Towards the end of last year, Sw7 made a bit of a splash as a new digital B2B business accelerator platform.
Apart from being the first of its kind on the African continent, it was also launched thanks to a partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which most enterprises in the country were eagerly waiting on to spin up its local data centres.
Said presence has since launched in the region, but the impact of COVID-19 and lockdown have thrown a myriad industries into turmoil. As we enter alert level 1 lockdown, it is time for businesses to think about life post-COVID.
To that end we recently caught up with Sw7 co-founders, Odette and Keith Jones (pictured above), to find out how the platform has performed since launch, what hurdles it has encountered over the past few months, as well as what is on the horizon.
Here’s what the Joneses had to say.
What they’ve learned
Explaining what has happened during its pilot phase, they noted that Sw7 has shifted its approach somewhat in terms of helping technology businesses scale.
“Sw7 was launched as a pilot business forum to validate and test the processes, engagement and support required to support B2B SaaS businesses firstly remotely, and secondly at scale,” says Keith Jones.
“The approach and platform evolved significantly through the process as we adapted it to serve the needs of the community and to fit into the way they wanted to work. We found that post revenue businesses consume information in a way that is curated to match their needs and that there was low appetite for structured curriculum based content,” he adds.
Looking at times during the peak of COVID-19, the co-founder points to Sw7’s native digital focus as a key reason behind how it was able to assist. Furthermore, the disruption that many businesses within its own community experienced as a result of the global pandemic also forced Sw7 to look at different ways to meet changing needs.
“Most businesses had their strategic plans and goals disrupted for the year so providing a structured engagement process was not what they were looking for. We had to work hard to adapt the processes to meet this need but it has given us great insights into how to adapt the platform to serve this community,” Keith Jones points out.
Taking a deeper dive into the impact of COVID-19 on its community of business, the co-founders highlight the fact that it was very much industry related.
A changing appetite
“The impact was directly sector related, we saw healthcare businesses grappling with how to grow and scale whilst being fully digital and we saw businesses in the events or hospitality sectors losing eighty percent of their revenue in a matter of weeks,” he says.
As with the ecommerce space, Keith Jones notes that the digital approach that Sw7 has embraced proved pivotal in helping businesses scale as needed.
“COVID certainly added impetus to the appetite for businesses to engage digitally. It was an incredibly isolating period for most people. We found the digital approach enabled us to offer more curated support with an ease and in a less intrusive and distracting way. For post revenue businesses time is their most valuable asset, and ways to engage and support businesses in this context are paramount,” according to Keith Jones.
“The platform certainly provided insights on where to focus and where to seek value, but businesses survived off their income statements and securing any new business during lockdown was very difficult,” he continues.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it proved a bit more difficult for companies to raise funding during COVID-19 compared to pre-pandemic. Looking at the numbers, Keith Jones estimates that the Sw7 community raised around R200 million in funding pre-COVID, with that dropping to roughly R40 million during it.
There is optimism though despite a particularly tough quarter for the country’s economy. This as COVID-19 has highlighted the need to do things with a digital-first approach.
“The appetite to fund was there, but this was through existing relationships. We saw little appetite for new deals through new relationships. In the post lockdown markets we are grappling with an economy that has shrunk by 50% and where we have seen the appetite to digitise increase significantly,” he adds.
Watch this space
With the post-COVID era potentially only a few months away, the coming weeks will prove an exciting and busy time for Sw7 and its community, with Keith Jones noting that it is moving out of the pilot phase and is looking to grow significantly. This growth, however, will be tempered by a different approach as engaging with businesses is concerned.
“We are officially now out of the pilot phase and actively looking to add businesses to the network. We will add businesses in a curated way to ensure we maintain the quality. If you are a post-revenue B2B SaaS business looking to scale locally or offshore or looking for funding we would love to hear from you,” Keith Jones enthuses.
Finally touching on the relationship with AWS and the arrival of the aforementioned data centres, Keith Jones is excited by the prospect of new projects being on the way.
“The local AWS presence is a great help when it comes to fintech business and businesses that deal with sensitive data that can’t leave the country,” he says.
“AWS has been a great partner through the process, we offer network members significant benefits through the AWS Activate programme. We are exploring ways to scale the process with AWS – watch this space,” he concludes.