Three Key Startup Lessons from DJ Dimplez
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- Player: Tumi Mooi aka DJ Dimplez
- Company: Pop Bottles
- Est: 2008
- Visit: www.popbottles.co.za
Tumi Mooi started DJing in 2003 while he was a student at Wits. Some students waiter or tend bar. Others become au pairs. Tumi became DJ Dimplez, joining the Wits DJ Society and finding gigs at student parties and local clubs.
By the time he graduated with a sports psychology degree, he realised two key things. First, his side hobby and way to make cash while he was a student had grown enough to sustain him, and second, he loved DJing. It was his passion.
He’d already switched from a commerce degree to sports psychology because he recognised he’d rather follow his heart than money. Now he made that same decision again. His heart was in hip hop music. The rest would fall into place.
Today he’s a well-known local DJ who also successfully spearheads his own creation, Pop Bottles, a national hip hop experience that in December 2017 will make its first foray into the international market with Pop Bottles Mauritius.
Here’s how a kid who liked to spin tables has built a brand and a business off the back of his passions.
1. Do what you love
When Tumi started out, DJing wasn’t a business. It was a hobby; services he could charge for. By the time he graduated, he made the decision to stick with his passion. He didn’t have a clear business plan, but if he enjoyed what he did, it wouldn’t be work, and he’d build on his personal brand.
At first, Pop Bottles developed organically. Tumi wanted to host his own birthday party, and call it Pop Bottles. He negotiated with a club he DJed at every Friday. Could they host a Sunday afternoon party and take it out of the club and onto the deck?
“I was very clear about the idea. I wanted to create a different, branded hip hop experience. By then I’d been DJing for five years, so I knew the scene well. Nothing much happened on Sundays, and taking the party out onto a deck in the afternoon would be a whole new experience. It took some convincing, because the club was in a residential area, and the owners were worried about noise levels. We eventually agreed to try it once, and see what would happen.”
The party was a hit, and soon became a monthly event. On top of that, clubs and friends in Durban began requesting their own Pop Bottles.
To maintain the exclusivity of the brand, and ensure that hype surrounded each party, Tumi and his manager and business partner, Glen Mavunda, made the strategic decision to limit the number of parties each year. Joburg now has three annual events, Durban and Bloemfontein each have one, and Cape Town has two. And each year guest numbers grow as anticipation builds.
The lesson: There’s a simple start-up rule that says you should do what you know. Tumi’s career and subsequent business development follows this rule. He immersed himself in an industry he loves, and learnt how it operated and who the target market was before launching his own branded experience.
The success of Pop Bottles didn’t happen by accident. Tumi has made a number of strategic decisions. He stuck to his core market, recognising that compared to house music in South Africa, there is still a lot of room for growth in the hip hop market. He’s developed an experience that wasn’t on offer in his segment, and he maintained exclusivity by limiting the experience. All in all, he created a desirable brand, based on his own in-depth knowledge of the hip hop music scene.
2. Don’t lose touch with your market
As DJ Dimplez, Tumi continues to DJ regularly. “This is my first love,” he says. “I’m very focused on the business and Pop Bottles brand, but I never want to lose touch with why I do this in the first place. It also keeps me relevant, and on the ground floor in terms of the local hip hop music scene, which I believe is really important if you’re building a business in this space.”
The Pop Bottles experience is more than just a hip hop party. “We’ve built an experience that people love, and they’ll actually follow the parties around, traveling to Durban, Bloemfontein and Cape Town for the next Pop Bottles event. It has developed into a community that we’re very close to.”
The more you understand your target market, the better you can tailor your offering to their needs, which is how the idea of Pop Bottles Mauritius began to take shape. “We’ve realised two things over the past nine years hosting these parties,” says Tumi.
“There isn’t anything like them in South Africa or the African continent. There’s also still a lot of room for growth in the hip hop scene. We’ve been perfecting our model and learning a lot of lessons over the past few years, and we’re now ready to take our brand to new markets.
“We wanted to create a party that was close enough to South Africa to be reasonably simple to organise, but still in a different country, so that we could learn about the ins and outs of hosting events beyond our borders. The second realisation is that many black South Africans don’t travel.
“We just don’t have a travel culture. We’ve created an event where we take care of everything — travel, accommodation, the event. And our community can travel as a group. It’s a great way for many of our supporters to broaden their horizons in a safe, familiar way. That’s been one of our key driving forces.”
The lesson: The deeper your understanding of your target market and audience, the more you can tailor-make your offering to their needs. This doesn’t mean implementing every suggestion. Instead, use that understanding as a lens through which everything in your business is evaluated. After all, an idea is just an idea until someone is willing to pay you for it.
3. The right partnerships are the foundations of good businesses
Tumi has forged a number of key partnerships over the years. The first was with his friend and later manager and business partner, Glen Mavunda.
“We knew each other from Diepkloof Soweto where we both grew up, but the friendship developed at Wits.” As Tumi’s career as DJ Dimplez became more serious, it soon became apparent that he needed a manager and financial partner, and Glen was ideal for the role.
As Pop Bottles grew, a team was added. Tumi has always understood the value of partnerships, even when he was a solo DJ working from his laptop at coffee shops in Melville.
“For the first four years I worked every single day from coffee shops. I was finding gigs, venues and building relationships with brand managers. I needed sponsors, and so those relationships were crucial. I worked with Vuzu and Channel O for seven years, and Miller for five. Sponsorships come and go, but maintaining relationships is crucial. You never know when the next opportunity will come along.
“I’ve learnt that developing relationships outside the business is important. I’ve built trust with my contacts and they call me for advice about other events they’re running that have nothing to do with me.
“You need to be trustworthy and reliable. People work with people they like, and who make life easy for them. That’s our secret. We make everything as seamless as possible for our partners. We take responsibility for everything. We pitch an idea, present it, and do it ourselves. We’re very easy to work with.”
Another key lesson Tumi and the team have learnt while building the business is that key partnerships aren’t just important brand sponsors, but also local experts.
“You need proper procedures upfront. So many start-ups try to do everything themselves to save on costs. We did — and we learnt our lesson the hard way. Stick to what you know, and where your expertise lies, and work with partners who are experts in their fields.
“One of our most expensive mistakes was in Cape Town. The mayor personally came out to shut down our event. We had our paperwork in order and a liquor licence, but we didn’t know we needed an event licence. We had sold tickets; people were expecting a Pop Bottles event.
“Not only do you have to pay them back but it hurts the business and the brand. We haven’t made that mistake again. We work with local experts who understand what we need to do to be compliant. We’ve done the same thing with Pop Bottles Mauritius, by finding the right hotel and travel partners to create a seamless event.”
Tumi and the team’s next step is to find Mauritian partners who can develop Pop Bottles locally. “This event is an experience for South Africans in Mauritius. Our next goal is to create a local event for Mauritians. This will be our testing ground for expansion across Africa, working with local partners and tailoring the experience for local communities.”
The lesson: Start-ups should be lean. However, don’t skimp on the quality of your product or service. Find the right partners and subject matter experts to work with and spend money strategically.