“I always think that getting the app into the real world is the best test experience”
This month we sat down and talked to Jose Benzinho, engineer manager, currently working in Digital Engineering at Vodafone Technology. Jose provided valuable mentorship to volvero to accelerate the traction and improve customer trust in our service through UXUI, during our participation in Vodafone Power Lab, a Portuguese programme, supporting innovation and entrepreneurship by promoting the creation of technological and digital projects.
5 min read
Hello Jose, tell us more about your mentorship experience with Vodafone Power Lab.
This is actually the first edition of the Vodafone Power Lab that I joined. I’m a first-time mentor and volvero was the startup that I chose, based on where I believed I could help more based on my experience in Vodafone.
I’ve been part of the program since the start of the fourth edition of the Vodafone Power Lab, that is from the preparation in 2022 and then I started talking with you guys towards the end of the year.
How was the experience for you as a mentor? Were there some challenges that you did not expect?
Of course, there were a few challenges. Getting closer to the end of this mentorship, I wanted to contribute more. What I felt was that you are in a later phase of product release. I contributed to making the user experience better in a way that people could relate more and be more confident with the usage of the service because I honestly believe that you guys could make a difference in the real world.
My experience with mobile applications told me that you could improve your user experience. So, what I did was involve more people that could contribute in the end, like our UX experts. What I wanted to achieve is that you get a service that would feel trustworthy to the customer. I wanted to contribute more to other areas as I don’t believe I did that enough, but we had limited time.
“ I always believe that getting people that are not involved in product development could contribute a lot of value by giving an outside opinion.“
Speaking of user experience, what would you suggest startups do to test it? Apart from general advice, like doing a customer survey.
I always think that getting the app into the real world is the best test experience. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not an ideal scenario because we don’t want to give visibility to what we are trying to launch. If it’s a secret product and innovation, we cannot do that.
At Vodafone we have a family and friends approach, we make sure that we get feedback from them. We get, let’s say, a maximum of 200 people of testers between family, friends, and employees that can contribute and provide feedback with regards to not only UXUI but also bugs that they could find.
It’s always very valuable when we get that because it’s different from what we receive from the QA team, it gives a sense of real-world experience from people that might not be technical or understand the product in the beginning. I always believe that getting people that are not involved in product development could contribute a lot of value by giving an outside opinion.
That’s interesting, a personal approach that one wouldn’t expect from a corporation.
It is very useful. Now we are trying to launch a new service that we have been working on for the last two years and It’s something completely different from the core business of Vodafone. And we have around a hundred users using that daily and communicating problems. This way we already test and improve the application that is not yet open to the real world thanks to very interesting, real feedback. For example, some people that are not involved in the development, even if they are technical people, complain about the experience, saying: “This doesn’t make sense for my use case, for my real-life situation.”
I also used to be a part of the TV engineering team and we would develop a UIUX experience on the set of boxes that people have at home. And people have got completely different setups and usage of that given product. And this gave us a lot of feedback and different opinions that we could also incorporate into our roadmap and improve our products. So that’s what we do. I believe this may be a little bit different from other corporations, but, we try to create these family and friends and employees groups to get valuable feedback.
You know, for a startup there is always this struggle of finding good developers. Do you believe startups can function with outsourcing or do they need an engineer inside the team?
Based on my experience and not only speaking of startups, I can tell you that one cannot launch a service or product without a single tech person in the internal team. External providers don’t feel the heart of the product like an employee would do and give the extra miles sometimes.
I believe that if this becomes a successful product, one should get that knowledge to their own staff. Because eventually they’ll need to give support to their product team and customers, and this is always easier when you have some kind of knowledge in-house. If you rely on someone external that might not be available or might be working with someone else, you don’t get their full-time dedication.
Of course, if there is no other way, they can be external, but only at the beginning. But in both ways, it’s hard getting good developers, it’s getting harder and harder not only for startups but also for big corporations. And if we get those quality resources, they’re not cheap.
In a nutshell, that can be done. You can develop a product with just a partner or an external company but in the end, you would want to have those quality resources in-house so they can help and also guide other teams if needed to hire some external services.
Coming back to the mentorship program, what prerequisites a startup should have to get the maximum out of Vodafone Power Lab, industry, stage–wise, etc.?
We got startups from multiple areas: health companies that try to get innovative products, pure-digital services like yours, that intend to be closer to the customers by providing a given service… I don’t think there’s a secret formula to joining a program like this. Of course, I believed that maybe if I was involved with volvero at an early stage of app development, we could shift things around to be more effective in the first run. So, in this case, I would like to have been involved earlier.
But other companies that have a finished product may not have a good business plan, so probably they are in the right stage. You have the correct product; your business case is accurate. We are just trying to get to the last mile to be more trustworthy to the customers. Other companies simply have a good product they can launch, they are technically ready, but maybe their business plan is not good enough. So other mentors have been focusing around on trying to get a good business plan, trying to see how they could capitalize on a good product. So, as I said, there’s no secret formula, it depends from case to case.
” In the startup world, and this is a good thing, people do not what the role defines them to do, but what needs to be done. It’s that feeling of learning that captivates me more to work with startups.“
Are you going to join the next edition of Power Lab?
Maybe I will, I liked it a lot. I took part in a similar Vodafone program around seven or eight years ago. We also worked with startups, but the goal was not mentorship; it was to promote them to win monetary awards so they could boost their development. The program helped early-stage companies with ideas but no developed product, and I was a jury member a couple of times. However, this was my first time as a mentor. I’ll try to get back to see if I can improve my mentoring next time. Maybe I can get a little bit outside of my comfort zone and get to a completely different company that I would not feel I could help at a first glance and gain some knowledge and improve my skills by thinking outside the box.
I think an experience like this is very beneficial for both sides. Did you learn something new this time?
Yeah, for sure. My work experience is not extremely diverse yet, I’ve been part of Vodafone my whole professional career, in various engineering roles and departments… We are a big corporation with processes that are very hard to accommodate in our daily working lives, so this was the first time I was closer to a startup.
In my Dev Team, some people came from startups, and they always say: “This is really hard. I want to do [this], but I can’t because I don’t have permission to do it and I need to wait for two weeks to be able to do something that I in my previous job in the startup could do right away.” But obviously, with millions of customers, we need to be naturally careful with what we have permission to do.
I learned that in a startup world people can do more and can conciliate multiple roles within the company. My role in Vodafone is clear, it goes from here to here. In the startup world, and this is a good thing, people do not what the role defines them to do, but what needs to be done. It’s that feeling of learning that captivates me more to work with startups.
” I honestly believe that we are building something big. Let’s make sure that we get this out there and people change their way of moving.“
At the beginning of the interview, you mentioned that you believe volvero can do a change in the world. In general, what do you think about shared mobility?
One of the things that I was most excited about when starting to work with volvero, is the fact that I used a similar service in the US and the simplicity of the shared mobility was impactful. I was staying at some friend’s house, and they would use this form of mobility regularly, and I thought: “Why don’t we have anything like this in Europe.”
Yesterday I rented a van for moving from my apartment to a different one, so I rented a van, through an app similar to volvero: I downloaded an application, and I got a van for two hours, but they do not work with personal cars, and the availability of the service was fairly low, there were like four vans in the entire city.
If I could rent out my own car, trust a service like volvero, knowing to whom I’m renting, I would do it. I think this could change the mobility industry in Europe and I don’t see any competitors making this happen very soon, because there are obviously a lot of challenges with insurance, legislation, etc. But I would like to believe that this can be a reality very soon.
I honestly believe that we are building something big. Let’s make sure that we get this out there and people change their way of moving and, what’s important, trust this service because this is a change in their lives. It’s changing the way people think, just like they stopped using taxis and now they get Uber or a similar service. It’s a way of changing the way they move around. So, volvero needs to create some trust first. And I believe if we do that, we have a huge potential.
Well, thanks for believing in volvero and for joining and helping the team on its journey to changing the mobility industry!
Ekaterina Efimova @volvero