We caught up with Andrew Lester, Chief Marketing Officer of Different Life, which is the business engine behind Different.org.
Tell us a little more about your role at Different Life.
I run the marketing for Different which involves marketing Different Life and Different.org.
Why did you sign up for this?
I love startup energy and I love what the business stands for, its essence. If you told me five years ago that I would work for a Life Insurance company or a crowdfunding platform I would have laughed but Different is, well Different – it is not just a catchy name.
What other things are you up to?
I own a small agency called Spaghetti.tv.
You’ve started a number of businesses – what’s your biggest learning?
There have been many. I suppose the biggest is the need to understand your customer and what problem you are solving for them. A great idea is only great if it solves a problem for your customer.
What would you say to an aspiring entrepreneur – and in particular, what to do when facing failure?
I don’t think there is an entrepreneur who has not experienced failure, it is a very important part of learning what it takes. For any aspiring Entrepreneur my message would be to acknowledge failure, and learn from it and then be resilient. Resilience is the most important trait for an entrepreneur.
How important is entrepreneurship for South Africa, and what role do you see it playing in improving our country?
It is vitally important. We have enormous issues and we are going to need to grow to overcome them. This growth can only come from entrepreneurship.
You’re also involved in the creative industry – what’s your take on the importance of storytelling in business?
Content is the current buzzword, but storytelling is a more apt understanding. Technology has democratized broadcasting and publishing and has presented brands with a wonderful opportunity to engage with customers through storytelling. The power of storytelling is well documented, it is how we as human beings, relate to the world. Brands now get to tell stories that audiences find engaging, useful or even moving. It is a much more nuanced approach than shouting from a steeple.
Tell us about your approach to shaping workplace culture.
I think all of us want to work for more than our paycheck, so the real reason for coming to work is massively important. If we only hire people who understand our why, our reason for existence, then it becomes a lot easier to get everyone aligned. Workplace culture then becomes our shared practices, our common language and a joint understanding of how we go about achieving a common goal. It is incredibly powerful for people to belong, if everyone who works for Different firstly belongs and then secondly feels that they belong, then we have purpose and people with purpose can change the world.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished Justice Malala’s book, We Have Now Begun Our Descent.
If you could meet any influential person – dead or alive – who would you choose?
The Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
What excites you about being right here, right now? There’s a lot going on in our country at the moment – and this might seem discouraging for entrepreneurs.
Right now I feel like Different is an incredibly exciting place to be, I really enjoy what I do and I look forward to work. South Africa is a bit of a roller coaster at the moment. As an entrepreneur there are plenty of opportunities but there is way too much red tape to get through. In terms of what is going on right now there are a lot of conversations that we are beginning to have that are very very necessary. Our challenges are daunting, and at times overwhelming, but challenges present opportunities and I find that exciting.