Making space to explore: curious enough to experiment, bold enough to fail

22nd February 2021

yoco-formula-make space to explore

When I founded Yoco alongside Carl Wazen, Lungisa Matshoba, and Bradley Wattrus, we were not exempt from the anxiety that all new business owners feel. The doubt, fear, and uncertainty that comes with starting a business is familiar to all entrepreneurs, and it’s difficult to say that these feelings ever go away entirely in the pursuit of sustainable growth. 

What does happen is that you learn to embrace the fear and on the other side of it is the freedom to experiment and yes, occasionally fail. Falling and getting up is a daily routine that starts to rewire your system.

At Yoco, one of our core values is to ‘make space to explore’. It is part of the Yoco Formula which we use to guide and shape our work. 

It refers to the importance of making time to experiment, to learn, and to fail. It seems counterintuitive but having the courage to ask questions and the boldness to fail, we ensure that our customers get only the very best. The operative word in the value is ‘make.’ It speaks to prioritising, carving out time, and starting endeavours with this mindset.

Making Space To Explore

Small business owners, entrepreneurs, and creators have one thing in common: unabated curiosity. It shouldn’t go away when you start a business or land on an idea. Instead it requires more focus  and method to foster. It’s easy to let this curiosity slip as you settle into routines and perhaps, de-prioritise the value of trying new things through experimentation. 

Over the last few years Yoco has built and released a number of products and solutions for small business owners but these are only a tiny fraction of the ideation and building that goes on behind the scenes. In reality our product and technology teams are constantly developing ideas, and testing hypotheses. Not every idea lands with customers. However, we still make time for exploring and there are three key reasons why. 

The first is that if you don’t feed your curiosity, if you don’t ask questions, and you get bogged down in the day-to-day of running a business, you will find your passion dissipating.  Monotony and neglect will harm your startup faster than a lack of funding or resources. By carving out dedicated time and space to be curious, I wake up every morning with a renewed sense of purpose for the business we are building.

It has been nearly seven years since we began our journey to open commerce in South Africa for all. A strong sense of curiosity continues to underpin how Yoco operates across every team. We know what we want to achieve but how we get there is always up for debate and experimentation. Every team will have at least one story of a time they tried something new that didn’t quite work out. Despite the outcomes, valuable learnings are taken forward. 

This leads to our second reason for ‘make space to explore’: at its core, this value is about learning and development. You don’t know what you don’t know and you won’t know unless you try.

All businesses have to do a regular amount of calibrating to the environment they exist in. Things change, with or without a pandemic. Continuous experimentation and subsequent learning is a great way to toss your ideas out into the world and see how they fare. Each experiment and its outcomes will help you prioritise and plan. And the more you practise this skill, the less you will be daunted by the potential of a negative outcome.

At Yoco, we set initiatives and goals for each quarter of the year and in deciding how to allocate our time and resources, we always leave some time unaccounted. Why? It’s our way of making sure that we have set aside a portion of our time, money, and effort to try new things. The more we try, the more we learn, and grow. 

An important facet of learning – especially for entrepreneurs – is that if you don’t make the time, you won’t ever have the time. In other words, not only is exploration important but so is making space for it. 

The last, and possibly most important, reason for making space to explore, is that it combats the fear we all experience; the weight of uncertainty that often holds small business owners back. My recommendation is to experiment with your mindset – let it all go and see what happens. Taking small steps through fast experimentation and learning, becomes a muscle that’s strengthened the more you do it. 

At Yoco, we encourage the team to take smart risks, feed their curiosity and fight the fear of failure. The reward of practicing this value internally has been integral to our growth. 

The same goes for making space to explore. Are you ready to accept the likelihood of failure? Learn to channel your fears and doubts into an experiment that is safe to try. It will accelerate things forward in your business bringing a sense of excitement and passion for the possibilities of growth ahead.

So do you have the curiosity to experiment? 


Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Daily Maverick print edition, DM 168, in December 2020. 

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.