When Vanessa Sinden turned her back on South Africa’s growing movie industry to work in a barn making cartoons, people thought she was mad.
Three years later, Triggerfish, the fledgling animation company she joined in 2009, turned from minnow to big fish on the continent. It has produced award-winning creations on cheap budgets. All thanks to ingenuity, childhood ambitions and the urge to tell African stories, she says.
“My first job in animation was one of the biggest films this country has ever made. I think I fell with my butt in the butter… we had to figure out how to make a film from scratch, we had no clue,” laughs Sinden.
It is an animation business nurtured in a 193-year-old barn with wooden floors, white-washed walls, swinging barn doors and roaming cows beyond.
These days, it’s not only the cows that roam on the farm in the southern suburbs in Cape Town. It is also the computer geeks who roam with their animation tablets amid rows of computers whizzing as they render 3D animations.
Sinden has been on the farm since the beginning. The barn betrays the youthful spirit of its inhabitants. All around are action figurines, posters of cartoon characters, table tennis tables, stock-piled vending machines, popcorn maker and coffee stations.
It is no mean feat for Sinden, who has spent eight years in this barn bringing to life African animation movies Adventures of Zambezia ($35 million) and Khumba ($26 million) that became South African blockbusters and the third and fourth best-grossing films in the country’s history, respectively.
“South Africa is the leading emerging animation industry in the world. We cannot beat Asia in terms of raw costs, but that is just servicing work. In Africa, we are passionate about our own work, our stories being told,” says Sinden.
Stick Man, a BBC One Christmas collaboration with Magic Light Pictures, has now won 11 international awards on three continents, including the Cristal for a TV Production at the world’s leading animation festival, Annecy.
Such is their prestige, Triggerfish were given rare rights to produce, alongside Magic Light Pictures again, Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes which premiered in Africa in March.
In June, this latest work scored a hat-trick: first winning Best Storytelling at Shanghai International Film and TV Festival in China, then Best Animation at the Banff World Media Festival in Canada, and finishing off with the Cristal for Best TV Production at Annecy in France, the world’s premier animation festival.
Triggerfish’s hat-trick follows just days after the release of the National Film and Video Foundation’s (NFVF) second Economic Impact Assessment on the South African film industry, which found that the sector’s GDP contribution had increased from R3.5 billion in 2013 to R5.4 billion in 2016.
“With South Africa officially in recession, it’s more important than ever that our economy finds new avenues for growth,” says Triggerfish Animation CEO Stuart Forrest.
“The animation sector is still the smallest part of the film industry, according to the NFVF’s study, but our three awards on three continents this weekend are further proof that we are punching above our weight. We believe that with continued government support, animation can become a key, job-intensive growth sector in South Africa.”
“The animation industry [in South Africa] is still very fledgling. 2007 was the first time someone could work in the industry in this country, since then there has been a couple of films and a couple of 2D studios making content for Disney, but not a lot of people have had the opportunity to do their own stories, their own content. That’s a big deal,” says Sinden.
What it means for Sinden and the animators of Triggerfish is coming up with the next big hit.
It is a lot harder than you think.
“At the heart of this issue, is we don’t have enough stories that are going to hold up worldwide. Universal stories for the family,” says Sinden.
This is why Sinden has been spearheading initiatives like Story Lab, a competition supported by the South African Department of Trade & Industry and US-based Disney that aims to develop African stories by Africans. Triggerfish were looking for four feature films and four TV series for development; they got 1,400 entries from 30 countries.
“We wanted the best stories and we wanted to mentor and nurture them through bringing the best in the world from Hollywood to teach them here. We identified 38 writers to have projects we love. We held a two-week workshop in 2015.”
The cherry on the top was the final eight would be given a rare foot in the door with mentorship at the Walt Disney Company in Burbank, Hollywood.
Two years later, and in the present, Sinden says the feature films are in their first drafts and the TV programs are ready and looking for investors.
South Africa is also in the unique position to produce movies at a fraction of the budgets of Europe and the US. It is a cut-throat business driven by merchandise and the young.
“Pixar are sitting at $100 million to make a film and then double that for marketing. Adventures of Zambezia and Khumba was both made under $5 million each… Film is basically a $100 million advert. [Pixar, Dreamworks and Marvel] are alive because of the off-screen sales on merchandise. Disney are the godfathers of this. They have 100 years of creating content it has sold off the shelf. They realized way back in the day its off-screen sales and brands make the money. It wasn’t about Mickey Mouse on the screen. We’re all catching up now,” says Sinden.
In this fast-paced industry, Triggerfish have adjusted their pipeline to focus on television.
“What Triggerfish is finding is with television there is a quicker turnaround time, and there can be momentum. If you have [content] that is interesting, you can get investors to move in quite quickly. For us to change our pipeline from movies to TV series was a massive shift. It means producing a TV episode once a week. But it’s a better business model. It is our own merchandising, our own content and we can make money off that,” says Sinden.
“Triggerfish has always been about passion but we also have realized we need to make money. We thought we would make money off our first two projects but we haven’t yet. We’ve paid all our gap investors and financers, but that’s about it.”
Another reason why Triggerfish is targeting TV is the paradigm shift of gender-based content – especially young girls.
“I see from my nephew, [boys] are given such a platter of all this variety, but all the girls are offered are pink sparkles and princesses.”
“Girls haven’t gone to university with dreams of becoming animators. Why are there so few women in those roles? It is because they weren’t encouraged to do so when they were girls. Now the content to pre-schoolers is saying you can be engineers, you can be scientists, nothing is stopping you, or you can still be a princess in pink. There is nothing stopping you.”
Two new shows set to air will break these sexualized conventions featuring not only girls in lead roles experimenting in science and engineering, but also Africans. One of them is a girl who decided she wants to be a princess and a ninja. The other, called Mama K’s Super Four, features four teenage girls who have to save the world on a budget from their headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. The story is written by Malenga Mulendema, who lives and works in that city.
“Malenga asked… ‘why can’t she see herself in any of those roles, there are no black girls who speaks to who she is and what she does why can’t she see herself as hero’.”
“It’s an all-black girl cast, all shapes and sizes and it just taps on those little buttons, that girls don’t have to be skinny, you can be beautiful and be curvy and busty, and be smart and techie and programmed robots and that’s beautiful too,” says Sinden.
“Four teenage girls living in Lusaka, who save the world, may not appeal to a girl in Germany, but reality is the time is right and content and stories like this will come from Africa and we think there is a market.”
For Sinden, now 39 years old, transforming the animation industry and seeing equal gender-based content come to life is a dream come true. When she was young, she was watching movies like Aladdin and singing along to the cassette in her dad’s car for months.
“Kids love the visual characters and the vibes you get from watching their reactions are the hooks for me… I remember when A Bugs Life came out in my late teens and I was the only adult in the entire cinema.”
There is even more hard work ahead. Around the world only one in five women are in the industry, says Sinden.
“Parents don’t think the film industry is a great industry. My parents were put off when I told them I wanted to work in film and started off working for free and finding a job. They said ‘why would you do that, why would you work backwards’.”
There is even more in store for the company that works out of a barn. On the horizon is Seal Team – an origins story of navy seals.
“It’s seals versus sharks and it’s meant to be true to the genre, seals standing up to the bully sharks. It’s going to be great for the boys. That’s currently going into storyboarding come July. We are currently going into the script at the moment.”
All from a barn where childhood dreams were born, where the tough business of animation is carried out.
TikTok Owner ByteDance Continues Expansion Efforts With Music Streaming And Possible Rebrand
Topline: In order to continue global growth, ByteDance (parent company of the wildly popular social media app TikTok) will reportedly launch a music streaming service as soon as next month and is potentially exploring ways to remake its image in advance of a rumored 2020 public offering.
- The Financial Times reported Sunday that ByteDance is in talks to secure global licensing rights from Warner Music, Universal Music and Sony Music, the world’s largest record companies.
- ByteDance’s still-unnamed music streaming service will reportedly cost less than $10 per month, undercutting monthly subscription fees charged by rivals Spotify and Apple, and will kick off with initial launch markets in Brazil, Indonesia and India; ByteDance declined to comment.
- Those countries could be a tough sell—according to a May 12 Bloomberg report, paid music subscriptions are mainly a Western phenomenon, while the most popular music apps in Asia are YouTube and Tencent’s QQ Music, both of which are free.
- Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Beijing-based ByteDance, facing growing concern from U.S. lawmakers over its user-data storage and content censorship practices, is searching for ways to distance itself from its Chinese roots.
- Potential rebranding moves include relocating its operations to Singapore and renaming TikTok, which the company denied, according to the WSJ.
- Both the FT and WSJ reported ByteDance was aiming to IPO sometime next year, which ByteDance also denied to both outlets.
Big number: $78 billion. That was ByteDance’s last reported valuation, making it one of the most valuable startups in the world.
What to watch for: When ByteDance’s music streaming service actually launches. And if it moves the needle on paid music subscriptions in Asia. China’s Tencent has 800 million music users, but less than 5% of them pay for it.
Key background: TikTok made a name for itself as the first Chinese social network to achieve success in the U.S with over 100 million Americans as registered users. It surged in popularity this year as teens flock to the app to make lighthearted pranks, comedy sketches and lip-syncing videos. It’s also the third-most-downloaded app in Apple’s App Store, but it came at a price. According to the WSJ, ByteDance poured $1 billion into advertising and flooded rivals Facebook and Instagram with ads.
Analysis: The Values That Make A CEO
As part of FORBES AFRICA’s ongoing eighth anniversary celebrations, we present a CEO Rhetorical Analysis by Harvard University Extension School student, Anahita Negarandeh, on FORBES AFRICA’s founder and publisher, Rakesh Wahi. The CEO Rhetorical Analysis researches and analyzes the rhetoric — the effective messaging or speech — of a CEO and global business leader. The values chosen to explore in the CEO’s rhetoric are a key part of this article.
This rhetorical analysis examines the messaging of Rakesh Wahi, Founder of CNBC Africa and FORBES AFRICA. By consulting with approximately 10 executives from Wahi’s global team, this rhetoric examines four of his leadership values such as courage and determination, collaboration, passion for education, and equality.
Courage and determination
Wahi is a well-respected global businessman based in Dubai and South Africa who has been involved with approximately 20 corporate development projects. He continues to grow his establishments in more than 25 offices around the world. As a leader in media, IT, telecoms, and education, Wahi has built companies in 22 countries, employing over 1,000 employees. Prior to moving to the UAE, Wahi served in the Indian Armed Forces for approximately nine years and was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal by the President of India in 1985 for distinguished services to the country in peacetime. During his army service, at age 23, he was part of India’s second base establishment in Antarctica where a near-death experience changed his life.
“But I realized at that age that life is not something you take for granted, therefore, whatever you want in this world, you have to set out to achieve it. At the end of the day, you are either there or not there; if you are not there, and if there are unfulfilled dreams, they will always be unfulfilled.” (Wahi)
READ MORE: 5 Minutes With Rakesh Wahi
Wahi’s executive team members, who have known him for approximately 20-30 years, believe this statement. Based on four personal interviews conducted for the purpose of this analysis with Wahi’s global leadership team, Wahi “lives this statement in his everyday life” (Martin). Many acknowledged that he is continuously determined to fulfil his dreams. Lars Jeppesen, Wahi’s Co-Founder of Tech One Global, states that “Wahi dreams and then puts all efforts to pursue the dreams… he is still building universities, creating new businesses, and pursues his dreams” (Jeppesen). Wahi is known to thrive on challenges and never gives up on achieving his goals even when faced with obstacles and challenges.
A leader’s personal life experiences and adversities play a major role in one’s values and ethics. In Wahi’s case, facing death at a young age motivated him to pursue his dreams to become realities. This is an admirable value for entrepreneurs, especially the younger generation. As a role model, Wahi teaches them to never give up despite challenges.
Collaboration & Importance of People
Wahi has learned valuable business lessons from his experience in the army, most importantly, the core lesson taught in the military about the importance of people and looking after them. His 2016 autobiography, Be a Lion, dedicated a section to The Importance of People. Books have had a great impact on Wahi, specifically the philosophy of reason from Ayn Rand while he was fighting for his life from the military life-threatening incident. As an advocate in the influence of others, he reiterates in his book, “That it is difficult to achieve anything without the involvement, commitment, loyalty, and assistance of others. When you come across a person with whom you can see a future, you must grasp the opportunity and mutually make the most of it.” (Wahi Ch. 1, location 173, par. 4)
Wahi executes his philosophy in numerous examples throughout his career, especially one with Daniel Adkins who is now CEO of Wahi’s Transnational Academic Group Middle East. When asked to describe a situation reflecting Wahi’s collaboration with and valuing people, this quality has directly been experienced, Adkins states, “I am probably the best possible example of this philosophy.” (Adkins). He describes his hiring experience entering the organization in late 2009 and rise from the most entry level position at one of Wahi’s Dubai-based universities, Murdoch University, to now CEO for the Middle East operations.
“Throughout this entire process, Wahi has provided both direct mentorship and mentorship by example and has made sure that I did the same for my entire team, which has produced fantastic organisational results including no turnover with regret for six years.” (Adkins)
READ MORE: The Most Defining Aspects Of Our Lives
As stated in Lancaster University Ghana’s Senior Management biography, Wahi’s “core focus is on long term corporate and leadership development through building strong management teams”. Adkins reiterates this statement in an interview: “Wahi absolutely lives this philosophy and demands it from his entire management team… the people are the business and there is nothing more important” (Adkins).
Wahi is known to have a special gift and skill to find loyal people and never hesitates to show appreciation to people’s loyalty. Wahi learned this quality from his role model parents, a father who was a military, corporate, and family hero and a mother who was not only Mother Teresa’s friend, but a genuine giver in life. In other words, Wahi is a “go back to your roots leader” (Al Abadilah). Wahi was brought up in a giving family and now gives back as a leader. Because of the people-oriented philosophies followed in his organizations, employee turnaround rates are phenomenally low. Everyone is treated like family and the principles presented in Ken Blanchard’s book, Gung-Ho!, are lived by management.
Wahi’s philosophy about collaboration and importance of people is truly refreshing in a CEO and business leader. In today’s individualistic world, leaders like Wahi who dedicate a major part of their leadership role to importance of people is a rare finding. Such values must be celebrated and promoted in all aspects of business worldwide.
Passion for education
As a sought-after speaker at educational institutions on leadership and entrepreneurship, Wahi received an Honorary Doctorate Degree of Science from the International University of Management by the Minister of Education of Namibia. He was also appointed as an IATF2018 Goodwill Ambassador by The Trade Finance for Africa. He personally learned and continuously teaches patience to other entrepreneurs in emerging markets. In an interview with CNBC Africa, The Entrepreneur’s Entrepreneur: Rakesh Wahi,about his book Be a Lion, Wahi shares he is “extremely passionate about education”. His vision is to set up educational centers of excellence across Africa incorporating new innovative industries such as online and hybrid aspects of education with traditional classroom environment. He has mentored many people in his leadership journey, but believes mentorship benefits both parties as he states in an interview with CNBC Africa: “Within a group, you always learn from each other. Mentorship is not a one-way journey, you learn every day from your peers, subordinates, seniors… If you are a student, you will remain a student all your life. You must be like a sponge, no matter your age.” (Wahi)
According to Adkins and Martin, executive partners at Wahi’s educational business sectors, Wahi lives his statement daily. Not only does he mentor his staff, he also learns from those on his team whether they are junior level or senior. Wahi has created a business culture amongst all sectors in a way that everyone learns from one another.
“There is no rank in the discussion. It is both intuitively understood and explicitly expressed that everyone’s ideas deserve equal consideration and we have made company-altering decisions based on input received from junior team members when those ideas turned out to be the best… It is absolutely the culture.” (Adkins)
Jeppesen, now Co-Founder of a tech enterprise with Wahi, states in an interview, “Wahi has been my mentor since we met 17 years back… Later, when we co-founded Tech One Global, he was leading our board and mentored me personally as the CEO.” (Jeppesen).
The culture of learning and mentorship from one another has saved the business in an example of a termination deal of one of Dubai’s university partnerships with a junior member of the team’s approach. This is proof that critical decisions are made, as a group despite rank levels. An important aspect of Wahi’s work is helping the leadership team rise to the next level.
Wahi’s decision to launch FORBES WOMAN AFRICA was to provide a platform for women entrepreneurs’ stories and the overwhelming waitlist of these stories in FORBES AFRICA.
“The main reason was that as a startup magazine, FORBES AFRICA was overwhelmed with a waiting list of stories from 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa; by virtue of women having a late head start in the business world, the stories were largely dominated by men who had done great things to transform Africa.” (Wahi)
In a short period of time, the magazine has risen to be the material of choice for inspirational women stories, with fantastic content being produced. Equality is discussed in an article by FORBES WOMAN AFRICA, Celebrating Five Years with The Founder and Publisher: Rakesh Wahi.
“We have discussed the trials and tribulations of women in the workplace and become a champion for equality. The word ‘equality’ is a living value for us at the ABN Group and I am so proud that we have been able to personify our values through affirmative action.” (Wahi)
READ MORE: Equality As A Living Value
According to a partner of over 35 years, Rajiv Podar, “Wahi has always respected and admired hard-working women and a firm believer of equality at workplace and home… Most of his senior colleagues are women too” (Podar). In an example from a former female executive at one of Wahi’s first ventures 20 years ago in Dubai, Maha Al Abadilah discusses the value of equality she experienced as a woman working with Wahi. “I have never experienced anything that distinguished a man and a woman, nothing but full respect and treating us with our pure qualifications and titles.” (Al Abadilah.14:19).
Wahi repeatedly demonstrates his firm belief in his statements amongst his team members. When a decision is to be made for an important matter, all team members discuss as equals. “It is both intuitively understood and explicitly expressed that everyone’s ideas deserve equal consideration.” (Adkins). Evidently, not only the value of equality is present within his ABN Group amongst women in the workplace, but also amongst all employees. Gender and rank are clearly not considered in any team discussions and decisions.
Wahi’s leadership approach and personality embodies unique values such as a life-changing incident, the collaboration and importance of people, a passion for education, and equality. As he was personally approached for research purposes of this analysis, he promptly welcomed connections with over 10 executives and partners of his global team who were all eager to help. Research results and personal interviews with warm responses from his team members and partners portray all qualities examined in this analysis positively. Wahi lives his statements and is a true people-oriented leader.
Adkins, Daniel. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Africa, Forbes Woman. “Celebrating Five Years With The Founder & Publisher: Rakesh Wahi.” Forbes Africa, 27 Sept. 2018, www.forbesafrica.com/woman/2018/09/27/celebrating-five-years-with-the-founder-publisher-rakesh-wahi/.
Al Abadilah, Maha. “Phone Interview, Rakesh Wahi Analysis” Voice recorder. 18 Dec. 2018.
Bandyopadhyay, Somshankar. “Military Lessons in Entrepreneurship.” GulfNews, 15 Mar. 2017, https://gulfnews.com/entertainment/books/military-lessons-in-entrepreneurship-1.1994221.
Bishop, Chris. “Re: Chris Bishop CNBC Africa.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
CNBC Africa. “Rakesh Wahi Reflects on CNBC Africa’s Decade of Broadcasting.” CNBC Africa, CNBC Africa, 1 June 2017, www.cnbcafrica.com/videos/2017/06/01/rakesh-wahi-reflects-on-cnbc-africas-decade-of-broadcasting/.
CNBC Africa. “The Entrepreneur’s Entrepreneur: Rakesh Wahi.” CNBC Africa, 4 Nov. 2016, www.cnbcafrica.com/news/special-report/2016/11/04/be-a-lion/.
Jeppesen, Lars. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Lancaster University Ghana. “Rakesh Wahi Chairman.” Lancaster University Ghana, www.lancaster.edu.gh/our-faculty-details.php?id=45. Accessed 8 Dec. 2018.
Martin, Gary. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Naicker, Roberta. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Podar, Rajiv. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Vettath, Malavika. “Global Entrepreneur Rakesh Wahi: ‘I’ve Been a Very Bad Personal Investor’.” The National, The National, 25 May 2018, www.thenational.ae/business/money/global-entrepreneur-rakesh-wahi-i-ve-been-a-very-bad-personal-investor-1.733606.
Wahi, Rakesh. Be A Lion. Penguin Books, 2016. Kindle eBook file.
Wahi, Rakesh. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.
Forbes Africa | 8 Years And Growing
As FORBES AFRICA celebrates eight years of showcasing African entrepreneurship, we look back on our stellar collection of cover stars, ranging from billionaires to space explorers to industrialists, self-made multi-millionaire businessmen and social entrepreneurs working for Africa. They tell us what they are doing now, how their businesses have grown, and where the continent is headed.
Since its inception in 2011, and despite the changing trends in the publishing industry, FORBES AFRICA has managed to stay relevant, insightful and sought-after, unpacking compelling stories of innovation and entrepreneurship on the youngest continent, in which 60% of the population is aged under 25 years.
Many of those innovations have been solutions-driven as young entrepreneurs across the continent seek to answer questions that have burdened their communities.
Always on the pulse, FORBES AFRICA has chronicled and celebrated those innovations – prompting the rest of the globe to pay attention and be fully engaged.
A prime example of this is the annual 30 Under 30 list, which showcases entrepreneurs and trailblazers under the age of 30 from business, technology, creatives and sports. In 2019, we had 120 entrepreneurs on the list, finalized after a rigorous vetting and due diligence process to well laid down criteria.
We have always maintained the highest standards of integrity in all our reporting.
As we transition into the next milestone, FORBES AFRICA reflects on the words of civil rights activist Benjamin Elijah Mays, who once said: “The tragedy of life is not found in failure but complacency. Not in you doing too much, but doing too little. Not in you living above your means, but below your capacity. It’s not failure but aiming too low, that is life’s greatest tragedy.”
With the transformation in the media landscape, the recent awards given to the magazine for the work done by a hard-working, determined and youthful team, serve as a reminder that we are doing something right.
Early this year, FORBES AFRICA journalist Karen Mwendera received a Sanlam award for financial journalism as the first runner-up in the ‘African Growth Story’ category. In January, FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, received the ‘World Woman Super Achiever Award’ from the Global HRD Congress.
In reflecting on the last eight years, this edition revisits a few of the strong, resilient men and women who have graced our covers.
For some, fortunes have literally changed, as witnessed in the fall of gargantuan African empires such as Steinhoff. Of course, there have been massive moments of triumph too, which have seen some new names feature on the annual African Billionaires List. There have also been moments of tragedy with former cover stars passing away.
Africa is ripe for the taking and is seen as the next economic frontier. The unique position the continent finds itself in will no doubt give FORBES AFRICA plenty to report on. Here’s to more deadlines and debates for the next eight years.
– Unathi Shologu
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