Lucas R. Adams and Talya Goldberg are the faces behind Nifty250, a social printing tech startup in Cape Town that prints Instagram photos in Polaroid style. Talya also started the TGETHER blog network last year and Lucas has been running his minimalist household goods brand, Kraftisan, since 2012. We chatted to them about owning and running a creative business.
Tell us about your backgrounds and how they have shaped you to become creative entrepreneurs.
Talya: I was always very creative growing up. I spent my days at school doodling the time away. After matric I planned to study fashion at Fedisa, but somehow my parents convinced me to apply for Business Science at UCT instead. Starting Business Science Marketing I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into or the amount of stats, maths, finance and accounting courses that it entailed. Honestly I didn’t find the course particularly difficult, but it was as if all creativity had been drained from my soul. I really started enjoying the marketing courses towards the end of the degree with subjects like international marketing and consumer behaviour. In my first year at UCT one of my lecturers was Dave Duarte who now, amongst other things, teaches social media to Ogilvy. I interned with him briefly during my first year holidays and around that time I also became interested in blogging and started Shades Of Gold, as well as being very active on Twitter. In my third year at UCT I was actually asked to lecture the second years on social media! Through word of mouth and via Twitter I started doing a lot of freelance social media for brands like Sunglass Hut and Mr Delivery.
Lucas: I guess it comes down to putting in those 10 000 hours of what you do, as Malcolm Gladwell so elegantly puts it in his book Outliers. I’ve been involved in many business-oriented affairs with a strong dose of creative from my artistic grandparents, one of which – Boet van der Hoven – was a well known artist in the Karoo who is best known for gifting David Kramer his first pair of red veld skoene. Back to the question, I’ve been doing a lot of creative stuff my whole life which has always been linked to a business element, and I think I’m getting a little better at merging the two as time goes on.
What was the first business initiative you ever tackled and what did you learn from this experience?
Talya: My first business initiative was doing freelance social media, I had already interned for a few brands and digital agency Stonewall+ (which is now Native) and I realised that, at the time, most people and businesses just didn’t ‘get’ social media, understand how to interact with their customers online or how to create engaging content in a way that felt very natural and easy to me. I was interviewed for a tech TV show and then got a phone call from a well known business asking if I would please do their brand’s social media and how much I charged. Looking back, there was so much that I didn’t know how to do (like how to create brand competitions on a Facebook page tab), but I was like “of course I know how to do that” and then I would figure it out. The answer to almost anything is on Google and Youtube, and I quite like the feeling of being out of my depth and actually just sitting down and figuring something out myself, such a satisfying feeling.
I learnt a lot from being a freelancer, like how 25% of your paycheck is automatically deducted to PAYE, thumb sucking an amount I wanted to be paid, or thought I was worth, how to go into a meeting and be really confident about what you’re talking about even if it feels just like common sense to you. I also learnt that freelance social media was not something I wanted to do in the long term and was very picky about the brands I worked with, realising that in a service business when people complain on Facebook or Twitter they want real solutions to their problems, and fast. I felt that as a freelancer who was not working from a head office or with very little/no power to get things really done, was wasting my time. The conclusion: only do social media for a company where you can actually take initiative, make your own decisions fast and actually help customers which is now one facet of my job at Nifty250.
Lucas: Taking me way back to primary school, my first business affairs started from a tender age, selling pancakes at R2 each during lunch time 3 days a week (unbeknown and not necessarily allowed by the school). It was a normal “business day”, at school, during lunch break where my days’ inventory had literally been gobbled up by the playground, and I was left in a situation where 2 people with heated emotions, seriously wanted a pancake each, but I had only one left. I decided to cut it in half and charge extra for the ‘deviated transaction’. They were stoked. The lesson I learnt then and am trying to use as a standard today, is that its better to have two happy customers than one.
I expand upon this approach with a strong belief that it is more interesting, fun and profitable to have a lower priced, non-trend, high-volume product then the alternative. I have had my fingers in my experiences ranging from being an artist taking photos and illustrating them for canvas print purposes to be exhibited and sold at the Royale Eatery, to designing and producing custom designed things, and now my latest and most professionally formal project is called Nifty250, where we print your Insatgram photos and deliver them straight to your door.
What are you busy with at the moment?
Talya: Nifty250 is my main focus at the moment and takes up most of my time. The TGETHER blog network was something I started a year ago, and realised that at the time it was too soon to launch in SA. It’s probably still too soon and I was happy to just put it up and let it quietly grow. Trying to force brands to work with you, or advertise online is an uphill battle in SA, so I’m happy with how it’s doing and the amazing bloggers we have onboard. We’ve recently had a line-up change where two bloggers left but I’m still really excited about the beautiful new layout design and the new bloggers I’ll be adding to the network. Shades Of Gold is my blog which is hosted on the TGETHER blog network – it does really well without me pushing it too hard, but the goal for this year is to be posting 3 – 4 times a week, all beautiful, original and engaging content that people want to read and share.
BBLOGCLASS is something I started 2 months ago with Amy Scheepers. It’s a class for up and coming bloggers where we discuss everything from starting a blog, finding your niche, layout tips and using social media to build your personal brand. The first class went really well and we’re very lucky to have Vida e Caffé letting us use their stores and providing snacks and a barista, as well as Mr Price, ELLE and Rubybox providing goodies for the goodie bags. The first class was so much fun and we have 3 more lined up for Cape Town, we also definitely want to take it to Johannesburg and Durban. The big goal for BBLOGCLASS is to turn it into a yearly conference, as their is no conference in SA targeted at the 16-25 age range, or talking about blogging exclusively, which is so huge overseas and bloggers are actually making a career (money) off their platforms.
Lucas: I won’t go into too much detail regarding Kraftisan as it has had its fair share of publicity, and I am very grateful for that: For the majority of Kraftisan’s existence – a proudly SA product design and manufacture brand – it actually focussed on providing digital ad/design agencies with a place to send briefs to get custom designed “things” built. We would walk through the entire design process from initial concept to rendering the final design and then producing the item in question. I haven’t been very good at keeping my portfolio up to date, but there are a few things up here – www.behance.net/lucasradams.
The idea was to create a product design brand that focussed on everyday, beautiful objects that people would need/want in their homes, and I started with the Puzzle Pinup / Luna Light / Flapstand. They all held a familiar minimalist approach to design with a tendency to use organic materials as a way to create warmth in the product. We set a reasonable retail price (thinking about that low price / high volume aspect) for these items and exhibited at places like Design Indaba where we were embraced with a series of positive successes.
As it stands, I have had to push the brakes on this project due to the unexpected and rather different arising of my latest project, Nifty250, which is by far my most formal and professional foray into the creative business world, not to mentioned a completely unknown one – Nifty is an ecommerce start-up by definition, and my experience in web design was approximately 0% before getting involved. Nifty250 is truly – and I’ll credit YuppieChef as being the masters of the industry standard – a customer service business that takes an obsessive stance on ensuring that the experience you have when dealing with our team, is nothing short of “I’m definitely going back”. We are an online print studio that connects with your Instagram account to print your photos, but that has been the beginning, and we will soon be allowing people to print their own photos (not just Insatgrams) in a wider range of formats, all the item remaining faithful to traditional print-media only. I like to say that Nifty250 was to born from the ambitious desire to revive photographic print culture.
Nifty250 has been one of your most recent success stories. Please tell us about this journey.
Lucas & Talya: We found out about 250gram about 1 and a half years ago after ordering some prints to display on the Kraftisan stand at Design Indaba, it was just all luck and hard work from then on. After becoming well acquainted with Roxy Rosenberg, Lucas decided to make an offer to Roxy to take the project forward. I absolutely loved the idea behind it, and thought if we loved it so much, if only more people knew it about, they would order and love it too. Since then we have completely rebranded to Nifty250, which includes a complete visual overhaul with an entirely custom designed and build ecommerce platform to provide the service to South Africans. We started out by exploring a lot of successful local and international ecommerce examples and tried to pin down what it was we liked and disliked about the overall experience (which included ordering from these places too).
We then focussed on giving the customer an incredible experience, from the ease of use of our website, to receiving their orders promptly, to tearing open their boxes to reveal the word ‘Hello’ as a means to humanize the product, to the personalised letters, to engaging and celebrating our customers online. We really were more focused on getting that right than having a million different formats and accessories. We wanted to build it organically, and get the one format, delivery and customer service perfect before anything else. It’s a simple case of one solid step at a time, with customer feedback leading the way, always.
What are some of the challenges of being creative entrepreneurs in South Africa now?
Talya: I really don’t think that there are that many challenges. Overall service in SA is shocking, so if you start a business that’s focussed on amazing customer service – whether it be selling kitchen utensils online (YuppieChef), starting a coffee shop or laundry business – you’re going to do well! There are so many huge gaps in the market in SA. I have a million different businesses I would love to work on/start if only I had the time. I don’t understand people who move to London for opportunities. You can be a tiny tadpole in a big sea in London or you can very quickly be a big fish in a small pond in SA. It’s so easy to start your own business here, you really just have to 100% believe in the idea and the vision behind it, and then comes the hard part where you have to execute your idea well. No cutting corners! That’s what takes a whole lotta love and time.
Lucas: There are a bunch of challenges that are universal in any environment, and surely the grass is greener on the other side is always present, but I’d say that if anything, SA is a fantastic place to try something new given the minimal saturation of our culturally diverse market when compared to the likes of the US for example. Our customers (within the realm of ecommerce) are still becoming familiarized with service standards and expectations in SA, and within that is a great opportunity to go take hold of a market that wants to be catered for. If you have a great idea that is tangible, and you have the spine (and funding personal/or none) to execute it because you genuinely give a shit about the relevance of that idea, then I’d say go forth and be creative. The challenge arises as far as I can see, when people go into business without the understanding of the purpose for their idea or product – I am doing this because it is a problem/improvement I personally want/need.
If you run your own business, you won’t have a booming social life, and you will work much harder than your friends, for less, for longer, but with the freedom of choice and that very looming “success story”.
What do you enjoy most about being the boss?
Talya: I can take as many coffee breaks as I want without having to ask anyone. Also nobody tells me what to do!
Lucas: I would make a terrible employee, and was an average student, thus this was the only option. I am a bit of a detail/control freak, and I guess the lead position plays nicely into this kind of personality *laughs.
What do you do when you’re not working? How do you stay inspired?
Talya: When I’m not working on Nifty250? I still have a lot of events I go to for my blog which is really good for networking and hanging out with my blogger friends. In general after a long day of work I like to switch off and relax, hang out with my friends, go to the movies, ride my bike on the promenade. I recently moved into a new apartment and I’m now also very into decorating.
Lucas: As I state in my bio, “the great outdoors”. I am an avid trail runner, and tend to spend a lot of my time up on Lions Head, Table Mountain exploring a familiar or new track with only the views and fresh air to kill. As we say #OutsideIsFree. I enjoy designing and making stuff in my workshop, and working.. work really isn’t divided in my world as it’s simply way too knotted in.
How do you manage to juggle all your ventures with such enthusiasm? Any secrets you’d like to share?
Talya: I think if you truly love what you do and there is nothing else you would rather be doing it’s hard not to be happy and very enthusiastic about it. Also we get so much positive feedback on social media and via emails from our Nifty customers that even if I’m not having a great day I’ll just read one of them and remember how much I love this business and being my own boss!
Lucas: I’m a sucker for this one, but it’s one of the biggest truisms; “time management”. I always loved Seth Rotherham’s take on this subject, and I think his response was something along the line of “don’t pick up the phone unless it’s making you money”.
Once again touching on the trail running topic, I’ve started to pay attention to the amazing ladies and gentlemen that take part in this sport on a highly competitive level, and what I always see time and time again is that the individuals who are right at the top, dominating the scene, are actually full-time professionals in Law, University, Accounting etc. After having a few conversations, it became apparent that a case of work to be the best and go absolutely bat shit crazy with everything else seems to purvey. So I guess you can say that the high energy levels you carry at work, need to be stimulated outside in another form to keep them active – work hard, play hard.
Any tips or advice for someone wanting to start a creative business?
Talya: Honestly in the words of Nike ‘Just Do It!’ If you’re obsessed with your business idea, and your friends are too, there’s your starting audience, and just go for it. What do you have to lose?
Lucas: Learn what business means first (first principles), then be creative, not the other way around.
See the Nifty250 website to print some Instagrams or to find out more about their social printing service.