Developing tech for new markets
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Developing tech for new markets

Many of the entrepreneurs that we talk to on a daily basis face the challenge of scaling their businesses in new markets. Whether it’s picking the right market to expand into, gathering local ecosystem insights, or even figuring out which UX design works best in a new geography, developing product for uncharted territories can be a tricky business. But when done right, it can bring great success.

Aware of the increasing need to support startups in their journeys to scale in new markets, we brought together three experienced operators to share their experiences of building digital products in Africa, India, and Brazil.

The Experts

On 18th December in Berlin, we were joined by Field design lead Ally Long, who gave insights into her work designing digital products for healthcare projects in West Africa. Francesco Cardi, Chief Strategy Officer at Onfido, came from London to talk about his framework for scaling B2B products internationally. And user researcher Emma Rose Metcalfe shared learnings from a recent project in Ghana while working with


Deciding where and when to expand

Francesco proposed a simple framework to consider before expansion. This framework includes 4 dimensions: 1) the size of the market; 2) how much your current product is a good fit in those new markets; 3) the competitive environment; 4) blockers, especially legal and regulatory.

He explained that EU-based companies should first expand within the EU before looking to the more competitive US market.  Markets such as India and Brazil are tough, but by investing and creating a local presence, you can benefit from huge digital markets with still fairly low competition. The highly competitive nature of Asian markets, local regulations, and different go-to-market challenges (e.g., language barriers, localization, distribution partnerships, etc.) make them particularly difficult to enter.

On a more tactical level, he urged companies to make sure they have reached the right moment to scale. Premature scaling can be dangerous for success at home. Founders should be honest with themselves about the massive challenge ahead for their whole organization and shouldn’t underestimate the complexity and fragmentation of new markets. They should be as methodical and obsessed with validating product-market fit for each new geography as they did in their country of origin. Just because products works in one market is no guarantee that it will work anywhere else.

Validating product-market fit with user research

Validating product-market fit is essential, making it crucial to understanding new markets and environments in-depth. Emma pointed out that one of the most fundamental prerequisites is to create awareness within the user research and design team of their biases before a project even starts. Immersion and time spent in the local ecosystem are both important to understanding potential challenges before entering a new market.

In the presented case study, Emma’s project spent two weeks on the ground, several weeks preparing beforehand, and a significant time working with the collected data afterward. They did all this before turning their insights into a design decision.

Immersion tactics could include hiring a local researcher familiar with the local culture in order to build trust with interviewees. Emma emphasized how important it is to respect the privacy and social norms when collecting data.

Then once the company has gathered enough insights and has a better understanding of the user behavior in a new market, it can begin to think about how to turn those insights into a market-fitting digital product.

Adopting product design for new markets

More than 80 percent of Western country populations are connected, but countries like Mexico and Brazil are at just 50 percent. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 20 percent of the population is digitally connected, Ally told us.

The increasing availability of cheap smartphones and decreasing costs of cellular data have resulted in growing digital markets and leading to more demanding and informed African tech consumers. Still, barriers to entry exist and need to be considered when designing for these markets:

  • Affordability: Low-specced hardware and data costs are still a significant investment for many
  • Power & connectivity: Unreliable electricity sources for charging a device can be limiting factors, while network connectivity as well as WiFi availability can’t be taken for granted
  • Many users are still learning to use digital interfaces for the first time, and are doing so on mobile and touch devices, rather than laptops and desktops

For Ally and her design work, the main focus has been on creating simple, informative interfaces that incorporate familiar elements for the local market. This results in a dedicated UX framework comprising of learnings such as:

  • Breaking long forms into several steps
  • Avoiding concealed interface elements
  • Emphasizing good affordance (i.e. make the buttons and actions big and obvious)
  • Avoiding gesture-based navigation
  • Making the product offline-friendly
  • Taking inspiration from the heavily used products

You can the extended documentation of her UX framework from page 42 onwards in this deck that was presented at Generate conference in London in 2017.

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