Understanding how the mobile ecosystem works in developing regions like Africa is essential to launching sustainable content and services and not simply a matter of reproducing apps that have done well in more developed markets. Even within Africa itself, a granular understanding, from country to country is required to achieve market success. Here, Meffys 2015 finalist, Vahid Monadjem from Nomanini, an African payments platform provider that enables transactions in the cash-based informal retail sector, explains this approach.
“Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make — bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake — if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble.” – wise words from Lemony Snicket.
There are hundreds of examples of failed endeavours to repurpose products and services for emerging markets. They fail because although the transition may seem fool-proof, the foundation – the context for which the product was originally designed – often does not exist in this new environment, at least not in the same way.
We often hear local developers pitching ideas that essentially entail creating a business that comes out of the US, without changing it any meaningful way. Developing a new app called ‘Uber for Africa’ is just about the same as: ‘Uber now launching in Africa’. The same applies across countries on the continent – MPesa may have done well in Kenya, but that success has not been replicated to any great degree (except in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh).
Listen and learn – early
The failure to listen and learn is particularly acute when businesses are looking to serve emerging markets and informal sectors. All too often, there is an assumption that one knows everything there is to know, and businesses rely on second hand generalisations rather than hard-won understanding.
Product design is not just one person’s job at the end of the development process. Everyone should be involved – especially the end user – and it needs to happen right at the beginning of the process.
Things change all the time
This is an inherent trait of emerging markets. If product development is too slow, you risk losing out to a faster competitor, or you may find that the need you were trying to meet has evolved and your product becomes obsolete before it hits the market. An agile approach is vital. Start with the one or two most important features, build the product around these and then get it to market to test. See how users are interacting with your product and then use that insight to re-evaluate your design.
Local partnerships are essential
If the market you’re designing for isn’t your own (and sometimes even if it is), partnering with a local organisation and letting them take care of operations on the ground is wise. They are more likely to know how to package and market the product for best results in their market.
and can be windows to your end-users. They often supply useful contextual information that can help you improve your product for all markets. Allowing partners to make the decisions around configuration, branding, marketing and distribution works well and increases the chances of success for both sides.
Get the software right – make it scalable and updatable
If your product requires software, think about how you will install updates, collect insights and update information – especially if the device is likely to travel long distances (a reality in Africa).
Cloud solutions allow you to scale instantly, on a pay-per-use basis, and to run software updates and make changes remotely. Cloud also makes working with partners in other countries much easier because there are no major infrastructure requirements, and nothing to install or replace.
It’s amazing how much you can achieve through software.
It’s worth the effort
Emerging markets are challenging and the margin for error is small. But with predictions that these economies will grow almost three times faster than developed ones, and account for an average of 65% of global economic growth by 2020*, those businesses that can offer well-designed products that meet a basic need, could find themselves sitting on a veritable goldmine.