The first Yoco Meets of 2023 kicked off on 30 March, where Yoco entrepreneurs from across the Mother City gathered to swap insights and learn from fellow small business owners who are leading the way.
It’s tough out there – and the only certainty is that there is no certainty 😓. Recent interest hikes, ongoing loadshedding #overit, and all-round global upheaval mean that getting your business fighting fit and ready to face the future is increasingly challenging. Challenging – but far from impossible – especially when you tap into the power of community and the learnings of those who’re killing it.
Our superstar guest panel was Kelly Gibberd of locally made, size-inclusive fashion brand, Me & B, James Williams of mouthwatering Neoplitan goodness, Pizza Shed, and Zaid Osman of community-based streetwear brand, Grade Africa. They generously shared the ups, the downs, and the LOLs of building and sustaining a business that can weather whatever life throws at it. MC, Mashudu aka Mash Modau, asked the burning questions (and gave Trevor Noah a run for his money in the process).
Here’s a peek at a few mic-drop moments of the night*
*Answers have been abridged.
Mash: What’s the mentality you have when the challenges start stacking up? And then how do you structure your business to be ready for anything that can and probably will happen?
James: It’s very much a mindset thing – I need to fundamentally believe in myself. Plus, reminding myself that there are countless other small business owners navigating similar challenges.
Kelly: I like to say, “A squeaky wheel gets oil” – I’m good at being a squeaky wheel. I can see what needs to be hacked at and chased. I’m like a dog with a bone. My mom, on the other hand, is an incredible problem solver and is extremely experienced. She’s able to take something on without freaking out – whereas I would be like, “Oh, it’s over”. So we each bring that strength. To answer the second point, hiring extraordinary people has meant that we’ve been able to successfully navigate the crazy growth we’ve had.
Zaid: My take is that what I’m doing is so much bigger than myself. There are a whole lot of different individuals – from local designers to stylists to photographers to social media managers who rely on us for employment. With the youth unemployment rate being as high as it is, it’s critical that we’re actively inspiring and leading by example for the next generation. Our slogan is “Protect the future”, so we’re continuously working towards that by uplifting local creatives and identifying opportunities for them within Grade Africa.
Mash: How important is your vision to staying true to what you’re trying to do? There has to be a North Star that guides you through the valleys, so to speak – what are yours?
James: Knowing what you want is the most valuable thing to me in my business. Once you know what you’re trying to accomplish, then you can systematically work towards it. Without that goal, you’re malleable to anyone’s influence – and that’s something that can jeopardise your entire business. I believe in our product – even though it involves a lot of educating customers who’re used to flat-style pizza which has got the largest market share in South Africa, by far. You’re not going to make everyone happy, but if you believe in your product or service, that’s key.
Kelly: There are three things that we (my mom and I) continuously come back to and that push us forward in the right direction. One is championing local manufacturing – it’s a huge driver for us. We work with 12 local factories; so many people’s jobs are reliant on our success. The other big one is our inclusive sizing curve…and then, having fun! Life is so serious, can we also just have a little bit of fun?
Zaid: The core of our business is very much a youth empowerment platform for young creators, powered by innovation and having fun as we go along. Another big one for us is upcycling – there’s so much clothing already out there – so, finding ways to innovate with what we have, finding ways to incorporate recycling and repurposing into our lines, and then pushing this narrative going forward.
There were some mic-drop moments at our #YocoMeets event 🥁 @Mashstartup spoke to Kelly Gibberd (Me and B), James Williams (Pizza Shed) and Zaid Osman (@gradeafrica) about adapting to change.— Yoco (@Yoco_ZA) April 13, 2023
If you enjoyed the highlights, watch the full recording here: https://t.co/Qyd28VRl9X pic.twitter.com/vSRAzO7rTv
Audience member: What’s the one thing that you’ve learned about yourself as you build and operate a business?
Kelly: That I really hate being too serious. When things get serious, I feel like I lose my essence and who I am. I always thought I wanted to be a “girl boss” or whatever it’s called, and I learned that I actually don’t. I want to spend time laughing with my kids. You’ve got to have that element of fun, of balance, life is not just all about working hard.
Zaid: For me, it’s that I have value. That my ideas and my experience and my contribution to different spaces are valid and valuable. I’m writing the book – I started with nothing except an idea – and I have managed to make a success of it. So, back yourself and your ideas.
James: I’m 29 today – so I’ve always jumped into things, probably before I was ready – but – there’s a lot of strength in that if you believe in yourself. It’s cliché, but I always say that the most difficult thing you can do is to just start. Also: you will always be learning, you can always be better, and there’s a lot of power in being resourceful. It’s amazing what you can do if you just work at it every day – things grow exponentially from there.
Who needs TED talks when you’ve got Yoco Meets? There are plenty more of these so-useful-I-should-have-to-pay-for-them gems in the full video – you can watch (and learn) here.
A special shoutout to Nectar and Spice – the home of confectionary delights – for hosting us. Check out their bespoke baked creations here.
Whether you joined us in person or online, or caught up via this article, we’d love to hear your thoughts, over on our socials.
We highly recommend you watch the whole thing – you can find the recording here.