In light of Youth Month, we wanted to speak to someone influential in the South African business space and gain insights on the market opportunities for young entrepreneurs.
Who better to ask than Katlego Maphai, co-founder and CEO of Yoco? Yoco is a point of sale payments venture, empowering under-served SMBs in Africa to thrive with electronic payments, mobile point of sale, and financial services. Yoco is doing amazing things for young South Africans, allowing more than 20,000 entrepreneurs to excel in business. Katlego drives the ventures expansion, customer experience and organisational design elements as the company looks to increase point of sale payment adoption across SMEs in Africa.
Katlego finished his Bachelor of Business Science and Information Systems in 2005. He started working in 2006, two years before the 2008 financial crises, when the market was still in peak growth
“My generation was not thinking much about entrepreneurship, joining a corporate was a the way to go.” Why start a business when the market was growing and through a corporate you had a high paying job with many growth opportunities?
Whilst working as a management consultant and travelling across Africa and the Middle East in the telecoms, media & technology space, Katlego’s entrepreneurial spirit was sparked. The financial crisis of 2008 and its impact on the global economy helped to create a context where “corporate was no longer the path to growth and where entrepreneurship became a lot more popular.”
Do you believe education will get you where you want to be – is it really the key to success?
“Education is important, not just the content but the process. Doing something from start to finish, even if some parts are tough, is a great lesson in itself.”
Although he values his education and experience as the wings for his career, Katlego attributes a good part of his success to good fortune and timing
Yoco: How did it all begin?
Katlego was in San Francisco. “My friend took me to a hole in the wall BBQ eatery. There was literally nothing there. After we had eaten, the woman asked us how we wanted to pay, and I was confused.”
That’s when Katlego first saw the card reader dongle that was attached to the headphone jack of her phone. And that’s when he wanted to bring the idea to Africa. It took a year to get a license and Yoco was officially launched at the end of 2015.
With his three business partners he’d met throughout the stages of his work and education, they started exploring different business models. They saw the scope of the problem and understood the impact this could have on entrepreneurs’ lives, even beyond the payments. They had found a completely untapped market to address.
Why Cape Town and not Johannesburg?
Joburg often appears to be the major business hub in South Africa. The pay is higher and the market is richer. So why would a businessman like Katlego move from JHB to CPT to start a new venture?
It turns out Cape Town is a perfect place to start out. The cost of living is lower and commercial property is cheaper; people don’t really need cars and the lifestyle is generally more fulfilling. This allows for the attraction and retainment of international talent, and there is less competition with big corporates for high-performing employees.
However, working anywhere in South Africa can be a challenge. A lot of work being done has never been done before in SA, such a building legal framework and putting various systems in place. Due to the inability to extract this information or templates from the local ecosystem, system implementation and changes can take much longer and require a lot more work to be set up.
Any growth pains with scaling?
Although it may seem simple, Yoco has a very complex business model that one can’t see from the outside. There are five institutions involved for every payment that is processed. With 1500 new customers every month, the majority of whom have never accepted a card payment before, there is a great deal of unpredictability we need to account for.
Predictability is also a major factor. We invest money to acquire every new business, if they only do 2 transactions a year, it takes us a lot longer to recoup that acquisition cost. So being lean, data-driven and flexible is essential.
There are many layers to the business that will only multiply as the business grows. The biggest question is, “How do we use technology to be more human with our customers?”
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs starting out?
- Don’t romanticise it too much. Entrepreneurship looks pretty from outside, but in reality, it is one of the deepest, most personal challenges you will ever face.
- Don’t go half way. Even if you go 100% your chances of succeeding are small. So put everything into it and commit.
- Team people – this is the real magic. Behind every venture is people. Today’s world is about knowledge and learning. Yoco was not started by one person having an idea. My co-founders and I looked at and evaluated ideas as a collective.
- Think long term. The success of my business today came as a result of having a long-term vision and having the courage to carry it through.
If you were to open a business today, what opportunity would you address in the market?
In South Africa and across the continent, there is a layer of the market that is unserved. There are two economies; the top layer, being the upper middle class or large-medium companies, is over-served. They are easier to reach and a lot more predictable.
Then there is the second layer; the missing middle and the bottom of the pyramid. This market has not been addressed due to its sparse and unpredictable nature. It is harder to reach, but the technology, commoditised infrastructure and digital channels exist to help reach and serve these segments at scale.
Katlego’s advice on this: “Go for the untapped!”
Interviewer: Jason Luboyera Head of Sales & Marketing at Outsourced CFO