RIP Matt Buckland: We Will Carry Your Baton Forward, Sir.

I’m writing this article in a Clarens coffee shop, breathing in the crisp, clean air of the Free State this morning. I’m reflecting on the life of one Matthew Buckland, who passed away earlier this week after a battle with cancer. I feel incredibly grateful to have known him, and to have spent valuable time with him.

Matt and I worked in the same industry for two decades, and crossed swords and shared breakfast sessions many times since we first met way back in 2005. Our conversations focused on solving shared problems and spoke many times about the entrepreneur sector, the shifting sands of the digital industry, and of course, the ‘broken agency model’.

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Matt was a pragmatic strategist, a strong leader and a formidable entrepreneur. 

Soon after he started his agency, Creative Spark, we spoke about joining forces at my own business, World Wide Creative - and even toyed with the name ‘World Wide Creative Spark’, which, in hindsight, probably would have been a really bad idea.

We both pitched for the Philips Africa digital marketing account back in 2013, which Creative Spark ultimately won - and Matt took great pains over the years to remind me how he deliberately prolonged his pitch presentation at the Philips offices, keeping the World Wide Creative team waiting in the hallway outside the boardroom for a critical extra hour. When we filed into the room, the Philips team were exhausted and keen to go home after a long day of aggressive pitching. We had been beaten before we even started.

Well played, sir.

I take some solace in that WWC soon responded by winning a big piece of City of Cape Town work, but I grudgingly admire how Matt managed to grow Creative Spark into a significant business in half the time the rest of us did.

Matt was a pragmatic strategist, a strong leader and a formidable entrepreneur. 

I learned later that Matt was instrumental in nominating me for the IAB Bookmarks ‘Biggest Contribution to the Digital Industry’ award in 2015. Matt was a fierce competitor, but he was as generous as he was smart. I returned the favour in 2017, nominating him for the same award, which he ultimately won - one of the many accolades that he racked up over a stellar career.

However, it’s Matt’s steely-eyed focus on the entrepreneurial cause that I feel compelled to write this piece.

Matt, more than anyone else I know, understood how important having a vibrant entrepreneur sector is to this beautiful country of ours. He started Ventureburn as a testament to this cause, and there is no one I can think of who has the same breadth of knowledge about startup world that Matt did.

Chatting with Matt was an education, every time.

Each occasion that we sat for one of our famous breakfasts at La Cuccina coffee shop in Hout Bay, I would leave armed with a long list of links to look up later.

Matt knew that investing time, energy and resources to fostering a healthy startup economy in South Africa would pay enormous dividends, and a cursory glance through articles he has written over the past few years shows how dedicated he was to this purpose.

The last of our monumental La Cuccina sessions was mid-2019. We met to chat about a potential Heavy Chef / Ventureburn collaboration. I also wanted Matt to present at a Heavy Chef event. Matt was keen, but we quickly recognised a not-insignificant challenge: Figuring out what the hell Matt would speak about.

You see, Matt was such an incredible polymath that it was practically impossible to choose a topic. When we discussed what his debut topic could be, we found ourselves vacillating between Matt’s views on how agencies needed to change their business model, or how Matt believed entrepreneurs could find seed-funding for a business, or perhaps the various ways that startup founders were ‘doing it wrong’.

Matt could also speak, with unparalleled authority, about the publishing industry, future trends, African economics and angel investing.

As it happened, Matt’s promised appearance on the Heavy Chef stage was not to be.

I’m sitting, fittingly at yet another coffee shop, in one of South Africa’s most beautiful settings, regretting that we weren’t able to deliver some of Matt’s amazing intellect to the Heavy Chef audience.

However, right now I’m looking at a long line of thriving artisanal shops lining Clarens’ central square. I’m connected to the internet, able to run my business from a tiny little hamlet deep in the heart of Africa. I have Ventureburn open in my browser. My entrepreneur education platform Heavy Chef is growing like gangbusters and my team are busy right now in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Khayelitsha.

There are glimmers of hope everywhere.

Across the road, on a muddy Clarens street to the right of me, I see a throng of bright-eyed school children: business owners and managers of the future.

When I’m back in Hout Bay next week, I will pay a solitary visit to La Cuccina and order breakfast and two coffees. My team and I will continue pursuing the entrepreneur cause. We will continue having critical conversations. We will continue to open up opportunities for emerging entrepreneurs. We will continue supporting your amazing platform Ventureburn, and will continue implementing your strategy to stimulate the entrepreneur sector.

Salut, Matt.

May you rest well. You deserve it, after playing such an important role in our future.

And, in the meantime, we will all carry your baton forward.