Can tech succeed where international aid has failed?

The tech revolution has fundamentally changed the way we live. Our personal, professional, financial, and social habits have been irrevocably altered by the internet and smartphones, but although these innovations seem inescapable, there are billions of people who have missed out on these rapid changes. In many parts of the Global South, including parts of Africa and South Asia, life in many respects remains the way it was before the tech revolution. Forget about wifi – in many places, electricity and clean water are still difficult to find. But technological innovation and startups have been able to disrupt aspects of life in developing countries in seemingly small ways, taking on challenges that decades of humanitarian aid haven’t been able to address.

Cell phones have been a major driver of change and development in developing countries. Even in places without running water, most people have some access to a cell phone. Increasingly, these phones have some type of internet access. They are usually low cost, and in many countries, people pay per MB to use a data plan. While not at the same level of sophistication as the iPhones and Samsung Galaxies available to Western consumers, making cell phones accessible to people at all income levels has had far-reaching effects on the way people live their lives. The advent of Whatsapp, a low-cost and low-data messaging service that can be used internationally has changed communication for people at all income levels. Previously, immigration or even moving across the country meant communication with family members was all but impossible. Text messages in many places are prohibitively expensive, and a newly-married woman who moves to be with her husband’s family, as is the reality for many women in developing countries, may be completely isolated from her support system. Now, families can stay in touch with ease. Even international calling via data is more affordable, making it possible for loved ones to talk across borders.

Increasing access to mobile technology has also allowed for the development of mobile wallets, an innovative way of storing money and paying bills for the unbanked. In many parts of the Global South, banks are too difficult to access or too expensive to use for many people, especially women. Purchasing goods and paying bills becomes more difficult. But initiatives like M-Pesa in Kenya and MTN Mobile Money in southern Africa have found ingenious workarounds to these problems. People are able to put money on their SIM cards, and then transfer that money to pay for goods and services. These mobile wallets have allowed an entirely new demographic of people to take advantage of technology and enter the economy in ways previously denied to them.

Other innovations are based around aspects of life many Americans believe are basic necessities. It may seem hard for people in developed countries to believe, but 844 million people do not have access to clean water. By drinking unclean water they are exposed to dangerous bacteria and parasites. Furthermore, 2.3 billion people do not have sanitary toilets, a dangerous situation that increases the likelihood of a deadly cholera epidemic. Startups and tech companies have been looking for innovative ways to bridge the hygiene gap and allow people to access clean water. Lifestraw is one such company. They created a small straw-like purification system. It’s simple to use, easy to transport, and inexpensive. Other companies have created simple boilers, allowing people to purify large quantities of water at once. Startups bring a different perspective to decades-old development obstacles, injecting new ideas into the community.

A final area that startups are disrupting is that of electricity and power. Life without lights is unimaginable to people in developed countries, and electricity is viewed as a basic need that must be met. The devastation in Puerto Rico, for example, caused by long-term electrical outages arguably outdid the hurricane that caused it. But in many parts of the Global South, lights are a luxury and the day ends when the sun goes down. It’s impossible to work or study after dark. Cell phones, which are a lifeline to the outside world, can’t be charged at home, and people may need to walk miles to find a place to purchase the opportunity to charge their phones. But like other challenges in development, tech startups have disrupted the field of electricity as well. The public sector’s initiatives attempt to install electricity wherever possible, which is an important goal but often slow and expensive. Tech startups have focused on getting electricity into people’s hands as quickly as possible. One such invention is the Soccket, a soccer ball that also functions as a lamp or charger. When kicked around for 30 minutes, Soccket can provide light for three hours. Although users have reported some issues with the hardware so far, it’s only a matter of time until the technology improves.

Extreme poverty and low human development may seem like an intractable problem, but tech startups have jumped in to start improving the lives of people in the Global South. The tech boom may have primarily touched people in western countries so far, but ultimately we all stand to benefit from increasing innovation. 


How to Avoid Innovation Pitfalls for Emerging Tech Startups

Here at EI, we see plenty of startups looking to evangelize innovations. From augmented reality and health tech to the Internet of Things, a slew of new products and services are revolutionizing responses to both consumer needs and industry pain points. But the unfortunate truth is that 75% of these ventures will fail due to issues involving the brand’s business model, approach or focus.

For those looking to break into the competitive technology space, avoiding these common pitfalls will serve you well:

  1. Don’t aim for disruption. Aim for enhancement.

There’s an old guard protecting the landscape and a variety of organizations who believe they can disrupt it. What most do not realize is that the marketplace is already experiencing immense changes that can be categorized as less of a “disruption” and more so “business as usual” with a twist. Sure, there are technologies and behaviors that are altering many aspects of the business. And of course, there are industry giants poised to take on specific elements in the space. But the bottom line is that there are very smart, well-financed and protected organizations that are capable of rolling with the punches. Smart startups will seek to pinpoint challenges within the tech sector and craft innovations to address them. They will not look to upend a very profitable system, but seek to enhance it. Ultimately, they will figure out compelling ways to affect positive changes while realizing that disruption is not the key to success.

  1. Proof of concept is king.

The technology world is a hype-filled place. The industry is fast-paced, ever-changing and offers plenty of monetary gain, so there’s plenty of people constantly trying to enter it. Some of them are great marketers, but that doesn’t mean their products will live up to the excitement they manage to create about them. If your organization is unable to provide a tangible product, all the hype in the world won’t help you. Even before promotional efforts begin, you must prove your technology actually works. There is no such thing as “we’re working out a few kinks.” If a product is ready, it’s ready; and if it’s not, it’s not. On top of proving this validity, a company must also prove the business case. In fact, this is the single most important task for any emerging tech brand. Your business case should be well-structured to perfectly capture the reason and need for your product. In this industry, the folks that live up to the hype and present a proof of concept are the ones that will flourish.

  1. Jump off the buzzword bandwagon for success that is not short-lived.

All too often, startups, innovators and well-established companies will create and innovate new products based on buzzwords alone. The problem with this approach is that buzzwords are fads, and by the time a product finally goes to market there may already be another buzzword in its place. Seeking to capitalize on specific trends is a short-term strategy based on novelty that doesn’t have any real staying power. Marketing a product solely built around a temporary buzzword is not only a giant gamble that typically doesn’t pay off, it’s also a crutch for the less creative to lean on. Instead of relying on words that may be huge today and gone tomorrow, create your own terms that will allow for profitable results.

Any promising startup can make these common mistakes, which is why we are here to help assist with creating and executing the best marketing strategy for your innovative product or service. By keeping these major blunders in mind while working to craft a paramount business approach, we’ll have the best possible chance of successfully launching you and your product into the technology marketplace.



Weekly Aspect By Alex: One Acquisition Overshines The Next

On Monday Microsoft delivered a bang as they acquired LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, which marks one of the largest tech buys ever. Since Bill Gates departure, Microsoft have been criticized for numerous overpays like the acquisitions of Nokia and Skype.

With these news headlining the industry this week and in the midst of all the hype, I can’t help myself but to think about another acquisition that took place just days before the Microsoft buy.

The German media giant, Axel Springer, purchased eMarketer for a solid $242 million. Now this comes after acquiring Business Insider this past fall with the motive of “expanding digital activities in the English-speaking world”. Business Insider is well known for it’s analytical research department. So this latest move by Axel Springer seems to be sending signals that they are after the very lucrative market of paid content and research – the stuff that we B2B marketers drool after..

Look at this from a distance. Consider both agendas, what they had to give up and everything they can possibly squeeze out. Which deal is more valuable?