Sticking With Your 2019 Business Goals

business goals

New year, new start, new business goals.

This is the January mantra of every young entrepreneur getting ready to start or grow their business. However, come June, many will look back at their ambitious goals with a sense of endearment and shrug them off. That’s what 2020 is for, right? Unfortunately, this behavioral pattern has a history of repeating itself year in and year out.

As a business owner, it can be easy to slip into the comfortable thoughts of having the whole year to accomplish your goals. But, the harsh reality is that 80% of us will fail to stick with our goals by the start of February. So, before we completely put our new year objectives on the back burner, here are some helpful guidelines to make 2019 the year of persistence, revolution and change.

How To Make & Achieve Your 2019 Business Goals

When we dream, we tend to dream big. That’s true for our personal and professional lives. When we do this, we create goals that just feel too big and too difficult to accomplish, because we don’t know where to start. But, when we dissect our goals into smaller steps, they all of a sudden feel more manageable and obtainable.

1 Always Be SMART About Your Goals

By SMART goals, we mean, make sure that your goals are the following:

  • Specific – What is your goal? Is it specific enough or is it too broad? What needs to be done for you to achieve your goal? Why do you want to reach your goal?
  • Measurable – How can you measure your progress? How will you know if you’re on track?
  • Attainable – Can your goal actually be achieved?
  • Realistic/relevant – Can you achieve your goal? Is the goal worth it?
  • Time – What’s your time frame for reaching your goal?

When you sit down and really think about your objectives in this way, it makes you think more intensely about setting goals that are attainable and realistic. We all would love to be the best in the world, but maybe you need to start with being the best in your suburb.

2 Create An Action Plan

…and look at it every damn day!

When you look at your goals, start with how? When you know the necessary steps to be taken, you are in a better position to accomplish what you need to do.

Detail the exact actions you need to take to reach that goal, what happens as you complete each of those steps, how you plan on tracking your progress, and more. The more detail you put into that action plan, the more mentally prepared you make yourself to achieve that goal.

3 Break It Down Even More

Once you have set your goals and established a path to meeting them, it may fill you with a false sense of reassurance. Like, you know what you need to do and you’ll get to it when you get to it. After which, you are in no better position than you were before you took steps one and two.

The most effective way for you to approach your 2019 business goals is by thinking of them as 12 separate goals that relate to an overall goal. Simply put, create 12 steps to accomplishing your objectives i.e. one for every month of the year.   

This is a great way to remain motivated, because each month will indicate that you are making progress towards your end goals. When you break your goals down, they lose the scare factor and seem much more manageable.

4 Track Your Progress Bi-Monthly

And how do you do that? Simple. Hold an accountability meeting with yourself.

I know the concept may sound a little too Eat. Pray. Love, but sitting down with yourself at the start and middle of each month will give you the opportunity to review whether you are on track with your objectives. This is an excellent motivator and helps you stay focused on what needs to be done.

This doesn’t need to be hours of reviewing, but it gives you an idea where you’re at, and it gives you the opportunity to make notes as you go along. And, if you are falling behind, it does mean you can make necessary changes.

5 Podcasts You Need To Stay Motivated

listening to podcasts

Motivational speaker, John Rohn famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” And the beauty of the digital age is that these people do not have to be around you in the flesh to make an impact on your life. In a sea of online content and digital applications, we get to choose what we consume and who we bring into our lives virtually.

Arguably one of the best ways we can surround ourselves with positive role models is through self improvement podcasts. Whether you want to surround yourself with like-minded creatives, CEOs of big corporates or world-renowned life coaches, podcasts give you this opportunity.

While there are hundreds of thousands out there to choose from, these 7 are our go-to pods for staying motivated, focussed and productive.

1 The Tim Ferriss Show

Topping our charts (and many others) is The Tim Ferriss Show. It has been ranked #1 out of 500 000 podcasts on many occasions and was the first podcast to surpass 100,000,000 downloads.

Each episode is designed to deconstruct world-class performers in the respective industry. From Terry Cruz to Ray Dalio, from Maria Sharapova to Malcolm Gladwell, Tim has interviewed over 300 professionals with the objective of learning more about their routines, exercise habits and time-management tricks.

2 Simplify from Blinkist

This fresh and new podcast comes from the creators of one of our favourite reading applications, Blinkist. Simplify is aimed to help interview top performers and capture actionable nuggets of wisdom.

While this may sound a little too close to the realm of what Tim Ferriss covers, in our opinion, the interview does go a little more in-depth and gets a touch more personal with the interviewee.

And if you love listening to or reading books, check out Blinkist – a useful companion to the podcast lover, which summarizes the key takeaways of your favourite books.

3 Tony Robbins Podcast

Tony Robbins is, arguably, the most influential life coach and motivational speaker of our time having touched the lives of over 50 million people across the globe. His live shows have been famous for years so it only makes sense that his podcast would be just as successful.

In his podcast, Tony Robbins leaves no stone unturned in his revolutionary podcast about practical insights into health, finance, business, and relationships. Hosting the likes of Deepak Chopra, Dr Mark Hyman and Dave Asprey, Tony Robbins is turning his platform into one of the best self improvement podcasts of our time.

4 Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations

Anything Oprah touches turns to gold – and her podcast is no different. In her Super Soul Conversations podcast, Oprah helps us awaken, discover and connect to the deeper meaning of the world around us.

Her podcast consists of personally selected interviews with renowned thought-leaders, best selling authors, motivational speakers, spiritual luminaries, health experts and more. All of her interviews are structured to provoke and guide you through life whilst bringing you one step closer to your best self.

5 The Daily Boost

The Daily Boost is for people aspiring to live a better life, but find themselves frustrated because they do not know what steps they need to get to where they need to be. Scott Smith is the host and helps listeners find clarity, create an actionable plan and get motivated.

Unlike many podcasts that are published weekly, the Daily Boost is available Monday to Friday making it the perfect choice for your morning dose of work motivation. Learn the tricks and techniques to become a bit more unstoppable everyday!

Weary Workers? Improve Employee Output for the Last Quarter

employee fatigue

Motivating people is difficult under the best of circumstances. But, motivating employees in the last quarter of the year feels damn near  impossible. While the company still has some serious targets to hit, your employees are…well…just going through the motions at this point.

It’s so bad, that your most enthusiastic salesperson doesn’t even seem to have the energy to pucker up a smile. In all fairness, your team started out strong, it’s just been a long year and the finish line is so close that they’ve shifted into cruise control. However, cruise control isn’t the gear that wins the race, is it?

So, how do you re-energize your weary workers? How do you get them feeling re-invigorated and striving for excellence once again? Here is our advice, to wring out their last bit of brilliance before the end of the year.

1 Break Down Your Big Goals Into Manageable Objectives

Getting employees to focus on big goals towards the end of the year is the equivalent of asking them to climb Everest in a day – it’s not going to happen.

A more effective way to work towards your long term goals is to break them down into manageable portions with targeted milestones. George Doran coined the term S.M.A.R.T. goals, which is an acronym that can be used to work towards measurable objectives:


Once you have distinguished what goals can still be achieved before the end of the year, communicate them to your team and hold everyone accountable for their success. Having a clear path to the finish line keeps everyone focused and on the right track.

2 Change Up Your Employees’ Surroundings

There is much to be said about making changes to your environment, and memory retention (as discussed in this study). Get your employees out of their slump and into a productive state of mind by moving the office furniture, enjoying a picnic outside or a lunch on you.

It’s not unnatural to feel stagnant in the office, especially when your environment hasn’t changed and your mind not stimulated for a long time. Get everyone moving and thinking differently. Perhaps even start sharing motivational YouTube videos to help spike enthusiasm.

3 Offer Work From Home Days / Flexi Hours

I’m sure many employees wish that their holiday period coincided exactly with their childrens schedule. As schools tend to shut down early in December, parents are left with no choice but to make alternative arrangements that can leave them distracted (let alone feeling guilty). Thus, hindering their focus and commitment to their work.

If your industry allows for it, consider offering work from home days, or flexi hours – especially at this time of year. As long as your business has the correct systems in place, there should be no problem in monitoring employee work. In fact, according to a recent study, working from home could see employees being far more productive than they ever were in the office to begin with.

4 Get Employees to Practice Gratitude & Self Praise

A great daily routine is to practice gratitude and be thankful for the things you have, as opposed to focusing on what you don’t have. Gratitude helps improve brain functioning by enabling better operation of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for cognition, decision making and creativity.

In short, this puts us in a better mood, and motivates us.

Practicing gratitude can easily be incorporated into a work environment, and could be as simple as getting employees to state what they are grateful for in their personal and professional lives. Also, encourage employees to share something they have accomplished over the past week, and in return, give credit where it’s due.

5 Make Your Office a Centre of Learning

Part of the reason your employees may be running on empty is because they are not feeling stretched enough. This might seem ironic, since we have it pinned down to “reserve tank syndrome”. But, the truth is, humans are curious beings and learning new skills to better our abilities is something we strive for.  

Make your business a company of continuous education. Encourage employees to try something new or learn a new skill that they can feel good about. This can be something that improves their work process, something they can add to it, or something that will help them think about a task in a different way. Whatever it is, get your employees excited about new challenges to re-invigorate their learning spirit.

While it may be tempting to just leave employees at their current motivation levels, incorporating these subtle changes can help bolster them into meeting those final targets before 2019 kicks in.

The Trouble With Performance Appraisals In The New Age

performance appraisal

Ahhh.. Good old performance appraisals. Employees and managers alike seem to dread the approaching performance appraisal deadline.

We’ve all been through it. The tension, the stress, the anxiety of waiting. But, at least it’s for a good cause, right? WRONG. With all the time and energy that we pour into our performance appraisals every year, you’d think they served an actual purpose.

The average cost of a performance appraisal per employee sits around $240. This is calculated on the hourly wage of those involved, and doesn’t include the cost to the business of this time wasted.

That expense adds up, so you’d think there should be some great purpose to this whole performance appraisal thing, but bar a legal basis for termination of contract, it has little to no value. And even that rarely holds up in court.

Let’s take a look at the reasons why performance appraisals are becoming outdated, inefficient and completely obsolete.

1 It Doesn’t Assess Performance

Given the name, you’d assume performance appraisals were directly linked to the assessment of your performance, however they rarely have anything to do with performance at all.

Most often these assessments are reviewing personal traits and characteristics. These can indirectly affect your performance, but do not directly influence the work that you’ve done. Very little attention is given to how much an individual has contributed towards projects and goals, which are the things that directly affect your business.

2 Annual Feedback Is Not Enough

In business, the projects you work on are monitored and feedback given on a regular basis. This makes sense, as your employees can never go too wrong before receiving correctional feedback.

When it comes to performance appraisals, feedback is given annually. This isn’t hugely beneficial to employees, who would like to make continuous improvement.

3 Performance Appraisals Are Rarely Data Based

Performance appraisals are rarely based on actually data and statistics from employees’ performance during the year. Often the feedback is subjective, which opens doors to bias or personal opinion that doesn’t always reflect the truth.

“Sally, how do you feel you’ve performed this year?” – Okay, so maybe this isn’t the exact question being posed, but leaving questions open to opinion can make the assessment completely inaccurate and completely worthless.

4 No Accountability

Think back to your school days. Do you remember having to complete tasks that weren’t for marks? I do, I wrote complete and utter rubbish.

Much like the school days, managers are completing employee performance appraisals in a ‘it’s not for marks’ fashion. There is no accountability, no second opinion, and usually not a care in the world.

The fact that performance appraisals are a very secretive matter, means the door is left wide open to favouritism and bias, which should never be welcome in the office.

Should Performance Appraisals Become Null And Void?

That’s a very good question. After explaining how useless they truly are, it’s hard to believe that there is any use for them whatsoever, but alas there is.

In certain environments, employee assessment of this kind can be useful, and help people work together to get along as a team. In these circumstances, performance appraisals and feedback should be managed in an informal manner on a regular basis.

Ways To Make The Performance Appraisals Process More Beneficial

Regular check-ins

Instead of only making use of the once-a-year appraisal, do regular check-ins with your employees a few times a year, so that they can be improving continuously.  

Use Self-Appraisal

Ask your employees to regularly take part in self-appraisals, to evaluate themselves. This encourages them to work at their best at all times.

If you are required to take part in performance appraisals, the guidelines above will help you to get the most benefits out of the process.

But for the most part, there are better ways to give feedback to your employees, and every company should be using a suitable method to do so. This one-size-fits-all method is outdated and better left in the 20th century.

Performance Reviews: Re-thinking How We Evaluate Employees


Today’s challenge: Have a discussion with each of your employees and ask them how they feel about annual performance reviews. Just by reading that sentence, you’re probably shifting uncomfortably in your seat, because you already know the answer.

Annual performance reviews are stressful for all parties involved. Managers end up spending days gathering information, while employees waste time agonizing over how the review will play out. In addition, studies have proven that traditional annual reviews are ineffective and have negative impacts on motivation and productivity.

So, what now?

At Valoro, we have reconsidered the way we evaluate performance, and as a result have kicked annual performance reviews to the curb. We are going to encourage you to do the same.

We are approaching a new year, and with that we need new traditions. So, it’s time to say: Ciao, APR! (side note: it sounds better in an Italian accent)

Here are our ways to start you re-thinking the way you evaluate performance in your business.

1 Quick Check-ins On The Regular

Ever read the One Minute Manager? Do yourself a favour!

We all know that nothing good comes from employees when they are micro-managed. But, this doesn’t mean you need to go on a complete authority hiatus. In fact, employees need to know what they’re doing right, and where they’re messing up.  

This all comes down to quick check-ins that address performance, goals and culture issues, before they become bigger problems. An added bonus of regular, quick check-ins is that they create a work environment that includes transparency and honesty.

Hold quick meetings with each of your employees, and ensure they fully understand their role in the company before setting targets. Set times either weekly or bi-weekly to have a quick catch-up with them, and address any problems they may have in reaching their target. It’s as simple as that.

2 Separate Compensation Reviews

One of the main reasons companies hold annual reviews is to quantify how performance translates to future remuneration and promotion.

The problem with coupling performance and promotion decisions, however, is that it can cause employees to feel like they are in an adversarial conversation, rather than a collaborative one. This experience can feel like the company is not truly supporting growth, and is finding ways to nitpick to avoid granting a salary increase.

Needless to say, the answer is to decouple the appraisal from the compensation review. Instead, listen to your employees and understand what their own professional goals are. Perhaps they are in a position that doesn’t highlight their strengths. Set goals tailored to their position, and rather review them on that.

3 Quarterly Performance Appraisals

We’ve spoken a lot about setting goals with each employee. But, that needs to amount to something, right?

As it is, many companies break up the year into quarters. It’s a natural time to look at company wide financials, and either re-affirm or re-assess goals. This is a great time to look back on your conversations with each employee, and see how they’ve performed relative to the goals that have been set for them.

Have discussions with them about what their future might look like within the company, and how that relates to remuneration. And when it comes to remuneration, be clear about when employees could expect that to happen.

In conclusion, quick catch-ups are the new APR. We cannot continue playing with the emotions of our employees once a year. Quick, fast bursts of feedback are far more effective, and keep your employees motivated to better themselves.

Are you bringing out the best in your employees?

Is The Boardroom Dead?


It certainly is becoming more of a bored room than the productive work space it once used to be. As leaders of teams of brilliant minds, we need to know when it’s necessary to call a meeting, and when to simply make a phone call to save their precious time.

So what calls for a meeting?

Can You Justify It In a Few Words?

Can you justify your reason for calling a meeting in just a few words, maybe a sentence? If not, it’s probably not a necessary meeting.

All meetings should be goal oriented, and there should be an outcome that you’re hoping to gain. If you realise there isn’t a good enough reason to call the meeting, then it’s better to arrange a phone call or video chat to keep up to date without wasting any time.

Does Everyone Need To Have a Say In a Decision?

Do you need to come to a consensus on a particular decision? Getting everyone in the same room is probably the best way to do that. When it comes to pitching ideas and bouncing ideas off each other, meeting face to face always works best.

Ongoing Projects

When it comes to lengthy projects, getting individuals together to ‘get on the same page’ is necessary. It might not be necessary to meet every week, or even bi-weekly, but make sure you’re getting together regularly enough to keep any confusion out of the picture.

Managing Employees

When you’re overseeing a bunch of people, it’s good to see that they’re all staying up to date with their work. Micromanaging is never productive, but making sure you set up standing meetings with each of your employees means everyone stays on their toes.

Weekly standing meetings give you a chance to review the work that’s been done and set goals for the coming week.

Important Clients

Important clients that are either giving you a lot of work, or have given you the opportunity to extend the working relationship, deserve face to face meetings to keep them updated with the progress of various projects. Pitches, progress meetings and conclusive meetings are all part of keeping your clients in the loop, and are best done in person.

Gain Clarity

When a bunch of people work on a project together, but each works independently, confusion can often fog the way. If this is the case, calling a meeting to gain some clarity and get everyone’s input is a good idea.

When The Problems Are Snowballing

You know what it’s like! When one problem leads to another, and they all start snowballing out of control. Calling a meeting is a necessary evil in this instance to put a stop to the problems that keep building up.


Emergencies need to be prioritized over any regular meeting. They may be called on the spur of the moment, but employees are expected to prioritize them.

It’s clear the the boardroom isn’t quite dead, however in this day and age it is slightly overused. Make sure you’re calling meetings with a clear objective, so that you’re never wasting time.

Meeting With a Purpose: Preparing For Fast & Effective Sessions

We’ve all been there; your boss calls a meeting that puts everyone half to sleep with his lack of direction. Rambling on and on about nonsensical things that have nothing to do with anyone, and everyone is thinking “why the hell am I here?”

Meetings with a lack of direction are a waste of time and a waste of company resources. Wasting the time of your employees and is not only frustrating for them but a waste of money for you. So try to keep meetings focused on important matters, and of course productive.

Let’s take a look at some guidelines you can use to hold meetings with a purpose:

Clear Objectives

Setting clear objectives is more than just handing out an agenda before the meeting, it’s sticking to it.

Make sure that a meeting is absolutely necessary before dragging your employees through a tedious and time-consuming process. How do you know whether a meeting is necessary?

Before calling a meeting, decide whether the topic is something that can be discussed over project platforms such as Slack, or can be dealt with in an email. If the answer is yes, then don’t waste anyone’s time by calling a meeting. Refer to the image below to decide whether it’s time to call a meeting, or merely call it off.

calling a meeting


Change Things Up

Staring at the same four walls every day is just about a prison sentence, and not the inspiring work environment you should be trying to cultivate.

Try calling a meeting outside of the workplace. How about a coffee shop or cafe? Having an environment that is creatively stimulating is important for generating original ideas, and just maybe that one you’ve been waiting for.

Be Prepared

Nobody wants to take a chunk out of their day to attend a meeting, sit down and be asked what they’d like to discuss today. When you call a meeting, make sure that there is a CLEAR objective, that you’ve prepared what you’d like to say, and those goals are achieved by the end of the meeting.

Respect the fact that people have given of their time to attend the meeting, and make sure you guide them through the process in the most efficient way possible.

Invite Relevant People

You’re holding a meeting about the newest creative project your company has taken on. I think we can all agree that Bertie from accounting doesn’t need to be there. Yet somehow companies seem to think that big meetings are the way to do things… Nope. They’re a waste of time.

Don’t let any of your employees sit wasting their time when they could be doing something far more productive. Before sending out the invite, uncheck anyone that is not relevant from the list. Uncheck anyone that doesn’t have enough insight to contribute, and uncheck anyone that’s not going to be working directly on the project.

What will you be left with? Your project superstars – the ones that actually need to be at the meeting.

Keep a Strict Schedule

If you said we’d talk about project XYZ for 10 minutes, then after 10 minutes, move on… Chances are that if you’re falling behind schedule, you’re moving onto irrelevant topics. Make sure you’re keeping a tight ship and not lingering on anything for too long.

In order to keep everyone involved and concentrating, you need to be sticking to the game plan.

No Hogging The Spotlight

Whether you’re the culprit, or it’s one of your colleagues, make sure that everyone gets a chance to put in their 2 cents worth, and bring the spotlight hoggers down a notch.

Set the standard from the very beginning by not allowing anyone to take over the conversation. The person leading the meeting should always be in control and be able to steer the conversation wherever it needs to go.

Respect People’s Time

Never let a meeting go on for more than an hour. A 60-minute meeting is stretching people’s concentration spans to pretty much THE max.

Starting on time is a big factor when it comes to ending on time. Don’t let your employees that arrived on time have to wait around for half an hour, and then your meeting ends half an hour later. This is a big waste of productive hours.

Make sure that if you said the meeting would be done after 1 hour, you start wrapping up after 50 minutes so that you’re not encroaching on anyone else’s time.

Know What’s Coming Next

After the meeting is over there needs to be a clear set of goals as to how to continue. Summarize the meeting in bullet points, so everyone remembers what the outcomes were. Set tasks for those that were assigned duties, and make sure everyone knows what the next step is.

When scheduling a meeting, make sure that you know what you’d like the outcome to be. There needs to be a purpose otherwise there’s no point. And none of this “I’m scheduling a meeting to discuss our last meeting” bullsh*t. You’re bored, that’s what that is.

Schedule meetings that make a difference, that are purposeful and are an efficient use of time.

Ditch Change Ignorance: A Guide to Keeping Up With Transformation

Let me paint a picture for you.

A few months ago, your company finished a cost-reduction transformation to streamline your operations. You’re feeling pretty impressed with yourself so you naturally give yourself a pat on the back.

Before you have even had a chance to let the dust settle, a disruption in your industry changes everything,requiring you to implement a new model altogether. Shock, horror, and it’s back to the drawing board.

Enter, “always-on” transformation.

There is no place for complacency today. Most industries are facing disruption and market turbulence – thanks to globalisation, innovation, regulation changes, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!

To keep up with our ever-evolving landscape, companies need to consider many types of transformation. It is not a small tweak in some aspect of the business, but a massive change aimed at achieving and improving performance and value.

You don’t want to just survive – you want to thrive! So, how do you adopt this always-on transformation approach? Here are 5 ways to beat change ignorance and streamline your business for smooth transitions for the future.

1 Embrace Change Management

Companies need to stop seeing their initiatives as a temporary, once-off occurrence. Rather, build change-management skills into your core competencies within the leadership positions in your business.

Ways to ingrain change management into your business:

  • Make transformation-focused positions attractive to employees
  • Establish change processes to help you plan and role out initiatives
  • Practice by doing, i.e. make the development of internal change-management capabilities an imperative role of each initiative

2 Always Be Reading & Always Be Learning

Make learning an integral part of your business model. Training and development have a huge impact on your employees, directly relating to their productivity. When your employees find the new knowledge on an aspect of your industry, see whether it is worth implementing to improve your performance.

Encourage employees to challenge conventional thinking. Keep them curious, so that they can discover creative ways to improve business processes.

Ways to implement an always-learning mindset in your business:

  • Block off time in your weekly schedule for employees to read or study further
  • Challenge your employees to think of unconventional ways to solve problems
  • Encourage employees to collaborate and share ideas on a regular basis
  • Open offices are often an excellent way for collaboration to happen

3 Get Rid Of Excessive Bureaucracy

To keep up with the curve, you need to be agile, stealthy and ready for disruption.

For your company to accommodate change in a changing landscape, you need to be able to respond to market shifts and enable your employees to adapt the way they work.   

Build an agile office by making changes in the following ways:

  • Remove organisational layers by simplifying your policies
  • Celebrate employees who adapt to new roles and changes
  • Develop programs to help your employees understand different roles
  • Challenge your employees to think outside of their immediate roles

4 It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint

Transformations are tiring and may require employees to go beyond their conventional workload. Fatigue is a real issue and is why many companies slip back into old habits.

Make sure you are pacing yourself. Set deadlines, but be realistic. Make sure your employees are not working themselves to the bone and make time for recovery.

Keep employee energy levels up by doing the following:

  • Communicate openly with your employees about the transformation.
  • Sensing resistance? Address it.
  • Make sure you are hiring the right people i.e. those who thrive in a changing environment
  • Match tasks with the right people and see it as contributing to personal growth
  • Always make time for recovery and give credit where credit is due

5 Purpose Driven Transformation

Expecting employees to get excited about taking on more work is not going to amount to anything unless results are linked to their gain. If your transformation is solely focused on making top management richer, morale will be lower than ever.

Openly communicate why changes need to be made, and how it benefits your employees. This makes them feel like they’re part of the bigger picture. Plus, when employees start believing in the company’s purpose, they are intrinsically motivated to go above and beyond.

Practical steps that can be taken, to ensure a clear purpose in your transformation efforts, include:

  • Capture the reason why you are encouraging always-on transformation
  • Incentivise employees by linking company growth with employee growth
  • Engage with your employees on a deeper level, e.g. events to engage them, so that they understand the purpose of the transformation and how they can contribute


The Purpose Behind iXperience: A Startup with Global Impact

iXperience interview

This week we did coffee in style at the Cape Town V&A Waterfront Workshop 17, office to the dynamic iXperience team. A team of twelve, led by two inspirational dudes with a passion for purpose and the stamp of Yale on their LinkedIn profiles.

Now, given the size of waves this business is making in the startup world, they probably don’t need much of an introduction. You probably already know that they originally started as a coding bootcamp with an added internship experience. You also probably know that today they connect with students from top universities in the world, like Harvard, Yale and MIT.  

And if you’ve chatted to Aaron Fuchs or Rafi Khan before, you might even know about their massive plans for the future, including international expansion, a global campus, and the new base they set up in Lisbon, Portugal this year.

So we’re here to tell you what you don’t know. The inside scoop on the real purpose behind iXperience, what drives their leadership, what challenges they face, and how they feel about strategy in a startup.

Now you’re hooked!

From “What” to “Why”

iXperience started without a grand vision. They had no idea what they would look like three years in, and it took them a while to discover their purpose. But what they did know, was that they were doing something epic.

“In the early days, our team didn’t have a concrete vision of what we were building, but everyone knew why: we wanted to create a life-changing experience for students. We wanted to bring students here and change their lives through education, connecting with people, and building an inspiring community”

You see, they’d identified a gap, a need, that wasn’t being met. A need that resonated with them as university graduates themselves. Students at top universities were getting very elite, very expensive education, but leaving without the skills that would impact them in the workplace.  

Ba-dum-chhh. Their purpose was crystal clear. To create epic journeys of growth that unlock students’ potential.

“The idea is really to help people discover something about themselves that they didn’t previously know. The time they have here, and the person they get to be and become while they’re here, is transformative. The people they meet, the culture they experience, the idea of connecting with an inspiring environment and really being pushed out of their comfort zone, is something that I think a traditional university performs abysmally.”

This, of course, is incomparable with many of the other advances in the education industry, too. Like MOOCS, which are, well, massive, meaning that they’re about distribution and dissemination of knowledge. Not exactly the kind of personalised experienced that’ll leave you teary-eyed and sniffling on completion.  

Not even kidding! Many of the students who get the iXperience-experience shed a few tears as they leave Cape Town International Airport, knowing that the journey (or at least this part of their life’s journey) has come to an end.

How They Did It

So, how did they do it? How’d they become so successful in such a short period of time?

The natural answer would be, “A solid strategy”. But it wouldn’t be the truth. Because Rafi has some unconventional feelings on strategy in a startup, and they make a lot of sense.

“I have mixed feelings about strategy in a startup. There’s a saying I like, which is ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. The idea being that building a team that’s aligned around a common mission is far more effective than spending that same time planning the perfect strategy.”

But, while strategy wasn’t the divine answer to growth for iXperience, they did share some of the most important practices and experiences that helped them to move forward:

  1. Access to Market

On first launching the business, Rafi and Aaron found themselves staring straight into the nasty face of their first challenge – access to market.

“Just getting people to believe that what we were doing was good was a very, very difficult thing.”

But, fortunately, Rafi and Aaron are both Yale alumni, so having existing connections at top universities in the U.S. was a big foot forward (and not something that many other South Africans can leverage).

Initial traction came with visiting universities, connecting with students, being able to understand their journeys, and selling them Cape Town as the destination.

“Our market is very far away. It takes an incredible amount of time, and 2 to 3 trips to America each year to foster those relationships and keep building a community.”

Community is an integral part of the programme, and a powerful way of reaching (distant) future students. The community of iXperience alumni are activated to connect with other students on campus, and to share their stories, ultimately creating a network effect in countries beyond South African borders.  

  1. Data, Data, Data!

iXperience leverages data to continuously improve the customer experience, make better business decisions, monitor quality, and refine their marketing approach.

“We believe in the power of data, and the power of technology, to really transform business.”

iXperience boasts an impressive revenue/employee ratio. Why? Well, because they have 12 madly-skilled employees who are invested in their purpose, and the rest is left to tech.

They use Google, Facebook, and Instagram to reach a global audience through digital marketing. They have an impressive website that’s easy to navigate. And they use a complex system of surveys and qualitative and quantitative interviews to get feedback from students.  

“We’re obsessed with tracking every single part of our business, to the point where we know every link that’s clicked, and every professor who opens our email. We base our decisions on this information.”

This tracking enables them to monitor who loves them, who doesn’t, how to improve the experience for those who don’t, and how to activate those who do love them, to do more for them.

  1. People Are Everything

According to Rafi, the people are everything. Both in terms of how you connect with your customer, and how you phrase your vision and purpose to others on the team.

“People buy the who and why, instead of the what. You have to be honest with yourself about why you’re doing something,  truly believe in it, and then hold yourself accountable to finding others who believe in it for the same reason.”

[bctt tweet=”People buy the who and why, instead of the what.” username=”iXperience”]

This is why iXperience feels that the best thing they ever did was to find a group of people who really, really, REALLY cared about the same cause.

“A players hire A players. B players hire C players. So to attain high talent density over time, you have to be rigorous with your recruitment.”

Now, iXperience will be the first to admit that they’re not perfect at this yet. They have about a 50% success rate at hiring, but they’re learning, and getting better at knowing what it is they’re looking for. Today, they have an 8-step hiring process, and discuss personal growth plans right from the onboarding phase.      

But what really makes them unique is their hardworking, passionate and self-driven culture. A culture where people hold themselves accountable as a team, because they share the same expectations of success. Finding other people who connect with this culture is the challenge.

“You’re not here to be busy, you’re here to get results. This resonates with a certain person, but it’s not for everybody.”

As Rafi says, a culture actually has to be exclusive, for it to be a culture.

“It doesn’t really matter what the culture is, as long as it’s authentic. I find culture isn’t something you can say. It has to be discovered over time.”

[bctt tweet=”It doesn’t really matter what the culture is, as long as it’s authentic” username=”iXperience”]

Rafi on Entrepreneurship

We asked Rafi to share some personal insight on his experience of entrepreneurship. After all, the guy could be working at Google, where he’d have a boss whose job it would be to make sure that he succeeds. As it turns out though, Rafi chose the startup road for some very cool reasons, like freedom and ownership of his own growth.

“For me, freedom has been the best and the worst thing. It’s amazing to be able to hold myself accountable to results, but, I have to hold myself accountable to results! That means that I have to be the one reading the books, I have to be the one reaching out to people for feedback. That takes a certain amount of discipline.”

From what we can tell, Rafi is pretty freaking good when it comes to discipline. So the question is, does he ever get time to do human things like eat, sleep, and watch stupid series?  

“My personal philosophy is to work hard, and then take epic holidays.”

iXperience is changing, growing, and making an impact every day. Watch their space as they move into the future, by following them on Facebook and LinkedIn, or checking out their website.

How Neural Sense Grew From a Kitchen Cupboard to Become African Leaders in Neuromarketing

startup growth

Three years ago, Neural Sense didn’t have a single client. Today, they’re boasting business with giants like Coca Cola, Telkom, Old Mutual and Liberty. So we chatted to co-founder, Mark Drummond, to find out how they did it.


Neural Sense is a consumer neuromarketing consultancy. Actually, they’re the only full-service neuromarketing consultancy on the African continent. Sounds impressive. But what does it mean?

Well, they use biometrics and other neuroscience technologies and research techniques to better understand consumer behaviour. This is a huge innovation that fills the void left by more traditional research approaches, like self-report surveys.

You see, these surveys are susceptible to bias, misunderstandings, and just plain old fibbing. Sometimes we answer in the way we think we should, rather than how we truly feel. And even then, how many of us even know how we truly feel?

So, Neural Sense is pioneering a marriage between technology and research to access people’s subconscious responses. This means a true understanding of how consumers feel emotionally and cognitively during an in-store or online experience, while alleviating those nasty biases.

Every Second Counts

Now, the question is… why is research so damn important, anyway? According to Mark, it’s all about making smart decisions, based on accurate information, so that you can catch the attention of an easily distracted audience.

“A lot of businesses don’t take the time to weigh up the pros and cons of the decisions they make. We’re currently in an environment that’s very output driven. There are targets to meet, and we’ll do whatever it takes to meet them.”

This results in businesses taking quick action. Action that’s not always the best way of moving them toward their goals. In fact, without enough thought and research, businesses can sometimes (unintentionally) take actions that lead them away from their objectives. This could be launching a new product without fully understanding the demand, or targeting a new market with ill-suited advertising.

So, Neural Sense conducts research that provides businesses with real insights for smart decisions. These insights not only help them to understand consumers’ in-store experience (like what grabs their attention, or how they navigate the space), but also the online user-experience, and how to optimise it.

This brings with it a host of exciting things, like AI, and figuring out how chatbots can be more emotionally engaging with users.

“There’s so much clutter. We get bombarded with digital messaging. Our attention span has reduced from 12 seconds five years ago, to 8 seconds today, with some people saying that you have only 5 seconds to make a hard sell. So every second counts.”

Neural Sense focuses on providing more than just data. They provide measureable, actionable insights that translate into better business decisions, and better consumer experiences.   

“We’re in such a tough economic environment at the moment, and often the first thing that gets cut is marketing budget. If your marketing mix isn’t optimised at every single touch point for the consumer, you’re going to miss out on opportunities.”

[bctt tweet=”If your marketing mix isn’t optimised at every consumer touch point, you’re going to miss out” username=”#NeuralSense”]

Oh, What A Journey

So, how did this unique startup, offering such an innovative solution, come to be? Well, in the beginning, there were three.

Around three years ago, Mark joined two guys who had been working on the idea of a neuromarketing consultancy. When Mark came on board, the business officially launched.

When picturing these early days, try to envision Mark Drummond working out of a kitchen, and then a cupboard, until 6 months later they finally invested in an office. This is around the same time that Neural Sense secured their first client – Telkom.  

“You essentially create value from nothing as a startup. So having that recognised with money coming into your account is a huge thing. Because it’s your blood, sweat and tears that have achieved that.

But as big as this achievement was, the team had other hurdles on the horizon. About one year in, a difference in expectations about the direction of the business and risk tolerance led to Mark and his partner, David, buying out the third member of their team.   

This was a tough 6 month process, and if he could go back, Mark would do things a little differently. Like being more open, honest and upfront with each other, and really understanding each person’s comfort levels with risk.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in startups, and this can cause tension. Make sure that you are very clear on everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and what your expectations are of each other. Unless there’s a page, you’re not on the same page. Draw up a contract, put it down on paper.”

Today, Mark’s experience in business and marketing makes a great compliment to David’s clinical psychology background. They work with a range of consultants specialising in astrophysics, engineering, and a bunch of other areas, as and when they need them on projects. This helps to keep costs down when there’s no work on the go.

Take It From Mark

It’s not hard to believe that through this startup journey, Mark has learnt a lesson or two. And lucky for us, he’s big on sharing.

Lesson 1: Get Friendly with the Competition

Neural Sense began with a clear strategy: To be a challenger brand. They were one of a kind, they were doing things differently, and they were offering research in a whole new way. They, were going up against the competition – traditional research companies.

“We quickly learnt that we actually needed to partner with them.”

Soon, Mark began to approach established research firms as partners, rather than competitors. This meant access to their client bases, and their stamps of authority. A strategic move that paid off.

“As a startup, you think it’s you against the world. But you need to be quite strategic about who you partner with. Leverage your competition, rather than wanting to have nothing to do with them.”

[bctt tweet=”Leverage your competition, rather than wanting to have nothing to do with them.” username=”#NeuralSense”]

Lesson 2: Plan Less, Do More

Brace yourself for this unconventional tip! If he had to do it all again, Mark would spend less time drawing up business plans. That’s right. Mark reckons that time can be wasted on too much planning.

“Planning is great. It’s important to have goals and vision. But the chances are your plan is going to change a hundred times.”

So, eventually you just have to get down to it, and get in front of clients. Mark is big on learning by doing. This includes experimentation in the real world. Test, learn, and test again until you get it right.

“As the saying goes: A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. And it’s the same with starting a business.”

Lesson 3: Ask for Help (Sooner)

Okay. If you’ve been following the Coffee@8 interview series, you might just be tired of hearing this one. But hey, if it’s been mentioned by just about every ass-whipping business that we’ve interviewed, then it’s got to be important!

“Ask for help sooner. A lot of people don’t realise the support structures available to them, and how willing people are to help. A startup can be a very lonely place.”

Draw on stories, tips and experiences from those who’ve done it before, and done it well or done it badly… learn from them. The fact that you’re reading this means that you’re already off to a good start!

Toward the Future

What lies in-store (pun intended) for Neural Sense? Many, many exciting things!

To start with, they’ll be making some changes to their team structure, by adding a new team member to take on some of their marketing and field work so that Mark can focus on new business.

“We’re still growing. Currently we’re only operating at around 40%, so we’ll be spending time looking for new business. It’s important to keep hunting for new business everyday.”

They’ll also be making a shift away from project work, and toward a retainer based business model. But the real, long-term goal is to sell the business in the next 5 to 8 years.

The thing is, it’s hard to sell people’s time and skills. So, they’re creating their own exciting technologies, like 3D environments, virtual reality, and desktop-based software applications that help identify the implicit associations people hold with brands.

But that’s not all. Neural Sense is looking to expand into Africa, and leverage the unique consumer landscape that yields huge growth prospects for brands and businesses. To do this, they’re partnering with research houses, establishing their name through networking, and have become a proud sponsor of the Neuromarketing World Forum.

“It’s also an excuse for me and David to go overseas.”

But for now, Mark continues to enjoy the flexibility, autonomy, challenge and purpose that come with being his own boss.


Follow Neural Sense on Facebook and LinkedIn, or check out their website.

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