The One about Our Name

I was in a meeting earlier this week, and a new client of ours asked a question I don’t think I’ve ever been asked before. He asked, “So why is your company called StrategyOnline?”.

Hmm.

To be honest, I was caught off guard, and I suspect that my answer probably sounded somewhat vague and uncertain.

I chose the name “StrategyOnline” over a decade ago. I had good reasons for choosing it at the time, but over the past 10 years I’ve never had to explain to anyone what those reasons were. Not to clients, not to staff, not to partners. No one has ever asked. How weird is that?

This got me thinking. So, over the past few days, I’ve been asking people what they think of our name, what they think it represents, and why they think we chose it. The answers have been very interesting.

One of our clients assumed that we call ourselves “StrategyOnline” because we build websites, and we are therefore developing “online strategies”.

Someone else said that our company is great at not just building tech, but at seeing opportunities where tech can make a significant difference to an organization. They see our core business as providing strategic insights, and as they communicate with us mostly via email (online), to them we are literally providing strategy, online.  I like that.

Another interesting answer was that strategy links to chess, and chess is about predicting the next move before it happens, and that’s what our company does – we innovate ahead of the curve. I thanked the person for the compliment, then asked about the “Online” part. Their response was simply: “Well, when you launched the company ten years ago, wasn’t everyone trying to use the word ‘online’?”. Ouch.

There were a couple of other answers, including a friend of mine who thought that we built computer games. I contemplated trying to explain what we actually do, then decided it was easier to just take credit for developing Minecraft, and leave it at that.

So I thought I’d better sit down and formulate a good answer. Here goes…

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

It all started many, many years ago, the year after I finished high school.

After school I took a year off, to spend some time in the “real world”, before deciding what I wanted to study at university. At the time, most South Africans taking a gap year did so by going to London, and working in a pub. I’m pretty sure that was actually the law.

That didn’t really appeal to me, probably because everyone else was doing it, so I spent a year playing in a couple of bands, doing lights for a friend who toured with his one-man comedy act, working in a bank for a few months, exploring back roads on my motorbike, opening my own little video shop and ultimately – working in a pub. Hmm.

It took about a month to lose all interest in being a bartender (I wasn’t very good – apparently I’m too chatty, and I can’t talk and pour drinks at the same time). So I sold what few possessions I had, and bought a plane ticket to Australia.

I traveled light – I took a few shirts, a few pairs of socks, a small tent and my guitar. I spent a couple of months traveling through most of the eastern half of Australia. It was awesome. I had absolutely no money. I played a lot of guitar. Occasionally I’d make a bit of cash, and I’d stay in backpackers and meet all sorts of characters. But a lot of the time I was just surviving. I’d wait for the sun to go down, then I’d pitch my tent – in parks, on school fields, on church grounds, wherever I could. Then I’d wake up and leave before sunrise, before anyone caught me. It was life on the edge, and I loved it.

I did odd jobs to. I worked in pubs. I drove a “ute” for a farmer. I teamed up with a guy who was convinced he was the next Bono (he wasn’t) and we gigged together. It was awesome. I had never been that out of my comfort zone before. Not even close. I think I grew up a lot on that trip. I learned how to be alone. I learned how to be self-sufficient. I learned how to trust my instincts – about people, about situations. I learned how big the world really is, and how life doesn’t give you anything, doesn’t owe you anything, doesn’t guarantee you anything. All you have is yourself. And those around you. And once you see that, end embrace it, it’s enough. In life, in business.

Which sort of brings me back to the point…

Why “StrategyOnline”?

Along with my tent, guitar, shirts and socks, I also took some reading material. I honestly can’t recall what I took or why I took it, other than two books, which I still have in my office to this day.

The first book was a travel guide on Australia. No surprises there. But the second book was something that I found lying on a chair at the airport in Johannesburg, while I was waiting to catch my flight. It was a little 30-page booklet, which probably came bundled with someone’s business magazine or newspaper. It was written by Tony Manning, and was titled “Spirit of the entrepreneur”.

I backpacked Oz with that little book. I read it over, and over, and over again. And I’ve continued to do so over the years, to remind myself of the basic principles of running a business, of being an entrepreneur, of making a difference. It’s here with me today, as I write this – I keep it in the top drawer of the desk in my home office. I couldn’t guess how many business books I’ve read in my life, probably hundreds. But this is my favorite. This is my Vitamin-B shot when I need to get back to basics.

Before backpacking Oz, I had tried a couple of different things. One of the things I did was to start a video shop. I came from a small town, and we didn’t have a video shop (yes, it was that small). I spotted an opportunity when I was 18, and approached a grocery store owner. I asked if I could set up a video shop in a small corner of his grocery store. I wouldn’t pay him any rent, but it would add value to his business. He agreed. I bought stock for R5,000 (which was most of my savings at the time), and we were off. I hired two school girls to run it on the weekends, and I built some software to automate as much as possible (using QBasic, on an old 486). I loved that experience. That’s what excites me. That’s what drives me.

And that little book and a lot of time in Australia helped me to see that. I made up my mind that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to open video shops. Or delivery companies. Or sell computers. Or fix them. Or teach people how to use them. It didn’t matter what the business did, as long as it was mine.

I tried all of those things by the way. And a few others. Eventually I realized that the common thread through all of my businesses, and what I actually enjoyed the most, was building the software to run them. Later on I ended up with a career in programming, but I eventually left that to start my own software company. This has been the best of both worlds for me, the combination of my two passions – software and business.

Now I just need to find how to add guitars and Land Rovers.

So, “Strategy” is taken directly from that little book, the book that in many ways started all of this. “Online” actually came about simply because it felt right. I liked how it sounded. I liked how it looked on paper. “Strategy” was the big picture, but “StrategyOnline” seemed more focused, more edgy.

Not terribly profound, I know. But sometimes these things aren’t.

And the horse?

Our logo is a horse. This isn’t because I like horses. I don’t have anything against them, I’d just prefer riding them if they had breaks and an engine-kill-switch.

The logo is actually taken from chess, from the knight. I’m a big fan of chess. I enjoy most games, but luck and randomness tends to frustrate me. Chess is probably the only game I know of that is purely, 100% about skill. No dice. No cards. No teammates. No chance.

The better player wins, period. And the more intelligent you are, the more attention you pay to every little detail, the further ahead you can think, predict, see, feel, the better you are. I like that.

When I was younger, I thought business worked along the same principles – hence choosing the knight as our logo. I suppose if I had to choose a logo today, knowing what I know about business now, I’d probably choose a deck of cards instead. Business, in reality, is more like poker.

So, that’s the story behind the name. And the logo. Now there is an answer.

What’s interesting about the responses that I received when I asked people why they thought I chose “StrategyOnline” is that their answers all made sense to them, because that’s how they have experienced our company.

And that’s pretty awesome.

8 Responses to “The One about Our Name”

  1. Danielle 30 June 2014 at 8:45 am #

    Fantastic Gary. Its inspiring. Well done. and I will certainly look up you small book. I’ll get a copy and read it….

  2. Paul Woodhouse 6 July 2014 at 8:41 am #

    Great post! I’ve always wondered why you chose the name strategyonline.

  3. Sue 6 July 2014 at 8:47 am #

    Nicely written, very interesting. You guys make such amazing software, great to find out more about you as a company.

    • Gary James 6 July 2014 at 9:43 am #

      Thank you Sue! Really appreciate the encouragement. Glad you’re enjoying our software :)

  4. Lee 6 July 2014 at 9:25 am #

    Thanks for the story behind the name/man. Really think you should consider writing books as well as software. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post.

    • Gary James 6 July 2014 at 9:45 am #

      Lee. Thank you so much! Means a heck of a lot to me. Thank you, sincerely.

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