‘Consistent persistence’ ensures survival in a land of giants
The first thing he asked me when we sat down is what my passion was and where I wanted to go. I looked at the guy and realized this was the first financier I came across who took this approach and actually wanted to hear what my vision was before getting to my balance sheet.
It must be the sheer size of Gauteng’s huge billboards that seems to warn that outdoor advertising is the preserve of the corporate heavyweights of the advertising world. How dare one guy working from his study at home even think of entering this land of giants, especially when he has never even worked in the advertising industry before?
Warren Fernandes not only dared to enter, but his company Admadmedia is thriving among the four giants that do indeed dominate the industry. “Consistent persistence,” is how the 33-year-old describes the most important factor of his success.
He has built his business quite literally one billboard at a time to the portfolio he has today, and one staff member at a time to his current team of six, and he single-handedly taught himself the intricacies of the ad industry.
His story reveals many other fascinating success factors, starting with the importance of holding on to your day job as long as possible when you’re starting out. Warren was fortunate to have had a full work-from-home agreement with IBM, the IT company where he worked as a senior specialist, which gave him the flexibility of starting a sideline. It wasn’t easy though. Juggling two jobs with lots of late nights and working weekends took great commitment.
Warren had started his working career as a call-centre agent with FirstRand Group straight after he finished matric. Endowed with “a good technical mind”, he was quickly promoted into increasingly IT-orientated jobs. He always had the idea of working for himself one day, and regarded his rise in the corporate world as his training ground where he learnt as much as he could about business operations.
His chance came in 2005 when a friend introduced him to the outdoor advertising industry. He found the business concept very lucrative and began researching the different formats which were used. Deciding to initially focus on moving media, Warren did intensive research on a velcro-based system, designed in the UK, that allowed billboards to be stuck onto trucks quicker that it took to off-load them.
By 2007 Warren signed up his first fleet of trucks and was operational. The most difficult part was convincing the ad agencies of the power of mobile billboards. Ad agencies are sticklers for statistics, needing to report back to their clients verified numbers of how many people saw each ad. It is easy to do with a static billboard – you simply count the feet and cars that pass it every day. But how do you count the number of people who see a moving truck in one day?
A further problem he encountered was that very few South African truck fleets are kept in mint condition and advertisers want the medium to project a positive image for their brand.
Finding himself in the game of outdoor advertising, the step to static billboards seemed to be the within reach and Warren soon found out that there was virtually only one thing differentiating players in the industry: Location. He had huge success in securing rights to erect advertising structures on various properties across Johannesburg and Pretoria.
And so, scraping together some savings supplemented by a personal loan, Warren erected the first two billboards in December of 2010. It was a hard grind, because a billboard structure can sometimes cost more than R300 000 to erect and take months to recoup the cost. He admits to surviving some of his early months with only VAT return money pulling him through.
With an emphasis on good service to both the land owner and the advertising clients and keeping the structures in pristine condition, the demand from his customers kept growing. Soon Warren found that he was taking over badly run sites and turning them around. Yet, his limitation remained lack of capital.
The banks saw him as too risky, and Warren searched for financiers, coming close to signing a deal with one private investor. But then he contacted Business Partners. “I gave them a call and managed to setup a meeting for the very next day. The first thing he asked me when we sat down is what my passion was and where I wanted to go. I looked at the guy and realized this was the first financier I came across who took this approach and actually wanted to hear what my vision was before getting to my balance sheet.”
The fit was perfect, and Business Partners agreed to finance more than a dozen new structures.
Warren is not only constantly on the lookout for excellent locations, but also for new ways of making advertising more effective. Admadmedia is the only outdoor advertiser he knows of that uses all black billboard structures to make the ads that they carry stand out more. He is working on a promising IT solution for the industry and is pioneering what he calls “cubes” – large ground-level advertising cubes ideal for shopping centre parking lots. Already he is looking at Durban for his next expansion, and don’t be surprised if the man who started with one billboard at a time will start conquering one city at a time.