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Small Business Buzz: Being bold about failure is the se...

Business Maverick


Small Business Buzz: Being bold about failure is the secret to success for start-ups

From left: Carl Wazen, Katlego Maphai, Bradley Wattrus and Lungisa Matshoba, founders of the South African point-of-sale payments provider Yoco. (Photo: Gregor Rohrig)

Every team has at least one story of a time they tried something new that didn’t quite work. Despite the outcomes, valuable lessons are taken forward.

When I founded Yoco with Carl Wazen, Lungisa Matshoba and Bradley Wattrus, we felt the anxiety all new business owners feel. The doubt, fear, and uncertainty that come with starting a business are familiar to all entrepreneurs and it’s unlikely that these feelings ever go away entirely. But what does happen is that you learn to embrace the fear while keeping alive the freedom to experiment and, yes, occasionally fail.

At Yoco, one of our core values is to “make space to explore”. It is part of the Yoco Formula that we use to guide our work. It refers to the importance of making time to experiment, to learn, and to fail. It may seem counterintuitive but, by having the courage to ask questions and the boldness to fail, we ensure that our customers get the best from us. The operative word in the value is “make”. It speaks to prioritising, carving out time, and starting endeavours with this mindset.

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, more focus is required to foster the habit. It’s easy to let curiosity slip as you settle into routines.

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

The first is that if you don’t feed your curiosity and you get bogged down in the day-to-day running of a business, your passion will start to dissipate. Monotony and neglect will harm your start-up faster than a lack of funding or resources. By carving out 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 to 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 has at least one story of a time they tried something new that didn’t quite work. Despite the outcomes, valuable learnings are taken forward.

This leads to our second reason for “making space to explore”. At its core, this 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 constantly calibrate to their environments. Things change, in or outside a pandemic. Continual experimentation and subsequent learning are 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.

At Yoco, we set initiatives and goals for each quarter of the year and, in deciding how to allocate our resources, we always leave some time unaccounted for. Why? It’s our way of making sure that we have set aside 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 take the time, you won’t ever have the time.

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. At Yoco, we encourage teams to take smart risks, feed their curiosity and fight the fear of failure. The reward of practising 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. DM/BM

Katlego Maphai is the co-founder and CEO of Yoco, a financial platform for small businesses.


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