The entrepreneurial spirit isn’t something everyone has.

It’s a trait that demands the eye to see opportunities where others don’t, and the intent to go all out to offer a service and deliver on it – brilliantly. It feeds on passion, tenacity, and teamwork… qualities Nicole Talbot, business manager and shareholder of the sports administration operation ROAG, has in abundance.

The Workspace celebrates the success of Team ROAG, understanding that the same drive and determination that power sportsmen and women to the top are what fuel entrepreneurs in their quest to build successful businesses. Nicole and her team at the Race Organisers Admin Group (ROAG) chose to base their operations at the Pietermaritzburg branch of The Workspace where they can safely build their business while all their office needs are taken care of.

Nicole has another vitally important quality essential for success in both sport and business, and that’s grit. It’s sheer grit that has given her the focus to not just get the job done but to also do it well, and to do it to win.

She credits her late father as her entrepreneurial role model, saying he taught her many valuable life and business lessons. “His business ethics and management style were amazing. He also had a passion for what he did and loved going to work every day. My father always told me to believe that anything is possible and that hard work and dedication always pay off in the long run. And most importantly, to do what you love,” she recalls.

It was also her parents who inspired her love of sport, and her determination to forge a career in that highly competitive and challenging world. Nicole reckons it was the combination of her own love of sport and her entrepreneurial spirit that has seen ROAG’s excellent growth over the past eight years.

Put simply, ROAG’s primary objective is to “simplify and streamline the administration of minority sport events in South Africa. ROAG provides both sportspeople and events with a unified race admin portal through an online data management system”. Their main focus is mountain biking and trail running, but surfski events, swimming, motosport and canoeing are also making an appearance on their roster.

ROAG found her, Nicole says, when she was fresh out of UCT and looking for a job in the sports world.

“The job itself didn’t sound exciting at all but the concept of ROAG was extremely clever and I could immediately see the huge potential,” says Nicole. “When I told other people they didn’t see what I did and thought it sounded totally unappealing but I was certain it could work.”

In just one week, her half-day job became full-time plus weekends. And because the new business couldn’t afford to pay her much, Nicole asked for shares in lieu of a ‘proper’ salary, a decision she doesn’t regret.  

Nicole says the role ROAG plays for the greater good of the sports world is what motivates her, along with the knowledge that she and her team are making a difference. “It is so rewarding when we see how ROAG makes our clients and members’ lives so much simpler and easier, meaning that they can really enjoy their sports experience,” she says.

ROAG does have competition, even in a niche market such as theirs. But, Nicole adds, no company offers the same package of services that they do, worldwide. “We stand out because, for an event organiser, we are the one-stop admin shop. We essentially handle all aspects of event administration – from start to finish – instead of just one or two aspects. We have fortunately always been pioneers in our field, and strive to remain pioneers in the future.”

Nicole spends much of her time in Mauritius, where she is setting up an ROAG office (they play beach rugby there!). She is also expanding into Gauteng and the Western Cape. And hopes to grow into SADC countries and Reunion island too.

It wasn’t an easy ride, says Nicole. “We didn’t have many financial resources in the beginning as we didn’t have start-up capital, so we had to be resourceful. We just got stuck in, tried our best to do a great job and prove ourselves/ROAG. As a result the word spread and we soon got more and more business,” she explains.

Nicole says ROAG’s shareholders provided the loans to get started, but that she managed to pay them back and be profitable after three years. “What helped is they were small loans and we got more events (often through ROAG shareholders’ connections) on board fairly quickly,” she says.

They also had to overcome the resistance of event organisers used to working individually for themselves, which they did by being determined and believing in themselves and what they wanted to achieve. “We got buy-in from quite a few big sports events, and then we tried to make sure that we proved ourselves and how beneficial the system could be,” she says.

Needless to say, The Workspace is behind the team the whole way. As Nicole says, The Workspace offers, “Convenience (for example, if we need last-minute colour printing we always know that there is someone to help us). Security (our team is all women, and sometimes we need to work late. It’s good to know that we are safe when it gets dark and we need to leave the office). Professionalism (it’s great to work from a space that looks extremely professional). Networking (it’s good to surround yourself with other like-minded people). Comfort (the office area is a very comfortable space to work out of).”

Nicole’s learnings and advice

What are the three most important lessons you learnt along your entrepreneurial journey? 

  1. Business is all about relationships. Cultivate them and nurture them.
  2. Partner and/or associate with companies and people that share the same values and vision as you.
  3. Constantly sharing your dream with your team and everyone you partner with is essential. And the stronger and clearer the dream, the better. 

In hindsight, what would you do differently?

I would structure my time better, and give my team more independence so that I could spend more time focusing on new opportunities and business developments. 

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs starting out now?  

There will be ongoing obstacles, and there will be challenges. But the rewards of owning your own business and really making a difference far surpass those difficulties. Keep going and dream big! 

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Nicole & ROAG's story