The power of collaborative leadershipPublished on 17 Mar 2021
Q&A with Peter Allerstorfer, Paul Cook and Manuel Koser, founders of Silvertree Brands
Bryn Hatty, Chief Investment Officer, Investment Management South Africa, speaks to the founders of Silvertree Brands - Peter Allerstorfer, Paul Cook and Manuel Koser - at a recent Entrepreneurship, e-commerce and the world post-Covid webinar hosted by Stonehage Fleming.
Bryn Hatty (BH): What are the main character traits of an entrepreneur and the key to launching a successful business?
Manuel Koser (MK): The quintessential entrepreneur is headstrong, a team player and a little bit mad – you’re creating something out of nothing, it’s a rollercoaster!
For us, one of the key ingredients to our success is our individual personalities. Two years into the partnership we did a test which identified our motivators. We are fairly similar, all scoring highly on teamwork, curiosity, power and independence. It’s also important to identify your differences and in turn how you can play to each other’s strengths. If you work well together and complement each other you have a much better chance of success.
Paul Cook (PC): We also share a vision. The way we work together is critical to our success – historically and on an ongoing basis. To be honest, we got lucky, we work very well together, but it’s crucial to take time to find the right people to partner with.
BH: As co-founders of a successful brand how does having three joint managing directors work in practice?
PC: The ‘team’ should be the default model for start-ups – it is something we really encourage. When you start out you’re trying to solve ten things at once. It’s too much for one person.
One of the first things we did was to split the ‘pie’ three ways. It’s easy when you start the journey to say ‘this person’s contributing more‘, or ’someone’s project works, someone else’s doesn’t‘. But that turns around six months later. 12 months later it has changed again.
MK: By starting with an equal share we instantly created trust. Absolute fairness and not keeping score underpins our approach. We have a mutual understanding of what we are good at and allocate different focus areas and responsibilities accordingly.
BH: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Peter Allerstorfer (PA): We all started in management consultancy - an environment that invested in people, where we could learn quickly and not take the consequences directly. There is a benefit to not jumping straight into a start-up. It’s also important to find mentors who can help you long-term in your career.
I’ve always been a fan of getting something to market as quickly as you can. If it fails, learn from it, improve and move on. People can be reluctant to share their ideas but I think that’s the wrong approach. It’s powerful to combine lots of brains in a room and get feedback early on – don’t try to build something on your own.
PC: Entrepreneurship is not for everybody. It’s hard work. We have had situations where we didn’t know if the business would still be around in a month. It’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure. You have to embrace the uncertainty.
BH: How do you attract talent and incentivise your people?
MK: Incentivising your people is key. Our senior management have the opportunity to all have equity – either through cash or sweat. Sometimes it’s linked to business performance but every scenario is different. We also reward performance with cash or equity linked to revenue growth and cash flow. That way it filters down from top to bottom. We want to work with owners, not employees, that’s the ethos we want to create.
PA: When we started we assumed our biggest challenge would be logistics and warehousing. Reflecting back, it was finding the right people – people who were willing to take a risk in a new environment.
PC: In the early days attracting talent was difficult. Today, many of the big tech players are now in Cape Town meaning there are more talented and experienced people based here but it’s competitive.
MK: Team and people is everything. When you are growing quickly it can be challenging to build a culture but it’s so important. Experience and expertise only lead to better performance if team members have a common vision for the company.
Silvertree Brands is the leading purpose-driven direct-to-consumer (DTC) and niche e-commerce player in South Africa. Read more.