELOUTLOUD.

The latest edition is the online vault application, PLAYOUTLOUD, whereby members compete for luxury brands through an online clicking battle.

Eilertsen says that the business venture that defined him was the roadside breakfast.

“The muffin business was enough to buy the backpacks, which made enough money to buy Boiling Point [which supplied] money to start the magazine.”

With success spurred on by a billboard he saw as a child, Eilertsen has no intention to slow down.

“That billboard had this picture of this amazing skyline. And at the top it said ‘The sky is the limit’ and at the bottom it said ‘Who are you to limit me to the sky.’”

Quite.