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Innovating for emerging markets

“Platforms are your friend,” observed Dave Richards, co-founder and partner at Unitus Seed Fund. “They help you get to market more efficiently. They open up more disruptive opportunities.” His advice to startups: Look at what platforms you can stand on, and leverage to build new business that could not have been…

Stepping up the Mobile platform

“Platforms are your friend,” observed Dave Richards, co-founder and partner at Unitus Seed Fund. “They help you get to market more efficiently. They open up more disruptive opportunities.” His advice to startups: Look at what platforms you can stand on, and leverage to build new business that could not have been built before.

Dave was our first guest on LetsHangout #1, the first of a series on Google Hangout on Friday November 21. Supporting startups that are activating the markets for the masses is part of United Seed Fund’s mandate and mobile is the gateway. “We are seeing a new wave of mobile. There was the first wave when people got access to voice and texting. Now they’re getting access to data services on mobile. This is being made possible by a roll out of infrastructure like 3G and 4G and has become viable because of the affordable smart phone. This makes it possible to put a smart phone in the hands of most people, especially if it can increase their income,” said Dave.

On-demand mobile

On-demand mobile services open up a vast opportunities to organise the unorganised sector – by some estimate 90% of India’s economy where many people are independent workers. mGaadi, one of USF’s portfolio companies, is doing just that with transportation, particularly with auto drivers. “You are basically aggregating consumer demand for services through a mobile app and then fulfilling that demand through off-line services – human services of one kind or another,” said Dave. The challenge in India, he observed is, finding skilled-enough worker who can deliver consistent quality and still be independent. The key is working with a marketplace of talent, rather than having people on rolls. “If you can do it through a marketplace model then you don’t have to focus on utilisation of each worker. It allows workers to be part-time. But the challenge is to deliver quality,” he said. On-demand mobile services can transform in healthcare, education and agriculture, just by bringing down the cost of services. Dave spoke about Welcare, for instance, a company that provides eye-screening services offers India’s poor access to eye tests through telemedicine that would otherwise be unaffordable.

“Everyone wants online acquisition of customers – viral, organic marketing, but that’s like catching lightning in a bottle.”

One of the challenges of building a scalable business is reaching out to new customers. Dave recommended building partnerships to help get word out. “If you can acquire consumers efficiently, you can make your money go further. Another thing he talked about was the lifetime value of a customer. If you have ways to increase the recurring usage of that customer, that allows you to be more confident.” Figuring out efficient customer acquisition methods ‒ not only the low-cost channels but also the high-volume ones ‒ is vital preparation for growth, as a start up goes beyond the seed-stage. “Investors are going to want to know your unit economics,” he said. “The question they are going to ask is, ‘If I pour money into this thing where will it go?’”

For the entire interview, go to LetHangout with Dave Richards.

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