Imagine you are part of a startup which seeks to create impact at scale with a novel product. You need to create a business plan to convince investors that you have a scalable product and the right strategy to grow your venture exponentially. Where would you start? Whom do you target first? Which country, which income group, which age group? Where do you go next once you have a foothold in a certain market?These are the challenges many startups face, including the selected group of high-powered entrepreneurs chosen for the relaunch of Singularity’s Global Startup Program (GSP), which kicked off in Copenhagen this spring.
The starting point is an understanding of the world of today and its trajectory. To paraphrase the famous Wayne Gretzky quote: You should go where the market is going to be, not where it has been.The world is changing rapidly in myriad ways that impact the formation of a sound business strategy. By leveraging new data platforms like MarketPro.io, unique insights about future trends can be derived from empirical data. Here are several key trends to watch over the next 10 years:
Sources: IIASA, UN, World Bank, World Data Lab
What are the implications of these trends on Singularity University’s aspiration and call to action to impact a billion people in the next ten years? In order to help one billion people by 2030, we’d need to reach approximately 12% of the world’s population, which covers a broad spectrum ranging from poor to rich and young to old and spans all continents. While this is by no means an easy task, solving global grand challenges (e.g., environment, water, and prosperity) calls for solutions at scale—disruptive ideas that can cross boundaries and create higher global standards for prosperity and well-being. Knowing this, how might you proceed if you’re leading an impact-focused startup? First, it’s important to understand that, realistically, it’s only possible to reach one billion people if at least part of your effort is focused on Asia. Second, aging is a key variable for your future business strategy. As population growth is driven not by an increasing youth but rather a higher life expectancy, the silver economy (people 65+) is increasingly essential for a sound business strategy.What does all of this mean, practically speaking? We’ll explore these concepts using a case study approach. Let’s say you are with a startup called “EcoExtend.” You have invented an ecological fertilizer which makes vegetables grow bigger, with a higher number of vitamins and at the same time extends the harvest time to be 15% longer than usual, thereby hopefully increasing crop yield. You are based in Indonesia and have founded your company with the philosophy to make the product affordable for lower-income households. With the slogan “Grow bigger, grow healthier, grow EcoExtend,” you are trying to target consumers aged 30-65 in the lower middle class and those aspiring to reach it (people earning $5-50/day). Under a base case scenario, in 2030 this segment would amount to 530 million people by focusing on two main markets—Indonesia and India—only. Two additional expansions would make it possible to reach one billion people, as follows:
Source: World Data Lab
This is the ideal case scenario, which assumes that you would be able to sell your product to every person within your target group. But it is also meant to show that the lowest income groups (those earning $0-11/day, $11-30/day, and $30-50/day) would remain the largest in terms of population until 2030. Targeting wealthier income groups would achieve growth for your company, but would make it impossible to reach one billion people.
From the perspective of GSP participants, being able to dig into case studies like this one and play with the data made their own moonshots more realistic. The ability to analyze data to identify market opportunities is essential for any business, no matter the size. However, to analyze data and realize that your startup could positively impact one billion people solidifies the potential for creating true impact. After the session we conducted during the GSP, a small group from the cohort began scenario planning to identify which markets they should enter first and where they might have the most impact with their product or service.Therefore, the aspiration to positively impact one billion people is challenging—but not impossible. In order to lead a business to create impact on the billion scale, it is important to not only focus on your initial niche but to strategically analyze both what is and what will be, in terms of income and demographic dynamics. A growth mindset, a well thought-through strategy, and good quality data can then significantly smooth the path to find, and ultimately reach your billion. Do you have a billion-person problem you’re seeking to solve? Take the next step.We thank Wolfgang Fengler for his contributions and feedback.