Can investors locate the billions in emerging markets?

By Devin de Vries, CEO and co-founder, WhereIsMyTransport
Devin de Vries, CEO of WhereIsMyTransport locates the untapped opportunities in emerging markets that investors should be eyeing

The last two and a half years have been challenging for emerging markets. While economies around the globe felt the ructions of COVID-19, the subsequent supply chain issues, and the war in Ukraine, their effects were magnified in many emerging markets, especially those growing from a low development base. The situation has been further compounded by a general slowdown in economic growth after the post-pandemic bounce and tighter monetary and fiscal policy in many of the world’s leading markets.

That does not, however, mean that investors should steer clear of emerging markets, far from it. Anyone focusing purely on prevailing market conditions is leaving billions of potential dollars on the table. Outside of the fact that many of the things that have always made emerging markets a good long-term bet remain in place, there are untapped opportunities in a number of high-growth sectors.

One of the most powerful examples of such a sector is location services. Already a multi-billion dollar industry, it not only promises significant growth in emerging markets but will also unlock significant value in adjacent sectors.

Location, location, location

In the developed world, most of us are far more reliant on location-based services than we’re aware of. Whether it’s ordering takeout, ordering the latest must-have fashion item, or navigating our daily commute, most of us use location-dependent apps and services every day. Outside of the consumer space, many businesses rely on these services too. Marketing, logistics, distribution, and even store planning, are all increasingly dependent on accurate and up-to-date location data.

Small wonder then that the location-based services market was valued at US$44.95-billion in 2021 and is poised to hit over US$318 billion by 2030.

Much of that growth could be fuelled by rapidly urbanising emerging markets with growing populations. Consumers in those markets, increasingly as connected and online as their peers in developed markets, have the same kinds of wants and needs that could be better met with location-based services. Put more simply, they also want to shop, order takeout, and navigate their commutes more conveniently.

The difference is that they face distinct challenges in doing so. Take commuting for example. Every day, billions of people in emerging markets rely on public transport to get them to work and back home. But where commuters in developed markets can rely on established transport networks and reliable timetables, their emerging market counterparts typically rely on informal options with shifting schedules and routes.

That makes providing accurate and up-to-date location data even more important for those commuters. But it’s also important for businesses in these markets. That’s not just true for companies looking to expand in their logistical operations either. Even knowing something as simple as what routes commuters take and at what times, can help retailers better plan where to put their stores. Mobility data can also be a useful indicator of the effectiveness of supply chains or tipping off businesses on their consumer behaviour.  

As Ajay Bulusu, cofounder of NextBillion.ai points out: “If companies want to provide a rich consumer experience, they need to start controlling their own mapping stack, because many businesses are fundamentally running on maps. Distance and time are the most important things they need to provide that experience to consumers.”

Reaping the rewards of scale

It’s clear then that there are opportunities for investors looking to back location-based services in emerging markets. It’s important, however, not to understate the scale of the opportunities available. Many super-app providers in emerging markets have already recognised this, offering shared mobility, food delivery, multimodal journey planning, financial services, and more, to young populations with disposable income.

According to UN population estimates, for example, the 15 fastest growing cities in the world are all in Africa. This is a continent, remember, with a median age under 20. Nearly two-thirds of the continent’s population, meanwhile, is under the age of 25. Increasingly well-educated and connected, these young people will form the core of the world’s labour engine. They’ll also want cities that are easier to navigate and to live and shop in.

There is, therefore, a chance to foster sustainable the kind of growth and scalability not seen in developed markets. And for the investors who understand this and are willing to back players in the space, the potential rewards are massive.

The growth and urbanisation fuelling these opportunities will continue, regardless of current or future market conditions. There is, therefore, no reason for investors to wait for the “smart” money to flow back into emerging markets. Instead, they should look for the companies doing exciting things in the location-based services space in these markets, find the ones with extensive on-the-ground knowledge, and back them to the hilt.

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