Archive for the Tag 'emerging markets'

Workforce Innovation: How Txteagle Distributes Microtasks Worldwide

Point: Dividing work into microtasks and using software to manage quality enables outsourcing of work directly to billions of workers worldwide

Story: One month after launching in Kenya, startup Txteagle Inc became one of the country’s largest employers with a workforce of 10,000 Kenyans. Let’s look at what Txteagle does and the implications for managers and employees worldwide.
In 2008, former MIT Research Scientist Nathan Eagle founded Txteagle (now Jana Mobile), with the idea of marrying crowdsourcing to cellphones.  Txteagle deconstructs work into microtasks that can be performed on any simple mobile phone through texting. Txteagle distributes the microtasks to thousands of workers (currently primarily in Africa) who complete them and get paid via the mobile phone either in airtime minutes or in cash through the M-Pesa service.
“Txteagle is a commercial corporation that enables people to earn small amounts of money on their mobile phones by completing simple tasks for our corporate clients,” says Eagle.
The types of tasks Txteagle’s African workers have done are:
* enter details of local road signs for creating satellite navigation systems
* translate mobile-phone menu functions into the 62 African dialects (for Nokia)
* collect address data for business directories
* fill out surveys for international agencies
Txteagle seems similar to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, except that workers only need a simple mobile phone – no computer or Internet access is needed. TxtEagle now has partnerships with 220 mobile operators in more than 80 countries.  This expands Txteagle’s reach to 2.1 billion cellphone users in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil and India, who can all participate as workers. Currently, the firm earns revenues 49 countries.
At first glance, managing 10,000+ workers — not to mention controlling quality — seems daunting. Txteagle solves the problem through algorithms.  “Instead of using managerial staff to oversee accuracy and quality, we use math,” Eagle says. Txteagle’s algorithms infer the correct answer by asking more than one person, Eagle said.  Txteagle also tracks each worker’s accuracy and rewards the best workers. “If they get a lot of right answers in a row, we pay them more for each answer,” Eagle says.

Win/win/win/win for everyone:
For companies in the developed world:
* lowers labor costs through access to a worldwide workforce
* access real-time local expertise in language, business, markets, and conditions
For developed-world workers
* make extra money during downtime
* flextime work
For developing-world workers
* access to work despite local economic conditions
* lets women work remotely
Entrepreneurs everywhere have to opportunity to design work in a new way and not need employees on the payroll in order to get work done.


  • Think about the information that ordinary people in foreign markets could collect for your business, such as market  conditions, surveys, local business prospects
  • Consider overcoming language hurdles that keep your products from succeeding in diverse economies
  • Think about tasks anyone in the world might do during a few minutes to spare
  • Imagine how 2.1 billion people could work for you one text at a time


Txteagle (now Jana Mobile)

Jessica Vaughn, “Q&A: Nathan Eagle, founder of txteagle,” JWT Intelligence  March 3, 2010

Robert Bain, “The power of text in the developing world,”  20 January 2011

Kate Greene, “Crowd-Sourcing the World,” MIT Tech Review, Jan 21, 2009

Nathan Eagle presentation at TedxBoulder, August 7, 2010

3 Comments »Case study, Entrepreneurs, How-to, Innovation

Reverse Innovation: How Designing for Emerging Economies Brings Benefits Back Home

Point: Creating new products & services for developing countries requires radical innovation and opens new opportunities in developed world markets as well

Story: GE Healthcare sells sophisticated medical imaging devices around the world. Historically, they have sold these high-end machines in emerging economies like India. But only 10% of Indian hospitals can afford a $10,000 ECG machine. Reaching the other 90% of the market takes more than simply cutting a few costs. It requires radical innovation and an in-depth understanding of local conditions.

For example, most Indians live in rural areas. That means they don’t have a local hospital to go to. Rather, the machine needs to go to them, and no rural healthcare clinic is going to lug a $10,000 machine into the field even if it could afford the device. Achieving the goal of a lightweight, reliable, simple-to-use ECG machine took radical re-thinking. GE built a device, called the MAC i, that could fit in a shoulder bag, has a built-in replaceable printer, and cost only $500. In addition, because the device would be used in rural locations with scant access to electricity, GE designed a battery that could do 500 ECGs on one charge.  To make it easy to use, GE designed the machine to have only three buttons. Finally, just because the device is inexpensive doesn’t mean it’s dumb.  Because the cost of a copy of software is zero, GE installed professional-level analysis software to aid rural doctors.

With its new MAC i, GE has unlocked a whole new market in developing countries.  Beyond that, GE has also opened up new opportunities back home — and that’s the reverse innovation side of the story.  How? The portable ECG machine with a $500 price tag is ideal for use in ambulances, saving lives of accident victims in rich countries as well.  Cheap, portable, and easy-to-use devices are desirable in any country.

Reverse innovation means designing a product for a developing country and bringing that innovation back home.

  • Make the product extremely low in cost so that it is price-acceptable in developing markets and opens up new sales opportunities in developed markets
  • Start from the ground up with a radical rethinking. (See also the Tata Nano example.)
  • Plan for intermittent electricity
  • Make the product modular to facilitate remote repair
  • Make the product easy to use, like GE’s three-button ECG machine


Vijay Govindarajan, “Reverse Innovation: A New Strategy for Creating the Future” HSM webinar March 18, 2010

Prof. Govindarajan will be speaking more on this topic at the World Business Forum in NYC October 5-6, 2009

India Tech Online

1 Comment »Case study, Growth, How-to, Innovation, International, New Product Development, Strategy

The Innovator’s Emerging Market Opportunity

Point: Current non-consumers (rather than current customers) may represent the best opportunity for an innovationclaytonchristensenwif1

Story: The future of solar power may be in the markets of Mongolia rather than in the high-tech companies of Western countries, said Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen at the World Innovation Forum.

Christensen’s recent visit to Mongolia led him to this view. In Mongolia’s capital, Ulan Bator, Christensen saw a very popular product in local markets: cheap solar panels attached to small portable TVs. Rural herders were buying these solar-powered products, and they were buying the products without needing government inducements to do so.

In the West, solar power competes with established power grids. As a result, solar has been seven years away from cost-competitive performance for 35 years. Solar still costs too much and needs government support (grants, subsidies or tax breaks) to create even the current low levels of adoption.

Adoption of solar power is low in the West because solar power competes with anytime/everytime electricity from 24-hour power plants and ubiquitous power grids. Sunlight, in contrast, is sporadic.

For Mongolians, the imperfections of solar aren’t a problem because the alternative is either no electricity at all or expensive disposable batteries. Almost one-third (32%) of Mongolians still live an off-grid, semi-nomadic life style. They move their collapsible, felt-lined homes to follow their flocks of goats, sheep, yaks, horses, and camels across the high plateau of Asia. Mongolians don’t expect flip-of-the-switch power for air-conditioners, hair dryers, or halogen mood lighting. Untold hundreds of millions live without power in Asia and Africa.

Christensen’s evidence suggests that solar power has the greatest opportunity to shine where it faces no preexisting electrical infrastructure. The rise of solar power may come from expanding the total base of electricity users, not from replacing one highly-optimized incumbent electrical system with another emerging innovation. For emerging technologies, emerging markets can be a key because they represent large populations of non-consumers for which the new idea needs to out-compete nothing.

The larger point is that Mongolia symbolizes a larger market of non-consumers with different needs and different requirements. Sometimes, an innovative product that can’t compete head-to-head with incumbent may nonetheless be vastly superior to the alternative of “nothing” in the population of consumers. Many companies have used this strategy to good effect.

For example, Southwest Airlines considered the car and bus — not other full-service airlines — as its primary competition. Intuit’s competitor for TurboTax software was the pencil, not other tax software packages. Tata’s Nano low-cost car competes with 2-wheelers in India. Non-consumers of air travel, tax software, and cars, respectively, were the targets for these new products, and non-consumers were a much larger markets than existing customers.


  • To find new markets, study non-consumers, not current customers
  • Find markets in which a new innovation is better than nothing, despite the innovation’s imperfections
  • Avoid head-to-head competition with a well-optimized incumbent.

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