In a short space of time, businesses have had to find innovative ways of working through Covid-19 to keep trading – making the business world unrecognisable from the one we knew before the coronavirus arrived on our shores.
Seeing as the vast majority of iKhokha’s base are small businesses, combatting the repercussions of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown required considerable action and innovation.
iKhokha’s co-founder and Chief Product Officer, Ramsay Daly, talks us through the measures iKhokha has taken to provide vital support to our merchants during this trying time.
What impact has Covid-19 had on iKhokha?
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were on track to deliver the best year in iKhokha’s history. For once, we were going to drastically outperform the budget that we had set with our ever-patient investment partners.
In roughly 18 months, our team had doubled, with a sustained focus on product team hires to improve our technical service offering and allow us to provide best of breed products to solve many of the challenges that small businesses face.
We were also on the verge of a full operational overhaul with significant gains in automating our service processes set to take shape using some of the best enterprise technology in the world. It was a much-anticipated optimisation that we could finally afford.
On the first day of lockdown, we processed our lowest daily transaction volume since circa 2015; a year that we would rather forget.
As an Executive Team, how did you approach the challenge?
I watched my best friend and CEO grapple with the emotional consequences of what needed to be done to ensure our survival. He led from the front and displayed the leadership you would expect from someone instrumental in the creation of a company that has been able to disrupt the legacy card acceptance infrastructure in South Africa.
He moved swiftly to galvanise our executive team. Our communication cadence increased to daily stand-ups, with the implementation of hourly updates on transactional volumes and market movements. We all scoured every bit of information being published by reliable sources. From there, we developed crisis modelling frameworks. These helped us understand what business levers to pull depending on various lockdown scenarios.
Our young management team had never been through any level of restructuring. So, I have nothing but admiration for how they focussed on working through Covid-19 with communication at a team level that was far beyond a daily stand-up.
Talk us through your mindset. How did you deal with the pressure?
As founders, we’ve always held onto the thought that to succeed, you must be comfortable in chaos. We pride ourselves in being able to keep our cool and make strategic data-based decisions. In doing this, we always prioritise performance and incremental improvements, no matter what the circumstances.
What processes did you implement to adapt to this strange new way of working?
At a company level, we implemented a weekly update to keep everyone informed. Here, we shared how our transactional revenue was tracking along with any credible additional market insights. Our approach has always been one of over communication and brutal transparency with all iKhokha team members. This transparency galvanised each of the teams. It ensured that we all saw ourselves as being in the same boat.
In a week, we moved 130 people offsite. We procured all remote connections, tweaked phone infrastructure and defined communication techniques. It has been a profoundly humanising experience to see what is possible when teams put aside everything else but progress and the benefit of their fellows.
How did you maintain company cohesion in such a disruptive time?
We had sessions to discuss our emotional wellbeing, given the anxiety and the pressure of working through Covid-19. We set up additional culture activities on our intra-company chat platform. I found out that some of our staff were extremely creative cooks. Others tended to favour overcooked meat or cold viennas. It emerged that we have a huge community of gamers and book nerds. And, of course, Netflix is always a hot topic of discussion.
Small businesses have had to bear the brunt of the pandemic. What measures has iKhokha taken to help merchants during this challenging time?
As lockdown wore on, our concern for the livelihood of our merchants increased. We sent out surveys to all of our merchants and asked them what they needed from us. An incredible 97% asked us to source gloves, masks and sanitiser, so we did. In 10 days, we managed to purchase protective equipment and put together an iKhokha offering featuring all the requested products for proper business hygiene.
We focussed on iK Vend, an offering which allows all iKhokha merchants to sell prepaid products and earn commission in the form of iKash, essentially creating another revenue stream.
We also worked closely with our lending partner, Retail Capital, to continue to develop Cash Advance. This feature gives qualifying iKhokha merchants easy access to the capital they need to grow their businesses. Some of our merchants have even used Cash Advance to cover any shortfall as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Can you tell us a bit more about Project Jumpstart?
We knew we needed to do more. So, we reached out to our investment network and managed to arrange ‘jumpstart packs’ for 100 businesses, each consisting of a Mover Pro card machine, R1000 iK Vend credit (iKash) and an essential PPE business hygiene pack.
To distribute these ‘business jumpstarts’, we launched Project Jumpstart, an initiative through which we’re hoping to restart the heart of the South African economy by offering support to SMEs to help them get back on their feet.
Do you think small businesses can find their way back from this economic disaster?
If there’s something I’ve learnt through my experience at the forefront of the SME world, it’s that small businesses are built by people with incredible grit and resolve. No matter what anyone says, South African entrepreneurs are a global force that should never be underestimated.
In your opinion, what needs to happen next?
We’re living in an extraordinary time – for business, for South Africa and the world. We’ve suffered a massive blow. So, there needs to be a lot more action to get back on track.
It is time for us to pull together to continue working through Covid-19. From the small business selling kotas to the new side hustles being spawned, to those who are out of work and wondering how to make ends meet. We need them to keep dreaming, keep fighting and keep shaping their future.
I hope that history remembers this disaster as the time when South Africans, driven by their entrepreneurial spirit, grew a little closer together by standing a little further apart.
Nominate your business for Project Jumpstart
If you’re working through Covid-19 and need support, nominate your business and you could WIN 1 of 100 business jumpstarts to get your business back on track.