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Bryan Habana Joins New Sports-Focused Digital Agency Mike Sharman, Ben Karpinski and Bryan Habana spotted a gap in the market for a digital agency that focused on aligning clients and brands with sports. Here's how finding a niche, the right team and being a little obsessed are the ingredients you need for a successful start-up.

By Diana Albertyn

You're reading Entrepreneur South Africa, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Devin Lester Bryan Habana

Vital Stats

  • Players: Mike Sharman, Ben Karpinski, Bryan Habana and Shaka Sisulu (Retroviral Chairman)
  • Company: Retroactive
  • Majority Shareholder: Retroviral
  • Visit: www.retroactive.digital

One's a retired sporting legend, another a sports fundi and the last guy happens to be a digital marketing maven. Together they've launched a business that's set to conquer their worlds combined. Retroactive was borne out of a love for sports and creative marketing.

"We are massive sports fans at heart. Not just fans of teams, but of everything that sport represents and provides people with in life," says Mike Sharman, co-founder of Retroviral Digital Communications.

"It's a religion to many people, primary entertainment to others. But we felt that many times it was just treated as this secondary thing that people in the agency world would pay token attention to."

Mike, along with former Springbok rugby player Bryan Habana and sports authority Ben Karpinski, believed sport needed just as much, if not more attention than anything else, as sport is a living breathing thing in life.

"Sport gives brands and companies unique opportunities to showcase themselves, and within sporting fans we have people who are loyal, dynamic and have focused interests that are worth engaging with. We believe we can tell the stories of this world, gather the insights, and translate it to relationships and content that will be unforgettable," says Mike.


1. Spot a gap

There are always opportunities, and if you can't see them you just aren't trying hard enough, says Mike. The first step is to find an underserviced niche and then get to know your industry thoroughly.

"Entrepreneurs are a special kind of creature," says Ben. "Street smarts almost always trump book smarts, so it's important to simply get out on the streets so to speak. You need to know what your audiences and markets want, you need to have a hunger for finding solutions to their problems, and you need to not stop until you find them."

2. Create a dream team

"The magic number is two co-founders," says Dan Newman, founder of web and design agency Druff Interactive and CEOwise.

"Teams build entities, individuals might start them, but teams build them." Andrew McLean, founder of the Cycle Lab agrees that every good business venture has a better chance of succeeding when you don't go it alone. "Get great partners," says Andrew. "It's better to earn 10% of an industry than 100% of nothing."

Like any relationship, there needs to be some genuine attraction. "When you start any sort of venture you must have a clear goal in your mind. You then work out who or what kind of people are needed to help you get there."

Mike's ability to lead from the front and his clear vision of what makes an idea great, and how it will come to life, made him a great choice to lead the agency. "Many creative people have that trait, but Mike knows exactly how to include the client in this, not because that is good for business, but because when agency and client get the most out of each other, the finished product is nothing short of brilliant," says Ben. "He also has more fight in him than a new born turtle crossing a beach of seagulls, and when he believes in something, he makes it happen."

Bryan is a sporting icon for many reasons, some of which have very little to do with him being on a rugby field. "He has a superb understanding of what professional sport is all about, the importance of all the roleplayers, and how things vary across the globe," explains Mike. "Marketability isn't just about having a nice smile and a bag load of playing talent. Bryan is a perfect example of this and his desire to tackle an array of new challenges post his glittering career is a huge asset to Retroactive."

Ben is simply obsessed with sporting content. Every waking minute of his day revolves around creating something in sport. From podcasts, to videos, to written articles, he identified early on that social media could get sports fans more involved in sport than anything else previously could.

"With a marketing background that he took to the world of advertising, then broadcasting, he has a great deal of experience around brands that have worked in the sports space. But his fan insights and interest in modern media trends are what really make him tick," Mike says.

3. Be obsessed

It's not their first entrepreneurial play, but this time passion and partnership took the reins. "When initially approached by Mike Sharman, a mutual friend who I have known since school days, about the opportunity of joining Retroactive, I was attracted to the concept, because of their passion for creating fresh, exciting and authentic digital content in an environment where authenticity is so diluted," says Bryan.

"I enjoy the social media space and also love to engage and network with brands. This recipe made the opportunity even more enticing. I look forward to being part of an environment with Mike and Ben — both have vast experience and knowledge of the space. This allows me an opportunity to learn and grow, too."


Why is it important to diversify business models and business channels?

Mike: The smartphone changed our lives and continues to do so at a rapid rate, with evolving technology and improving accessibility to new demographics. So, what worked around mainstream media in the past could be obsolete now. It's not enough to know where the eyeballs of your target market are going nowadays — you need to be operating in those spaces, continually evolving. Today's consumers are spoiled for choice and expect personalised ways of doing things. We must find ways of being part of that.

What advice can you offer other entrepreneurs on identifying market opportunities and spotting gaps?

Ben: You need to know what your audience wants, you need to have a hunger for finding solutions to their problems, and never stopping until you find them. There are always opportunities, and if you can't see them then you just aren't trying hard enough.

How are you aligning your skills and market knowledge with a business venture?

Bryan: The transition period from a professional athlete to the life after is currently one of the most talked about topics in sport. While it is challenging rediscovering yourself and where you fit in or what you want to be doing, I've kept myself busy engaging with people within the network I was able to create while playing rugby.

I was fortunate during my career as a rugby player. At the start of my journey, social media opportunities were very limited, yet the landscape exploded with so many different channels towards the twilight of my playing days.

Now that I am a former player, I look at things through the lens of a "regular member of the public'; I'd like to see authentic, fresh, engaging content being posted onto social media.

This is where I can use my knowledge as a player (and understanding of the inner-workings and constraints) and my connection with some of the biggest brands, globally. I've worked incredibly hard to cultivate a personal brand that I believe will have longevity long after my career.

I also studied a Business Manager course during my last season of professional rugby that allowed me to learn basic skills and concepts from various fields of expertise like accounting, law, digital strategy, and marketing, to name a few.

Diana Albertyn

Entrepreneur Staff

Sales Enablement: Content Developer

Diana Albertyn completed a BA in Journalism in 2010 and has honed her skills as a newspaper reporter, senior communications specialist: strategy and media liaison and feature article magazine writer. Since joining the Entrepreneur South Africa team in 2016, Diana has honed her expertise in business leadership, content marketing and managing client accounts. 
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