CFO Jono Blignaut creating a strong financial backbone in iKhokha

As the group’s first in-house CFO, Jono has been building a strong financial team within iKhokha.

When Jono Blignaut first stepped into his role as CFO for iKhokha – a company focused on creating digital tools and innovative mobile solutions for South African entrepreneurs to run their SMEs effectively – he needed to build the finance team from the ground up.

Now with a head count nearing 200 and rapidly scaling, iKhokha has developed financial capacity and has been enjoying exponential growth and sustainable cash flow for quite some time.

Jono was quick to get involved with iKhokha when he was approached by the company in 2017, and relishes the fact that his job doesn’t entail being “stuck behind a laptop staring at spreadsheets”, but also involves working with people. “I really bought into what iKhokha was trying to do in the financial services space in South Africa, which is largely about democratising payments and broader access to financial services for the majority of South Africans,” he says.

“I was the first in-house CFO for the business as iKhokha had previously used the services of an off-site financial manager who was servicing a lot of portfolio companies,” he recalls. But the business had reached the point where it required an internal finance capability. “We run an operational model where we have the ability to leverage off of a shared finance function that we still use to this day,” says Jono. “I focused on building the in-house financial decision-making muscle to be able to work with that team.”

It was a massive learning curve as it was his first time being exposed to a financial manager/CFO position without any former operational experience in such a role, one that he admits was not without its stumbling blocks. “Over the course of the first year and a half, I managed to find my feet and put controls in place. It helped streamline the operations side of the business from a finance perspective. Once the backbone and core processes were in place, I built a team around me and built out my own capacity for more strategic thinking,” he says.

Jono also notes that a key milestone was reaching a sustainable and positive cash flow. “It is not the be all and end all, but when you’re not focusing on whether you’re going to make it each month from a cash flow perspective, it does help you to think more creatively and strategically,” he says. Now he can focus on other elements of iKhokha and support the founders and board as they formulate and execute the broader strategy of the business.

He says he has found it very rewarding to grow with the company both personally and professionally, and enjoys being exposed to all the facets of the business including dealing with shareholder relations, fundraising, product development and operations.

“I’ve enjoyed watching how we build exciting new digital products, and dealing with people from diverse backgrounds. We’ve got everyone from software developers and logistics specialists to customer support and telesales agents. Having daily interactions and touchpoints with people from various professional backgrounds is a highlight for me,” he says.

“We can provide the most value when we can actively enable teams to achieve their goals, as opposed to being the gatekeepers. The traditional finance role is holding and tightly controlling the purse strings, and while that is important, the biggest lesson for me has been seeing how – when you give teams a framework that they can work around – you allow them to do their best work and play to their strengths.”

The iKhokha team is galvanised to continue assisting entrepreneurs to participate meaningfully in the economy, whether it be helping cash-only businesses to migrate to digital payments for the first time, or opening up to e-commerce. With more than 60,000 merchants and counting, Jono is proud of iKhokha’s direct contribution to the growth of South African SMEs.