Aisha Pandor is the CEO of SweepSouth, a South African on-demand platform that offers homeowners access to cleaning professionals.
1. Describe the toughest situation you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
One of the toughest situations we’ve had was in December 2016 when we failed to cater for a big surge in customer numbers. We had a busy year and quite a few of our team took time off, but we didn’t anticipate that the period would be so busy.
As a result, many of our customers weren’t able to get a booking and were incredibly upset. Even worse, there were customers who made a booking, and their SweepStar (the term for service providers who work via our platform) didn’t show up.
We spent the December holidays manning the phones and trying to reduce the fallout, answering customer complaints and responding directly to social media onslaughts. It was quite a miserable time and we ended off having to write a letter of apology to our customer base with promises to improve.
However, it did teach us that growth can be a bad thing if you don’t plan for it. Things can and will go wrong and you have to take it in your stride. You have to be humble and able to apologise when needed. But even when things feel critical, you can always make a plan.
2. What business achievement are you most proud of?
I’m incredibly proud of the fact that we had an idea, and that instead of spending a life of “what if”, we had the guts (or insanity!) to sell everything we had to back it. I’m proud that through grit, determination and vision we are turning that idea into a tangible business that employs 60 fantastic, smart, dedicated and hardworking people internally, and has helped over 20,000 hardworking women to find working opportunities.
I’m also proud to be a black woman building a tech business that has strong female representation amongst its leadership, and that our business is helping other women to find work and care for their families.
3. Tell us about your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
Having spent a lot of my previous career as a research student and then as a management consultant, I wasn’t used to working in large teams and relied on myself a lot to get things done. This meant that when we did bring more and more people on board, I struggled with trusting people to do things and with delegating effectively.
I also wasn’t always the best at communicating across the board and remembering that what’s important in communication isn’t what is said, it is whether and how it is understood. These are things I’m working on with an executive coach.
4. What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
I don’t agree with the concept of having a full, voluminous business plan prior to starting. I think you should have an idea, do some work to understand the market, work in a space you’re passionate about and equipped to have a competitive advantage in, and put together an idea of the business model/projections.
In so many cases we just don’t know exactly how things will pan out, and what exact numbers we will hit three, four, five months from now. Banks and investors who over-emphasise that need for a fat, super detailed business plan, and then hold you to it in minute detail, are doing entrepreneurs a disservice.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?
I wish I knew how hard it would be, as I had initially entered into the space with a kind of naivety about the mental, physical and emotional toll it would take. I definitely would have prepared better and ensured I had the right kind of support.
On the positive side, I didn’t anticipate how fulfilled I would feel building this business. It’s given me a great sense of purpose and of really loving what I do and how I am growing as a person.