Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Opportunity & Responsibility by Brett Magrath

When I think back to the early days of starting up businesses these two factors have always played an interesting role. As an entrepreneur you are always on the lookout for opportunities. There are those that dream of the day and those that grab the opportunities with both hands. The interesting dynamic is that at no stage did I ever even consider the responsibility that came along with such a decision.

In 2007 when Brad and I first started working on Zoona there was an opportunity to get back into the entrepreneurial world, where we could control our own destiny. This time it was round three and maybe even the last chance after previous failed attempts. The opportunity was bigger, but having experienced failure before, plus I was now married to Cath with Eva on the way, this meant that the responsibilities of chasing this opportunity became a little more real.

By June 2009 we had a Bank of Zambia license, had past 1000 transactions in a month, we had built up our staff base and most importantly had proven we could survive…somehow. The opportunity was growing and the idea of become a successful Zambian money transfer business was real, but as always, as the opportunity got bigger so too did the responsibility. From a personal stand point Eva was now 2 years old and Cath was now pregnant with Jasper. My personal responsibilities had grown tremendously, but with the business growth the responsibilities towards our employees was also growing. Lots of things come to mind but two early examples that cross my mind are convincing Konrad to leave his job to join us right back in the early days and signing a bond application form for Leshain knowing she was now dependent on us being successful.

Over the years there have been numerous phases of opportunities and responsibilities and it has been great. The growth, in particular of our employees, which is our driver to achieve our goals. As a business Zoona has always set big goals, but those around us know we are building a track record of achieving them. If we look at our company WIG’s, this approach is strongly embedded in the company’s DNA and achieving these goals is no longer about certain individuals, but about ensuring that everyone in the company is ready to grab the opportunity with two hands knowing the responsibilities that come with it.

Having taken some time off on over the December holidays, it’s allowed me to reflect about what I see as the current state of Zoona’s opportunity and responsibility:

I truly do believe that Zoona is well positioned to become a billion dollar business, I have listened to Mike say this for a number of years, but I am now a true believer. I genuinely believe that with our achievements to date and the team we are building that we have got to a level where this is more real than becoming a successful Zambian business was in 2009.

Over the years I have seen a migration from personal responsibility to employee responsibility and now a responsibility to our agents. With our new focus on the consumer, it is time to fundamentally change how our market transacts and how their economies function. We need to move from being nominated as one of the top ten companies in the world to help girls out of poverty to THE top company that HAS achieved this. Our Zoona model can truly deliver impact and we need to take on the responsibility of understanding our customers and consumers and ensure that our products and services meet their expectations. By doing these simple things and ensuring that each day we are turning ideas into actions as rapidly as possible, we will achieve this.

Here’s to a great 2015!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Zoona Consumer Roadshow 2015 - Zambia

In January 2015, the first action point for the Consumer Insights team was to conduct a wide array of consumer focus groups in several different towns across Zambia. I must admit I was very excited, and a little anxious, about heading out into parts of Zambia I had yet to explore. 

This presented the perfect opportunity not only to learn more about Zoona’s consumer base, but to also develop a better understanding of what Zambia looks and feels like. So the towns were picked, and although we couldn’t fit the entire country into our one week of travel, we were about to get an in-depth introduction into Central, Copperbelt, and Northwestern provinces. 
Saviour The Mechanic

The trip began for me in Lusaka where Saviour and I would drive to Ndola (about a 5 hour trip) to pick up Megan and Fearne, who were arriving from South Africa the following day. As we drove out of Lusaka, and through Kabwe, I was struck by how beautiful the countryside is during the height of the rainy season. Everything was so green and vibrant. Once we collected Fearne and Megan from the airport, the true journey really began. I can’t think of a better (or at the very least more revealing) way to get to know your colleagues than by buckling your seatbelt and strapping in for what would be approximately 18 hours in a car together over the course of one week. If this isn’t the definition of “Making it Real” then I don’t know what is! 

Anyways, back to the important stuff: Consumer Insights!
In each of the towns we visited we did two things:
  1. We walked around the town visiting the booths.
  2. We held consumer focus groups.

So we set off from the airport, having collected Megan and Fearne, and set off for our first destination: Solwezi. Although warned before-hand by a few of our colleagues who had previously done this drive about the condition of the roads, I still don’t think any of us were prepared for what we were about to experience. Having left Kitwe late in the afternoon, we hit the part of the road that was in the worst condition just as it was getting dark! Cue Massive Thunderstorm. I have skydived, I have bungee jumped, but I must say driving this stretch of unpaved road full of potholes in the pitch black, in a downpour of rain definitely tops my list of ‘thrilling’ experiences. So just to give some context, the reason that I have spent so much time describing these first few hours of the trip is because in my mind it set the tone for the rest of the trip. It gave us massive insight into what it means to drive 50km on an unpaved road full of potholes (which even in the best of conditions would not be an easy feat) in a more rural part of Zambia. It allowed us to contemplate more realistically the challenges that face the communities located along these stretches of road many kilometres away from the nearest town, and bank. Relative to this first car ride up to Solwezi, the rest of the driving that week was a breeze!

A note about the focus groups:
They were each organised by the aggregator agent based in the area, and I am so proud of Angela, Sandra, Paul, and Misozi for doing an amazing job in bringing these events together from the location to the group of participants.
Well done Paul, Misozi, Angela and Sandra for organising top notch focus groups.
What I enjoyed most:
Great looking Zoona kiosks
I very much enjoyed getting to walk around and get a real feel for the towns we were visiting, and what doing transactions at Zoona outlets in these towns really looked like and felt like. I spoke both with Zoona consumers outside of outlets, and strangers who may have never even heard of Zoona before. The major insight I gained from conversations at the outlets is that casual consumers were relatively happy with the Zoona service and mostly used it for business purposes or to support their families, and that everyone from students to lawyers to housewives use Zoona in some way to access financial services.

Surprising insights:
Something that surprised me from my conversations with strangers (which consisted of me going up to random people asking if they knew where I could send money) was that fewer of them used or had heard of Zoona than I expected. Actually, the majority of them pointed me in the direction of Shoprite, which in their words is the cheapest and therefore best. This was a huge eye opener for me because I personally had been very unaware of how Shoprite was actually affecting our business through competition on the ground. All in all these casual conversations proved very fruitful and were a great way to meet present (and hopefully future!) Zoona consumers.

Focus group learnings:
Finally, we come to the focus groups (wasn’t this the whole point of the trip to begin with?!). I think it was great that we undertook these events for our Zoona consumers. It provided us with in-depth insights into how our top consumers interact with and use our product while also allowing us to show our appreciation to our top consumers.

In conclusion:
These sessions allowed us to understand and interact with our consumers in a way that isn't feasible over the phone or even in casual surveys outside of outlets. I really enjoyed hearing about consumers’ first experiences using Zoona and how they had heard about it. I found it enlightening to hear about how the quality of customer service from tellers was inconsistent, and how regular consumers wanted to be recognized as more than a casual consumer with promotions or discounts. It was like we got an all access pass to everything Zoona, in it’s everyday existence. We can now move forward in a productive direction and provide our consumers with exactly the products and improvements that would help them most. Zoona has built a strong foundation for itself, and is clearly appreciated by it’s consumers. I think that through the insights gained on this roadshow, Zoona has empowered itself to truly “make it real” for it’s consumers.

The crazy Zoona team with Sandra