In a recent article by the Huffington Post, they stated that “Knowing the real South Africa is to know, and be familiar with, the ambitious entrepreneurial spirit that runs through its tributaries and flows like a river into the heart of a nation.” This captures the essence and state of entrepreneurship in South Africa. It is a ripe, fertile environment that is breeding some of the finest business trailblazers.
Well-known entrepreneurs like Elon Musk founder of SpaceX, and Koos Bekker of Naspers are a testament to the quality of entrepreneurs coming out of South Africa. Alongside Lulalend CEO, Trevor Gosling, in Ventureburn’s Top 31 Entrepreneurs under 40 making waves in South Africa is the CEO and co-founder of Yoco, Katlego Maphai. We asked him if we could get his perspective on the state of entrepreneurship in South Africa and share some thoughts with us as a locally bred entrepreneur.
Katlego was part of an incubator program and gained some corporate experience before moving on to Yoco, a mobile card reader and point-of-sale app. The business has been going for 4+ years now and has recently met a huge milestone of 10 000 customers. He shared with us that being part of a start-up has involved sacrifice and has brought with it a lot of emotional expectations in hoping the business succeeds.
Q: Starting and owning a business involves grit. Not every business is a success story. Looking back, how have you used the setbacks to learn and grow in a personal and business capacity?
Katlego: Setbacks are a test of resilience and tenacity. With the right attitude, you can use them to identify opportunities, and I think that’s what sets true entrepreneurs apart from the rest. They see setbacks, not as failures but as opportunities that give you the chance to decide whether your business is going to tank or you’re willing to go in a new direction.
When setbacks happen it’s really an opportunity to get perspective from those around you – your board, team members, or investors, who can provide guidance as you determine the new direction.
Young entrepreneurs need to stop seeing setbacks as a failure and start seeing them as valuable lessons. When you start to do that your perspective changes and you see failure as a sign of how much you are trying new things, not a negative reflection of your achievements.
Q: What are the things you think are important for any business owner to stay focused on throughout the journey?
Katlego: For us at Yoco, the golden thread is that we are ruthlessly focused on the customer. We orientate ourselves around them and build things around their journey – not the other way around. Irrespective of the level of experience, the customer should always come first.
Q: How would you encourage small business owners to make good decisions, and how does one determine which to focus on at different stages of the business?
Katlego: At Yoco we make decisions to reinforce the golden thread if you’re focused on that you’re orientating all your decisions properly. The equation of good business decisions is balanced out with the customer journey.
Q: The early stages of a business often require thought through, but also quick decision-making processes. How do you navigate the decision-making for the best interests of the business?
Katlego: For me, there are two things that drive the decision process. The customer journey and the competitive landscape. Firstly, a venture needs to aspire to treat its 10 000th customer as it treated its first customer, this is the true measure of scaling with excellence. Strategic decisions are made with the customer journey in mind so they need to ask themselves how much time are dedicating to the current version of the customer journey versus the future version of the journey. Secondly, decisions also rely heavily on the competitive landscape. Business owners need to have both a here-and-now mindset and a forward-looking mindset. They need to keep in mind what will be keeping them ahead of the competition in 2-3 years and how they will be evolving. It’s important to ask yourself how is your business evolving, assessing investments in time, effort and resources over the short and long term alike. True advantage is built over the long term, not with day-to-day tactical decisions.
Q: How does an entrepreneur find the balance between planning and risk-taking, and what would you say that looks like?
Katlego: I see these as the same thing. Let’s be clear, hedging bets is not the same as taking risks. The strategy involves seeing where the market is going and how to invest as a company in the right things to take advantage of the opportunities. That is taking a risk because you won’t have all the data for those decisions. A lack of long-term thinking can be detrimental. Incremental gains are only short term but long-term investments will determine whether your business will still be around a few years from now.
Katlego: I think what I really want South Africa’s young entrepreneurs to know is that it’s really about figuring things out. You can’t go into an incubator, do a course or get a degree and walk out thinking you have taken big steps towards the goal. That is a bit misguided. A lot of the experience and knowledge you gain is from figuring things out as you go along. You don’t have to have all the answers from the get-go. You just have to start, not be afraid to fail, and take the lessons you learn from that and go at it again. Using customer centricity and subsequently being relevant as the guide on where to go next.