There are few lockdowns in the world as severe – and as hard-hitting economically – as the one inflicted upon South Africa.

The situation in South Africa cast a big shadow over our first ever virtual SCALEup on May 28, which came with a brand new format called The Marketer’s Snackbox: acutely aware of the Zoom fatigue affecting everybody, our webinars are short and snappy 20 minute affairs. Perfect for a lunch break or over your morning coffee! 

This time around, our moderator Natasha Fourie spoke to Matt Brownell of Yoco, a point-of-sale payments provider for small businesses – and the market leader in South Africa since their launch in 2014. Making easy payments possible for thousands of businesses across the country, Yoco’s customer base – up to 80,000 businesses – spans a wide range of sectors, with particular strengths in gastronomy, retail, and health and beauty.

With a business model focused on small businesses – most of whom were forced to shut due to the lockdown announcements on March 23 – COVID-19 had a big impact on the company’s bottom line. In an insightful discussion, Matt revealed how they’ve pivoted since the crisis erupted, finding out about how they adapted their entire product offering and their marketing and media strategy to suit the new normal. Here are the five takeaways we gleaned from the short, but vital, discussion.

We don’t stop for long here at DCMN. Sign up for next week’s webinar on the topic of online gaming, with speakers from Wooga, Nordeus and Kolibri.

“Thoughtfulness trumps speed in a crisis like this”

COVID-19 came at a strange time for the Yoco team, who had just successfully hosted their first conference day only one day before the lockdown began! “We weren’t so prepared,” Matt admitted. “I had woken up the day after and thought maybe I would take a breather before the rest of the year.”

Many companies immediately are all systems go, but for Yoco it was a bit different. Instead, they spent the first five days surveying their customer base and finding out exactly what they needed to overcome and survive the crisis. Their findings consisted of three needs: resources & knowledge, community and product. These became the three pillars of Yoco’s subsequent COVID-19 strategy. For example, the focus on resources and knowledge led to a content marketing strategy centred on their blog, with timely and highly relevant articles that hone in on ways to assist small business owners during the crisis.

What small businesses needed was clear data on what was going on

Matt from Yoco discusses the small business monitor

Transparency and openness is a key part of Yoco’s philosophy. So it was no surprise they decided to use all the data they have – something extremely rare – to help small businesses publicly. To that end, Yoco launched their Small Business Recovery Monitor, an index tracking small- and medium-size business turnover in South Africa, information and data that small business owners were sorely lacking beforehand. 

Displaying the index, Matt showed how at its lowest point, small business revenue dropped 92% on pre-lockdown levels. Matt also noted here that, of course, their customers’ loss of revenue directly correlates to a loss of revenue on Yoco’s side. Hence it was imperative for Yoco to pivot, changing their content strategy to support their clients’ recovery or to minimise losses where possible by providing them with knowledge and resources.

And that wasn’t the only product innovation…

In one week, they built another application their customer base was in need of: a voucher system. Called Support Small, it’s another one of these great local business initiatives that we’ve seen since the crisis erupted. Support Small acts as a small business directory for which customers could buy online gift vouchers, or donate and shop at businesses who are still trading. “It was a product-led response to a customer need,” he told Natasha.

Company culture is very important – especially when remote working

Yoco discuss how they have adapted to help small businesses during COVID-19

“Agility is embedded in our DNA,” he explains. It’s not just the ability to switch courses quickly – something startups are often praised for – or having the right tech at their disposal that has been crucial for Yoco’s switch to this ‘new normal’. Even more crucial is a focus on compassionate leadership, something that has always been important for the business.

“We went from having an all-hands meeting every two weeks, to having one every day,” Matt told us. “And we had a big focus on overcommunication, too. Some people complain about having too many meetings, but at this time we thought it was crucial.”

He’s confident that’s what will see Yoco through the crisis

They’ve already pivoted, and he expects more pivots to come as they shift to a more product-led offering. But it’s that aforementioned focus on culture that’s really crucial: “Culture either fragments or gets stronger in a crisis,” Matt says, talking about how inspired he has been by Yoco’s solidarity since the crisis erupted.

“I heard a quote saying about 10% of businesses come out of a recession stronger,” says Matt. “Yoco will be one of those 10%.”

Thanks Matt!

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