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Start- up company TBM ‘s cutting- edge technology that cuts cost with televised advertising and marketing messages for public space television screens is widely admired locally and abroad. Carol Postumus reports A mission for many digital age start-up entrepreneurs is the creation of “hot app” – a new, original and revolutionary application of technology that everyone wants and needs. Vision – and in the digital revolution where opportunities are wide open, these can become reality – Silicon Valley venture capitalists, a listing on Maude Street and NASDQ plus a retirement-spent surfing on Bali come to mind with the words “Killer app”. An app’s alchemy goes from hot app to magic app status when a new application of technology attracts great interest and energy all-round (not only from its inventors and their families) but from astute investors and service-seeking customers too. Local start-up, TBM (Three Blind Mice) Communications has in the last year created and launched an international digital era technology first for South Africa that, indeed, seems more magic app than just another hot app. TBM ‘s unique combination of 42-inch plasma screens in public space, DVD and satellite technology – creating a digital private television network for advertisers and marketers – is being widely admired as revolutionary stuff, both locally abroad. The group is owned by black empowerment group Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI), Limitless Financial Solutions and TBM management. Moreover, with the “ooh and ahs” from the locals, TBM- in something of a coup for a local media technology start-up – has even had Japanese and American business visitors to the country heralding the concept as unlike anything they have ever seen before. Many digital age inventions, such as e-mail and mobile telephony, speed up delivery of data and take old obstacles associated with time and distance out of a process. In the greatest cases (such as with e-mail) cost become almost irrelevant or magically drops unbelievably low at the same time, for the user. Such is the beauty of the digital age! TBM ‘s process does exactly this cutting-edge technology-that-cuts-cost with televised advertising and marketing messages for public space television screens. As a bonus, the TBM methodology delivers tremendous lifelike quality in the advertisements it delivers via satellite to plasma screens. These are to be found in locations ranging from Johannesburg International Airport to Vodaworld and the East Rand Galleria. TBM conceptualiser and director Rob Nelson explains: “Our concept brings affordable, quality adverting within the reach of everyone. The classic barriers-to-entry for advertisers are removed. Clients who are utilizing our network right now range from major brand to names to mom & pop stores The response to the concept has been terrific.” “Our cutting-edge technology literally enables us to take a client’s business card or a basic brochure and from this material we can manipulate and animate the images to produce a high quality eye-catching advertisement at very low cost. Our service covers the entire process, from production to dissemination from our headquarters in Johannesburg. The material/data is sent up to the PAS-7 satellite; it is disseminated from there to plasma screens in different locales.” Nelson reckons that a major advantage of TBM’s process is that clients can choose to change their advertising or marketing messages at any time —- they tell TBM what they want, and within minutes TBM can alter their advertisement. “For instance, if a celebrity is passing through Johannesburg International Airport and an advertiser suddenly wants to change his message to suit the occasion and audience, we can do this for them in within minutes. Our process is completely flexible and changes can be made very rapidly to data. This is a tremendous revolution in itself, the benefits of cutting-edge technology deliver real benefits to our customers in every sense.” Interestingly, Nelson says the concept, which was four years in the making, really took wings when he approached Limitless Financial Solutions with his business concept. “I am a techie, what do I know about business, really? It is so important for South Africa start-ups to find the right partners who will help you to grow your concept into a great business. We are fortunate to have both HCI and Limitless as stakeholders. Limitless, notably, specializes in strategic handholding of new and start-up businesses. Our team is young and entrepreneurial; a great and complimentary mix of talented techies and media people.” TBM CEO Pierre van der Hoven is a start-up specialist of note in media sector; he was involved in the start-up of e-TV and also YFM .Van der Hoven observes that passion, vision and strong leadership is among the must-have characteristics for a successful start-up. “Start-ups needs passionate people with superhuman commitment. In a start-up like TBM, everything is new and a passion for the business is most critical when you are doing this. In TBM everything is new and thus there are no existing or set ways, for example, of management or structures that have been in place for decades. In a start-up roles can change, as things move and develop every day, and people in the business need to enjoy a fluid and exciting business environment. In a start-up, it is imperative that leadership is strong, and everyone is focused on one clear objective: this focus sees a start-up grow and prosper.” Classic Silicon Valley start-up culture is new to South Africa where entrepreneurs consistently say that the environment is too risk averse and people do not place enough value on “creation”. However, with groups like TBM, it is clear that high-tech media start-ups are starting to find a friendly place in South Africa too. Comments Van der Hoven: “South Africa is known as being risk averse. However, I feel that in the last five to 10 years, there has been noticeable growth in a new creative and entrepreneurial spirit.” Rule-breaking, risk-taking creative ventures are starting to feature more often as modern South African business success stories. Van der Hoven recalls that the radio station YFM was started with staffers of an average of 22-year-old with black employees making up 90% of employees. “To outsiders, YFM might have looked like a crazy idea with such young staff. After a month, YFM was the biggest radio station in the country. YFM’s pioneering and young character made the station really succeed.” Interestingly, Van der Hoven says one of the things the young YFM adventurers were advised to do was to “be who you are”. So the station truly reflected its young staff’s energy and logically drew a massive young audience. “Being who you are” is also a hallmark of TBM’s creative culture – part this is total dismissal of high-ego ‘holy cow’ syndromes, suits and ties features a “chain of linked people”(rather than a command-and-rule-structure) style. Says Van der Hoven; “In a creative process everyone is an equally high-value link in a chain, a true team inter-dependent culture that is imperative when you are building a new enterprise.” “There are no holy cows at TBM; I tell new employees that they should not to be ‘managed’ if they work with us. At TBM individuals are self-initiating, and solution finding. The only two issues that they encouraged to approach me with are their training or resource needs on any other issues, we expect everyone to find solution to get the job done. While TBM may have no holy cows, they are, however, very bullish. TBM is set to establish the group as a leader in Africa as well as a global player. The group says it aims to have 3 000 sites (locales endowed with plasma screens) in South Africa in the next year and is also rolling out the concept in Africa.

Source: Enterprise Magazine – Carol Postumus