Yoco began as a simple idea between four friends. We quickly realised that if we were to endure, to become a leading payments provider in South Africa, and a champion of small businesses, we needed to create a foundation of more than just a collective dream.
That foundation is now made up of our core values, which we casually refer to as the Yoco Formula.. These values and principles are what we hold steady to in good weather, and bad. Every time we have encountered a challenge, it has been one of these principles that helps us navigate our way out. Covid-19 was certainly one of those challenges, and the values pulled us through.
We knew we could create something more than just a company that offers card machines. We had to push boundaries, innovate, and conquer hurdles – how to do it successfully begins with our first value: staying connected.
Not all great products come from “eureka!” moments. For us, the idea of opening commerce was a lightbulb moment but the actual product that we built to solve the problem came years later. It came after we did the real work of understanding and listening to the daily experiences of the people we would come to call our customers. It was paying attention to the obstacles they faced getting a card machine from a traditional institution that forced us to focus on building the foundations that enabled access. Once we finally went live and had some early adopters on the platform, it was their feedback and stories that influenced our product development and continues to do so now in 2020.
This year the Covid-19 pandemic underscored that the only constant entrepreneurs can bank on is change. Yoco is a barometer of the small business ecosystem in South Africa. As this sector of the market was impacted by strict lockdowns, so was Yoco.
We had to face some hard questions. By staying connected and transparent, we learnt a great deal from the people inside and out the business. Our customers helped us to find our way through the choppy waters, by listening attentively to their needs.
So when small business owners ask me for my advice on how to take the inkling of an idea and transition into a business, I start with this: pay attention and stay connected to respond quickly and remain relevant to your customers.
You need to define what connection means for your business and you need to stick with it, no matter what. For me, staying connected is all about our customers and the team – not only at the end of product development for feedback, but right from the start through an intentional process of understanding the essence of their needs.
What does this help? Well, if you’re on the wrong path, you will hear it very quickly and you have time to adjust before waste develops. If you’re creating value for your customers, you can advance with confidence and determination.
Make no mistake, opening yourself up to feedback can be uncomfortable and may feel intimidating. Don’t let ego get in the way, is another one of our values, it’s in these moments that counts. Receiving feedback from the source and synthesising it into the bigger picture will often unlock unique ways to grow.
Successful businesses are ones that continuously figure out what jobs their customers expect them to solve. Now in the age of rapid change and uncertainty, business owners can’t afford to be complacent about their value propositions. Nor can you afford to be precious about the product you build or service you offer. The evolve or perish mantra holds true.
To make it, you need to be willing to let go and listen. One of Yoco’s standing traditions are ‘customer firesides’. In the pre-Covid days, during our bi-weekly company all-hands, we would invite a Yoco customer to join the full session and I would have a short 15 minute fireside with them. These days our firesides are done via Zoom but the principle isn’t different. We stay connected. We ask questions. We check in. We learn. At the end of every chat, we walk away reaffirmed in our mission but also with a few notes in our back pockets of how and where to improve.
Business owners struggle to let their ideas be transformed by their customers and the world around them. With Covid-19 it is an imperative for both survival and thriving. Pause, take a deep breath and listen attentively. Your customers are conducting experiments and stress tests for your product every day. All in environments you can’t simulate, and in ways you might never anticipate.
So how can a small business effectively employ this strategy to grow without the same time and means?
There are a few ways. And as complicated as it seems, it all starts with small, private conversations with your most loyal customers. These interviews can happen over a relatively short space of time.
Another way to implement customer research is through post-purchase surveys. This can be done through a comment card, an online-rating service, or even a quick email or WhatsApp text. Surveys give you an indication of how happy your customers are with your business and help you to identify immediate ways to improve. Look for ways to turn three stars into four, or five.
These small methods of staying connected help you to drive loyalty, engagement and advocacy amongst your customers. But most of all, it will set you up for success.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Daily Maverick print edition, DM 168, in December 2020.