Why Did This Finance-Centric App Choose to Launch in the Philippines?
When building and promoting an app with a global market in mind, it’s easy to go with a familiar marketplace where there are people who would potentially download and use it. If the app is designed for finance and business news enthusiasts, then there is a higher likelihood of making it appetizing in countries with large economies such as the United States, the UK, or Japan than making it available in countries with smaller economies. But M6 Limited, the company behind Born2Invest, a nifty app for the business-savvies, chose to do it the other way around: its app made its first appearance in a smallish country called the Philippines.
Not because M6 Limited wants to be different. For the company, the Philippines is brimming with potential. “The Philippine market is huge in size, monetizable immediately, and hardly addressed by our Silicon Valley-centric competitors. And it is a market in which we were operating already, and we know relatively well by now.” said CEO Dom Einhorn in an email interview.
Indeed, most tech and mobile startup companies seem to focus on smaller but richer sectors that made many baby boomer-owned businesses massively huge in the past. “Many fast-growing companies in Silicon Valley have one thing in common: they cater to a small, affluent, urban population — the 1 percent,” writes Hans Tung of TechCrunch.
Thanks to smartphones, the entire tech market has changed immensely in the past seven years. The gap between the middle class and the rich, both in developed and emerging economies, is no longer that apparent: everyone has his/her own smartphone now, and everyone is capable of knowing what everyone knows because almost everyone has access to the Internet.
That’s why the $143-billion app market continues to grow every year — more and more people are feeling the need and understanding the advantage of being connected to the world.
The Philippines has a growing middle class market, and it is way bigger than other emerging middle class (EMC) sectors in Vietnam, Indonesia, and India. Device ownership is highest among EMC consumers in the Philippines at 57.90 percent. Mobile phones, computers, and tablets are the most common pieces of technology the EMC consumers own, with an average of 42.2 percent across the four countries.
“The [Filipino] EMC represents an untapped market of over half a billion consumers,” says Mr. Calvin Chu Yee Ming, partner at Eden Strategy Institute.
According to Singapore’s Eden Strategy Institute, almost 56 percent of the entire Asian EMC who cannot live without smartphones and Internet access is from the Philippines.
This, according to the research firm, confirms why the country is currently gaining immense attention from global brands across the world. But what makes the country more superior than its other Asian EMC counterparts is that it resembles the Western market more. People here follow American fashion, listen to Western music, watch more Hollywood films than local ones, and most importantly, speak and write fluent English.
“Unlike Indonesia or Vietnam, it is primarily an English speaking market. It is also a large market with close to 100 million people and one of the fastest-growing middle classes and GDP rates in the world,” Einhorn said.
Born2Invest aims to connect and put all the most authoritative finance and business sites on the Web in one app. In 80 words (or less) it will curate the news to the user in the most succinct and effective way possible. It sounds easy, but the real challenge begins with the question, “Are there enough people in the country’s EMC segment who would download this app?” Or in other words: are they interested in downloading — and eventually using — a business-centric app?
Most successful foreign tech startups in the Philippines today have one thing in common: they solve local problems with local solutions.
Coins.ph, for instance, provides financial services for people without bank accounts as most Filipinos still don’t have their own savings accounts yet. Lenddo helps local consumers use their social media activity to develop credit worthiness and give them access to financial services. And like these two foreign companies, M6 Limited wants to lead the initiative of encouraging the local sector to become knowledgeable of the finance world, be it local or international.
Hence, for the company, the aforementioned question is more of a local problem that needs an immediate solution than an unsolvable conundrum.
For Einhorn, solving this local problem must start with convincing international finance and news outlets that his company’s unique brand of content curation is different from any other kinds that have existed on the market. The company, according to him, will not force them to sell ads on the platform just to make money, nor will it oblige them to alter some of its content just to fit the app’s brand.
Born2Invest is the first on the market that aims to give every authoritative finance/business site a wider global audience. By curating each of their content in more than 23 languages, the company will be able to make finance news written in English be accessible and read in German, French, Mandarin, Nihongo, Punjabi and so on, and vice versa.
“The local media’s growing problem is they lose tremendous readers to competing news outlets. We can be their biggest ally because we link to them and drive incremental readers to them instead of away from them,” Einhorn said.
The company also applauds the improving economic landscape in the country as the local government, as told by the foreign media, shows serious efforts in reducing its dependence on foreign borrowing, making it less vulnerable to major foreign economic quandaries.
“There’ll be a knee-jerk reaction” to the change of U.S. monetary policy, in which money will flee from emerging markets, but after investors reassess the shock, the Philippines will stand out and ‘look favorable’ compared with other markets,” said Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Moreover, although there are still gaps that needed to be addressed, the multilateral lender International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave the country a favorable score in fiscal transparency, the reason why the Southeast Asian country has become highly attractive to foreign investors in the past five years.
“The government’s public financial management reform strategy has helped initiate a wide variety of reforms, which are beginning to bear fruit,” said in its latest Fiscal Transparency Evaluation report for the country.
According to the country’s Trade and Industry secretary Gregory L. Domingo, the Philippines’ material and human resource endowment, along with its strategic location, makes it an ideal gateway to the ASEAN market of 600 million people.
And these virtues are things that Einhorn knows well: he’s spent years in the Philippines doing business and learning its culture to a point that he becomes genuinely acquainted with what the outsiders call “the Filipino professionalism.” Most of the people behind the B2I app are Filipinos, and he’s proud to call the app “Made in the Philippines.”