VIEW, Calif. — As U.S. startups compete to make
everything from diapers to dog food available at the tap
of a finger, a group of entrepreneurs from the
developing world is using those on-demand business
models to make life easier for consumers in their home
growing number of people in Africa, India and Latin
America are online and using smartphones, and investors
say there’s a huge potential market for apps that
offer ride-booking, instant delivery and online
of the startups tackling these areas are funded by U.S.
investors such as Mountain View-based accelerator Y
Combinator, which showcased companies including India’s
Uber for trucking, called GoLorry, and Rappi, Latin
America’s combination Instacart and Postmates, during
its most recent Demo Day.
seeing a huge increase of people in the developing world
and in other regions with access to smartphones and
access to mobile, and that is really fueling the growth
of these companies there," said Kat Manalac, a
partner at Y Combinator.
Agarwalla, who with his father founded Kisan Network, an
online marketplace for Indian farmers, says mobile
Internet usage in India is exploding. It jumped from 30
million people connected in 2014 to nearly 60 million
last year, and this year it is expected to hit 110
million, he said. The founders peg the population of
their target market — rural India — at 900 million.
Network wouldn’t have been possible four years
ago," Agarwalla said.
in India, GoLorry uses a smartphone app to connect
factories and truckers, allowing businesses to ship
their goods more efficiently and for a lower cost, said
co-founder and CEO Sanjay Mandava. The disruptive
business model also allows truckers to eliminate the
middleman — such transactions usually are arranged by
a broker who keeps a cut of the proceeds.
provides a good example for a lot of people on how to do
ride-sharing around the world," Mandava said.
another Y Combinator-backed app, uses couriers on
bicycles and motorized scooters to deliver everything
from groceries to prepared meals to cosmetics in Bogota
and Barranquilla, Colombia, and Mexico City.
some on-demand startups in Silicon Valley are struggling
with the high cost of instant delivery, Simon Borrero
says the business model is ideal for dense Latin
American cities. Wages are so low where he operates —
he says about a third of residents make less than $1 an
hour — that Borrero racks up minimal costs. His
couriers make the equivalent of about $2.50 an hour, a
far cry from California’s coming $15 minimum wage.
that doesn’t sound like much here," Borrero said
of his couriers’ wages, "but for those guys, it
makes a huge difference in their lives."
who is from Colombia and temporarily relocated to
Silicon Valley for the Y Combinator program, is
capitalizing on his local knowledge. He calls his
couriers Tenderos, after the shopkeepers who
traditionally tend mom-and-pop stores in Latin America,
and fosters the local connection locals appreciate by
dispatching the same Tenderos to the same homes day
after day. And Borrero made one more big tweak to the
Instacart business model: His couriers accept cash. Only
18 percent of people in Latin America have credit cards,
now everyone, everyone has a smartphone," Borrero
said. "That has become a status icon. Maybe you don’t
have enough money to pay the rent, but you would have a
Chung, who invests in companies that bring U.S. and
European technology to the developing world, said those
local changes can give a company an edge.
cultural language sensitivity, having an understanding
of the local market, having the access to local
distribution channels in an unfair way — all these
things are typically easier if you’re someone who’s
from there," he said.
a former Khosla Ventures partner, launched 1955 Capital
earlier this year with the goal of tackling social
problems overseas. He warned bringing a business idea
across international borders can be risky, as founders
are forced to navigate foreign laws and regulations.
Ogwuche, co-founder and CEO of Shypmate, knows that all
too well. To fend off the anticipated questions, he made
an unusual pitch during his Y Combinator demo day
presentation. "This is legal," he assured the
transports retail items from U.S. stores to customers in
Nigeria and Ghana, using extra room in the luggage of
travelers. For $4 per pound plus 13 percent of the item’s
price, customers can get their hands on trendy U.S.
merchandise from stores that don’t ship to Africa. The
traveler gets to keep 70 percent of the money.
said the company mostly gets orders for clothing, but he’s
seen a few unusual items, such as toilet deodorizing
spray Poo-Pourri. Travelers have to declare these items
at customs, and when asked by airport personnel, explain
they are carrying an item for someone else, but they
packed their bags themselves, said Ogwuche, who is from
not illegal to carry stuff for other people," he
said. "I think a lot of people just don’t
a look at some of the international startups backed by
Mountain View, Calif.-based accelerator Y Combinator
that are using technology and business models made
popular in the U.S. to improve the lives of people in
— The Indian Uber for truckers, it uses a mobile app
to match truckers with factories that need goods
— A Nigerian online payments company.
Network — Allows farmers in India to connect via
smartphone with companies that will buy their produce,
meaning they no longer have to sell to middlemen at
small, local markets.
— A data analytics company that builds software
tailored to governments in the developing world. The
company launched a pilot program in Ethiopia, helping
the government vaccinate its citizens.
— An on-demand delivery app, similar to Instacart or
Postmates, operating in Colombia and Mexico.
— Allows customers in Nigeria and Ghana to order U.S.
products, which are then transported to Africa using the
extra room in travelers’ bags.
— Ships products from anywhere in the U.S. to Egypt.