iDiveblue.com is magazine-style blog that endeavours to create authentic content, build community amongst ocean lovers, and serve as an authority for those looking to learn. The content’s domain includes water sports, marine-related travel and anything else to do with the ocean. The content’s style ranges from gear reviews to scientific exposés and faces an international audience. The marketing concepts of the SEO-driven website take a unique approach. The website monetises itself effectively without eyesore ads or comprising on the integrity of its marketing policies. It does so while simultaneously publishing high-quality, educational content about marine conservation that is in no way monetised yet exists profitably in symbiosis with the balance of the site. iDiveblue’s strategy holds that authenticity is the future of the world wide web.
Here, Bio Market Insight’s Liz Gyekye catches up with Nate Liebenberg, director and co-founder of iDiveblue.com.
Liz Gyekye (LG): Welcome to 5 Minutes With. Please summarise your role and what you specialise in?
Nate Liebenberg (NL): Well hi there! My name is Nate Liebenberg and I am the proud director, SEO analyst and co-founder of iDiveblue.com. As one of two thalassophilic South African brothers, Bill and myself have scuba dived the world over. Our explorations have taken us from Mozambique to the Red Sea, from the Bahamas to Cape Town, to the Floridian Keys and beyond. Bill is an experienced super yacht deckhand, while we are both certified divers and boat skippers. We are ocean-obsessed and if there is a water sport, one of us is bound to have done it. Leaning on this passion and experience, Bill and I took a new dive into the world of website building and became SEO literate, enabling us to found iDiveblue.com in 2018. Inadvertently our passions also align closely with marine conservation, which is tightly knitted into our business model. We feel emboldened in supporting conservationists through the various channels available to us and are always willing to extend a hand to any ocean-lover looking to help or in need of help.
LG: Before going into your current role, what did you used to do?
NL: By trade I am an investment strategist, having completed postgraduate investment studies at the University of Cape Town. I remain a Chartered Financial Analyst candidate, and plan to complete my charter, despite my move into SEO-related entrepreneurship. I have previously worked modelling financials for companies across the medical, genetics, and bioscience sectors. I continue to build financial models on a freelance basis for new business ventures and now also freelance for companies looking to implement largescale SEO strategies. My most recent financing project was for a National South African Monument – The Long March to Freedom – a procession of 100 life-size statues of past and present anti-Apartheid South African heroes. The wealth of our country’s rich culture is put on show in this beautiful Cape Townian exhibition.
LG: What advice would you give to somebody starting out?
NL: Well, Bill and I still feel as if we are still in the process of starting out. We are making our way in both the worlds of business and SEO day by day. Yes, we are confident that the systems we have built and the concept we have in place can be scaled to a very lucrative degree, but we still have many hurdles ahead of us.
Saying that, we are proud to have achieved proof of concept and to have survived that nascent phase where start-ups face significantly high mortality rates. If I were to provide advice on the back of that, I would encourage any start-up founder to make sure that they have built a watertight budget before spending capital (or seeking it). eCommerce and digital marketing businesses often ‘drown’ in opportunity. The availability of information and marketing channels means that you could teach yourself to make a healthy living off a host of platforms. Consider AdWords, Emails, SEO, drop shipping, affiliate marketing, paid partnerships, social media galore and much more. But how does one choose? You need a clear plan going in.
Furthermore, by modelling your financials, you see pitfalls ahead of time and you can define your objectives concisely. You know what your MVP looks like. Just as importantly, as business unfolds, your grow while you discover how your budget or model was not perfect to begin with. When you reconcile it at the end of a project/financial year, most of your predictions will have missed the mark. However, your strengths and weaknesses will be presented plainly to you, and your next budget will be all the better for it. If you work better with qualitative concepts, then write your strategy down as well. When you are balancing thirty tasks, it becomes easy to lose track of what is moves the needle.
LG: What opportunities are there for the bioeconomy sector in the current climate?
NL: This question has everything to do with the current global viral pandemic. The global economy is on its knees, and people are wired to look out for their immediate survival first. ‘Putting food on the table’ is currently a far graver concern for the average household than living a sustainable lifestyle. As such, much of the work done by brave conservationists the world over has sadly been undone in recent months.
However, as business people we can stoically reframe this obstacle. Joseph Schumpeter once coined the term ‘creative destruction’ and considered it the essence of capitalism. Where is Kodak? What has happened to sugar and paper? Is it a tragedy that we do not travel by horseback anymore? When things fall away, new things must rise in their place. We cannot be Luddites and the bioeconomy sector runs no differently. In the coming years we have the opportunity to redefine what sustainable business looks like. Barriers to entry will be lower than ever. Better business concepts for bioeconomic businesses stand a greater chance of winning out. Is there not a possibility that the bioeconomy – despite being a new-age sector – has already grown rigid in some of its ways? We can rebuild from the bottom up and we can do it better. New life, that is creative destruction.
LG: How do you see your organisation post-COVID?
NL: Digital marketing changes every day because the rules change every day. Whether it is an amendment to Google’s algorithm or to the Amazon Affiliates program, you are at the mercy of change. In our eyes COVID-19 was simply the mechanism for the delivery of that change. Sure, it has been rough owning a blog dependent on travel in these unprecedented times, but that is not something we could control. What we could do though, was cut costs, preserve capital, and define our strategy for when things normalise. We felt we have done a good job of this thus far, while many of our competitors have since fallen off the map. Now in concurrency with the previous question we hope to capitalise on the new economic landscape.
LG: The consumer has slightly shifted back to fossil fuel-based plastic during this pandemic? Do you think that they will switch back to alternatives again after this crisis?
NL: Mostly no. Tragically, people did not just take blows to their income streams during the economic downturn, they were forced to loot their savings and investments as well. The crisis concluding will not undo that damage and one would be brave to confidently predict the true timeline of the average consumer’s recovery. Fossil fuels are still cheaper and more convenient. If we want consumers to use alternatives in greater proportions, we are going to have to be creative and bold in convincing them.
LG: What one thing would you like the bio-based industry to do better and why?
NL: I feel very strongly about publicly run entities, especially coming out of a country whose grotesque public corruption and looting has left those living below the breadline facing devastating odds. In my mind, a government’s job is to represent a people, intelligently and conservatively regulate markets, and encourage market participation.
The bio-based industry should not concede market share to government or compete against the public sector. Governments tend to have an inflated sense of self-importance. It is for the private market to solve problems. On the same note, I do not see intergovernmental organizations (UN, the World Bank, etc.) holding the winning hand. Carbon emission pacts and the likes have historically just left the door open for non-compliant nations to profit and pollute.
The second thing we could do is invest in ourselves. I have always loved Dr Paul Romer’s Nobel-winning work on the Endogenous growth theory. It suggests one of the few positive, yet pragmatic ways that we can overcome climate change and the population problem. It essentially holds that investing in human capital and innovation stands the greatest chance of creating economic growth. Ideas are non-rivalrous; one person’s idea can benefit 7 billion people. If we can invest in ourselves, if we can invest in our technologies, and if we can protect ideas to make them lucrative, then a galvanised economy could see bio-based industries flourish exponentially. It gives me a bold hope that overcoming the ecological disasters of our age is possible. I am even more emboldened knowing that Paul Romer is now the Chief Economist of the World Bank.
LG: What is your favourite sustainability product?
NL: I love the non-plastic toothbrushes coming out of independent companies like Bambuu Brush. Yes, they are a for-profit company and yes toothbrushes are but one small fix amidst the greater plastic problem. However, you are brushing your teeth every morning with the reminder that our lifestyles need to change. Also, climate change and conservation could use some serious rebranding and these guys just seem to have that dash of magic about them.