I’m on vacation with my family in South Africa. This is our first visit and we are soaking up the country. There are penguins on the beach and lions, elephants, and rhinos to be seen on safari. Tomorrow I’ll put on a wet-suit and get lowered into the ocean in a cage so I can experience a Great White Shark during feeding time. If this is my last weekly story, you will know why.
Next week I visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years. On Father’s Day, I will be enjoying the tradition of afternoon tea in Cape Town. Today, I’m just grateful to share this story about an enterprising South African…
Gary was born on a remote farm in South Africa. He took up skateboarding at an early age, and was good enough by the time he was fourteen to be ranked as a professional. Feeling satisfied with his efforts in that area, he took up the bass guitar. Gary was a focused and determined learner, and, by the time he was ready to attend college, studying music was the most appealing choice.
Leaving South Africa for Boston, Gary attended the Berklee College of Music, where his brother later joined him. After graduating, they both moved to New York with plans to be professional musicians. They quickly learned that no matter how talented you are, the music world is hard to break into at any successful level. To pay their bills, they found jobs bussing tables.
Gary spent three years toiling in restaurants and playing gigs whenever he could. He was desperate to end his career as a bus boy as soon as possible. Every week, he would spend money paying noteworthy musicians to meet with him and play a set at the restaurant where he worked. His reasoning was that he wanted to surround himself with successful and strong people, no matter how he got them there, and that it could only have positive results.
Eventually, Gary and his brother had the idea to start a music production company to write melodies for television. Gary wanted to utilize email as an inexpensive way to promote the company, but also wanted to really grab people’s attention when they received his emails. Despite having an arts background, and therefore no technical experience whatsoever, he managed to pull together an eye-catching email to market his musical offerings. That email found its way to the Oprah Winfrey Show, and helped open the door for a great opportunity. Gary was hired to create original music for the show for the next six years.
Even so, there was something about that initial email that kept coming back to Gary. He began to think about an even better opportunity, both to help other musicians and to build a business. He searched the Internet for an email marketing company that reflected his ideas, and all he could find were expensive services without much personality. Without hesitation, Gary decided to build one from the ground up.
Putting aside music, Gary got to work. He bought stacks of books to help him learn everything he could about the business. He scoured the web for the right partner with a background in writing code. Gary actually went one by one through eighty-six of the most authoritative developers, researching them and sending each a personal email with info on his project. Forty or so responded, but only one was the right fit.
With the help of programmer Dave Hoover, who would eventually lead the engineering team at Groupon, Gary Levitt started Mad Mimi, his “simple and beautiful email marketing company.” The company attracted initial clients by word of mouth. Five years later, their customers include Air Canada and eBay, but they mainly serve small business owners. Mad Mimi sends and tracks more than forty million emails a day, and has achieved revenues in the millions of dollars without the aid of outside investors.
In a recent interview, Gary was asked the one thing he would get rid of in the world. His response: “I would eliminate TV. Seriously, if more people found some quiet time every day, they would be amazed at how creative and productive they would become. That’s what I miss the most about South Africa… the peace and serenity that empowers one to think.”
I’m living two weeks without TV while in South Africa and appreciate Gary’s advice. This week’s message is a simple one: Serenity now, significance later!
Until next week...