During the early days of the lockdown, Sewela Langeni, who ownsBook Circle Capital, added an online store to her website in a matter of days, taking a small local bookstore that specialises in African literature to new heights, writes Katlego Maphai, the co-founder and chief executiveof Yoco. Photo: Supplied
During the early days of the lockdown, Sewela Langeni, who ownsBook Circle Capital, added an online store to her website in a matter of days, taking a small local bookstore that specialises in African literature to new heights, writes Katlego Maphai, the co-founder and chief executiveof Yoco. Photo: Supplied

Yoco: The digitisation of everything – apart, but still together

By Katlego Maphai Time of article published Jun 15, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - A move to online certainly has not been the saving grace for all businesses affected by the Covid-19 lockdown. 

However, for those able to rapidly digitise their businesses the transformation has not come without a degree of introspection and learnings.

At Yoco, despite being a technology company, transitioning to remote work and learning to collaborate on key projects to help our merchants through Covid-19was quite the undertaking which needed to happen quickly. We needed to -reevaluate our systems for ideation and communication, ensuring that each of those systems served the business in a simple, reliable way. 

The choices that we had to make were not always easy, and not always apparent, but we needed to act fast. 

What resulted from this work was an entire company able to conceptualise, test, and launch a suite of online payment solutions that represented a deviation, to an extent, from our roadmap. Many of these plans already existed in some format as part of our future endeavours but the pandemic acted as a catalyst to accelerate those plans sooner rather than later because our merchants needed us too. 

The majority of the 80 000 merchants we serve operated exclusively in-person, using a Yoco terminal to accept payments from a physical card. We needed to think about the hurdles they would face going online, especially when it is a move determined by necessity rather than will. For one such merchant, Mwari Pizza House owned by Tshepiso Sibisi.

The move came as a natural progression to enable her business to thrive during the lockdown.

Through a simple process of marketing via social media and incorporating a Yoco online payment method that doesn’t require a website, she was able to build an online business model that was easy to adapt to for both her and her customers. 

Conversely, fashion retail merchant Alexandra Höjer – owned and run by a husband and wife design team – resisted the move to an online store for as long as they could. Part of their brand identity are the real-life interactions and connections that Barry and Alexandra are able to form when customers visit their stores.

However, the pandemic made digitisation vital. By adopting one of the online payment solutions we rapidly released in response to Covid-19, they stepped intrepidly into an unknown world and found comfort in the community as their fans locally and internationally logged online to support them. It goes without saying that, big or small, digitisation is not a task easily accomplished. The infrastructure and innovation at our fingertips might make the move simple, perhaps even easy, but there are mental challenges to the move that are often left unspoken. 

As we adapt to digitisation together, will we stay connected? What will be lost in translation? And how will we fill the gaps? To watch small business owners face these challenges head-on has been nothing short of a privilege. With fewer resources and under immense pressure, they have ticked boxes that larger corporations spend months planning.

Diverse payment solutions, e-commerce, social media marketing, community building, last-mile delivery, customer service – in past years, these have been the hallmarks of an enterprise accelerating.

In 2020, they are the mandatory tick boxes for survival for small businesses. Independent bookseller, Book Circle Capital owned by Sewela Langeni, are perhaps the aptest story of people’s propensity to connect with the businesses they love. And for that connection to span both space and time. 

During the early days of lockdown, their means of survival rested on the goodwill of customers who bought vouchers and made donations. Finding courage in that support led Langeni to add an online store to her website in a matter of days, taking a small local bookstore that specialises in African literature to new heights. As the world grapples with the digitisation of everything, perhaps like small business owners we will find ourselves capable of more than we thought possible. Better yet, perhaps we will find that in undergoing this transformation though we are distanced, we are together in more ways than one. 

Katlego Maphai is the co-founder and chief executiveof Yoco, a financial platform for small businesses. The Yoco Small Business Recovery Monitor in partnership with IOL 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.  

BUSINESS REPORT 

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