Yoco: Reinventing to inspire and rebuild out of a crisis

By Katlego Mapha Time of article published May 23, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Consistently embedded in the fabric of the South African small business community is a narrative of resilience and positivity in the face of the impossible.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, where we might have expected to see defeat, small business owners showed us that they were not at all out for the count. Instead, they have forged ahead and the pandemic-inspired pivots we have seen have been nothing short of remarkable. 

The Small Business Recovery Monitor gives us a detailed view of the numbers. Over the past week, two industries have made strong comebacks. Food, drink, and hospitality is up by 5% across the country as restaurants pivoted to a takeaway and delivery model, while the relaxing of regulations around e-commerce has given retail a boost in almost every province (+6%). 

In total, SME trade has now returned to 44% of the pre-COVID levels. 

However, the graphs and numbers are only part of the story. It is important to contextualise the economic impact of COVID-19 as often as we can so that we, as industry leaders and authorities, can build products and solutions that don’t just speak to the numbers but speak to people and meet them where they’re at. To do that, we need to connect with business owners who are driving the weekly growth we see.

Small business owners have found innovative, and brilliant solutions to enable them to trade during the lockdown. For some businesses, this required digital transformation in essence overnight and for others, it meant a shift in their operating model to allow for contactless payment and delivery. 

But for some, the ones whom the lockdown has been hardest on, it has meant a complete shift in not only how they do business, but what they do; a pivot to the unknown. One such story is that of Mpumelelo Mtintsi who is the founder of a Soweto-based bicycle touring company called Book Ibhoni. Mtintsi is a Yoco merchant like many other tourism-based businesses, was forced to close with a distant promise of re-opening only once the country reached Level 1 in lockdown procedures. Rapidly within the first week of lockdown, Mtintsi pivoted his business from bicycle tours to bicycle deliveries. 

An easier said than done solution; and watching this story, as well as many others like this, unfold is what led the Yoco team to produce a Small Business Pivot Guide. We want the numbers to tell us a story, and we want that story to drive our efforts to help the small business community back onto its feet.

The Guide is an effective tool to help entrepreneurs accomplish what seems simple but is perhaps one of the most difficult things to ask of a business owner. How do you take everything you know, and everything you’ve done so far and reinvent? 

And as if that isn’t asking enough, how do you do this in the middle of a crisis? 

Entrepreneurs are coming to the table with a positive attitude and the drive to succeed, and it is up to service providers like Yoco, to go above and beyond for them, to innovate alongside them, and to take risks with them. In our efforts to safeguard our own companies, we cannot forget that right now small business owners are being asked to take a leap of faith. And so if we are to rebuild our economy, we need to adopt the same attitude. 

Watch the numbers, listen to the stories, and when it seems safer to do nothing than to act, ask yourself if that is what the country needs from you right now. Or perhaps, does it need a pandemic-inspired pivot?

Katlego Maphai is the co-founder and CEO of Yoco, a financial platform for small businesses. The Yoco Small Business Recovery Monitor in partnership with Business Report is a live small business transaction data resource. The index is updated daily with the latest information from over 80 000 Yoco merchants, relating to their turnover by province and industry.


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