Joel Stransky – CEOwise with Dan Newman

Now most people know you for your winning dropkick in the 95 World Cup now and also you’re commentating with a rugby but not many people know that you’re an accomplished entrepreneur businessman with 9 businesses. Now before we get into that and about Pivotal Group take me back to your journey, your career journey, from the 95 World Cup until 2012 when you started pivotal. Yes I think it was probably quite a long learning curve is the best way to describe it you don’t just you know come out of a rugby career and think you equipped to go into the next part of life, you have to decide what that life needs to be about, where your focus is gonna be and then you learn how to apply yourself to that life, and I think for me that’s exactly what it was. I carried on playing for a while, I played in the UK and coached and managed a little bit and I think that obviously helped a little bit managing people, and then things went a little pear-shaped on that side and you’re not considered a move to another club as head coach, didn’t quite work out and I just decided you know the coaching game is not for me and I wanted to come home. So we came home and right from the get-go I got involved in a few entrepreneurial businesses and then I don’t know through whatever reason I ended up into the corporate space which was wonderful because it’s the best learning curve of all, you know, if you in the corporate world you learn about governance you learn about procedure and process and little things that ultimately make you a better entrepreneur when you head on back, so I learned enormously I had a wonderful time especially because of the fact that I was based in sport I had a wonderful time at Megapro with George Rautenbach and what a great mentor he was to me in the world of sport, the commercial side of sport.

I had a role to play and the Cricket World Cup that was here in 2003 I managed the hospitality I looked after South African rugby commercial rights. I helped with some little parts of the bid book for 2010 soccer world cup, so there was a whole lot of this long learning curve that eventually led me to a place where I felt again that I was equipped to go out and become a little bit more entrepreneurial and and as you as you know 2011-2012 came and it was time and things just worked out as they did and we started our first business and moved in here about a year later so interesting journey but very much a learning curve. Okay and what exactly does the pivotal group do?

So, we started this business as Pivotal Capital thinking we would be a venture capital business. We’ve never really existed anything so we very much a holding structure. I think the core of our focus initially was was data, we realized that there was a you know there was huge scope in data but then POPI and another governance laws came into being which really prohibit the sale of data and the use of data without opt-ins. So we changed our focus at all towards the more disruptive side of technology and that’s really where we are, you know, we we started with company called OneVault which is voice authentication, voice biometrics, we then started building and managing call centers and mainly the technology side. We built our own fully hosted telephony platform which is absolutely everything from a bog-standard telephone on it is to the most sophisticated call center solution. We acquired a couple of our service providers so for our sins we we have a small security business and a small cleaning business and I’ll say small but we you know its people intensive, we we’ve a software-as-a-service sales business, analytics and then probably most recently we started a business in the recruitment space we have an artificial intelligence recruitment solution that really is, we own the IP too globally, and and it’s like any startup it’s a long slow hard process but I’ve no doubt that it will probably become our most successful venture to date.

Well I think it’s evident here with your infrastructure I mean, you have a good thing going. Yeah we’ve got a good thing going and we’ve got a nice comfortable office and we’ve got good people and I know the first thing that impressed you as a fellow cyclist is our barrister, absolutely, so and that’s probably you know when Paul Hutton and I first started talking about starting our business and heading out of the corporate world together which is, we did and then Bruce joined us and then attorney as the fourth shareholder, Lisa has minority shares, but we had a discussion and there was two or three things, there were three things that I remember distinctly that we we said were were pivotal, excuse the pun, to our business. One is we wanted to watch our kids play sport in afternoons. Two, we never wanted to fill in another leave form, and three, you we wanted to drink real coffee and that’s that sort of the way the partners, you know, that’s the ethos and culture we’ve tried to drive.

And you also mentioned that you have Pivotal Talent which is your artificial intelligence, which is your side, yeah, what is that about? So it is, it’s an artificial intelligence solution that’s dependent on data analytics as well I don’t think that you know we refer to it more as an augmented solution now, augmented intelligence, but really what it does is it it screens, matches and ranks candidates against a set job profile or number of profiles and it’s based on a multidisciplinary platform so it works across all elements of the human behavioral sciences and it works most importantly on the predictors of performance, so it will predict whether Dan Newman is going to be a good vlogger and a social internet guru or whether he’s not. But artificial intelligence that’s getting into a scary place. It is. With Facebook recently stopping they their project because the machines started to talk to each other, or created their own language. If you teach something to teach itself ultimately it is gonna have the ability to to supersede humans and human ability, because we don’t use all of our brain you know we’re not equipped to you, or we’re not designed to use the whole functionality where a robot is, and it is quite threatening at times, but like everything if you use it right it’s gonna be hugely successful.

But I think as long as the human has the last say on things, the last off button. Yeah, as long as there is a button where you can turn it off. Exactly, now what are the challenges that you’ve had that you’ve overcome, what are the biggest lessons that you’ve learned to overcome in your current business?

So all our businesses have been in the startup side of business, you know, we we’ve never, aside from the security and cleaning business, we’ve never gone and acquired a business. Everything else we’ve started from scratch and I think startups come with massive cash flow challenges. You know, we had private investors in our first business and they’re still involved, they’re still our investors in our business, but even that business is well capitalized as it was had its cash flow issues over time, all startups have that. So you know the lessons I’ve probably learned most importantly coming out of a corporate life where capital is never really that big a concern for employees, maybe for the shareholders and the owners and the listed entities, the the CFO probably, but for the rest of us you just go about your daily business. In our space cash flow is king, you know. I think that is the most difficult thing is cash flow when you start your business, you know, because all you’re doing is trying to meet monthly expenses.

Exactly and the biggest expense is people, you know, that’ll probably be the next biggest thing is that I’ve always had this little belief that you can have a really great business concept and great idea and with average people you’ll fail, but if you have an average idea with great people you can make it into a raging success. So it is about the people and probably to that point on cash flow is, you know, in a in a disruptive business in the startup game you can’t carry excess baggage, you can’t carry people who are not 100% in, that are not, you know, committed, that are not doing their jobs and and delivering value and, you know, we at times we’ve had to get rid of people which has been really sad, but very few, you know, we’ve been lucky in the way we’ve put together teams that have that have helped drive our businesses forward. you