Growth lessons: 0 to 10k Yoco merchants

12th July 2017

The Yoco team celebrating 10 000 merchants.

At the end of June 2017, we crossed another important milestone at Yoco. We reached the 10 000 SME merchants acquired on the platform in addition to over 3.5 million card transactions processed through our card machines at the point of sale.

The company is adding over 1 000 new small businesses to its base every month, making it the fastest growing and now the largest independent mobile point-of-sale player in South Africa by number of merchants. This is all the more meaningful given that we were the last entrants into the competitive mobile point of sale space in South Africa, which consists of five other players. Obsessing over our customers first, and competitors second has held us in good stead. We are delighted to be here.

Yoco launched at the end of 2015, after a successful beta programme, with 500 merchants. At the end of 2016, we announced it had acquired over 5 000 merchants, growing 10x in a year. Today, with the 10 000, we have doubled in size since the beginning of the year.

Having hit this milestone, I decided to take some time to reflect on the growth lessons over the past four years. I hope you find my top learnings useful.

1. Ambition is more important than you think

Despite being the fastest growing company in our sector, we actually thought we would have been faster. The targets we set when we launched were a lot higher. We truly wanted to build something massive from the word go.

Instead of putting ourselves down for not reaching our initial expectations or for not planning accurately enough, we realised something vitally significant. If we had aimed lower, we would not be where we are today. Setting big, bold, ambitious goals is essential.

There’s a big difference between the fear of failure and the fear of not succeeding. The former drives a downside protection/cautious approach; the later drives ambitious/long-term thinking around the size of the prize.

2. Obsess over your customers first, your competition second

We exist because of our customers and their needs. As you grow, treating your 10 000th customer as you did your first customer is the true measure of scaling with excellence in our opinion. Customer centricity needs to be in your DNA as an organisation if you wish to remain relevant. Linking this to purpose almost makes the task at hand natural and energising. We are empowering the growth of entrepreneurial businesses and being a true partner in their formalisation. We see this as a privilege.

Yoco's vision is to be the first real pan-African player servicing the previously ignored small business customer; plans are already in motion for future expansion.

3. Tap into communities

We share a unique bond with our customers, being an SME ourselves, there’s a profound sense of kinship. We are them, and they are us. We are part of a growing community that is doing something special and making a meaningful contribution to South Africa together.

Beyond our shared desire to grow and make an impact in our communities, I find it extraordinary that through Yoco we are now a community of entrepreneurs. The syndication of creativity and ingenuity can only lead to great things; something we feel that we have not been able to tap into as a nation. The growth of the #YocoFamily community will lead to new great things we cannot imagine, as the power of the collective gets unlocked.

4. Look after your team, and they will look after your customers

In many respects, the right people and team can actually precede where you are going and what you’re trying to do. Bringing the right people together can create new opportunities and new paradigms.

One of the most essential things I’ve learnt is how powerful a strong cohesive team can be. However, when you’re a fast growing company, keeping everyone together is one of the biggest challenges you will face. Top things that we do to maintain a solid team include:

  • Keeping our mindsets and operating models as flexible as possible. Every stage of growth brings bigger teams, new departments and new outputs. Prime the team for change and ensure that it is part of the fabric of the organisation. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.
  • Whilst the way in which you do things will change, it’s important not to change WHY you do things. Having a core focus means everything can shift and still stay aligned. At Yoco we keep the customer at the centre. When we have to make tough decisions, we first analyse what impact the decision will have on our product users. From there we can move forward and keep everyone in agreement.
  • Understand your stage and regularly communicate where you are and what the next goal is. Take a look at this article by my co-founder Bradley to learn more on business growth stages.
An infographic showing Yoco growth to 10k merchants.

Moving forward: Yoco’s vision for the future

Read through any economic plan, whether published by government, academic or private sector, and you will read that a healthy SME sector is considered the cornerstone for reducing unemployment, increasing productivity in the economy and catalysing innovation. The challenging economic environment in South Africa, where consumer confidence is low, creates a context for SMEs to play a meaningful role in an economy looking to reinvent itself. Yoco fundamentally believes that SMEs are the future of commerce in South Africa and across the continent.

Almost 80% of consumer payments in South Africa are still made in cash. By digitising payments, we want to drive the formalisation of SMEs and move into offering complimentary services driven by software, ultimately becoming the operating system for the contemporary SME.

Yoco’s vision is to be the first real pan-African player servicing the previously ignored small business customer; plans are already in motion for future expansion. Thank you for being part of the journey.

Katlego Maphai

Katlego is an entrepreneur who is passionate and dedicated to big initiatives that utilise innovation to remove barriers, tackle inequality and foster prosperity. He is people-positive and likes keeping it human in pursuit of transforming the future. He's a lover of all things technology, music, and the arts.