The Product Incubator: AppLab Money in Uganda
CGAP’s first Applied Product Innovation project took place in Uganda where we set up and funded a product incubation lab with Grameen Foundation housed at MTN Uganda. Grameen’s AppLab Money team had a broad mandate to use a variety of research techniques for uncovering customer insights and creating commercial products for MTN Uganda. The agreement with MTN Uganda allowed our team to sit in MTN’s office, test on its network, analyze the company’s data and swap ideas with its staff. The plan was to assess the demand for commercially viable product concepts that MTN could launch and bring to scale in Uganda. Creating an incubator that sat with the provider and yet had an independent source of funding brought the luxuries of time, money and talent, in the form of a team focused exclusively on creating and scaling powerful mobile money products ripe for adoption by poor customers.
This approach yielded a lot of insights but it also had its weaknesses. CGAP published two case studies that outline the methodology used and what worked and what didn't in terms of the process. The first case study covers the set-up, customer research and ideation phases. The team used many different research tools including data mining, a customer survey of more than 2,600 people, focus groups and semi-structured interviews. Ultimately, the semi-structured interviews, which simulated real-life financial decisions, were the most useful tool that were useful in uncovering patterns of customer behavior. Quantitative data was valuable for segmentation and for sizing the opportunity while focus groups were useful in validating ideas and testing concepts with users.
The second case study describes the concept testing phase. During this stage, the team fleshed out initial ideas into product concepts and assessed the feasibility and commercial viability of key concepts. Perhaps most importantly, they tested the concepts with users early and often using prototypes.
As we expected, the independent product incubation lab generated thousands of data points and hundreds of ideas. Unfortunately, about nine months into the process, MTN Uganda experienced substantial fraud on its mobile money system, so they prioritized addressing this problem over innovating. Despite this setback, the AppLab Money team continued to test and refine products. CGAP learned a tremendous amount during this project. It has helped us to refine and sharpen our subsequent API projects and to structure projects that are shorter and more focused on the research techniques we know will yield breakthrough customer insights. It has also helped us learn about the challenges of creating change in an organization from the outside in. The AppLab Money team has explored many tools for understanding customers, thought deep and hard about how to apply these to mobile money products for Uganda’s underserved and learned important lessons about product development in an organization going through crisis.