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Inside Out Thinking or How I Got Lost In Asia

I really don’t have a point with this particular post. (Wait, do I ever?) But I have got something to say all the same. (Wait, don’t I always?)

Today I spent my day trying to understand the ins and outs of e-commerce in the Asia region (specifically the Philippines) and I have to say that I quickly became overwhelmed. The Philippines has cell phone penetration of 95% of the 100 million people. And yet only 20% of the those phones are smart phones. Even worse? Only 5% of the entire population has credit cards. The entirety of the population is credit averse. Most don’t even know that if they walk into a bank they could get a loan. This doesn’t even cross their minds.

So it was in the middle of this stew of Asian research and chaos that I saw and totally cold identify.

Totally understand where poor Conan is coming from here. Asia is a whole ‘nother bag o’ chips for me. But I’m being asked to develop and implement a successful website (actually a pile of websites throughout the region) for an unnamed benefactor. SHHHHH.

But when a country decides it hates credit, how does one sell anything online? Cash doesn’t work well on the interwebs. But in the Philippines (as well as other third world countries) they have come up with this concept of m-commerce… or mobile commerce. M-commerce allows individuals to use their phone, and their mobile provider to put money into an account, something like a debit card on your telecom cell plan. And then they can use this cell plan to make payments on specific websites that have implemented their specific m-commerce solution.

Another tricky method of paying websites for a transaction, is through 7/11’s or local banks. Basically the user wanders through your site, says, I TOTALLY WANT THAT… I’ll pay you for it. Promise. And then they head down to their bank, or local stop and rob, and they hand the guy across the counter cash, and then a number, and voila, the website is paid for the thing.

Come on? What? But the Philippines are solving technical challenges to a social problem, which is just a different perspective on debt. Which, obviously is a SMART thing. But makes my job complicated, which is to GET MONEY ELECTRONICALLY. To have a Filipino hand me cash, on a website is hard. Nigh on impossible, apparently. But they have already begun solving these problems in innovative ways.

Which leads me to this conclusion… I have become an expert in web development and e-commerce. I am good at what I do. Need an innovative iPad app solution for point of sale stuff happening? I’m your guy. Need SEO pixie dust sprinkled on that site? No problem. But I realized just this week, how much I don’t know about anything. How out of depth I am on so many things, even in my own backyard.

So, off I go to the Philippines and Australia to go figure crap out on that side of the planet. Making phone calls and skype conference actually can make it all worse, not better. Getting on a plane and arriving there and just pounding the pavement until I have answers on all the outstanding questions is the only way to close that gap.

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