The Inexorable Rise of the Super App

Vlad Dobrynin, CEO of Humans explains why the super-app was launched in Uzbekistan, what benefits does it deliver and why he thinks the time is ripe for super-apps in other territories

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Humans Group recently launched a super-app in Uzbekistan with resounding success. During the first six months, the HUMANS.uz app became the most downloaded in the country, racking up over a million users. The first and only super-app in Uzbekistan, it chalks out a super-app path that others will surely attempt to follow. Vlad Dobrynin, CEO of Humans explains why the super-app was launched in Uzbekistan, what benefits does it deliver and why he thinks the time is ripe for super-apps in other territories.

Company handout

What is a super-app and why did Humans launch it in Uzbekistan? Firstly, let's look at Uzbekistan. The country is an ideal territory in which to launch a super-app. It's like a clear blue ocean that effortlessly absorbs new tech. And there's a big hunger for digital tech. In 2020, Uzbekistan returned to the Global Innovation Index after a five-year absence. The country is now being repositioned from that of an agricultural economy to that of a country with intellectual capacity and huge digital potential. The World Bank for instance has allocated a $50 million modernization loan which includes introducing artificial intelligence. South Korea, one of the key partners of Uzbekistan, recently invested $4.5 million into the state-run business incubator and accelerator IT Park. Further, over 55% of the population are zoomers and millennials so there is great receptivity towards tech such as super-apps.

"Our HUMANS.uz super-app brings together a fintech service, mobile phone cellular services, and an online payment system that also provides a cashback function,» Dobrynin said, «the opportunity to launch the Human's super app arose during the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns when the need for digital services became acute. We have extensive experience in this type of service thanks to the development of the Humans.net employee search platform in the United States," said Dobrynin.

So you've got a lot of essential services in one place, a simple digital bank, a mobile operator which provides services that are clear and straightforward, and an easy-to-use cashback service. "We put 25 per cent of our profits into cashback. User's get cashback for top-ups, savings, transfers, purchases and paying utilities and public services. Everything they are used to doing earns them enough cashback and helps them get free unlimited internet. You might think putting 25% of profit into cashback is folly but our margin is still higher than that of competitors' business. We launched the super-app based on the knowledge that more than 40% of customers are ready to change their bank, more than 50% of customers are ready to change their mobile operator and they are all seeking simplicity and transparency as well as a new digital experience," added Dobrynin.

As an example, when a Humans' user registers their details they automatically receive a virtual Humans Visa card. All elements of the super-app are interconnected so the phone balance is combined with a bank card account.

Behind the super-app, we are essentially developing a big data company that combines the data flow from mobile operator, bank, and marketplace. "This data allows us to know what our customers' needs are and to provide them with services that meet these needs," Dobrynin explained, "the app was launched in November 2020. By the end of 2021, the number of active Humans customers exceeded one and a half million and this is in a country with a population of 35 million. Within such a short time this is a large market penetration and we have chalked up revenues of over $25 million revenue in 2021."

Constrained by legacy infrastructure

Taking more of a bird's eye view Dobrynin believes super-apps will also find popularity in other parts of the world. There are several factors driving this. Firstly the world is changing because of digital innovation. If we look at financial services, for instance, the industry is hastily trying to rebuild business processes to accommodate a shift in customer expectations. But they struggle with legacy infrastructure. The digital native companies are challenging the traditional and making significant inroads, especially among younger consumers.

"As such, digital start-ups who don't have the same legacy system constraints, have a head start. This creates fertile ground for super-apps," Vlad Dobrynin said, "for instance, the benefits for Human's super-app users are clear. They can see how much they have spent and how much they have gained so they can keep an eye on all spendings and savings in one app. They are using different services in one app and every transaction within the app is totally transparent. It's not complex, users don't need to calculate different spends. In short, the app provides simple and clear functions that are used in everyday life."

Change in thinking

Another area ripe for super-app growth is the telecoms industry. "Let's face it in today's modern digital world they are dinosaurs. The peak of their success has been reached and they are on a downwards trajectory. To survive they only have two options, reshape their business model or die," Dobrynin explained. That said, for those who do adapt they have some significant advantages. Telecom operators have several million or several tens of millions of customers and unlike traditional finance operations, they can offer other services over their networks without having to make enormous and cost crippling changes to product infrastructure.

The market is moving in a direction that enables them to leverage their expertise and increase competitiveness. This means assessing their markets, identifying needs and launching new services. This can include bundling telco services with financial offerings and other services via a super app. In short, the successful telcos will be those who change the way they think. One example of a telco provider doing this, and readjusting its business model, is TurkCell. It has launched many new successful services to meet emerging market needs such as alternatives of WhatsApp and Spotify. In short, it is not constrained by operating models that have led to success in the past. Rather it is looking ahead and providing its customers with what they need.

Super value

For organizations to survive in this new world they need to understand what are today's customer's pain points. Within this context, you need a service and ecosystem that provide benefits others don't and benefits that directly meet customer needs. At this stage, it's not about growth, it's about getting your service right.

Super-apps like WeChat know more about their users than Facebook does about its users. WeChat can see what services its users are actively consuming because they are engaged with the service. Facebook users on the other hand, just scroll through content.

"As such a super-app start-up can know its customers by offering useful services that influence their screen-time and consequently they can gather important data that informs the development of the super-app," Dobrynin explained, "but first, you need an idea that people will like. There should be a need for your product. A user base, the expertise of the team, and collection of data is impossible without meeting a need. And this is not trivial. With the HUMANS.uz super-app, users can carry out the transactions they do in everyday life, save money and also pay utility bills, traffic fines and even taxes. And one of the most compelling attractions and benefits for customers is access to the cheapest unlimited internet access in the country. This is the secret to a successful super-app, you need to offer a service that is better than anything that has gone before it."

Successful start-ups

Some other examples of startups that have launched successful super-apps are WeChat, Grab and Kaspi. They were the first in their markets to understand the importance of creating a super-app ecosystem and focusing on customer time. They gained a user base quickly because users saw the value of their super-apps. Here is an important point, if you don't build a user base the super-app will fade into oblivion. So the big question that needs to be answered is why people would want to use your service, what value will they gain? Determining the answer is your anchor, in that this is what the super-app is built around.

There are many examples of economically successful apps. This success is driven by the anchor service at the core of the app such as mobile connectivity or compelling financial offerings. Other services can be offered around this. If you understand what the anchor of profitability will be, how much customer screen time you can garner, and your main difference from others it will be successful. "For instance, with the HUMANS.uz super-app we run several services and each one provides a different revenue stream. The margin is much higher when you are earning from several revenue streams."

A super-app is a new way of building successful business models that attract more customers. It has fewer boundaries for development compared to a one-way service. Users have more services from one app and reap greater benefits. "Our HUMANS.uz super-app has been fantastically successful in Uzbekistan and this year we are launching in Germany," Dobrynin said, "now that we are established in Uzbekistan we are planning to double our user base from its current 1.5 million to 3 million and adding new services such as savings and microloan products. This is the potential of super-apps. This is the future."