Author, Consultant, Research Advisor
The lean start-up approach, which is being used with increasing zeal and rigour by start-ups and corporates, is now being applied to the social enterprise sector as well by mobile-centric NGOs and innovators. This topic is now being addressed by a number of resources and books, such as ‘Lean Start- ups for Social Change: The Revolutionary Path to Big Impact,’ by Michel Gelobter. The early approach to many social enterprises was ‘Plan, Fund, Do.’ Instead, the lean start-up mantra of ‘Build, Measure, Learn’ encourages mobile innovators to conduct small experiments, quickly get real-world feedback on them, and use that data to expand only on what works. Mobility entrepreneurs are looking at larger impact areas like consumer behaviour change, cultural preservation, education, public health benefi ts, and human rights. Many of these also have fi nite windows for impact, otherwise there is a lost ‘opportunity cost.’
In the ‘early guesses’ mode, mobile innovators should quickly write down early assumptions of their domains. They should separate out end- user segments (direct, indirect), and problems from needs. It is important for NGOs to map the usage and decision-making cycles in their target communities, while identifying influencers, channels and referrals. In the ‘get set’ and ‘get out’ modes, more research has to be done, fortifi ed by direct communication and interviews with experts, peers and target customers. Online MVP (minimum viable product) tests can be done via online surveys, videos and blogposts. This can determine customer level of interest, intensity of the problem, willingness to pay for a solution, and enthusiasm to do referrals. Based on this feedback, the mobile entrepreneur can decide to pivot, reframe the situation and proceed (exiting and moving on to another cause is also an option). Typical types of pivots are zoom in/out, change customer segment or addressed need, change channel, or resort to new funder.
After product-market fit has been reached, two sequential loops have to be initiated – getting customers, and keeping them while intensifying engagement (get + keep and grow). More mobile marketing initiatives will be needed to ‘prime the pump,’ via campaigns and growth hacking tools. Metrics can be unearthed via A/B testing batches for overall impact.
Innovators should go deep before trying to get big, and use innovation accounting to track progress. Numbers and anecdotes both yield useful insights on customer awareness, interest and activation. Churn rates, virality and paid acquisition costs are important metrics in this phase.
There are three functional ways in which NGOs drive change: via products/services, laws/policies, or norms/behaviours. These in turn involve creating a new market, re-segmenting an existing market, or fortifying an existing segment.
While the start-up phase was about development, the institutionalisation phase is about formalising vision and mission, and delivering these via processes. People, job roles and organisational cultures are key drivers in this regard for mission clarity and commitment. The founders will have to gear up to move the customer base from beyond early adopters to the majority.
A number of trends are emerging in ‘lean’ social space. Many foundations have innovation funds, especially dedicated to rapid prototyped social change. There are even equivalents of FailCon in the social entrepreneur space. Indian state governments are launching their own incubators and mobile start-up initiatives. Micro-grants and crowdfunding are encouraging more experimentation and smaller experiments in the field.
To summarise, the lean start-up approach for mobile entrepreneurs is a new way to listen to mobile phone users, and to develop actionable solutions via wireless channels.