Elance Blog

Going Mobile

Last week, I attended an “Innovator’s Dinner” hosted by the customer experience consulting firm Creative Good.  The presenters from Creative Good mentioned that often times, the most interesting takeaway from an event comes from an unplanned, random meeting. And while I caught up with a few friends and colleagues, I did hear something quite novel from someone I met randomly.

This was a serial entrepreneur who has sold a few companies and, as it turned out, started using Elance in 2000.  He has periodically used Elance ever since then, most recently hiring a full-time researcher to gather competitive information every week.  Today, he is working on a mobile phone startup.

During our chat, he claimed that there are many U.S. firms today developing only for the India/China market.  It’s easy to think, “Why would anyone based in the U.S. build for a market in countries with far lower purchasing power?” In this case, it appears that the answer is growth, growth, growth. Mobile phone growth in India and China is phenomenal.  New subscribers are signing up in India at the rate of 6 million/month and in China at 5 million/month.  That’s growth the size of the entire U.S. population every 2 years, on top of a current base of about 500 million subscribers. Tapping into an immense and hugely growing market makes up for the lower spending power per capita.

Many new subscribers in China and India, who may lack a PC, use their phones as a computer for Internet access.  So, building for phones is equivalent to building Internet apps for these markets. This is something we take notice of here at Elance because we have a large global customer base.  What could we be doing to enable easier mobile access to www.elance.com? In the medium term, we are thinking of offering APIs for looking up new postings, responding to Public Message Board (PMB) messages, responding to chats and accepting project awards. Interested community members could write mobile apps against these APIs. What do you think?


Forget the mobile app and APIs. How about just the web app (albeit customized for a small screen)? Phones will improve their browsers (the iPhone!) faster than vendors and users will learn to make mobile-specific apps work.

I believe SMS services will not only add another medium to create and drive traffic with, it will revolutionize how we do marketing and community building. I was on the plane last week and picked up the airline magazine. It was on green products. Direct mail marketing was listed as the biggest paper wasting offender.

Text message marketing and notification systems (blasting, groups, micro-site, scheduling, emergency notification, surveys and contests), like the internet, are digital. No paper. Also, in the US text message marketing is done by creating opt-in permission based groups giving the prospect the ability to opt-out of the group by text messaging back stop at any time.

And the best part ... the creative use of this medium is limited only by one's imagination. For instance a restaurant... create your group by giving away free coffee (Join our lunch group and get free coffee by texting the word special to 91011) the consumer texts, shows the SMS on the phone to the waiter, and gets their coffee free. The restaurant has a slow night on Mondays. On Friday evening the restaurant owner sets up a text message to go out to the Special group (Half off the second dinner Monday 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Bring your friends.) and on Monday ... more traffic. Again, this is just one example of the use of text messaging services. The list goes on and on.

Diane Anderson
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