With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to disrupt businesses across the world, most businesses are being forced to make hard decisions and employ unconventional methods in order to stay afloat.
Some businesses have sacked employees, some have effected pay cuts while a good number has allowed their staff to work from home.
All in all, it is not easy being a business manager at the moment when they have to worry if the organisations they lead will come through at the end of the tunnel in one piece.
Business Today sat for an online interview with Sokowatch Kenya CEO Angela Nzioki to get a better understanding of what exactly managers are thinking about at the moment and how these thoughts are impacting on their decision making.
Sokowatch is a tech-enabled e-commerce platform that allows informal retailers to order goods at any time and get same-day deliveries. The organisation also leverages partnerships with suppliers to get better deals for shopkeepers in informal settlements.
Business Today: Has Sokowatch been affected and how have you navigated that challenge?
We knew that there would be challenges within the supply chain, so we decided to bring our experience to eliminate or at least reduce the disruption on the deliveries of essential goods, such as rice, flour, and soap.
As Sokowatch operates within communities that are most at risk and vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19, food security and their livelihoods have been a key factor in our overall operation strategy.
This is why we launched the Sokocash e-voucher scheme which uses our technology systems to distribute e-vouchers to families in need living in informal settlements.
Families receive SMS e-vouchers to redeem at a nearby shop supplied by Sokowatch. Once the goods are collected, the transaction is confirmed via the Sokowatch app and the shopkeeper is instantly credited for goods issued.
Since the launch of the scheme, shops taking part have seen average weekly sales volume increases by 54%. The e-voucher program has also seen good acceptance in the community currently standing at 94% uptake.
Business Today: As a CEO how have you managed the COVID-19 crisis and is your company able to facilitate employees to work from home?
Ensuring the safety of our staff remains our first priority. Our office-based staff are able to work from home and we have been advising the team on the best ways to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Line managers frequently check-in for one-on-one calls to help facilitate this balance on a more personal level. And we have a weekly team video call with our Global CEO Daniel Yu, which is great for all-round team spirit.
The Sokowatch drivers are out in the field every day and they are so vital to the communities and service we provide.
We set up handwashing locations and provided them with antibacterial spray bottles to carry, as well as have them wear gloves and masks. We also rebranded our tuk-tuks with public health messaging. It is important that they are able to continue their deliveries safely as thousands of families depend on them for their food and essential goods.
Business Today: Have you found yourself in a position you’ve had to make hard decisions?
Yes. The hardest decision we’ve had to make is choosing to keep our supply chains open in COVID-19 hot zones.
All our drivers are well trained and have access to the safety gear they need but it’s still a huge mental and physical sacrifice. Every time they leave to make deliveries, we cannot help but hope that we have equipped them well enough to protect themselves because the alternative of cutting supply chains to COVID-19 impacted zones, is not an option.
Business Today: You deal with suppliers and vendors. Have your supplies been affected and how has the limitation of movement in the country affected your business?
There has been some disruption to the supply chain, which means shop owners are not able to sell the range of goods they usually would.
Thankfully, informal retailers have been classified as essential workers, given their role in supplying the needs of the communities they operate in. As a result, their shops have stayed open and we have been able to supply them with the food and goods they need as they supply their communities.
The Sokowatch drivers are part of the essential movement of essential goods. So we have been very fortunate to be able to provide our service through this very fragile time.
Business Today: Sokowatch tracks real-time sales and crunches data to enable better business for everyone involved. How does that happen?
Previously, the landscape for the vast majority of informal retailers restricted the potential to grow and make a profit. There were also many inefficiencies in the supply chain. These are some of the reasons why we started Sokowatch.
Via our platform, shop owners are able to place orders at any time of the day, this data is captured, analyzed, and presented to manufacturers and distributors who are then able to produce and supply goods based on the most current retail trends and demand. This puts Sokowatch in a position to get competitive prices and much better margins for the retailers.
Business Today: How do you think Kenyan businesses will emerge from the crisis?
Kenyans are a resilient and resourceful people, this has been proven time and time again. The government acted very swiftly in the very early stages of the outbreak in Kenya, which is highly commendable and they have introduced intervention measures to help start-ups and SMEs, which could be a lifeline for businesses.
But we also have a hub of innovative talent here that will keep finding ways to improve the everyday lives of many and help us be better prepared for a crisis in the future.
It is also worth noting that this pandemic is affecting every country in the world. However, we are confident that, as a nation, we will recover from the effects of this crisis
Business Today: What do you like about doing business in Kenya? Anything interesting you’ve noted about the country?
In comparison to other African countries, Kenyans are generally early adopters and for a business like ours, starting where you can test out your business model fast and iterate, becomes quite imperative.
The Kenyan people from suppliers, employees, customers, are also resilient and challenging. What’s interesting about this is that it’s forced us to build better and stronger foundations and relations.
The lessons learned from starting in Kenya and working with Kenyan people have enabled us to launch and build up pretty quickly in 9 cities across 3 countries and continue to build for an even bigger foundation for scale across Africa.