The Lending Circles team — Rex, Olaf, and me — got started bright and early Saturday morning. The idea behind Lending Circles is to bring the South African stokvel into the digital banking age via SMS. There’s been a big push to deliver services to the underbanked via SMS, since much of the developing world has better access to pre-paid mobile phones than a landline or regular Internet connection. But as recently as 2009, South African communities didn’t have access to banking products that would work with a stokvel.
Word of the Day
A stokvel is a community savings account. Generally run by groups of women in a village, each family contributes a set amount every month. Each month, one family is allowed to withdraw a portion larger than their contribution and pay it back. At the end of the year, the entire pot is divvied up.
We had a ton of items to prepare before Sunday: market analysis, competitor analysis, financials, ramp-up strategy, costs, minimum viable product, etc. It was about 8:00 pm that evening when Rex brought up some bad news.
It seems that South African banks had just recently started offering stokvel accounts.
Word of the Day, encore edition
In Startup Weekend parlance, a pivot is that moment when you realize the concept you’ve been working on is for shit, and you have to start over.
To recap: It’s late on Saturday night, presentations must be ready by 5:30 the next day, and all of our work so far is for naught. We’ve lost over 1/2 of our available working time. Not to mention the fact that we have to find a replacement concept.
It took us until almost midnight, but we managed to evolve the original idea into a new pitch: StokFel. This new business would be aimed at the U.S. market initially, taking the South African stokvel idea and applying it to Americans who have trouble saving (more on the concept in a later post).
We agreed to break for the night and arrive back early Sunday morning, with fresh ideas on how to build and pitch this new concept.