There has been a constant theme in my updates past few weeks. It started with why healthcare startups are solving the wrong problem for the wrong market. From the article:
The later makes a lot of sense for these startups to consider. First, it solves the last mile problem of healthcare. Hospitals have no reach to the rural demographic. And presumably, they are not interested as well. Which makes these areas an ideal market for a startup to tackle. Second, by serving these under-served customers you can slowly build a product that catches up to what’s being offered by big-name hospitals.
The only thing that matters
This is a classic case of disruption theory laid out by Clay Christensen in his landmark book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. On a similar note, I suggested Pro Pakistani do the same with ProBlogs. Pick writers nobody knows as yet and slowly work upwards. And none exemplified it more than Veon. There is clearly a need to be captured if you are serious enough about building a platform. The problem, however, is the wrong product and even more importantly the wrong market.
Much like China, rural areas of Pakistan are going through a phase where they are bypassing laptops and jumping directly to smartphones for their computing and communication needs. There are a lot of interesting ways you can capture their imagination because the market is infancy. You could have even started with messaging with a little intrigue and chances are you might have found the MVP of your product. Having a good product is important but even more important is a ready market. From Marc Andreessen’s masterpiece on the subject:
Personally, I’ll take the third position — I’ll assert that market is the most important factor in a startup’s success or failure.
In a great market — a market with lots of real potential customers — the market pulls product out of the startup. The market needs to be fulfilled and the market will be fulfilled, by the first viable product that comes along. The product doesn’t need to be great; it just has to basically work. And, the market doesn’t care how good the team is, as long as the team can produce that viable product.
In short, customers are knocking down your door to get the product; the main goal is to actually answer the phone and respond to all the emails from people who want to buy.
The Third Wave
We are entering into the third wave of Internet companies. An era where tech companies will be challenging and working with industries outside of tech, argues Steve Case. He actually wrote a book on the subject, the gist of which is captured nicely by this image on the first page:
From the book:
The Third Wave is the era when the Internet stops belonging to Internet companies. It is the era in which products will require the Internet, even if the Internet doesn’t define them. It is the era when the term “Internet-enabled” will start to sound as ludicrous as the term “electricity-enabled,” as if either were notable differentiators.
What makes Uber and Airbnb unique is not their apps, it’s actually what happens at the backend when you interact with their apps. The map isn’t the hard part because a second wave internet company named Google has already solved it. It’s making sure that a driver with a car actually shows up when you press the button. Finding people willing to rent their spaces isn’t the hard part. Craigslist was doing that already. It’s making sure that a tenant gets a good experience. There is a famous Airbnb story where Brian and Joe found that their app wasn’t the bottleneck for their declining numbers. It was the tenant’s perception that rooms available are not good enough. They had to rush in and deal with individual cases personally.
Hence it’s wrong to follow Craigslist if you want to disrupt healthcare. It’s probably wiser to study AOL.
What’s wrong with Finja SimSim
That’s exactly the problem with Finja SimSim as well. They are trying to solve a third wave problem i.e. Fintech via a solution that’s mimicking the second wave. Part of the product experience in the third wave is what happens at the backend when you interact with an app or website. While you can say that you have made banking simple. What you have essentially done is forced the complexity on the user. Opening a SimSim account does not do anything for me. I have to pull things up myself e.g. transferring funds to make it work. From the book again:
If this new generation of entrepreneurs is to succeed, the playbook from the Second Wave won’t do. The playbook they need, instead, is the one that worked during the First Wave, when the Internet was still young and skepticism was still high; when the barriers to entry were enormous, and when partnerships were a necessity to reaching your customers; when the regulatory system was coming to grips with a new reality and struggling to figure out the appropriate path forward.
Apart from that, the product is not as simple as advertised. Sign up process is definitely not less than a minute. You have to type out almost everything that’s on your CNIC. Take a selfie and then scan the CNIC again. For a guy like me who is destroyed by Apple-esque experiences, that’s a lot of friction. But again, back to Marc Andreessen’s point. You can get away with an inferior product if you are in the right market. And that’s where I believe they are making the same mistake as MyZindagi and Veon.
What made WeChat so invaluable wasn’t the idea or the product. It was the market. They didn’t target the tech-savvy upper middle class of China. That market was already being served by WhatsApp and Facebook albeit via VPNs. WeChat targeted the lower end of the market and gave them something they didn’t have i.e. free messaging. And not just that they started to build integrations that no Facebook could build. They started to bring local merchants on board i.e. mom and pop stores on the streets of rural China.
The person who goes to Centaurus or Emporium Mall for shopping does not care if your product is free. They already have a lot of money, a bank account with an app that gets authenticated via Touch ID (thank you SCB) and possibly a couple of credit cards. I am not sure how you can break up this powerful game of incentives with a product that’s new and inferior. Imagine, however, a person who doesn’t have any of that. No or little fiat money, no bank account, no credit card and in whom no bank is interested. But he most probably has a smartphone. Or at least eye one. That’s your target market. The good news is that they are at least 50% (rough estimate) of your country’s population.