In today’s tech startup scene, it takes a strong stomach and an iron will to compete in an ever-changing environment. With the entire industry predicated towards looking beyond the horizon for the next great innovation, the next great trend and opportunity, the idea of building for old technology is highly counterintuitive.
In certain situations, however, it pays to look to those that are wanting to share in many of the same experiences that Western consumers and bleeding edge developers have moved on from.
Far from reinventing the wheel, this type of innovation involves looking to make the wheel accessible to the masses on the move and it can make solid business sense. There is a mobilizing population, touted as the next billion consumers, who are feverishly adopting mobile technology, but with wealth and infrastructural limitations.
The mobile experience is highly aspirational for those in developing nations. As greater forms of cellular technology become prolific and affordable, internet connected mobile phones represent a window to the world that for many was previously unthinkable. The ability to connect instantly to global news, access great works of fact and fiction—and, yes, LOL at pictures of cats wearing sunglasses on friends’ social media pages—presents a profound opportunity and one that is being taken up in eye watering numbers. And so to the next great experience to be delivered to the next middle class.
It’s all in the game
In Western gaming, diversity of experience, accessibility via numerous different platforms and overall functionality is constantly improving in step with advancements in cellular technology. The gaming gold rush is well underway and values associated with industry titans such as Candy Crush maker King and Clash of Clans maker Supercell are a clear indicator of what it means to strike gold and catnip to app developers looking to create the next sugar-coated cash cow.
Due to this widespread focus on North American and European smartphone markets however, billions of lower-tech mobile users throughout emerging markets, who are hungry for a socially connected gaming experience, are being left underserved.
In India alone—where smartphone ownership is mostly reserved for the upper classes—there are several hundred million feature phone users and a desire within virtually every consumer to have a smartphone of their own. As smartphones become more attainable, the congestion of cellular networks increases.
Recent estimates suggest that there are approximately three billion feature phones in wider circulation with concentration heaviest in the growing markets of Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America. In reality, nearly half the mobile-toting population are accessing their phones on 2G networks. Thus, there is a very interesting and real opportunity to develop mobile software for the evolving feature phone users and burgeoning smartphone users. That said, those who develop with localized network and data constraints in mind will see the greatest success.
The potential in serving the underserved in developing economies is as undeniable as the speed that changes take place within them. So, where the market being innovated for might be a few steps back, the principles of entrepreneurship and building sustainable and profitable startups must remain the same. Looking beyond the current market position to what is on the horizon is essential.
When it comes to mobile gaming for the newest breed of gamers using low tech handsets, Android’s continuing infiltration of emerging markets will eventually render experiences created for feature phones relatively obsolete. This is an inevitable reality over the coming years. However, the significant opportunity exists to engage these users now, establish relevant distribution, and build a strong user base which a company can grow and evolve in tandem with improvements in mobile devices and infrastructure.
Entrepreneurs instinctively search out problems and opportunities and the startups they create commonly exist to turn one into the other.
Creating solutions and experiences for the next billion consumers in new and volatile markets comes with significant challenges. The opportunities that exist in creating new technology for old, however, are equally as significant—and the experience to be had in integrating and evolving as these markets do is one that’s as inspiring as any in the startup world today.