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Reference no. 1-16-010
The Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT (2016)
September 16, 2016
In developing countries, there are few options for obtaining objective, timely data. In 2010, as a Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD candidate, Kenfield Griffith visited Kenya and noticed that over 70% of adults had access to a cell phone. In 2011, with a fellowship from MIT's Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship, he went back to research the potential use of cell phones as a viable way to collect data. After completing his studies and obtaining initial funding, he returned to Kenya and founded Mobile Surveys Inc (mSurvey). mSurvey employed a proprietary software system to collect and aggregate data using Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging over mobile devices. The system was inexpensive and appropriate for a short, direct survey-question format. Mobile surveys were less vulnerable to errors and falsified data, and data was stored in the cloud and easily accessible to researchers. Potential customers, however, uneducated about the features and benefits of SMS-based surveys, took about eight months to make a decision, sign a contract, and send mSurvey payment. Griffith needed to shorten that time; he also needed to increase the number of clients who renewed their contracts. mSurvey had assembled a large respondent base from which researchers could select. How could it keep this base active when no corporate surveys were taking place - a 'beehive of community activity'? The team considered introducing peer-to-peer products, creating a forum where respondents could ask for information from other members, and providing ways for members to form smaller, special-interest groups. Griffith remained optimistic about the future of mSurvey. Producers of goods and services need feedback: as consumers gain purchasing power, demand for feedback increases.
1. Examines mSurvey, a young and evolving venture in Africa and the Caribbean. Potential entrepreneurs can relate to Griffith's situation by learning how mSurvey is moving forward and some of the challenges it faces. 2. Shows how the immediacy, interactive nature, and rapidly expanding reach of mobile phones - even in low-income countries - can open up possibilities for gathering and organizing survey data in new, inexpensive, and innovative ways. 3. Points out that user feedback about products and services is a significant, far-reaching element in their design and marketing. This information need spans every sector from banking to retailing to providing public health services to manufacturing. 4. Illustrates how, even with a basic simple idea (an interactive mechanism through which consumer feedback can be quickly collected), the entrepreneurial journey can be long, winding, and uncertain. 5. Makes clear that entrepreneurs will always face competing needs. They must form partnerships, acquire financing, and address their commitment to customers - while at the same time figure out their exact sweet spot.