In October 2016, we launched the first DFS Lab Fintech Bootcamp in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania — a one-week event where a diverse group of innovators came together from around the world to try and crack some of the toughest fintech challenges in their markets.
After an extensive search that included hundreds of potential candidates, DFS Lab selected a handful of exceptional entrepreneurs to join us in Dar es Salaam. We had a diverse group including former startup founders, the CEO of a mobile money company, heads of mobile for major banks, engineers, UI/UX (user interface and user experience) designers, and even a Tanzanian television star — all with the ambition to create the next successful fintech solution.
We were also lucky to have enthusiastic participation from great mentors such as Nick Hughes (co-founder of M-Kopa and M-PESA), Matt Flannery (CEO of Branch.io and co-founder of Kiva), Peter Zetterli (CGAP) and Dennis Ondeng (CTO of Kopo Kopo), among others.
We quickly decided to structure the week around running several design sprints for each team and each individual entrepreneur who would join us. It is a methodology we used to great success within our own team before and knew it would help us get to know our bootcamp participants quickly.
Our goal was two-fold: (1) to help our participating startups and entrepreneurs successfully prototype and test new concepts, and (2) to work alongside potential DFS Lab portfolio companies as a final stage in our selection process.
What did we learn about running design sprints?
1. Context matters but also limits
We had entrepreneurs from around the world working on startups that not only spanned geography, but also industry, language, culture, and regulatory environment. However, we were all working in the same conference hall in Tanzania.
Our participants came from emerging startup communities where entrepreneurs are excellent at zeroing in on local issues and solutions. This spirit of focusing on the real customer at the end of the day was never forgotten throughout the week but something special happened when we mixed everyone together — the limits that come from a hyper-focus on local constraints started to dissolve.
Over breaks and meals, morning walks and evening drinks, the cross-pollination of ideas was inevitable. A mobile money CEO from Sierra Leone brought incredible perspective to teams looking to attract and partner with mobile money operators in their own regions. Digital credit pioneers from Pakistan pointed out barriers for others looking at the potential of alternative credit scoring. These collaborations flowed all the way down to the sketches that were imagined during each team’s design sprint.
2. Running multiple design sprints in one room stimulates ideas and keeps the energy going
Just like the mixing of ideas during downtime, we tried our best to encourage sharing during the sprint too. We turned the team-only “art museum” to one that was more public — at least being open to the other attending teams. Obviously we were only able to do this because none of the teams saw each other as market competitors.
During points in time where there was work that was being displayed (after sketches are complete, after customer testing notes are put up, etc.) we set aside some time for teams to take a walk around and check out the gallery of ideas stuck to the walls. These breaks sparked conversation and “ah-ha!” moments. When teams reconvened, there was a renewed excitement and an injection of even more ideas. As a side note, these compare and contrast sessions also helped people place a bit more trust in the process, having seen the similar results of others’ creative struggle.
3. Remote testing can be extremely powerful
With customers who were thousands of miles away, many teams looked into remote testing of their prototypes. The DFS Lab team had actually tried this methodology during our own design sprint to prototype a mobile money concept in Tanzania while sitting in our offices in Seattle. We used InVisionto create our app mockups, Lookback to record remote interactions and facial reactions, and hired a local consultant to help us carry out the tests.
Testing with the right customers, even when done remotely allowed our participants to create realistic mockups that they could pick back up after their flights back home. In contrast, the non-Tanzanians who were unable to test remotely back home found that they had to quickly adapt their thinking and prototypes after settling back into their local markets.
Even though the feedback from our participants was really positive, we did make mistakes, and we want to continue to get better at running sprints. We’re figuring out the optimal size for each team we bring, how to more quickly zero in on the right issues to tackle, and better ways to evaluate entrepreneurs while they work with us for the week.
We’re excited to support entrepreneurs around the world to push the boundaries of fintech and we know the design sprint methodology will continue to be an important tool for our teams.
Interested in our next fintech bootcamp?
DFS Lab's Jake Kendall and Stephen Deng wrote an article for NextBillion, an industry-leading community of business leaders, social entrepreneurs, NGO managers, policy makers, and academics that explores enterprise's role in development.
They summarized the outcomes of DFS Lab's inaugural bootcamp in Dar es Salaam and the cutting edge fintech trends that emerged during the event. Notably, they found that cheaper is not enough; that the mass market is complex and cannot be effectively served in its entirety; that identity continues to be critical; that one mobile operator is the future of mobile fintech; and that it is paramount to show value ASAP.
The article was the most viewed post in December and was nominated for the "Most Influential Post of 2016." Read the full article on NextBillion.
We’re excited to announce the investees from our first Design Sprint Bootcamp we held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania back in October. We convened over 20 entrepreneurs from 10 countries working to introduce revolutionary digital financial services to the world’s poorest communities. We were inspired by their commitment to creating transformative products.
Over six days at the bootcamp, the entrepreneurs and startups received hands-on advice, mentorship, and strategic counsel from industry experts. Based on the Sprint methodology, the bootcamp provided the framework for them to address challenges, create and test prototypes, and present refined solutions to fundamentally transform communities and improve living standards through digital financial services. When executed right, digital financial services have the power to completely transform the economies of the poorest, profitably and at scale.
“The bootcamp has given us the space to confront some of the critical challenges that will make or break our idea. Having the opportunity to step out of your day-to-day and do that in a community of people who are experienced, intelligent and willing to work with you on it – invested in you – has been fantastic,” said Lara Gilman from Yooz.
DFS Lab is investing roughly $400,000 of non-dilutive funding between the following four standout ventures:
We look forward to see what these innovative startups will do and are proud to be able to play a part in helping them reach their full potential.
Here are some photos and a video from our week in Dar es Salaam to learn more and meet some of the investees.