Having recently spent more time in the US than in Asia, I’m finding it fascinating to compare which services are available here in the US compared to Asia.
What we’ve seen over the last years is how easy it is to replicate online services that don’t require infrastructure other than broadband lines, wherever you are in the world. There are even companies for which this is their entire business model (looking at you, Rocket Internet).
In Asia, decent broadband in most places has therefore allowed companies to do things that are pure online, such as sell flight tickets, advertise their brand on social media or market online gaming. However, what we don’t see much of yet is pickup of the services where the online world meets offline, actual products, such as the main sharing economy services Uber and Airbnb and location-based services.
If we look at the location-based services first, Foursquare and other check-in services never took off in Asia. Similarly, Yelp and other recommendation services have not seen any big usage. For these ones, it seems it is not the physical infrastructure that is missing, but rather the human infrastructure. There is probably a lack of trust in the the recommendations of strangers and a distrust of trumpeting one’s location to the world. This will take a long time to change. Airbnb will probably fall on this same lack of trust and habit.
For the Uber and Uber for X services (as detailed very amusingly on Re/code here), however, these seem much more ripe to soon take off. There is no reason why pizzas should be only thing that could be delivered to your house. As this recent article detailed, India’s dabbawallas are a wonder of efficiency in their delivery, that even FedEx is envious of. Motorcycles that navigate crazy traffic is a mainstay of Hanoi/Bangkok/Kuala Lumpur.
Someone recently said that, in order to know what the middle classes will use in a few years, we should look at what rich people are using now. This has been true for going out to restaurants – now an activity for all, and now Uber – personal driver for all. The Asian middle classes are developing rapidly, and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t want what their current rich classes have.
I was disappointed recently when I realized that Zeel, “the Uber for massages” is not available in Washington DC (of course it’s only in LA and Miami). But given Asian audiences love of massages, I would advise them to go to Bangkok next.