Over the following years, Cape Villas would swell in numbers to a maximum of 38 staff just before the 2010 FIFA world cup, where after a change in business model, would see a contraction and a return to one to one service.
May 2008 saw Cape Villas and Nick Ray Ball’s first visit to the annual South African Travel conference and exhibition; “The Durban Indaba.” This event cemented the fledgling idea for producing and distributing a lavish coffee table magazine with Condé Nast Traveller and re-introduced the idea of creating a pan African website, the initial name: Leading Villas of Africa, or LV-Africa, which was soon registered as a new company.
Throughout the winter, the focus was on the creation of the magazine, which was paid for by the villas within, in a barter deal, where the villa owner would give two or three nights at the villa, in exchange for a double or quadruple page spread. The final production was 128 pages long, created beautifully in landscape format. During the production phase, in part inspired by the visit to the Indaba travel conference, the idea to re-ignite the 2004 Lux Guides, global travel network was considered and this time Virgin was considered as investor/partner in part as Sir Richard Branson’s was a lover of South Africa.
September 2008 saw the printing of the first Cape Villas magazine, in January 2009 28,000 copies were distributed with Condé Nast Traveler UK. Soon after, a very special client phoned, to book a villa for the World cup, this booking alone, covered half the cost of producing and distributing the magazine. A month later, Cape Villas provided in a separate booking a villa for their first “a list” global celebrity, whose name is of course confidential.
Shortly after Bulgari, arguably the world most exclusive brand, phoned to say “We did not know Africa had such luxuries” and asked to sponsor the next magazine. However, it was considered that another production distributed with Condé Nast, would appeal to a wider audience if Safaris, Luxury and Boutique hotels were included. In addition, in line with the original LV Africa concept, it should span Africa, including Mauritius and the Seychelles. Therefore, a new brand was developed: Experience Africa, but before the Bulgari sponsored book was produced, research staff and copywriters were needed and a new website was to be built. This time the website would be outsourced, which alongside the use of pastel accounting software would prove to be a mistake, as they say, “if you want something done correctly, and you have the capacity, best to do it yourself.”
Alongside, the brand Experience Africa and in part due to research into Sir Richard Branson and Virgin, the need to better understand branding concepts and a desire to “Champion the Consumer” lead to villa owner Nattily Schoolings company “The En Lighten” branding school. At first, lectures were attended on mass, soon after monthly branding workshops were held at their base in Constantia. At these workshops, Cape Villas staff and management would discuss various ways to improve, often seeing an exercise of the 15 or so attendees writing down ideas on post it notes, and stick them on the whiteboard, then each idea was voted for in degrees of importance. In particular the idea to send guests presents after their stay, on anniversaries and other special occasions, would at a later point, become a pivotal source of inspiration for the 2011 concept “Facebook Gifts” which can be seen here www.s-world.biz/FaceBook/Product.htm and specifically www.s-world.tv/Facebook/home.html
After a busy and successful season, a marked improvement in customer service and the release of the Cape Villas magazine, all was well. However, in April 2009, head accountant Ian Buchannan, offered his resignation and an apology to say he had not managed to correctly set up the Pastel Accounting system and a significant error in calculating Cape Villas accounts had been made. This did not indicate financial disaster, but it had dented the plans for Experience Africa, which had to scale back, including letting the staff who had been trained to run the business go, and the vacating of a shop in Camps Bay which has seen significant money spent on its shop fitting. Due of this, in early to mid 2009 it was decided that only a top accounting company could be trusted to set up the Pastel Accounting and run the accounts. Enter BDO Spenser Steward accounting firm, the fifth largest firm in South Africa.
The main trouble in the past had been an inability to calculate all future bookings and calculate the “real balance” which was the amount or money left, when all future payments and all future debts were accounted for. The head on BDO Cape Town assured Cape Villas management then when programmed correctly Pastel could do this, further expressing and offering a personal interest, offering to give business advice alongside accounting accuracy.
Had the advice from BDO have been, “the property management division is creating 96% of all entries into pastel, and if you outsourced the department, your finances could be easily calculated by one person, ”Cape Villas would have saved 50% of turnover or $300,000 that year. Unfortunately, such advice was not forthcoming. To make matters worse, after spending approximately $150,000 on BDO’s accounting fees and the six dedicated financial staff, it would turn out that the Pastel Accounting could not be set up to, work out the “real balance.” In recognition of their mistake BDO did not pursue the balance of their bill, so mitigating the losses to $280,000, however this was still a huge and unnecessary mistake, especially coming after the previous mistakes by other financial staff and accounting firms.
On realising that Pastel could not be customised to the needs of Cape Villas, it was scrapped, the financial division dissolved alongside the property management division. Unfortunately, had this been done at the beginning of 2009, not 2010 Cape Villas could have simply converted the properties they managed to marketing mandates, but in 2010 a new system had been developed called Razor, which saw most owners and property managers adopt it, as their preferred booking system.
The annoyance of the realisation that Pastel accounting system was not able to provide a “real balance” aside, all other departments Cape Villas performed admirably, creating many happy holiday experiences for guests, and so enjoying repeat and referral clients.
And so it was that in November 2009, finally after much effort, Condé Nast Traveler did their first article in renting villas in Cape Town, and from the companies based in Africa only Cape Villas, were recommended to their readers. A significant goad achieved.
To add to this, proposals from many companies were presented for partnerships and affiliations. After Bulgari, the most useful was from Ian Slott the MD of Seeff properties in Cape Town, which were arguably No.1, and were generally realistic in their pricing of properties. Meetings and contracts were prepared for a collaboration in which Cape Villas would handle Seeff’s holiday rental enquires and Seeff would handle Cape Villas property sales enquires. Unfortunately, just before Cape Villas were to sign, A Seeff agent in a different location and jurisdiction would upset and cause an argument with management, which would bring an end to negotiations. Still intrigued by the idea, with a link to an estate agent and considering international branding, in 2010 Cape Villas would create a partnership with Sotheby’s Realty.
2010 brought the World Cup to South Africa, and additional business, in truth, from a business perspective it was not the event most had hoped for, as the teams, who would have had fans travel to Cape Town for the later rounds did not qualify. However, the games had helped to unite the people of South Africa and gave much hope and joy to many.
At the time of the world cup, in relation to Cape Villas, Experience Africa and Sotheby’s, an idea occurred to Nick Ray Ball, that would see a change in direction and the beginning of four year journey into product development. The basic concept was simple, the Experience Africa website had by this time seem much development and was very detailed, so the idea came about that it should be duplicated for Sotheby’s under the name “African Concierge,” where-after a split in revenue would occur, in essence Experience Africa was to create web franchises. Franchises that cost little to set up, which brought in extra revenue, but also by virtue of Sotheby’s uploading their properties for sale, the amount of stock available increased to all potential users. Each time a new company with exclusive stock were to join, their would be more stock for all using the service. This idea was the beginning of the concept know today as S-Web.
However, it would turn out that despite the very detailed content, unfortunately the website had been created in such a way as to make it exhaustively complicated for staff to use, and whilst it was stable on Apple Mac, it was not so on PC. These problems could have been worked through, should it have been just a standalone website, with dedicated staff trained in how to upload products and add new categories, but in terms of many companies using it and uploading various items, it was not going to work.
However, just because the practical version was not good for a mass roll out, this did not mean it was not a great example for Virgin, so in February 2011, a business plan was created. Which revolved around the S-Web duplicating websites function, including a CRM (Consumer Relationship Management) system programmed to automatically send gifts to clients, a financial module that connected straight to a bank, so alleviating human error, which could deliver a “real balance” and an XML link to a GDS as per the 2004 business plan. The investment needed was $3 million and its projected financial forecast was $150 million in five years.
On March 18th 2011, the Executive Summary was sent to Fiona Ross, Head of Virgin Brands SA, followed soon after by the full business plan and a copy of the Cape Villas magazine. The business plan can be seen here: www.s-world.biz/TST/The_Virgin_Business_plan_in_Retrospect.htm. After presentation, meetings were had with local development companies including a company who had worked extensively on a Virtual World project, a VC project that cost $200 million but had been abandoned as they could not work out how to make money from it. This was exciting as it was a perfect modern day extension to the original virtual representations, but instead of 2D virtual tours, 3D virtual representations could be created, for clients to walk through via avatars.
It would take Fiona Ross, Head of Virgin Brands SA, three weeks to approve the proposal for the senior London committee, which had been the objective. However, with the consideration of the 3D virtual world contingent to the project, it was considered that a more appropriate partner would be a technology company, and in particular Google as they already had Google Maps.
Therefore, the plan was adapted for Google www.s-world.biz/Google/Original_Google_Proposal.htm. But, it would turn out Google were not as easy to contact as Virgin and over the following months the plans were once again revised and enhanced, this time for Facebook. Which came in two separate business plans, the first revolving around e-commerce and the benefits of the virtual world: www.s-world.biz/FaceBook/Product.htm then soon after a revised and enhanced version was created for travel: www.s-world.biz/FaceBook/Travel.htm,
Within this plan, point two www.s-world.biz/FaceBook/2_FaceBook_Travel_Reps_&_Agents.htm cemented the already well considered ideology of Cape Villas, that small teams dealing with fewer clients but paid a greater share, was by far the best way to guarantee customer service. As for all the thirty eight staff Cape Villas boasted in 2010, the ability for the client to be in direct contact with the person they booked with was always preferable, especially in a niche industry. This principle also assist’s the booking process itself, as if the booking agent knows that they will be in contact with the guests, the concentration into making sure all the boxes are ticked, is heightened.
And so it was decided that, the team as it was, headed up by the highly experienced Mr Oliver van den Heever would remain as they were, there would be no expansion. In Cape Town Oliver, Ryan and Lindsey would work as a single unit, benefiting from profits working in manor more akin to owning a franchise, than as employees.
Later in 2011, whilst developing the Facebook presentation, Cape Villas founder, Nick Ray Ball would consider a way to eliminate rounding error within the networking software. This lead to a tangent, that would leave travel and journey into every type of industry, which culminated in the writing of a economic theory entitled American Butterfly, which will be on line at www.AmericanButterfly.org in the not too distant future. This project would take 18 months to write and would span the length of ten novels.