Recipes to Success #1: Building the Ecosystem

Over the years, I am continually asked what is the 'secret sauce', 'silver bullet' or 'killer app' to ensuring Mobile Money success. And I have to admit, there is no secret, there is only the ability to learn from the repeated mistakes and successes of those that have pioneered before you. Such an approach isn't specific to emerging markets, developed markets, Africa or Asia, but it is a strong set of learnings that one should investigate, understand and consider when making their own play in mobile financial services. One of the key successful factors is understanding and building the ecosystem. Far too many mobile money businesses go head first into launching products that have little market research and little consumer understanding on the chance that 'build it and they will come' or 'copy M-Pesa' will ensure success. Operations like these are continually faced with disappointing adoption rates, or low active utilisation. Thus leaving executives puzzled or disillusioned on around the hype of mobile for financial services. Building the ecosystem is at the top of my list of insights as a theme that many forget. This may sound simple and straight forward, but one needs to be aware this is not something you can buy, outsource or ignore. It's a constant journey of discovery, adaptation and refinement. It doesn't finish upon launch, nor does it finish within the first year. Best of all, it a journey that will engage you in the fascinating exploration of cash and transaction flows within your market. It involves understanding the various actors within the community, how and why they interact, where they interact, what is the relationship between them. Only with this level of understanding will the market opportunity for Mobile Money be obvious. This could be as simple as witnessing the amount of cash that friends or family send between each other via trusted couriers, or huge queues at a factory on payday. This is your secret sauce, engaging and understanding the world people live in, then finding the points in the ecosystem that could be better.

I have such a recipe, which I have used dozens of times to guide the industry towards success. Engage, Penetrate, Accessibility, Control, Sustain & Learn, Re-Plan, and re-Execute.

Let's take a look at each step:

1. Engage:  First and foremost you must find a way to get amongst your target market. Spend time understanding their everyday needs, pressures, movements, etc. Find out how much cash they carry, and why that amount. Where they travel regularly to buy things, get services, or exchange money? Document everything you find, take photos, exchange contact details. These people will be key in your journey of market understanding and service refinement.

2. Penetrate:  With a clearer understanding of the market, document your theories on where you feel a service can penetrate the ecosystem. Remembering commerce and financial transaction already happen, your just looking for gaps where you feel a service might enhance or benefit those involved. Start by listing just a dozen. This list is where you make a soft launch of the service. Get those people deeply engaged, because they will be your champions over time.

3. Accessibility:  Okay, so now you have a few theories on getting into the ecosystem, but you have to remember, once you convert transactions from cash to virtual money, such in the cause of Mobile Money. Those individuals brave enough to be early adopters will need assurance that they can still get access to their money. There is no point trying to address the payday queues at a factory, if the only way they can get cash is to travel to a bank or ATM to make a withdrawal. The access needs to be within their current life & ecosystem, but of course you already know where their life happens from your engage findings. While hyper growth is fantastic, it also means you have to scale your service foot print to meet the demand, which creates a risk that you have poor customer experiences outside your existing field of service. Take Facebook for example, they executed a carefully controlled launch, one university at a time. During the initial phases of your launch you will learn ten fold from your original market engagement findings. The ecosystem in which you activate needs to be readily accessible so you can quickly collect market feedback. Make sure you document this feedback, as it will be extremely valuable as you refine the service offering.

5. Sustain & Learn:  As the ecosystem organically grows, you need to maintain your engagement so that you may observe it grow patterns, behavioural usage, challenges, etc. Ongoing observation and documentation.

6. Re-Plan: Revisit the theories you had during the penetrate phase and add to the list, no doubt the number of theories you now have are double or even triple. You need to link your findings in the field in a cyclical manner enabling a highly engaged feedback mechanism into your market planning, service planning and penetration plans. These will be key as you enter more and more ecosystems. Don't be afraid you remove the theories that didn't work, just don't forget why didn't work.

7. Re-Execute:  This is where the model completes the cycle. Go back and re-engage, whether that is engaging a new ecosystem, or reengaging the same but broader community. You'll enter with an enhance understanding, which will make you more observant and in tune with the community. This all may seem fairly straight forward, but you'd be surprised how often companies looking to enter the Mobile Money space forget to engage the ecosystem and learn through a repeatable process. The process is scalable, so as your team size grows the process remains with a greater power as you gain more and more perspectives on the market. So there you have it. A Jamie Oliver style recipe for success in launching Mobile Money. If you'd like more details, I am always not too far away.