Market like a fintech: Building purpose around the problem you're solving with Benjamin Fernandes
Hosted by Araminta Robertson, 'Market like a fintech' is the new podcast for fintech marketing professionals and enthusiasts who want to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in the industry, and level up their marketing knowledge. Subscribe here to never miss an episode.
As marketers, our job is to get our solution in front of the right people who have a problem that we can solve. In order to do that well, you really need to understand the problem.
That means doing interviews with your target market, observing how they interact with your product and even going as far as participating in their day-to-day life. Essentially, you want to fall in love with the problem you’re solving.
That’s exactly what Benjamin Fernandes, founder and CEO of NALA Money, says is the most important thing when starting and growing a company.
NALA Money is a money transfer app that lets people send money securely, quickly and for a low cost between the UK, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Benjamin himself has a fascinating personal story: He was the youngest African to be accepted into the Stanford Graduate of Business and after working for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he returned to Tanzania to launch NALA Money.
In today’s podcast, Araminta is chatting with Benjamin about how he fell in love with the problem he was solving, why he’s working so hard to unite everyone under one purpose of increasing economic opportunity for Africans worldwide, and how he’s built an outstanding team which got him incredible investors and produce high-quality output.
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Listen to Benjamin's complete interview below.
As we were thinking about how to release our product, as a team we thought it would be important to be as close to our users as possible, because of this, I personally onboarded our first 100 early access users via Zoom.
Why understanding your customers well right from the beginning is key for establishing a successful business - I think there is a massive insight you can gain from spending time with customers. Spending time with customers during onboarding, as we did, requires a lot of time, but it's probably one of the most fulfilling things I've done this whole year. Because you get to really sit down with the customer. And you have to be quiet and watch them use the product even when it was scrappy and in a bad version. And like you're just cringing. Like, they missed the button that you thought they would see. And you're just like, "Oh, we spent so much time doing all the UI UX design for NALA". You just have all these assumptions, and you try to show it to a few people here and there. But then watching customers interact with it is a different story. There are different personas, different age groups, different tech-savviness levels, and like maybe some older people understand stuff younger people don't and you're trying to build something that works for everyone.
The challenges of running customer interviews - One thing that's really hard with doing interviews, the big mistake most people make, including myself, is you sometimes want people to say what you want to hear. And that's so hard not to do.
So, we always have to ask ourselves "Okay, is this leading interviewees to an answer what we want to hear?" And then you have to find a neutral third party to run the questions through. And if you find the same answers consistently, even if they don't even do international money transfers, then there's a mistake there in your survey. That's why we spend a lot of amount of time looking at our questions.
Why East Africans are reluctant to adopt fintech and digital payment products - There are many different reasons. So one is trust. Two is familiarity. The third one is a really tough one. It was quite sad. I met this person who runs a mosque in East London, I won't say where. And I was like, "Okay, why don't you want to use any of these digital apps?" He was like, "You want the truth?" I was like, "Yeah". He said, "Well, I didn't come here legally".
How NALA is tackling the trust issue - We're an African company with a global team, and that's something that's foundational on our roots. I'm from Tanzania, I grew up there. I moved to the states and then I moved back to Tanzania to create Nala. I think that being from the continent really resonates with our customers.
Even within our product, we have words in Swahili and Luganda. We add these little small touches from home. For example, when you send money, you see an animation of a plane flying from the UK to Uganda and hearts pop up. We call it "sending money with love". With international money transfer, there's a lot of sentiment that goes behind it because people sacrifice time away from their loved ones, they miss weddings, funerals, birthdays, and all these things in search of a better opportunity and hope, to financially support other people.
As a business, we really try to think about our customers from a sentimental perspective, and really build this around the community. And I think that's what's really helped us build trust. We've not even launched a single ad campaign, since we started our product but we've doubled our monthly transaction volume in five months.
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On NALA's business plan competition campaign - We ran this competition, I think the amount of money was like £3,500 or 10 million shillings, right? And we asked people to create a super short, one-page business plan of what they're doing, like what traction they have, if any, and what they want to accomplish, what their goals are. That was the first requirement to take part in the competition. The second step was an interview where applicants had to tell us about their business plans and how we could improve the product - that was the way to submit the application. And so all of a sudden, I forgot how many applications we had. I don't know, it was like 5000 applications or something like that. So all of a sudden, from those 5000 applicants, we had 50,000 pieces of feedback on what people wanted to improve on NALA. This campaign allowed us to have fun but also allowed us to gather user feedback.
How to build a strong brand with purpose - My personal story plays a big, very important part along with our African roots. We're an African company with a global team because I think talent is everywhere, globally, but opportunity isn't. And when you can bring in people who have an incredible experience, for example, our CTO, Nico, he built Osper, the first kids' digital bank in the UK, and then he went to Monzo and ComplyAdvantage before he joined us. So, he has quite an incredible experience he brings to the table, but most people don't realise he actually grew up in West Africa. That's why he's been looking to do something back in the continent for a long time. Thus, every single person in the team, whether they're African or not, has this love for the problem we're trying to solve, or this passion for the continent that we're trying to collectively solve as a team.
On building a loyal community - Every week, I'm in London, and when I'm here, we try to do an event with our community. For example, tomorrow night, we're doing an event in Canary Wharf. We're inviting young East African professionals to get together. And we make these events about connecting people back to their roots and home. So, when we do events, we always play African music, we always cater African food. We always try to do it in an African restaurant if possible. And even with our branding and merch, for example, our T-shirts don't feature NALA's logo or branding. Instead, they'll feature some funny African saying, because the opposite is boring. Thus, all our T-shirts say something funny on them or something that in Swahili or Luganda, or, you know, in a different language, that really resonates with our community.
We also have "Knowledge champions". It's just like a telegram group of insiders. So, for every new thing we're building, people can find it there first. And we also publish our roadmap publicly, so anybody can just go and see it. And I think that helps us build massive trust because people know what's coming next.
For more interesting insights, listen to Benjamin's complete interview below.