Technological Innovation in Developing Countries

By Mitch Seguin

This past January, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what I feel was going to be “the next big thing” in tech. I thought about beacons, connected environments, mobile payments, new social networks (Ello and Peach, have they disappeared?) and pretty much everything in between. In retrospect, I’ve realized how impactful mobile has been in just the few short years of my career. I’ve been fortunate to work in a space that has literally changed the world — ride sharing (Uber), short-term stays (Airbnb), and retail (Alibaba and Amazon). Wow — what else could possibly happen, right!?

Well, if you change the question from “What is the next big thing” to “Where is the next big thing” — I think that we’re just at the tip of the iceberg.

Today, about 2.4 billion people lack 3G or better connectivity according to the Consumer Technology Association. Every time I read a statistic like this, I’m sure we’re just at the beginning of the innovation hockey stick curve. In the Western mobile development ecosystem, we’re constantly optimizing and developing for devices with better specs, 4G networks, and users that have access to large amounts of data. We’re essentially focusing our efforts building technology and product designs for our environment. Imagine the opportunities available if we harnessed our knowledge and expertise to build products that were meaningful to the billions of people currently underserved?

How can we illustrate this point with a technology and product we all understand? Facebook’s flagship Android app is 25mb and optimized for a 4G network — in Subsaharan Africa that would take 3–5 minutes to download vs seconds here; obviously a pretty awful user experience. So what’s the answer? Facebook Lite — launched in June 2016 and footprint of just 252kb — is now the fastest growing interface in the world and has well over 100 million users. This kind of extreme acceleration of app growth highlights the opportunities available to products that both solve a human need (in this case to be social) and take advantage of mass-market technology.

Armed with hindsight, I see how the mobile revolution has changed our lives for the better. The amount of opportunities available, both in terms of solving new problems as well as optimizing what we’ve seen work in the western world, means there is a huge unfilled need. I’m excited to see how innovators can leverage mobile technology to start addressing real needs for people. Transportation, healthcare, and education are industries with huge opportunity for mobile development here and even larger elsewhere.

It’s always cool to see the next social app garnering hundreds of thousands of users, but it’s f*#%ing awesome to think about the next healthcare app benefitting hundreds of millions of people.

Connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn and let’s keep the conversation going.

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