Al Hammond

Welcome, WSJ – A Next Billion Retrospective

Bill Gates speaks at Digital Dividends conference, October 2000As a site dedicated for the past year and a half to the “next billion” and the business strategies that can empower them as micro-consumers and micro-producers, its good to see the Wall Street Journal using that headline in a mainstream business story about tech firms and their strategies in low-income parts of developing countries. The story is even better than the Journal’s generally excellent reportage indicates. Microsoft, for example, is not just experimenting with low-priced versions of their software?it is rolling the product out in over 50 countries and already piloting “pay-as-you-go” business models to enable BOP consumers to buy computers. Intel is piloting its WiMax communications tools as well as low-cost PCs. And it’s not just the IT and communications tech industry, either?British Petroleum is now selling low cost cook stoves in India that can switch effortlessly between biofuels and propane, and building a propane delivery network as well.

Increasingly, smart large companies get it?their next billion customers will come from the BOP, whose needs require novel solutions, new business models, and often whole new business ecosystems. That in itself is a real change. Back in the fall of 2000, when we hosted a conference called Creating Digital Dividends to introduce the tech community to the potential of these new markets, there was a lot of enthusiasm but also a lot of skepticism?famously, Microsoft’s Bill Gates told the conference that “poor people don?t need computers.” Fortunately, Mr. Gates rapidly changed his mind. But we knew at the time that it would take years (and more conferences) for companies to learn how to take on the challenge successfully. We’re amazed and delighted with the accelerating pace, and with the growing press coverage of this business trend.?