Why I’m Glad I Went to the Yoco Exchange Small Business Summit

After President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement last night, it’s difficult to believe that I could have attended an event like the Yoco Exchange Small Business Summit last Saturday.

But I did, and I’m glad.

Even though two of my friends cancelled, and I almost didn’t go. I justified this by thinking that it would be best to rather stay at home too and be safe (even though my freelance writing and live-and-work-at-home schedule means I’m in pretty much self-isolation everyday, so I was really looking forward to being around 100+ people).

So by late Saturday morning, I’d pretty much accepted that I would be staying at home for the day. Until I overheard a man tell a vendor at the Hazel Food Market that his girlfriend wasn’t with him because she had gone to a small business conference.

Even though I don’t have a clue who he, or she, was, just hearing that made me say “fuck it”, and decide to go.

And here are five reasons why I’m really glad I did.

5 Reasons Why I’m Glad I Went to the Yoco Exchange Small Business Summit

1. It’s really important to get out

I know this is counterintuitive to the advice being given now, but this was before Sunday night, and the thought of staying at home, again, was just impossible for me once I’d heard, even from a random stranger, that people were still going to the event.

I had it in my mind that it would have been cancelled, but thankfully, it was still very much going ahead. With the addition of some hand sanitising stations, and a general awareness about COVID-19.

I don’t want to play down anyone’s concern about getting ill, and I don’t judge my friends for not coming, but I after months of working at home to save money, and not really going out much, missing out on an event like this felt like missing out on a real opportunity to be inspired and get a different perspective.

Which it was, but not before having to wolf down my dough lamb pita. Haul ass back home. Shower. Get ready. Drive to the Gautrain Hatfield Station. Wait half an hour for a train after just missing one. Getting to Rosebank, ordering an Uber and struggling to find it on the corner of Baker and Oxford. Finding it, driving to 1 Fox, feeling edgy while driving off the highway but finally making it to the Yoco Exchange entrance.

Where one of the attendants kindly opened my Uber door for me.

2. I really love South Africa

Yes, I know, everyone likes to talk about all of the things that are going wrong in South Africa. But for once, where is truly okay right now? As far as I can tell, everyone, everywhere in the world, is scared. And to me that means that wherever we go in the world, we’ll always have to face up to some kinds of challenges, and be vulnerable.

What all of this has shown me is that it doesn’t matter whether your chosen society seems to have it all figured out. No matter what’s better or worse, there’s still the fear of a tiny nanoscale non-living zombie virus that is hellbent on replicating in your respiratory tissue, and it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like.

It’s positively terrifying, but I’m personally proud of the way the country has responded. In my view, people are taking it seriously and it looks like the government is too.

Back to the conference

This positive pre-announcement sentiment couldn’t have been more apparent in the smooth running of the day. There was no tension or real fear. Just people milling around, no handshakes (that I saw) and people taking the time to listen to successful South African entrepreneurs who have done great things, and who aren’t afraid to tell you about the pitfalls of doing your own thing.

I’m not saying that it’s okay to be naive or ignorant, it was just so good to spend an afternoon in a room full of small business owners like myself who were so inspired to make a change.

Unfortunately, I missed the earlier Yoco Exchange talks, but one of the guys who sat down next to me (before social distancing was a legitimate thing), told me that he was so pumped after listening to Craig Rodney speak about growing your brand on Instagram.

Just that overall feeling of inspiration made me feel really proud to be here.

3. There are a lot of things to be proud of

From a black female owned beekeeping and honey business called Native Nosi, to the nude range of underwear for brown shades of skin made by Gugu Intimates, it’s clear that there are also many female entrepreneurs to look up to, which is an important part of where I am right now in my business journey.

One of the talks I enjoyed the most was also by another female entrepreneur, Marang Marekimane, who spoke about how to scale and grow businesses using simple online planning technology like Entreprenerdy. Her approach was grounded and simple, but her confidence and the ease with which she spoke about her successes and failures made me want to knuckle down and really spend time thinking about how to grow my own business.

(Even though just writing regularly on this blog might be job #1).

In addition to that, listening to Gugu Nkabinde talking about her journey with Gugu Intimates, and seeing one of my clients, Musa Kalenga, do one of his keynotes that I’ve helped him write and edit copy about (The API Humanity), was very meaningful.

Gugu Nkabinde at Yoco Exchange
Gugu Nkabinde at Yoco Exchange

In fact, the whole ethos of the day can be summed up in the fact that the host of the event, Yoco, a small business service provider, was once just a fledgling business of its own (started by four young South Africans from different backgrounds, all focused on providing easier ways for small businesses to sell).

4. There is so much opportunity for small businesses in South Africa

The last talk, which was a panel discussion with Maps Maponyane, Yoco co-founder Katlego Maphai and DJ Black Coffee (an early investor in Yoco), just summed up my sentiments of the day perfectly too.

DJ Black Coffee, who is arguably one of South Africa’s most famous exports, was humble and soft-spoken in his thick-rimmed shades, sharing how he had to overcome the voices around him to become a musician, because to his family, you can’t be a musician if you can’t sing.

Maphai’s parting words about how the people with the potential to change South Africa were right in this very room also made me feel super emotional, as I’ve grown up with my dad talking about the very same thing, and it was so poignant to hear someone from my generation say it too.

I know things are tough, and there are a lot of things to complain and be scared about, but what I experienced at the Yoco Exchange event just reaffirmed the voice inside me that keeps telling me there’s something bigger that I can do here, while running a business.

View of Johannesburg city from 1 Fox
View of Johannesburg city from 1 Fox

5. You can still have fun in a time of chaos

Unfortunately, due to everyone except me taking containment seriously, I couldn’t go and visit my best friend Casey on my way back to Rosebank via Uber as I’d planned.

But, even with all the chaos, I still got to go and have a drink at Sin+Tax on Bolton Road (or technically the tiny alleyway off of it), just like I was hoping to do.

Welcome to the Candy Shop

It was a bit empty, but it had only just opened, so I took my time with my Boulevardier, while appreciating the ambience of the candlelit/dark and inviting space, laughing at the nostalgia of their innovative “tuckshop” menu, which recreates alcoholic versions of primary school tuckshop favourites like Slush Puppies and Fizz Pops.

I chose to stick with the Bourbon version of a Negroni though. And then, after eating a whole tin of free popcorn, just to fully appreciate the experience of being out and about, I walked back up to the Rosebank train station from the bar. Dodging a hole in the road with a pole sticking out of it along the way.

The Rosebank Gautrain Station was eerily quiet as I waited for the train and started to read the Heavy Chef book about Financial Management for Startups that I’d got in my event gift bag, listening to the voice on the loudspeaker reminding me to wash my hands.

I read that book the whole way home, feeling super pumped, and a bit drunk, but ready to put something, I don’t know what, into action after being exposed to so many motivating and successful young South African entrepreneurs.

Did you attend the Yoco Exchange Small Business Summit? If you did, I would love to hear your thoughts. Also, if you’ve got thoughts about running a business in a time of chaos and COVID-19, I’d love to hear about that in the comments below too.

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