Journey to the first 200,000 users (Numberplates) continued

01, May 2020

Continuing from the previous article where I started this story.

The numbers of  plates that were created continued to rise on the database  but the number of unique users was not as much. There was also an increasing number of users who were writing comments, asking questions from other people who had created and posted their own plates, “How did you do it? Where did you do it ?” even though they could create their own unique plates with just a click. This started to bother me personally as it meant the rate at which the app was going viral wasn’t effective anymore, something had changed and we couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

Upon interviews with a few users, we soon found out that not only were users creating Number Plates for themselves, they were also creating for their friends. This was as a result of the fact that after we took the app out of Facebook, a large number of users couldn’t access it anymore.

Why? you might ask; well, as is almost the norm in developing countries (Nigeria), Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have packaged plans or data access bundles that allow consumers access to social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp for free but not the general internet (like search engines). So while you can browse all day on Facebook, and have access to search engines like Google or read information on Wikipedia with these types of free plans, you cannot access other websites without purchasing data plans from the network.  

This meant that a lot of users within our target demography could not access the service but still wanted to create Number plates with their names on it. What they did was leave multiple comments or messages on Facebook, asking others who could create plates to assist them in doing so and send this back to them; this essentially created a community of over 35,000   users on the Facebook page.

This brought the real challenge to the surface; we were able to finally understand the reason for the seemingly “silly questions” that were asked repeatedly even when the answer was right there in front of them. it wasn’t that people didn’t know how to use the service, it was simply restricted access. 

A common model for technology used in Nigeria (Africa) when launching online services is the distributor model; here, you create an environment where there are a few “tech savvy” people with access to technology and these people act as gatekeepers to support the service for other end users that don’t have as much access to technology and they do this while deriving some form of value from doing so (usually monetary payment).

These types of users who are relatively domain experts take off the burden from people who are not very experienced or lack the technical know-how to handle such tasks and they do this for a fee. What this means is that multiple tiers of people are provided with   opportunities and also, support businesses through these services. 

This model was what we stumbled upon with Number Plates and the results were tremendous; more users kept creating the plates for their friends and other users on request. The beautiful thing about the service is that these improvised “agents” that created plates for other users “evolved” organically from the Facebook pages where you have people sharing their creations and this prompted other users to pick an interest and subsequently request for help in creating theirs, leading to over a million plates created.

We were able to do all this on a less than $200 budget because I am a web developer with experience building with coldfusion and MS SQL Server so a lot of the man hours on design development and data processing were paid for in man hours and sleepless nights and only had to incur costs on hosting.

Even at that we ended up spending over $500 monthly on ads on Facebook while testing several engagement strategies but thankfully, we were able to make those back from the ads on Google.

There was a point where we were basically trading ads on both platforms as a business; running paid ads on Facebook to get the initial audience and traffic to the app and making money from the ad impression from Google. What this means is that the paid ads we put on Facebook helped us to attract users to create plates and when they get redirected to the site to create Number Plates, Google paid us for ad impressions (that is, users that clicked on these ads in the process of creating their Number Plate.

This revenue source ended up paying for the extra hands in development and support we needed to develop the apps and we extended functionality to create a lot more plate types to support regions from around the world and not just Lagos or Nigeria.

We gathered a lot of knowledge and experience from this journey on Number Plates that has helped shape decisions in apps and projects we’ve worked on since then especially our considerations in experience design. For example most apps we build do not have a sign up process unless we consider it necessary (Kunku, Ndani Stylebook) which has helped in the adoption process and feedback. This is why they simply just “work” like they are toys, customers use them, love them as  they are quite intuitive to use.

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