I remember sitting in Dhaka, around 2010-11, watching in awe as Uber and other gig-economy services exploded across my newsfeed. Suddenly, there was an Uber for everything. So many startups took the gig-economy idea introduced by Uber and ran with it - groceries, moving companies, doctors, laundry and even dog walking. Other countries across the world raced to replicate it's success - Grab, GoJek, Didi Dache, Kuaidi Dache, Taxify and more.
Back then, all I was able to do was watch the action play out on TechCrunch. Me, and others like me, had to wonder, can the business model work in Bangladesh too?
Pathao was not the first ride-sharing company of Bangladesh. Others tried before us and couldn't get the business model to work. Why? I always contend that it was execution, but there was another factor too - timing.
While the entire world was migrating from 3G to 4G, Bangladesh in '13-14 was migrating from Dial-Up to WiMax (remember Banglalion anyone?). I experienced the amazing upgrade from 52kbps to 256kbps /s. I also just upgraded from my Nokia phones to an Android one, so was doing pretty solid.
A lot changed quickly in '14-15. There was an influx of cheap Chinese smartphones, 3G just got rolled out and the Banglalink price wars suddenly meant that owning a smart phone, and the internet, became a lot more accessible.
These macro factors meant that we launched when the infrastructure was ready. It was no surprise then that both Uber and Pathao launched in Bangladesh in 2016, pretty much on the same week, and succeeded when others who came before us had failed.
All this is to say, that the success of us, and a lot of Web2 companies in Bangladesh that came after us, depended on hardware infrastructure. Actual, physical, fiber cables had to be laid down before Web2 became accessible in developing countries such as ours. The cost of android phones had to drop like a rock before everyone finally had one that could run the Pathao app.
Even though the gig-economy platforms raced across the world to capture market share, they could not, physically, work in Bangladesh before 2016. Pathao was the first Bangladeshi app that could scale because, through a stroke of good luck, it launched when the country was ready for it.
Now back to a more present technology: Web3. Why do I believe Web3 is going to happen faster than Web2? Because it does not need any new physical infrastructure to be built. While the backend of a Web3 app or service is revolutionary, it can work beautifully without having you to upgrade your phone or telco. It can piggyback on top of the Web2 rails that has been built over the last decade, one download away.
The Web2 roll-out across the world had to happen in stages as developing worlds had to build up the infrastructure. Web3 is going to happen across the world, at the speed of the internet.
A person using email does not have to know how the underlying Internet protocols work. The reason today’s blockchain-based end user applications receive some critique is because they have not yet been able to abstract away all the complexity from end users. In the first phase towards an Internet-native economy, the focus lies on building the core infrastructure for the new Internet. Over time, the economic incentives for developers will shift towards building easy-to-use applications that make the UX of blockchain-based applications resemble that of traditional fiat applications. [source]
A popular phrase of the last decade was "leapfrogging of tech". Developed countries went from telegram to land lines used by telephones, and then into tower based mobile phones. Because of accessibility of tech, developing countries could compress the time they spent in the landlines phase to almost nothing, going directly from telegram to mobile phones. This was heralded as a great equaliser between developed and developing nations.
Once developers and teams start focusing on UX of decentralised apps, millions, if not billions, of people are going to come through the floodgates into the internet native economy powered by Web3.
And they won't go back.