Wobe: Entrepreneurial tech for disadvantaged women in SEA: Page 2 of 2
By Gabey Goh April 16, 2015
Full steam ahead
With the Wobe app slated to be available for public download on Google Play and MoboMarket from June 2015, the team’s next steps are clear.
“We will be laser-focused on growth in the next six months, with an aim to reach 50,000 users by the end of this time period,” Tan says.
The team hopes to meet this target with its value proposition of being able to create an income with very little resources – marketed via ground-level engagement for user acquisition and training, while working closely with on-the-ground organisations, both formal and ad hoc ones, to expand outreach efforts.
According to Tan, some major obstacles would be accessibility to smartphones and to the mobile Internet. Though numbers for both are growing, there is still much education needed, especially outside urban areas.
Wobe already has 100 agents in an early trial programme which began two weeks ago after the team ran a few events for user acquisition, and identified key users they wanted to have as early testers. It will soon announce the start of a 500-agent pilot programme across Indonesia.
“They have been very patient with us in terms of us getting things sorted out as we prepare to launch, so all of their feedback, no matter how small, is extremely valuable to us.
“We did a lot of user research, but there is nothing quite like real life data and results,” says Tan.
One lesson already learnt is the need to revise the initial requirement for users to deposit US$10 into the app before they can start selling items, to US$5 – the lower amount helps push the ambivalent towards an “Okay, let's give this a shot as it's a smaller amount of money to lose if this turns out to be of no use” mind-set.
“We learned also that even though it is commonly believed that middle class women are not sophisticated or adept at technology, they are in fact more well-versed in anything mobile and social than you can imagine,” says Tan.
“They know all about SMS verification codes, connecting their social media profiles, and even had tips for us on UX (user experience) improvements, which we loved,” she adds.
Looking ahead and beyond
Another piece to Wobe’s solution for helping women is the intent to pioneer a new breed of financial literacy and entrepreneurship training courses delivered within the app. This is being done in partnership with Indosat, HaloMoney and e-MITRA.
HaloMoney is an Indonesia-based financial products comparison portal with a focus on improving Indonesians’ overall financial literacy, by helping the public better understand insurance, broadband, banking and loan products.
e-MITRA is a project of the Global Broadband Innovations Alliance, whose work focuses on providing technical advisory services to essential participants in Indonesia’s Digital Financial Services (DFS) sector.
Tackling the issue of education proved to be a steeper hill than the Wobe team originally thought, with the discovery that there was little financial and business information available.
“We were shocked – if there was any at all, it was targeted at upper-class Jakartans, not to the everyday Indonesian,” says Tan.
“We had to develop, curate and create content that was topical and relevant, and most importantly, delivered in a tone and manner which was neither inaccessible nor irrelevant,” she says.
Written formal Indonesian, which is what most of the content – both online and offline – about money and business tends to be delivered in, is too far-removed from the target user base.
“We aim for content that is fun, useful and applicable. If we were to tell our users about the interest rates of different types of loans or the stock portfolio they should cultivate, they would not be keen,” says Tan.
“What we found interesting was that when we showed different types of content to our users, they were overwhelmingly positive. ‘Wow, nobody has ever taught me about business or money in a way I could understand or care about before!’ was a common refrain,” she declares.
With education efforts an on-going process, the playbook is already mapped out for when the team hits its target of 50,000 users: Unveil new products within the Wobe family to expand the number of ways in which users can make an income.
“We will also be building out our market intelligence layer – when we have 50,000 users, or even fewer, our access to ground-level data on the spending patterns, economic habits and lifestyle preferences of the Indonesian middle class is going to be very valuable,” Tan says.
In terms of potential future market expansion if all goes well for Wobe in Indonesia, she says that Myanmar and Vietnam top the list due to their similarities with Indonesia: They are both developing South-East Asian economies with high growth and huge demographic changes, with a burgeoning middle class.
Despite being a seasoned hand at the rollercoaster ride of building a business, Tan admits that sustaining motivation and drive isn’t easy.
“Most times, when you run a startup, you very often get to a point where you go, ‘What am I doing this for again?’
“I focus on my goals and acknowledge that my team is looking to me for leadership and motivation, and that you really cannot afford to have downtime. You cannot afford to be performing at anywhere less than optimum, especially when you are trying to do something new in a country that you are not from,” she says.
Tan admits that the challenge would have been much harder had she embarked on a venture she had no personal interest in – like selling laundry services on-demand through an app.
“I feel lucky that I was able to build my startup in three areas that my life pretty much revolves around – women, business, and tech.
“When the going gets tough, I either drink negronis [a cocktail] or do yoga, sometimes at the same time. Not really, but close,” she quips.
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