Executive Insights

Staff at this fast-growing South African company are 'fined' when they use the word 'problem'

Business Insider SA
  • Start-up soda company PURA had plenty of challenges when it was launched two years ago - including having to compete with some of the mightiest international brands.
  • The founder devised a plan to change the way staff think about these problems.
  • Every time they mention the word "problem", they have to pay R10. 
  • This forces them to think in terms of solutions, he believes.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider South Africa.

When Greig Jansen founded beverage company PURA two years ago, there was no shortage of challenges.

“We were a small start-up with no leverage – nobody knew us.” The company, which launched a low-sugar soda in South Africa, had to compete head-on with some of the biggest brands from across the world.

“We needed to get everyone in the company to believe that there were ways to solve these challenges. The simplest way was to change our language about problems,” Jansen says.

So Jansen brought a “problem jar” to the office. Every time someone mention the word “problem”, they had to deposit R10. The money is donated to charity.

PURA's 'problem jar'. Photo: Keet van Zyl

“It has proven initially to be quite expensive to a few people, especially those who are new to the business,” Jansen says.

But he believes the “psychological trick” has contributed to the company’s success in quickly gaining market share. It is now available in most retailers, including Pick n Pay, Spar, and Clicks, as well as in forecourt shops. PURA is also now exported to the Middle East, other countries in Southern Africa, with plans to expand to the US.

“Instead of someone saying ‘we have a huge problem, one of our deliveries have been delayed’ – you would hear ‘guys, we have an opportunity to come up with an inventive new solution to a delivery challenge’.” 

Jansen believes an “absolute undying belief” that you can find very positive ways to counter challenges is key to success as a start-up.

"In the stage of business that we are in, we are always against a head wind. This strong belief that any challenge can be turned into an opportunity is what is required for us to play in the space dominated by large multinationals."

Something else also helped.

When Jansen - previously the CEO of the East African Bottling Company, the Ethiopian subsidiary of Coca-Cola - decided to strike out on his own, he recruited a team of experienced beverage experts (who came from AB InBev, SABMiller, Coca-Cola, Mars and Red Bull) for PURA.

This was unusual for a start-up.

“Usually start-ups begin with the people they can afford, hoping to eventually have the resources to recruit top staff. But we started with some of best people in the business. The theory being that we avoid making mistakes already learnt."

greig jansen
Greig Jansen, PURA founder

PURA was launched just before the introduction of the sugar tax in 2018. Knowing it was coming, the product – which only contains five ingredients – was formulated to come in below the tax threshold of four grams of sugar per 100ml.

“Unlike other brands, we didn’t have to reformulate – we were ready from the get-go.”

While PURA comes in “premium” flavours (cucumber and lime, Seville orange, lemon and elderflower, pomegranate and cranberry), it’s priced on parity with Coke and other sodas – with a retail price of around R11.99 per 330ml can.

The business was self-funded originally along with with a small number of "angel" investors, but recently the venture capital firm Knife Capital has taken a stake.

Apart from starting to export to the US, the company is planning other products and working with international alcohol brands to develop new drinks, using its soda-based products as mixers.

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