The Next Five Billion

It’s round numbers but there are about 7 billion of us on the planet and something like 2 billion are connected to the internet. So what about those who aren’t? How do we get them to be part of the online world? Can we just use what we, in the connected world, take for granted and dispatch it to the unconnected of this world and tell them, log on and enjoy? Nice idea, but it's not quite as simple as that. 

Let's take a few steps back and look in from the outside. Society and culture, to a great extent, dictate how a market will accept, or not accept, any idea. For example, if a certain culture used shopping as the major social and networking opportunity how easy would it be for them to happily adopt online shopping and a social network? OK, that’s a bit of flyer of a question but these are all important things to take into consideration if you’re heading for world domination. 

We know plenty about how the different cultures and societies of the world use and interact in their own way from the products we, as a business, have developed for various customers over time. Just a quick example, when we localized a mobile app for Japan and threw in some app store optimization too, the clever search part needed to cope with English and Japanese as, in Japan, they search in the two languages. 

Anyway, that’s getting a little away from my thoughts about how to reach the next 5 billion. To have any level of success with the next tranche of internet users we need to develop products which solve a problem for them and not just take something we use and force it on them. In parts of Africa, where wired internet access is almost non existent, the telcos have been able to provide communities with access via the cell network. This has been such a success in some areas because, when you couple that with no access to what we would consider a recognizable banking system, all of a sudden the pain point is identified and the problem is solved by cell phone banking. 

What we are looking for to enable technology to expand into these new user markets is a deep understanding of how that society and culture works and what will provide a valuable and useful service to that community. Think about Facebook; just because it has a billion or so users does that mean the next 5 billion will welcome it with open arms and use it like the current users do? The answer to that is probably no and that, in its own right, really reinforces the need to understand your market — research and don't assume. 

I guess all research into new areas starts with a bit of assuming, but it is that research which proves or disproves the assumption and with that information you can make an informed decision about your next step. This is the process of market validation. As we tell each and every one of our customers, if you don't solve a problem or provide something better for your users, why do they want your product? Well, in short, if you don’t, neither will they.  

We spend a fair amount of our time hearing about ideas which are ill thought out, under researched or simply complete rubbish. But in all those ideas, every now and then there is great one — it might be a super niche product which brings something completely new to the table or it may be an improvement on a current offering (we like to see, and get, the one degree of differentiation) but what it will never be, is a straight copy of something already on the market. 

So, to reach the next 5 billion will take a lot of research and consideration before ploughing the cash in to capitalize on the tech world’s planet-Earth-holy-grail. Hey, if you have what you think is the next great mobile technology idea which meets the tried and tested criteria of validation, we’d love to hear from you. Who knows where that conversation could lead?

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