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Showing posts with label bottom of the pyramid. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bottom of the pyramid. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bottom Of The Pyramid – Nokia’s Second Act

The two-third of world’s 4.6 billon mobile users live in the emerging markets. Millions of these users live below the poverty line and are part of the bottom of the pyramid (BOP). Nokia is the market leader in these emerging markets, at least for now, with 34% market share. It’s clear from rapidly declining Nokia’s marketshare and an appointment of new CEO, Stephen Elop, that Nokia needs a second act. I believe the BOP is what could be the next big thing for Nokia.

The recent NYTimes story highlights a Nokia’s service, to supply commodity data to the farmers in India, using a text message. So far, 6.3 million people have signed up for this service. Nokia is planning to roll out this service, Life tools, in Nigeria as well. This is part of their Ovi mobile business.

I have written before on impact of cloud computing and mobile on the bottom of the pyramid and the importance of public policy innovation in emerging markets. The BOP is one of the biggest opportunities that Nokia currently has. Nokia has been losing marketshare in the smartphone category, and it is going to get increasingly difficult for Nokia to compete with Apple, Google, RIM, and now Microsoft. However, the very same vendors will find it equally difficult to move down the chain to compete with Nokia in the emerging markets.

One of the biggest business challenges to cater to the BOP is not a desire to market or a product to offer, but it is the lack of direct access to these consumers. The people at the BOP are incredibly difficult to reach. I have seen many go-to-market plans fail because it is either impossible or prohibitively expensive to market to these consumers. One of the biggest assets Nokia has is the relationship, the channel, with the people at the BOP. Now is the time to focus and leverage that channel by providing them with the content and the services that could be served on these phones via a strong platform, built for the BOP, and a vibrant ecosystem built around it.

My two cents: exit from the Smartphone category and double down the investment to serve the people at the bottom of the pyramid.

Nokia, that could be your second act.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

India Needs Public Policy And Service Innovation And Not Web 2.0 Companies

The second most populous country with the fourth largest spending power, India, saw a surprising 7.9% YOY GDP growth well above the expectations of 6.3%. The Indian stock market recovered much quicker since the US financial meltdown. In fact one of my friends who oversees sales of a European earthmoving equipments company in India complained that the European manufacturers have not increased their production to meet the increased demand in India due to the faster economic recovery, especially in the infrastructure sector. When I switch on a news channel in India I hear all about incentivizing manufacturing companies to increase indigenous production that will fuel the growth of the industrial sector. I also see commercials ranging from baked potato chips to a service to transfer money using virtual currency on a mobile phone targeted to the fast growing middleclass. The marketers have no problem understanding the rich and the middle-class of India and designing the products for them.

What I don’t see is entrepreneurs catering to the people at the bottom of the pyramid. Vivek Wadhwa’s guest posts on TechCrunch stirred quite a controversy especially the one on the “reverse brain-drain” - the Indians returning to India from US. NYTimes recently carried a story on the innovation pace in India. There are more angel investors in India than even before. A few people from Infosys have started their own VC fund. This is all good but I don’t think that the entrepreneurs are pursuing the right opportunities. I have written before about the opportunities to cater to the people at the bottom of the pyramid and I will repeat again that it will be a huge mistake to equate India’s needs with those of the developed countries. India has a little over 300 million people that are below poverty line (450 million by international definition – who earns less than $1.25). What it simply means that at least the one-third population of India has no guarantee that there will be food at the table and access to affordable healthcare. India has significant challenges in getting the basic services right and educating its people and providing healthcare to them. These people will do just fine without Web 2.0 companies.

Here is an example and an opportunity for the kind of innovation that I am referring to:

Electronic voting machine

India has been trying for many years to improve its voting process where the votes are regularly rigged in many parts of the country – it’s called “booth capturing”. The ex. Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswamy (also father of a close friend) helped revolutionize the voting process with the introduction of electronic voting machines with a tiny little feature called “12 second delay” that made all the difference. This delay prevented the votes to be “stuffed” even if the machine was physically compromised. The machine also has an algorithm to recognize a pattern to detect the votes being cast every 12 seconds and simply discard them if needed. This is a great example where technology is being used to fight the corrupt behavior during the elections.

Universal Healthcare Card

This is a huge opportunity. The Universal Healthcare Card is an attempt to insure 300 million people (below the poverty line) with the cost of $1B, which is a small fraction of overall healthcare spending of $45B, which in turn is only 4% of the GDP. This policy has administrative and operational challenges to fight corruption and to ensure that people below poverty line actually benefit out of this plan. I see this as a socioeconomic problem that technology can help solve to provide accessible healthcare to the people who really need them without any pilferage.


What India really needs the most is the entrepreneurs who can get involved in the public policy and create service innovation to remove the fundamental roadblocks that India has on its way to become a developed nation. We need more people like Nandan Nilekani who left Infosys to spearhead the efforts of the national Unique Identification Project. He is an ultra smart entrepreneur who understands the challenges associated with such a project, has deep passion for public policy, and is fully committed to make things happen.

Are you an entrepreneur up for such a challenge?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cloud Computing At The Bottom Of The Pyramid

I see cloud computing play a big role in enabling IT revolution in the developing nations to help companies market products and services to 4 billion consumers at the bottom of the pyramid (BOP). C.K.Prahlad has extensively covered many aspects of the BOP strategy in his book Fortune At The Bottom Of The Pyramid that is a must-read for the strategists and marketers working on the BOP strategy.

This is how I think cloud computing is extremely relevant to the companies that are trying to reach to the consumers at the BOP:

Logical extension to the mobile revolution: The mobile phone revolution at the BOP has changed the way people communicate in their daily lives and conduct business. Many people never had a landline and in some case no electricity. Some of them charged their mobile phones using a charger that generates electricity from a bike. As the cellular data networks become more and more mature and reliable the same consumers will have access to the Internet on their mobile phones without having a computer or broadband at home.

The marketers tend to be dismissive about the spending power of the people at the BOP to buy and use a device that could consume applications from the cloud. BOP requires innovative distribution channels. The telcos who have invested into the current BPO distribution channels will have significant advantage over their competitors. The telcos, that empowered people leap frog the landline to move to the mobile phones, could further invest into the infrastructure and become the cloud providers to fuel the IT revolution. They already have relationship with the consumers at the BOP that they can effectively utilize to pedal more products and services.

Elastic capacity at utility pricing: The computing demand growth in the developing countries is not going to be linear and it is certainly not going to be uniform across the countries. The cloud computing is the right kind of architecture that allows the companies to add computing infrastructure as demand surges amongst the BPO consumers in different geographies. Leaving political issues aside the data centers, if set up well, could potentially work across the countries to serve concentrated BOP population. The cloud computing would also allow the application providers to eliminate the upfront infrastructure investment and truly leverage the utility model. The BOP consumers are extremely value conscious. It is a win-win situation if this value can be delivered to match the true ongoing usage at zero upfront cost.

Cheap computing devices: OLPC and other small handheld devices such as Netbooks are weak in the computing power and low in memory but they are a good enough solution to run a few tools locally and an application inside a browser. These devices would discourage people from using the applications that are thick-client and requires heavy computation on the client side. The Netbooks and the introduction of tablets and other smaller devices are likely to proliferate since they are affordable, reliable, and provide the value that the BOP consumers expect. Serving tools and applications over the cloud might just become an expectation, especially when these devices come with a prepaid data plans.

Highly-skilled top of the pyramid serving BOP: Countries such as India and China have highly skilled IT people at the top and middle of the pyramid. These people are skilled to write new kind of software that will fuel the cloud computing growth in these emerging economies. The United States has been going through a reverse immigration trend amongst highly skilled IT workers who have chosen to return back to their home countries to pursue exiting opportunities. These skilled people are likely to bring in their experience of the western world to build new generation of tools and applications and innovative ways to serve the people at the BOP.

Sustainable social economies: It might seem that the countries with a large BOP population are not simply ready for the modern and reliable IT infrastructure due to bureaucratic government policies and lack of modern infrastructure. However if you take a closer look you will find that these countries receive a large FDI [pdf] that empowers the companies to invest into modern infrastructure that creates a sustainable social economy.

Most of the petrochemical refineries and cement manufacturing plants that I have visited in India do not rely on the grid (utility) for electricity. They have set up their own Captive Power Plants (CPP) to run their businesses. Running a mission critical data center would require an in-house power generation. As I have argued before, local power generation for a data center will result into clean energy and reduced distribution loss. There are also discussions on generating DC power locally to feed the data centers to minimize the AC to DC conversion loss. Relatively inexpensive and readily available workforce that have been building and maintaining the power plants will make it easier to build and maintain these data centers as well. The local governments would encourage the investment that creates employment opportunities. Not only this allows the countries to serve BOP and build sustainable social economy but to contribute to the global sustainability movement as well.
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