Man of Many Hats

Uno de Waal's Between 10and5 is no regular nine-to-five

Words: Jessica Hunkin | Photography: Chisanga Mubanga

Uno de Waal has a hack for everything. He takes adventuring very seriously, and has been known to change hats twice a day. He’s also a self-starter, and when he set up the domain 10and5.com in 2008, and published the site’s first post – it was an article about an agency’s newly decorated balcony, for those wondering – he had no idea what the platform would grow into. Eight years later, Between 10and5 has become a go-to source for, as well as a growing archive of South African creativity and culture – both online and in real life.

I met Uno in 2013, arriving at 10and5’s shared office space in Braamfontein to interview for an editorial internship. I was late, but he didn’t seem to care. Ever charismatic, he hadn't asked me more than three questions before casually enquiring: “So, when do you start?”. This wasn’t thanks to my not-so-impressive CV either, since that remained hidden inside the embarrassingly large notebook I’d brought along with me. Instead it was entirely because he's the kind of guy who gives people a chance – even if you’re only a year out of high school and pretty much clueless. He was in a similar position when he launched 10and5 in his mid 20s; online publishing was completely new to him and he had to figure out the mechanisms as he went along. The way he runs his company now is in keeping with that, allowing the people he works with the freedom to figure things out too. And while this approach doesn’t always go down without a hitch, it certainly makes for an interesting journey.

It’s late in the afternoon and I’m sitting in Uno’s new upstairs office. He’s been in the space for less than a month now and there are a few unpacked boxes strewn about. It’s only the second time (after seven office moves in the last two years) that he's enjoyed a semi-private workspace, as previously he’d be right in the thick of things, sitting at a cluster of tables with the rest of the team. We’re talking about how 10and5 began. “In 2008 I had a research company called Max Rover," he recalls. "It was really difficult to find reference material for advertising campaigns, so we thought we’d start sourcing and putting it up ourselves.”

In the early days, 10and5 catered specifically to the advertising industry. It was formed around the idea that advertising shouldn’t be inspired by advertising alone. It was clear from the get-go that content creation wasn’t where Uno’s real strengths lay, and he suffers no illusions about that fact either, joking that the early content on the site was "f***ing terrible". However he’s never been one to agonise over the details, and all the while, there was a grander scheme slowly working itself out.

For five years it was a juggling act to keep the company afloat. By 2009 the 10and5 team had grown to include a project manager and the site’s first editor – both of whom were allotted a portion of Uno’s salary from the full-time job he was holding down at the time. He left his home in Cape Town to move to the city of Jo’burg for a gig with DSTV and a year or so later, he accepted a position with Trigger Isobar. It was in 2012 that he quit to focus solely on 10and5, leaving the reassurance of a fixed monthly income behind because he knew the business wouldn’t progress until he became fully invested in it. “When I left Trigger, 10and5 didn’t have any clients and we had no money in the bank,” he explains. “It took me quite a long time to understand exactly what it is we do, and how we make money.”

In 2013, 10and5 landed its first big paid partnership with the FNB Art Fair. Two years prior Uno had completely over-pitched and over-delivered on the same account, but this time he knew the costs involved in producing quality content. “It’s been interesting going on this entrepreneurial journey. Most of it has been trial and error, from Googling how to set up purchase order numbers or learning how to code,” he says. There were many mishaps along the way; fights with media planners over invoices that didn’t get settled quickly, or miscalculations resulting in crazy VAT penalties.

I asked him whether he’s ever felt it was time to throw in the towel. “Often. Last week," he explains. "It’s weird because I don’t know what the flags are that indicate it’s not going to work, like if a certain thing happens you’re in deep shit and you have to close the doors. There have been a couple of times where I’ve thought 'fuck, is this all worth it?’ – especially when clients come back with terrible feedback or it feels like a slog to land jobs.”

Those moments may be frequent, but they do pass. It helps knowing that the work you do has a tangible impact and at the end of the day, the rewards by far outweigh the challenges. While Between 10and5 still refers to the daily arts-and-culture website, it now sits alongside a sister content agency 5tudio. Then there's the events side of things, which in 2016 pulled off POSSIBLE, The Content Creators’ Conference with Estee Lauder, as well as its second, sold-out Creative Womxn conference, and a host of smaller-scale events like show-and-tell evenings and lawn games tournaments. All of these events have been directed towards inspiring, educating and connecting South African creatives to push meaningful growth in the industry.

Content wise, 10and5 found its niche in identifying and highlighting emerging creativity, being the first publication to feature I See A Different You, Lady Skollie, Suzelle DIY, and many more like them. “When we started out, nobody was doing the work we were doing – at least not online," Uno explains. "There were a few publications covering art and design, but never new entrants to these fields, and that’s kind of where we found our place...defining emerging creative culture."

In Between 10and5’s eight years, Uno has filled whatever role needed filling – from content creator to sales manager, client relations, public speaker, mentor, accountant, AV guy and office chef. By being flexible and quick to adapt, he’s made it work in an industry where very few are able to survive. As a typical entrepreneur, he never runs out of new ideas to explore, and perhaps the greatest thing about the business he’s built is that it lends itself to innovation. “We need to constantly redefine ourselves to occupy the spaces that nobody is in yet; to move into uncontested waters,” he says. What’s next for Uno is anyone’s guess, but when the time comes to put on a new hat, he will.