Hellopeter is an online review platform that was founded in 2000 by Peter Cheales, it is one of the world’s biggest customer service website which serves as a channel for businesses and consumers to engage with one another directly online.
Consumers use Hellopeter to report on their positive or negative experiences after dealing with a particular business and its products or services. In turn, business also get the opportunity of responding to the complaints.
Hellopeter can literally make or break a company, especially now that it is tied in with Facebook, Twitter and other social media. So, when you google a company that numerous people have complained about, the first items that come up will be Hellopeter complaints because of the size of the site and its magnitude.
There are more than 300 businesses that are subscribed to Hellopeter, they pay a yearly subscription fee to be able to see the reviews and respond to them.
Hellopeter isn’t in communication or managing of the reviews, they do however not allow any negative reports such as racism, hurtful speech or slander and they have the immediate right to remove such reports or comments.
To understand the rise and success of Hellopeter, let’s get to know the life of its founder, Peter Cheales.
He was born in Zimbabwe but his family moved to Johannesburg when his father became principal at a top private primary school, The Ridge.
Cheales was sent to Michaelhouse, a top private boarding school in KZN where he was said to be rebellious.
“My school career was chequered, being fraught with incidents of conflict with other children and teachers,”
“I may have been a reprobate with my motorbikes, cigarettes and all, but my father was unbelievably accommodating and supportive of me.”
After matriculating, all he wanted to do was play guitar, sing and dance.
“The only thing that grabbed me was being a rock star or a film star.”
He enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand to study drama. After a year or so, theatre impresarios Pieter Toerien and Louis Burke, saw him perform and asked him to audition for The Sound of Music. He got the juvenile lead and soon dropped out to be a professional actor.
He did well for more than two years but being in that world made him realise the lifestyle was a dead-end life.
According to Cheales, he saw too much of the dark side and realised he needed a more stable life and just like that, he went back to Wits for Bachelor of Arts, but he chose subjects according to their time slots to make sure he could still perform.
“I went from people clamouring for my autograph to being just another student.”
In his first year back at Wits, his father passed away. It was a serious wake-up call to Cheales, although his family lived well, they didn’t really have money and that’s when he realised the importance of being financially secure.
From then onwards, singing and dancing went out the window as he focused on his goals of making money. He wanted to enroll for an MBA as soon as he completed his degree at Wits but back then, you couldn’t do an MBA without any work experience.
However, he was determined and managed to convince the then-head of school, Sandra van der Merwe, to let him do it. In his early 20s, he was the youngest MBA student by far.
“I think they liked the idea of having someone with a creative bent in the class. All the others were accountants, engineers…I brought balance.”
“Until then, I had no idea what businesspeople did behind their desks. My MBA was an eye-opener. I loved every second of it. The friends I made there are still my best friends.”
At one point, he was about to give up because of calculus.
“The lecturer was picking on me. I was an easy target and I couldn’t answer the questions. But as I got to my clapped-out car, this Israeli guy in my class stopped me and offered to teach me maths if I taught him English.”
He ended up getting 98% in the maths exam and he and the “Israeli guy” are still best of friends to this day.
After getting his MBA, he started a marketing consultancy. It did so well that 5 years later he was able to retire at the age of 30.
After a year of travelling, he then set up an advertising agency in 1986 which became a remarkable success.
All the while, he would lecture or give talks in marketing. Through his work, he became increasingly interested in customer service. Out of this came his book, I Was Your Customer, which was then the 2nd bestselling book in SA after Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.
“This put me on the motivational talk circuit, I so enjoyed the performance aspect of the talks that I got irritated with the ad agency work.”
He handed the reigns of the ad agency to those who worked there and then became “a song-and-dance man on the corporate stage”.
Cheales’ brand grew and he was speaking over 30 times a month all over the world.
“My life was fabulous at the time, but pretty unreal. I was living the life of a star but, ironically, I was still the hired help and I got to see the good companies from the bad and why some were successful and why some wouldn’t last.”
While he was on a plane to Cape Town, he came up with the concept for Hellopeter, a website where people could write about their consumer experiences – good or bad – and suppliers having the opportunity to respond.
“I had to find a way of creating the ‘push and pull’ to get the friction between buyers and sellers.”
He set up a mass ad campaign to reach out to consumers and then sold it to businesses as an amazing way of working out their service level, how they were perceived and where they might be going wrong.
“If they were going wrong, they could fix it. I was offering this at 0.002% of the marketing research fees. I expected the little companies to grab onto this idea, but it was the big ones that responded.”
Initially, Cheales’ financial model for the platform was wrong and he was losing a lot of money. He called in help from experts and changed it, and eventually started making money from both subscriptions and advertising.
The website has hundreds of thousands hits a minute and it is one of the most popular website in South Africa and also the world.
Get South Africa’s latest entrepreneurial or business success stories delivered right to your inbox — Sign up to Entrepreneur Hub SA’s newsletter today