Jobless Hopeless Zero Confidence

Published 10 years ago
Jobless Hopeless Zero Confidence

Ran Neu-Ner was looking forward to the day at his technology start-up company, Wealth Maker. When he arrived he found the doors locked and a sheriff’s note declaring the company investor’s bankruptcy.

Eleven years later, Neu-Ner, 36, is the Group CEO of South Africa’s leading activations agency—The Creative Counsel (TCC). The company makes an annual turnover of R500 million ($57 million) and has 650 permanent employees around the country.

On any given weekend 15,000 promoters can be seen promoting some of TCC’s clients’ products. With a 50% market share of the promotions space, the company is not doing too badly. But the picture was not always so rosy.

Co-founder & joint-CEO of The Creative Counsel, Ran Neu-Ner; Johannesburg, 22 November 2012 – Photo by Brett Eloff.

“We lost everything in an IT venture during the dot com bubble. It was supposed to be South Africa’s first online stock trader website. Our investor went insolvent and we shared the same building. The sheriff came and locked us out. I had invested everything; my business partner, Gil Oved, had invested everything,” Neu-Ner says.

After arriving at the office that fateful day, Neu-Ner summoned his business partner to a coffee shop in nearby Norwood.

“We wrote on a serviette all the things we had. We worked out that we needed to pay everyone who worked for us in the IT business. We paid our staff salaries and then we were jobless and hopeless,” he says.

At the time the two entrepreneurs were 25 years old and everyone around them was making a bit of money as employees in the corporate world. However, neither of the two was willing to look for a job.

Neu-Ner credits his business partner and co-Group CEO, Gil Oved, for sticking it out during those dark days.

“There is nothing worse than not having direction, an income or job. You lose all your confidence and self-worth. When I didn’t believe, he pushed me. When he didn’t believe in himself, I pushed him. That is what is good about having a partner,” he says.

The partners go way back, when they met in grade 10.

“We started our first entrepreneurial business in matric selling make-up kits imported from China to pharmacies and hair salons. Literally, going from door to door. We set up a company called Still Thinking so that when people asked us what the name of our company was we would say, Well, we’re still thinking’. It was a great conversation starter,” says Oved.

After six months of doing nothing, the two came across an opportunity in the promotions space. They had no plans to make it a long-term business. They just wanted something to keep them busy. They needed R100,000 ($11,000) to get started but there was no money lying around. Oved took a job as a computer consultant and the money he made he gave to Neu-Ner to start the promotions company.

“The first six months were the continuation of the worst period of my life,” says Neu-Ner.

The two business partners took to “cold-calling” companies in the yellow pages telephone directory. And then one day, it looked like their luck was about to change for the better.

“I cold-called Danone, by luck the company that did their in-store promotions had closed down.”

The requirements from the dairy and dessert producer’s marketing team were high and included the instruction, “Never break the cold chain and execute with the highest standards of execution and creativity”.

Unfortunately, they were up against more established companies, who also wanted the account.

“I created a PowerPoint presentation and arrived to present it. Once I got there, the agency before me walked out and there were five of them carrying briefcases. In that moment I just decided to ignore the PowerPoint presentation and speak from the heart,” says Neu-Ner.

Neu-Ner’s moving speech won them their first big client. The two had to promote Danone’s products at 12 stores, simultaneously, and came out with flying colors. However, challenges still lay ahead.

“One of the promoters on the first day decided to steal from the stores on my first show piece.”

Luckily, this was only a small glitch. Neu-Ner—who has been an entrepreneur since a young age, when he sold cut-out calendar photos in an Israeli neighborhood before he moved to South Africa with his engineer parents—had arrived. He managed to put things right with his entrepreneurial flair.

“I was always an entrepreneur. I had many ventures when I left matric. I didn’t spend too much time at university. I studied and finished my degree [he has a finance degree] but I was never there. I love business,” he says.

Oved agrees that his partner has always been a driven individual and offers some light-hearted criticism.

“This means he accepts brilliance or nothing from himself and all those around him. People who work with him get swept away and are therefore willing to sacrifice and give their all to him. Sometimes his uncompromising nature is hard. Some people struggle to accept such toughness,” he says.

TCC has been rolling out its expansion program over the last couple of years; they bought 50% of the well-known Mr Delivery franchise, which home delivers food from restaurants and fast-food chains. The delivery business is one of many subsidiaries falling under the TCC umbrella, such as the events companies, Minanawe and PopiMedia, a social media specialist.

While the company has grown beyond what the two could have hoped for in the early days of 2001, the partners want to expand even further.

“We are using South Africa as a springboard for the next step, which is how to get into Africa,” says Neu-Ner.

“We also believe that unlike the days of the past where everything started with a TV ad; in the future concepts will become agnostic of medium. The start would often be in activations where consumers interact with the brand on a personal basis and mediums such as TV, radio and others will be support functions,” adds Oved.

The two have traveled a long road to becoming a major promotions company in South Africa and have picked up a couple of lessons along the way.

“It is important to make mistakes because you learn much, much more from your mistakes than from your successes. If you are a real entrepreneur by blood, don’t give up. What separates the men from the boys is those who carry on even when it is looking bleak,” says Neu-Ner.

And that’s exactly why they made it.