On the 26th of November 2021, I woke up at 4 a.m. The context was very tense. I was stressed.
The latest announcement from the World Health Organisation wasn't very clear. It was worrying. The COVID Omicron variant, discovered in South Africa, made the entire world shiver once again.
The UK, the US, and the EU closed their borders to South Africa, again. Flights, reunions, holidays, and dreams got cancelled, again.
At Mama Money, we support migrant workers in accessing financial services and sending money home at a fair price. They are key workers for South Africa’s economy and the tourism and hospitality industry employs a lot of our customers.
What was happening for the migrant communities, once more, after all the successive lockdowns, was devastating.
Although we have been very successful in the last couple of years, including a great first wave recovery, the last couple of months had been tough for the business: we were feeling the downstream impact of the July lootings and the rand’s volatility.
On top of that, we made a few planning mistakes 18 months ago - in such times, even though we are a fast-growing Fintech with massive market and expansion potential, we should have been more conservative.
Mama Money is a social impact Fintech company with an unusual strategy: we chose to grow sustainably and steadily without relying on external funding, despite the market currently being very dynamic and valuations incredibly attractive. This gives us a lot of flexibility and simplicity in governance, but it also means that we need to be very careful in how we manage our finances. We take risks, reasonably.
The 26th of November 2021 was when I realised we would have to restructure our company.
The founders, Matt and Raph, and I decided to do it quickly so that we would only have to do it once to avoid the slow bleed. It sounds terrible when you write it like that. We have many people who rely on us on a daily basis and we were worried about the disruption in our service: many of our customers send money for critical needs, like hospital fees. On top of this, many of our employees are breadwinners for their families, which made the decision very difficult.
However, we didn’t want to do a simple downsizing exercise. We wanted to ensure that we wouldn’t hurt ourselves in the long run. We had to use this as an opportunity to regroup, reorganise, bounce back and carry on growing. Luckily, we had also invested massively in critical process automation earlier in 2021 and were starting to feel the benefits of this, especially in terms of customer experience.
The plan was ready.
My left brain was ready.
My right brain, though, was not.
Retrenching people is hard. It sucks. It’s sad. It made me wake up at night. It made me cry.
Mama Money is a very unique company with values at the core of what we do. Our culture is built around the well-being of our team members and making a difference in our communities. Our values are anchored around kindness, vulnerability, and empathy. We’re all passionate about what we do, and yet we had to restructure at scale and eventually retrench dozens of great team members. People who trusted us and worked hard. People we have personal relationships with. People we care for deeply.
At first, I thought our values would make it even more difficult, I later realised they would actually be our defining strength.
Our people have been incredible. They have shown great compassion, strength, and resilience. The values distilled by the founders have really shone through and have inspired me so many times during this difficult process.
A lot of our team came to check on me to see if I was okay. We were trying our best to be human, decent, and supportive, but I really wasn't expecting that level of care. I have memories of very powerful conversations and of very sad moments, of people crying and telling me that Mama Money is more than a company, that it’s a family. I have memories of very emotional and vulnerable moments with members of our senior management team.
What made it harder is that we still have to take care of all the people who were not affected. To show compassion, strength, and reassurance about our plan. Although trust was hurt, we have an amazing team and a strong plan to guide us through.
Comfort the people who leave. Reassure the people who stay. Acknowledge the shock and the distress. Have hope in our future. Humbling moments. Big learning curves.
It was a necessary thing to do but it leaves a bittersweet feeling. Something within me has changed.
It will take time to heal. It has been hard and sad but I believe it has made us stronger. It has shown me that we are a very resilient organisation and that our kindness and humanity is something we must nurture and value, even more, moving forward.
So, once more, to everyone who was impacted, I’m sorry we had to go through this. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for caring. Thank you for your contribution in making Mama Money what it is today.
I’m very optimistic about our future. We have made mistakes, but we have learned valuable lessons.
We have the same vision and passion but our approach has changed. We have taken this opportunity to reorganise. To be leaner, quicker, and more agile. We have built really strong foundations on which we are now futureproofing our services and our company to grow better and faster than before. Our opportunities are massive, both for social impact and for the business.
Most importantly we have an amazing, inspiring, and impressive team anchored around strong culture and values.
There are still millions of migrants across the world who are trying to improve their lives and the lives of their families and this is where Mama Money can support them.
We are ready for our next chapter.
Tough times don’t last, resilient teams do.