Growing the Startup Culture in Georgia - the Country
In partnership with the World Bank, Bank of Georgia, GITA and 500 Startups, ADG demonstrated how a Design & Society approach can lead to large-scale change.
The country of Georgia, located along the Black Sea to the south of Russia and next to Turkey, is a fast-growing nation of almost 4 million and with a GDP of over $17 Billion dollars. In 1991, Georgia broke away from the Soviet Union and declared its independence. Since then, Georgia has adopted a free market economy, where the main industries evolve around agriculture, finance, and tourism. Although Georgia has an ease of business and access to global markets, it’s still on its way to become a developed economy.
Eager to grow their economy, the World Bank supported Georgia’s Innovation and Technology Agency (GITA) and the Bank of Georgia to bring one of the top 3 startup accelerators in the world - 500 Startups - to their country. The initiative would create more jobs, bring in foreign investment, and catapult Georgia into a startup and technological hub in the region.
Selecting only 30 startups from hundreds of applicants, 500 Georgia divided the teams into two batches. Each batch of 15 companies was supported by ADG's principles and frameworks. Then the top 10 performing companies were selected for intensive training to prepare them for scale, which included an additional 6 week intensive with more training in product design and other key topics.
ADG was chosen as a leading partner in 500 Georgia, where they were in charge of teaching the startups’ founders and teams product design and advising on the operational program. ADG’s Design & Society approach fits hand-in-hand with the mission of 500 Georgia of leveraging design to create social impact in Georgia at scale.
ADG supported Cardeal in becoming the #1 company in 500 Georgia. As the first cross-border used car trade platform, Cardeal enables access to globally listed vehicles in real-time, pre-calculates all costs associated, and offers the most transparent process of discovery, purchase, and delivery in just one click. With ADG’s Design and Society approach, Cardeal grew rapidly and reached profitability while generating a behavioral and societal change in Georgian residents.
Together, Cardeal and ADG redesigned the Cardeal platform so that a customer would push further down the funnel and become more likely to browse, bid, and buy a car. Prior to ADG’s intervention, Cardeal had fewer bidders than it hoped for despite its technologically sophisticated website enabled by blockchain. They provided too many choices, making it difficult for an average user to navigate and understand the website — and thus providing a poor impression of doing important business online.
ADG recognized that Cardeal had no user experience, so along with the Cardeal team we researched more about Georgian culture and the average Georgian car buyer. We found key information that would help drive design decisions: Georgians want to purchase a popular product in order to feel safe in their choice, and were looking for budget options.
With insights in hand, ADG helped Cardeal create budget-wise categories. Rather than having a huge selection of cars, ADG’s guidance showed Cardeal’s founders that a new website module could be used to help users narrow down selections, educate them on their selections, and then support them to make the right choices.
ADG’s Design & Society framework also led to a blend of Service Design and UI/UX design which created real results. Purchasing a used car is a substantial process, and it became clear that a personal contact in the form of a trusted car salesman was necessary. Research showed that Georgians would be more likely to purchase a car if Cardeal introduced a live car sales dealer right before the purchase who could take questions on the phone.
This combination of a suite of UI/UX and Service Design changes led to a 300% increase in Cardeal’s revenue in just 6 months. It also improved the website’s session duration time by 25% and decreased the bounce rate from 85% to 35%. Further, the quality of leads submitted to the car dealers also improved, as buyers became more qualified through the funnel.
Despite the challenge of selling used, and often damaged cars online, ADG’s Design & Society approach led to the online purchase process becoming safer, easier, and much more transparent than in-person dealers. Cardeal is now seen as a trustworthy online source for Georgian users to buy their cars.
Cardeal is also advancing technological sophistication in Georgia and enabling users to have more experiences and greater trust with online platforms. Without the changes ADG implemented into Cardeal’s website, the startup would have continued creating difficult online experiences, which would discourage Georgians from trusting online platforms for making big decisions. The ripple of ADG’s impact continue to extend as Georgians change their behaviors through comfort with great usability online. In turn, this drives up the standard for online services in the country as a whole. This is Design & Society in action. Design leading to social change at scale.
Georgian users were not the only ones impacted by a Design & Society approach: the founders of Cardeal were as well. The Cardeal team’s understanding and implementation of product design has changed immensely since working with ADG, as they are thinking and operating differently and continue to iterate and launch new features in the way ADG shared. Through connecting the dots between the system of importing cars, the user needs of Georgian users, and their business goals they were able to achieve the optimal result. A result which led to Cardeal being recognized as the #1 startup in Georgia.
Zooming out, Cardeal was also able to have a massive impact on their home country with the principles of ADG’s Design & Society. Along with boosting GDP and creating jobs, Cardeal is one of many startups in the batch that is generating a behavioral and societal shift in Georgia that is enough to transform the entire landscape and economy into the technological hub it aspires to be.
The program overall was praised by the Georgian Minister of Economy Natia Turnava, who remarked on the significant influence the startups of 500 Georgia have on the Georgian landscape: “the Georgian economy relies on the intellectual potential like you. I confirm the government's readiness to be with you on various stages to ensure the impact you are bringing to the country and the globe.”
Archil Gachechiladze, the CEO of Bank of Georgia, also commented how the support of Georgian startups can make the country become a major tech hub: “What can we do to empower the entrepreneurs that want to start from scratch? In this digital world, it’s the know-how that we lacked, and that’s basically where the partnership made a lot of sense to us. Our investment is rather just the start, and that start is to kick-start the process. Invest in Georgian startups because it will do a lot to our community.”