Apps must address the needs of real people

Harlyn Pacheco, COO of Colombian ride-hailing service Picap, considers the factors required for launching successful mobile apps in Latin America. 

The lives of millions of Latin Americans operate exclusively on smartphones. Mobile usage is growing fast, with users predicted to rise from 62 per cent of the population in 2017, to 79 per cent in 2025, according to Statista. The adoption of applications that bring services and opportunities to millions of smartphone owners in sectors such as fintech, eCommerce, food delivery, and ride-hailing is expanding across the region, with no signs of abating.

Just take a look at the case of Colombia’s first unicorn: food delivery app, Rappi. The application is operating in nine countries across the region and has now expanded to offer services such as scooter rental and a digital wallet. Other success stories include Nubank, LatAm’s first fintech, which offers an international credit card and personal loans; and Mercado Libre, an online marketplace, which lets users pay for goods using alternative methods, such as bill payments and investment. Meanwhile, our own ride-hailing app Picap, which enables users to get around on motorbikes or in cars, is now operating in 12 cities across LatAm, and has over 500,000 active users.

According to a report by the GSMA, mobile’s contribution to the Latin American economy will reach just over $300bn by 2023, proving itself to be a vital cog in driving productivity and efficiency for the region’s populations. At Picap, we endeavor to be a part of this growth, bringing solutions to those that need them most. Here’s how Picap has thrived in a market primed for mobile solutions to everyday problems.

Filling a gap
With the region being home to 40m motorbike users, most Latin Americans are accustomed to riding on the back of the vehicles and weaving through heavily-congested roads. Close to 83 per cent of the region’s population is urban, and LatAm’s cities are notorious for their heavy traffic.

Motorbike-hailing provides an effective solution for anyone that wants to move more nimbly through a city and presents a new way for people to cover longer distances without being stuck in traffic or cooped up on public transport during rush hour. While any city needs a range of transport options – buses, a metro, or electric scooters – Picap filled a gap that was open in a ride-hailing market that’s expected to top $1bn by 2023.

LatAm has a large, and growing, middle class that depends on mobility solutions to get where they need to go to sustain their economic or educational advancement. Offering another method to the transport options available to these individuals means they can perform and thrive without being held back by a lack of mobility.

Meanwhile, people who were previously left out of the majority of economic activities are now making the most of the mobility opportunities that Picap provides. In fact, 65 per cent of our passengers are women, demonstrating the rising role this sector has in LatAm economies. Latin American women need the freedom to create economic sustainability just as much as their male counterparts – and, in some cases, even more so. Balancing personal and professional goals, women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners, and they require mobility more than ever.

Picap also allows our drivers to earn money in a flexible and reliable way, simply by having a motorbike and a smartphone. The majority of Picap users and drivers are unbanked, but with no need to have a bank account or credit/debit card to use the app or work with us, everyone can benefit from Picap’s services.

Adapting to COVID-19
With the advent of COVID-19 in LatAm, we have reimagined our services in Colombia. Offering our regular transport services is not an option during quarantine conditions, so we’re focusing on providing assistance to seniors, along with grocery and pharmacy delivery services.

However, at this critical point, we’re exploring other ways to adapt our business model to support the needs of LatAm consumers. That’s why we created PiBox, a logistics and last-mile delivery service that allows supermarkets and e-commerce businesses to receive their goods on-time and in great condition. These businesses will be under pressure now more than ever to keep their shelves stocked, and PiBox provides a crucial element to keeping LatAm supply chains operating efficiently.

PiBox supports all local quarantine regulations and will dedicate our fleet to helping communities with the logistics and small package deliveries necessary to keep cities functioning. From February to March 2020, PiBox grew by 200 per cent as supermarkets, pharmacies, and retailers turned to the Picap fleet to make essential life-saving deliveries of food and medicine. In April alone, PiBox will make over 500,000 deliveries.

User-driven apps
Ultimately, mobile apps looking to succeed in LatAm must address the issues that lie at the bottom of the social pyramid, as this is where the biggest opportunities lie. Sourcing the pain points of different societal segments is essential for any mobile app seeking to crack the LatAm market. As is the case with Picap, these issues are often concentrated in populations that have historically been left out of the economic prosperity taking place in many LatAm cities.

Now, those players that are already established in the mobile app ecosystem must make space for new ones entering the market. It’s their responsibility to pave the way for the success of LatAm startups that promise transformative solutions, showing them how it can be done.

Widely successful mobile solutions in LatAm all have one thing in common: they address the common needs of real people. And while we may be weathering an unprecedented storm right now, that doesn’t mean that mobile solutions will be of any less relevance. In fact, many applications are turning out to be more important than ever. By always remaining user-focused and recognizing the nuances and uniqueness of LatAm populations, mobile-driven businesses can grow and prosper alongside the region.