Research Director, YourStory; Charter Member, TiE Bangalore
The journey for innovative social entrepreneurs and mobile technology wizards can be full of ups and downs and riddled with obstacles such as management or scalability issues. Three key ‘chasms’ or deep valleys that digital innovators must jump over are, from concept to prototype; from prototype to a sustainable model; and significant scaling up from early users to segments of society. Here are five ways in which mobile innovators can scale up their offerings.
SCALING THE PRODUCT
Product managers must be experienced in at least one of the four key areas (business, technology, social interactions or UX), and should be able to manage practice of all four. Product managers should be good at the operations’ side, as well as in team leadership roles. They need to creativity and cohesively, blend quantitative and qualitative user data, and must be up to date with market trends and research reports. The product or service should also keep up with the rapidly changing technolo- gy trends and adoption patterns amongst users. All products and services are becoming increasingly digitally-enabled, and mobiles have become the core platforms for a social innovator to scale their business nationally and globally.
There are at least five kinds of metrics that innovators must keep in mind to scale up their businesses. These are, Activity metrics, which include entry level measures such as web traffic and application downloads; Process metrics that reflect progress in areas like acquisition costs, higher outreach efficiency, better conversion rates; Knowledge metrics, which cover best practices and validated user insights; People metrics, which include user and employee satisfaction; and Business and Social metrics that address revenue growth, sustainability and social impact.
LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT
Talent, leadership, culture and organisational structure vary across different points of an innovator’s journey. Motivation and perseverance are not enough at scale stage, founders need to sharpen social skills, business operations, and relationship management. As an organisation grows, more and more of the project experience becomes codified into repeatable efficient processes. The experimental culture in the early stages gives way to an efficiency-driven culture in later phases. Founders and the leadership team should also become comfortable with the tricky issues of hiring, promotions and firing. Founders themselves may need to coach and be coached, and improve collaboration and delegation.
INCUBATORS AND ACCELERATORS
Incubators help innovators with development of prototype, whereas accelerators help them scale the user-base beyond the early adopters. A number of activities are used in these phases such as: hackathons, boot camps, weekend sprints and community engagements with maker spaces. Funding can also be provided by incubators and accelerators via grants or investments. In addition to being tech and business focused, a number of accelerators and incubators in India are addressing the social sector as well, like Startup Oasis in Jaipur and NSRCEL at IIM Bangalore.
BOARDS OF ADVISORS AND DIRECTORS
A well-chosen and smoothly functioning board can support digital innovators, help understand mile- stones and help to achieve them faster, and hold the management accountable. Effective boards help start-ups and social enterprises prepare for grant applications, connect with partner organisations across the country, and recruit appropriate talent.
In sum, there are challenges that digital innovators face in areas ranging from product evolution to organisational management. The five steps described above can help harness the transformative power of technology for sustainable social advantage.