Rival: Shaping Tomorrow’s Brands

Innovation City prides itself on cultivating a community of visionaries, pioneers, and disruptors who are reshaping industries and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. At the heart of this dynamic ecosystem are Rival, run by individuals like Co-Founder and CEO Eric Fulwiler and Strategy Consultant Adam Hewlett, whose combined expertise and relentless pursuit of innovation have left an indelible mark on the business landscape.

Who is Rival and why are you sorely needed in this world?

AH: We are a marketing consultancy that builds challenger brands, strategies, and capabilities to disrupt categories. We exist to understand what drives the growth of successful challenger brands and enable any business to become one.

The question that started Rival is – why do some businesses grow faster than others? Everything we do from our strategic work and research, to the tech we build is all driven towards this understanding and taking these exciting new learnings into our work for clients.

Where did the business concept originate and how has the journey been so far?

AH: The founding team and us first hires all shared the same view of the industry – having all worked across consultancies, start-ups, agencies and in house at brands – our experience was that consultancies weren’t great at executing strategy and agencies struggled to create strategies that really moved the dial.

Building on this we focussed on where we saw the greatest gap between strategic and executional excellence, and we found this to be the services offered to start ups and scale ups. We want to make sure the most useful and exciting businesses reach the status of a fully fledged challenger brand and drive growth in their most critical stages.

We are looking at a really exciting year ahead with some fantastic projects already completed. We are working across all sectors and B2B / B2C but recently have done a lot of work in wealth tech with more to come over the next few months. With such a big prize at stake in this subsector it’s a very exciting space in helping to build the next true challenger brands.

Can you give us some practical examples of how Rival works?

AH:Our strategy work is either in 3-4 week sprints or in 3 month projects. Our media and capability building work is usually longer term, at least a year plus. We work very much as part of the team vs an outsourced resource as we find this delivers the best results with the teams being very much part of development.

Example: Strategy & Brand Position – We worked with the CPO, Board Advisor and Head of Marketing at MeDirect a pan-European challenger bank to develop a brand positioning, architecture and name for a soon to be B2B2C embedded wealth business.

Formulating the vision for the brand ‘to become the technology that creates wealth for everyday people’, we struck two key tensions. First, that wealth has inherently been for the few so by democratizing it, we are challenging that tenet and second, wanting to convey it was easy to use so anyone can benefit, but at the same time conveying the completeness of the technology; the extent to which banks could use it to create new financial experiences for their customers.

We identified how the nascent market was positioning embedded wealth as a get rich quick scheme for banks, failing to recognise that banks want a deeper financial relationship with their customers. Our platform married ease of use, the quality of the technology and how it offered a way for banks to move from a passive to an active relationship with their customers. “Simple, Powerful Wealth”

Example: Marketing Execution – Digital media Duckfeet USA is the North American distributor of the distinctive Danish brand of premium, responsibly made leather boots with an iconic look. Everything from the materials to the silhouette suggest this is a brand with nothing but potential – but their business has been highly seasonal, and struggled after working with multiple digital performance agencies over the years.

Rival began working with Duckfeet in September before the crucial Q4 holiday shopping period, and made an immediate impact. Using our proprietary audit technology, Enodo, and our fast, rigorous onboarding process, we increased Google Ads conversions by 54% within just one month. Our strategic media mix adjustments and overall optimisations yielded an overall increase in revenue of 29% YoY, and set Duckfeet’s highest-ever single day sales records broken several times in Q4.

Do you have any latest and exciting company NEWS to share?

AH: We are on the cusp of acquiring an award winning creative shop that will give us truly end to end marketing service capabilities and of course starting to build out our office here in Cape Town!

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a startup?

EF: So many! It’s incredibly hard (or at least it has been for us) starting a company from scratch. Especially a marketing services company in the current market of the last couple years. The hardest things have been how much of a roller coaster things are when you’re small. One or two good or bad things can completely change your world. More practically, it’s really hard as a project-based services (agency) to manage costs to cash flow – you have to constantly fill the new business pipeline and hardly any revenue can be identified more than a few months ahead. It’s a grind!

Who or what has been your most helpful or powerful ally?

EF: Speaking to people who have done it before. We have a board, but we also have a much larger group of informal advisors who have all done some or all of what we’re trying to do. Our CEO talks to them constantly for specific advice and input and as a general sounding board. You’re never the first person to do anything, so you might as well learn from the successes and failures of others.

What’s on your business growth wish list?

EF: We have had a clear vision of what we want to do from day one: build a boutique tech-enabled services business – a “next-generation agency”. We’re two years in, so still have a ways to go, but the vision is starting to materialize now with 20 people, strategy + creative + paid services, and some tech we’ve built. Now it’s about putting the pedal down for growth, both organic and in-organic, looking at more M&A opportunities (including in SA!).

What is your take on doing business in South Africa?

AH: We are just starting out now formally, but having been living and working here for over a year. I’m just incredibly excited by what I’ve seen and heard. There is a real entrepreneurial spirit, everyone seems to have a side hustle and for many that I’ve spoken to, this has become their full time hustle! It feels like an important moment for start ups and scale ups in SA and for us, specializing in challenger brands, we can’t wait to work with them to help them not just challenge, but change their categories.

Where can people contact you?

AH: You can check more out about Rival, what we do and who we have worked with, as well as a lot of free resources at wearerival.com.