How start-ups should approach mobile operators for partnership

A new guide by the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator programme helps African start-ups approach mobile operators for partnership. The guide comes after this report which explores the rationale for mobile operator–start-up partnerships and the synergies they can yield.

Collaboration between start-ups and mobile operators is on the rise. In Africa, two of the most mature partnerships are that of MTN and Jumia across Sub-Saharan Africa, and Safaricom and Eneza Education in Kenya. While the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator programme continues to advocate for similar collaboration across emerging markets, there has been one prevailing question that start-ups continue to ask our team: How should start-ups approach mobile operators for partnership?

This question led us to team up with Match-Maker Ventures to produce a guide that walks start-ups and entrepreneurs through the process of securing a partnership with mobile operators. After interviewing start-ups that are collaborating with local mobile operators, we observed that engaging and partnering with mobile operators is a four-stage journey.

STAGE 1: Understanding the industry: Mobile Operators 101

Understanding the current state of the mobile industry is critical when seeking partnership with mobile operators, as it will enable start-ups to address their specific needs and challenges. In the guide, we highlight a handful of trends currently facing the mobile industry in emerging markets. These trends are illustrated with quotes from mobile operator executives. We then reflect on their potential significance for start-ups in the context of a potential collaboration.

STAGE 2: Understanding your market to find the best match

Once start-ups are familiar with the mobile industry and its jargon, the next step is understanding the mobile market in their country of operation. This section highlights ways start-ups can uncover the challenges and opportunities facing local mobile operators. Knowing this will enable a start-up to tailor their value proposition to the operator’s need. We also highlight four ways for a start-up to connect with their preferred mobile operators and maximise their chances of securing a meeting.

STAGE 3: Pitching: From contact to agreement

If start-ups are at this stage, it means they have secured a first meeting. This is a great achievement. Start-ups will now have to build trust in their solution and team. Start-ups will need to convince the mobile operator (1) that their solution can create value for their mobile operator partners, and (2) deliver on their promise while (3) quickly identifying who the decision makers are and understanding the underlying decision-making process on the operator side.

STAGE 4: Making the collaboration work: From agreement to collaboration

This last stage deals with how to steer the collaboration towards success by following three recommendations: (1) set up the collaboration structure, (2) keep the lines of communication open, and (3) remain close to your stakeholders.

Download the full guide: Opening Doors: A Start-Up’s Guide to Working With Mobile Operators in Emerging Markets

The GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator programme

The GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator programme focuses on bridging the gap between mobile operators and start-ups, enabling strong partnerships that foster the growth of innovative mobile products and services. These partnerships bring impactful mobile solutions to the people and places that need them most, generating the greatest socio-economic impact. In particular, the programme operates an Innovation Fund which supports African and Asia Pacific start-ups with direct funding, technical assistance, and connections with mobile operators.

We are delighted to announce that the second Round of the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund is now open for applications.

The Fund provides selected start-ups in Africa and Asia Pacific with grant funding, technical assistance, and the opportunity to partner with mobile operators in their markets to help scale their products and services into sustainable businesses with positive socio-economic impact.

The deadline is 16 July but we advise applying early since competition is fierce. Interested start-ups can check their eligibility and apply here:

Curious about the start-ups that have been successful in the past? In April 2017 we announced our first round of start-ups. Read our blog post to find out more.