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Questions to Ask Yourself Before Launching Online Services in the Developing World

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Launching Online Services in the Developing World

There are at least one billion people on this planet with no access to electricity or telecommunications. There are at least 1.5 billion more that have either unreliable or unstable connectivity, most of which is powered by diesel generators that contribute to global warming. This large and untapped market does not have the spending power of those in urban centers, but they want connectivity due to the increases in productivity and economic opportunity that this access provides. Once connectivity arrives, marketers need to be ready with services to address these unique users. Here are a few questions to ponder as you build your ideas into something for the developing world.

How many native languages are spoken in the region?

Depending on the country, you could be looking at several different languages to support and localization of your web site involves more than just a web site translation. You need to support the language holistically, throughout your company. Any touch point, from calling customer service, instruction manuals, packing slips, etc. all must support each language. Prioritize your language translations based on market share and potential opportunity, then roll out other languages in phases.

What is the typical connectivity available in the region?

Electricity usually shows up first, then telecom, but not always. Regardless, much of the developing world survives on unstable grids, many supported by diesel generators, even in urban centers. India alone used 4 billion liters of diesel to power its existing telecom networks in 2012.

With no electricity, people cannot charge their phones. In some villages, small entrepreneurs invest in a small generator (even a car battery) and charge people for access to charge their phones. Reports from the ITU indicate that many rural markets rely mainly on local calls in and around their village. Once internet and data services are made available, customers in these areas may not be able to afford high speed broadband, but those that can afford slower connections, will download what they want from the internet for later reading or watching. Most phones in rural areas are not internet-enabled, simply voice, which means getting the right kind of devices into consumer hands at a price point they can afford in order to use your online product or service. Smart phones and data-enabled tablets shouldn’t be a problem in urban areas, but the percentage of users with access to these devices may still be low depending on the country.

What percentage of the community owns devices capable of accessing your services?

There are a few studies out there that indicate that once the internet shows up in a village, economic opportunities increase by up to 11%. Local entrepreneurs open phone shops to cater to the rural consumer (just because someone lives in a rural area does not mean they are below the poverty line, but for the majority worldwide, this is still true). Adoption of smartphones capable of connecting to the internet are much more expensive and consumers need to see them in action to be compelled to purchase them. If you cannot source a reputable report on the data for the country in which you are planning to introduce your services, you may need to do some field surveys in these areas to understand the proportion of internet-enabled devices and the speed of the typical connections in the area before you begin building your product or service. Coming from the West, internet speeds in many parts of the world are not nearly as fast as they are in the developed world, so your online service needs to address this, even in urban areas.

Does your service require delivery of actual products or services to the customer?

Logistics of delivery can be mind boggling in developing countries. This is where a lot of companies fail — getting products and services ordered online to the customer. In some organizations, they may use temp workers on motorcycles driving individual orders out into the hinterlands or they restrict their orders to urban areas only. They may send trucks out once a week (or month!) to address rural areas. If you need to deliver, solving this issue should be a primary focus before launching anything online.

Who else is doing what you are considering doing?

Has it been done elsewhere? Are there existing competitors in this space? How are they addressing issues like pricing, support, languages, etc.? Mobile-first application interface development is most likely the best way to move forward since most consumers in developing countries access the internet over a smartphone much more than through other devices. Understanding how other companies in the developing world have solved similar challenges in other countries could keep you from reinventing the wheel and save you considerable time.

How much would a typical user be able to pay for your product or service?

Here’s where developing robust financial models are required. If there is already competition in the space, understanding their business model and how they are monetizing their services will help you understand the feasibility of launching your own product. Developing target personas, e.g. “rural user”, “young urban professional”, and estimating the potential in each market will enable you to create your online presence, messaging, and set of products/service offerings that would be attractive to each persona who could use your product.

The developing world is largely untapped and ignored. It is a good time to be looking at fast growing economies in the East, South America and Africa where demand is huge, but the infrastructure is poor. Making services mobile first will enable you to build stable and robust products that can be enhanced as more sophisticated internet-enabled devices come into the market and are adopted by local consumers.

How are you managing your product development projects in the developing world? Any insights to share? Please add them to the comments below.


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