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An Interview with Ronnie Apteker

Ronnie Apteker is a successful businessman, a writer, and many many other things as well. Exclus1ves’ Julie Wood recently conducted an email interview with him, to find out a little more about the man behind Funny Business: The Secrets of an Accidental Entrepreneur.

EB: Would you mind just telling our readers a little about yourself, please?

RA: I am 43 years old, and I battle to fall asleep at night. My mind races every other night. I have always been like this, for as long as I can reminder. I am tough minded, but not hard hearted. I am a bit of a workaholic, and I am still not sure what a “weekend” is all about. I love what I do, and I do what I love. I love making things, like software, and films, and laughter. And working with Gus Silber, to make the Funny Business book, has been a fantastic journey.

I was born in Cape Town, and finished school in Johannesburg. I was at Wits University for 9 years. My parents were born in Israel. My mother’s parents were from Russia, and my father’s parents were from Austria. But today, where you come from seems less and less important, as globalization is the new order. I prefer the old world.

EB: You are a writer, businessman, a film producer… How do you find time to do anything else?

RA: I do a lot more than this. You always find time. But your question is spot on – it is a continuous challenge. The most obvious answer, that you can read in any leadership book is this – learn to say “no” so that you can make time for the important stuff, the stuff that is closest to your heart. And of course, as all entrepreneurs will say, “surround yourself with good people”. That is the hardest thing : finding good people.

I could actually do a lot more if I didn’t have things go wrong. So, what I am trying to do now is stay light on the parasites. If you are not drained by anyone you can do way more.

EB: Would you mind please explaining the philosophy behind your new book, Funny Business: The Secrets of an Accidental Entrepreneur? What is it about business that has the potential to make it so humorous?

RA: Business, like life, is funny. We all go through difficult times, and we all have to face curve balls and challenges, each and every week. And we need to laugh when things are funny. If we take it all too seriously we will go mad. When someone stands you up for a meeting, sure, you have the right to be disappointed, and perhaps even angry. But you can’t take it personally – they probably do it to everyone.

What is it about business that makes us laugh – when things go wrong, which they do all the time (why, I still wish I knew) then we need to laugh. When things go right (and they go right a lot – you just got to keep trying) there is nothing to really laugh about. There is reason to smile and celebrate when you win, but when you struggle, that is about laughter. That is the pathos that is rooted in all comedy. And business is full of pain and hardship and with that, laughter and release.

EB: You refer to yourself as an “accidental entrepreneur”. How does one become an entrepreneur accidentally?

RA: I think most entrepreneurs would refer to themselves as “accidental”. No one looks for stress and pain. You stumble on to it. Also, no one looks for pots of gold, it just happens. Sure, some people are born with an incredible financial ability, and some people are natural salesmen, but creating a business, driving a venture, mobilizing an army, is not something you are born to do – it just happens, by accident. You follow a passion, a dream, a belief, a vision, and before you know it, you are an entrepreneur. Once though, when you start to understand what this means, and what the possibilities are, the accidents then stop, and you become a forever obsessed entrepreneur that doesn’t rest, and never stops trying to push the envelope.

EB: Was it always your goal to work for yourself?

RA: That too is also something I think was an accident. I did apply to get a job, many times, but no one ever hired me. I think my hyperactive nature didn’t score me any points, and I remember when I went for interviews, I would ask all the questions – this probably confused the people who were hiring. But it all worked out ok, and as I see it today, those rejections set me on a course that has left me with my mind racing – you can see now where the humour comes from. So I couldn’t get a job – what was I to do; start crying?

EB: What was collaborating with Gus Silber (your co-author for Funny Business) like?

RA: It has been a fantastic experience. Gus has been inspiring, respectful, professional and soulful. He has been interested and interesting. Gus is a gentleman and graceful. I hope that his efforts here lead us to more collaborations, and I hope that the next mountain is even more glorious. I am ready to climb an even bigger one now.

EB: You were a producer of the critically-acclaimed Jerusalema. How is the movie industry different from or similar to the business world?

RA: It is not different. Business is business. Jerusalema, like Exclusive Books, is a business, and all businesses are driven by the laws of supply and demand. There are differences in the businesses themselves, but the fundamentals are the same: give customers a good experience, charge them a reasonable price, listen to them, and treat them with respect.

But I understand your question, and I know what you are asking me, so let’s jump in. The movie industry is brutal. It is dangerous. It is, for most, soul destroying. Creating art (music, books, films, etc.) can be beautiful and liberating, but trying to sell art, well, that is the movie business. There are few winners, and lots and lots of losers. I have lost many times in the film casino, and have only had a few modest wins, so I can speak from painful experience here. As they tell you in Los Angeles: if there is anything else you can do, then rather go do it. But, I am more excited than ever about our next film, which goes into production in March next year. I have been involved with 10 films over the past decade, and film number 11 is the most brilliant adventure yet. We are getting closer to the pyramids!

EB: What 5 traits do you consider to be absolutely non-negotiable for entrepreneurs?

RA: Obsessed, obsessed, obsessed, obsessed, and even more obsessed. As I once heard: Obsession makes my life bad and my work good.

And then, getting a bit more specific: an entrepreneur needs to have values. Values that are wholesome. Entrepreneurs need to listen. They don’t need to be good listeners (although it can only help) but they need to know when to listen. Entrepreneurs need to be positive. Always. Entrepreneurs need to be brave, often. And lastly, entrepreneurs need to be obsessed.

You can’t put passion and obsession into someone’s employment contract – either you are or you aren’t.

EB: If you could give 3 tips for anyone wanting to start a successful business, what would they be?

RA: Don’t take yourself too seriously – learn to laugh. Hire slowly and fire fast. And the most important thing is: you never invest in ideas, only in people!

EB: So what’s next for you? What new and exciting things are you working on at the moment?

RA: The big projects on the go are and – both are overflowing with potential, and both keep me up all night. And the big thing for next year is the Riaad Moosa film project known as Material that Craig Freimond is bringing to life in March as we go into production.


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