Mobile user experience for start-ups: Building engaging mobile solutions for end users

The GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator programme ran its third expertise clinic on the 31 of January. The session, aimed at our nine Round 1 portfolio start-ups, is part of the mentorship that comes with our Innovation Fund.

Our expert for this session was Tobias Wacker, User Research Manager for the GSMA mHealth and mAgri programmes. Tobias leads user research and product improvement iterations for programme partners and has been working on mobile services in emerging markets as an applied user researcher and product strategist since 2008.

The core focus of the session was mobile user research – the evaluation of mobile solutions through a series of testing with target users. Mobile user research is a method for gathering evidence and insights to improve mobile user experiences. As usual, we are sharing key takeaways from the session.


1. Mobile user research should be at the forefront of mobile start-ups’ solutions

During the session, Tobias debunked the myth that user research is a costly and time-consuming endeavour for emerging markets’ start-ups. He stated that there is a false assumption that most emerging market mobile users will know the basics of using and navigating a mobile phone, particularly when it comes to feature phones and basic technologies. He stated that this is not always the case, especially in rural areas, where people often have lower tech literacy.

Tobias highlighted that mobile user research can reduce the risk of building poor mobile solutions; thus saving time, money and other resources. User research, he said, is a key success factor when building mobile-based solutions because it is essential for customer acquisition, engagement and retention. Tobias then urged our portfolio start-ups to incorporate lean user research methods into their day-to-day processes, allowing them to constantly gain customer feedback and iterate fast.


Credit: Twiga Foods


2. Go where your target users are, approach them and test your product

Tobias revealed two lean user research methods that could be implemented almost immediately. The first one, “guerrilla research”, is a type of usability testing for gathering feedback and insights from customers in a rapid and agile manner. Guerrilla research involves these simple steps:

  • Take your mobile solution where your target users are based
  • Approach target users
  • Ask them to interact and experience your product
  • Observe their interaction with your product
  • Ask about their experience

Tobias noted that although customers’ verbal feedback is vital, start-ups must also pay close attention to customers’ behaviours or problem points during the user research testing. He advised start-ups to perform guerrilla research on an on-going basis (once a week/month) on about 12 different target users. He said that the user research should especially be performed anytime a feature phone solutions or smartphone apps are upgraded.

During the Q&A, some start-ups’ teams raised questions on how to conduct remote user testing on a large scale. It was argued that testing remotely is usually most effective in advanced economies where there is reliable internet connection. However, in emerging markets, a reliable connection is not always guaranteed.


Credit: Biscate


3. Start-up founders and teams should be power users of their products

The second lean user research method suggested is called “dogfooding” – a process in which start-up founders and employees use their products, thereby putting themselves in the shoes of target users. Tobias stated that start-ups should be power users of their own mobile solutions because it helps to understand the context of usage, as well as their target users’ pains and constraints. By putting themselves in the shoes of their customers, start-ups employees are better positioned to service these customers.

During the Q&A session, a point was raised on whether start-ups should hire third-party assistance (consultants or research agencies) for their user research. It was concluded that, while it should be a case by case decision, start-ups that choose to seek assistance should ensure they remain closely involved in the process. In practical ways, this means start-ups should work together on the ground with the third party organisation running the user research. Lastly, a question was raised on how much customers’ decision-making should be involved. Start-ups were advised to co-create with customers and allow customers to inform how products are built.


We would like to thank Tobias Wacker for sharing his expertise during this session. We would also like to thank the teams of eSewa (Nepal), Kytabu (Kenya), Optimetriks (Uganda), PrepClass (Nigeria), Raye7 (Egypt), Ruanggurru (Indonesia), SafeMotos (Rwanda), TwigaFoods (Kenya) and Biscate (Mozambique) for making this session interactive and sharing their respective experiences.

The GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund provides selected start-ups in Asia Pacific and Africa with equity-free funding, technical assistance, and the opportunity to partner with mobile operators in their markets to help scale their products and services into sustainable businesses with positive socio-economic impact. Applications for Round 3 will open on March 12, 2018.


The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.

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