Article: How to Mobilize the Masses

Five years ago, I read a report about Nigerian grain farmers leveraging mobile networks and a Nokia feature phone to determine the best local market to sell their grain based on the asking price at each market.

The cost of each call was the equivalent to $2, instead of the travel investment of $20 to get their grain to market only to discover their chosen market was already saturated.

This created a price pull in the grain markets – farmers were going to sell product where they could get the best available price. What an incredibly simple and effective use of mobile, and it’s something that should inspire all of us to look at our business and see where mobile technology fits.

Quite simply, there is not a business in the developed world that can ignore mobile technology.

After all, if a simple grain farmer in the middle of a developing nation in turmoil can find value in mobile, certainly a business such as yours can as well.

I’m not saying every business entity needs to spend money on building an application, nor am I saying your company will go out of business as a result of non-participation in this industry – but you’re certainly leaving customers in a lurch.

How should you start?

This is going to sound trite, but you need to figure out where the natural extension to your existing business is – where you can add value by extending your offering into the mobile world. If you are a dry-cleaning business, you should look at how you can enhance your service to better serve customers. You may consider using a mobile coupon service to offer discounts, or you may offer your same-day-service customers an SMS notification to let them know when their clothes are ready for pickup.

Both alternatives are a fraction of the cost of building something yourself, and leverage both the existing technology inherent in the platform as well as the network effect of the application.

Leverage the network effect

The great thing about building a standalone application is the brand extension – and that’s about it. If you are trying to convince yourself that an app is what you need, ask these questions: am I doing this because I want it or because the business needs it; what are the expected outcomes of this initiative; and can I leverage some other technology to achieve my goals?

There are a lot of applications that are better off not being built, quite frankly. But ego and hype push common sense behind our judgement cloud. For example, how many independent news applications are there on AppWorld or AppStore? A quick search lists more than 5,000 applications focused on “news” – how do you compete in this mess? You can’t, unless you are the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Determine what your goal is – your metric for success – and stick to it.

Be a convenience, not a nuisance

Restaurants have this nailed. If I’m hungry and have a hankering for Indian food, I can almost assuredly satisfy my requirement on the way home from the office but how to extend this convenience onto mobile? Enter a company like Viriginia-based Blue Shoe Mobile.

I recently interviewed Blue Shoe founder Eddie Peloke about the service, and his insight was spot-on when it came to convenience in the mobile world. His company creates mobile versions of restaurant menus, but with a twist. Mobile menus are, well, nice -but a real nuisance, for two reasons: They need to be maintained, and what good is a menu if I can’t order from it?

That’s the twist upon which Blue Shoe focuses. Eddie’s company brings mobile ordering through its application, and deposits the order at the restaurant in a form that works within the current system the restaurant uses – whether it arrives by fax, email or SMS, the restaurant doesn’t need to change the way they do business to accept yours. They also allow the restaurants to modify the menus at will giving them the power to control the experience.

As you can see, your business doesn’t need to be a technology company to leverage the power of the mobile world. If restaurateurs, dry cleaners, farmers in rural Africa and independent news creators can all incorporate mobile into their business, shouldn’t you be looking into it for yours?

That’s not a question.

This originally ran in the July 12, 2010 issue of Ottawa Business Journal

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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