An often-mentioned term when promoting a digital company or seeking funds from investors is scalability. In the world we live in, scalability has become paramount since easy and frictionless growth is the dream of many aspiring entrepreneurs and eager venture capitalists.
However, there is also a trending tendency for a non-negligible part of consumers to look for domestic or local alternatives to the ever-expanding solutions from Silicon Valley and other technology power hubs around the world. The digital playing field is continuously alternating between global expansion and the need of targeted services for local customers. Some large companies pull it off whereas some do not.
Lagos in Nigeria is one of the largest cities on our planet. According to World Population Review the larger area of Lagos is populated by 21 million people and is destined to pass Cairo as the largest city in Africa within 1-2 years. The traffic in Lagos is horrendous and claimed to be the worst in the world according to Business Insider, for instance. The fleet of vehicles grows at a drastic rate, in 2010 about 230,000 new vehicles was registered compared to 27,000 in 1995.
The trucking industry is backed up by a small Northern elite and country’s military, which has undermined Nigeria’s train infrastructure. People take to the roads with huge problems as a result. Business Day Online reports that traffic congestions makes motorist vulnerable targets to crime in early and late evenings. The cliché “someone needs to do something” seems close at hand.
Now, a company named Panthelope Technologies has actually set out to do something. The company has previously launched the mobile application Uxie, which makes regular peoples’ phones work as POS devices and accept credit card payments. Now they are fighting to solve Lagos’ traffic problems with an application which description sounds very similar to the popular motorist application Waze, founded in Israel and residing in Palo Alto. Just how similar is this localized application to Waze? The founder Ikenna Iloeje told Human IPO:
“By just driving or walking around with the app running passively on their phone they are immensely contributing to traffic and other road data, but they can also take a more active role by sharing road reports on accidents, traps, or any other hazards along the way, helping to give other users in the area a ‘heads-up’ about what’s to come”
Well, looking at this statement above we see that there is hardly any breakthrough innovation that has been created. Hugely similar descriptions are to be found all over the web, stated by Waze managers. However, there is no evil in copying. Many of the world’s most successful companies are copies, but have rather gone about their business by scaling up promising solutions, not scaling down. The interesting question is why the founders see an opportunity to battle the hugely successful and globally working Waze application?
In the several articles covering the startup, we have found no mentioning of the competition from Waze or why the TrafficLite solution should be better. However, judging from a look into Waze’s online forum about Lagos it seems as if there is some serious problems, as users map the city themselves. If a company like Panthelope Technologies could provide an adequate infrastructure and contribute as a locomotive entity, this might be just the propelling force similar attempts are in need of.
Whatever the incentives are for this startup, this case shows us something important: physical presence is sometimes underrated in our digital world. Community-based or crowdsourced solutions should be aware of this, because not all business can fulfill the customer needs with globally centralized offices and computers- there is almost always a local dimension to take into account. As we already have seen and will see more of during the coming year, physical and digital are not always totally disparate entities.