Albert Szulman is the CEO and founder of Be-Bound, a French startup with a big ambition: bridging the digital divide all around the world and connecting the “Next 4 Billion”.
Here he talks about Be-Bound and why he’s so passionate about connecting the developing world. Read on:
Can you tell us about your background in entrepreneurship?
In my early career, I gained experience with big corporations, such as 3M and technology companies like Bertin and Logiways (Digital TV). The entrepreneur in me always wanted to create my own business, so I took my experience from these larger groups and went on to cofound several start-ups: Com’Dab (Advertising on ATMs), DadE-Games (Mobile Games, sold via Orange) and Mistercamp.com.
Tell us about Be-Bound. What is your mission?
Connecting the world is Be-Bound’s mission; the company wants to be a driver of growth empowering people through connectivity and ultimately contribute to balancing regional development.
Why is it important to you to connect the next 4 billion?
The overarching belief that drives me is that connectivity will enable global development. Constant and affordable connectivity are key to unlocking the economic potential of hundreds of millions around the world. We’ve already seen in more developed countries how digitalization has had a positive impact on every sector. From education, to health, to financial services, digital innovation renders things more accessible and working more efficiently.
There’s no reason that nearly half the world’s population should be left out of these services. And perhaps more importantly, beyond making life easier, digital allows for a sense of inclusion in our global community. Bringing balance into this world of inequality starts by bridging the digital divide and connecting the unconnected to the mobile internet networks that power modern economy and reinforce democracy and social justice.
This is the goal we want to fight for.
Thanks to our technology, this is a goal we can contribute to, today.
How does Be-Bound work? How are you able to connect users in remote locations around the globe?
We realized that, while everyone was rushing into 3G, 4G or 5G (which actually cover a very small part of the planet), the standard 2G-SMS had the widest geographic reach but just wasn’t being utilized to its fullest capability. Our solution optimizes all networks, capable of providing mobile internet services working everywhere there is a phone signal. It is a network agnostic compression technology that uses a patented algorithm to enable any Android smartphone or IoT device to stay connected regardless of the network available (from 4G/3G down to SMS) and regardless of its quality (even weak or saturated).
And our business model goes beyond the mobile technology. With Be-Bound, developers from anywhere in the world can produce local and relevant content; content in local languages that addresses specific local issues: from farming tips to traffic information or mobile payment-specific solutions. Developers can create a relevant and true-app experience, even without Internet!
Above all we are enablers, partners. We have the technology and we put it at the service of Mobile Network Operators, Governments, Developers and societies to make the dream of a connected world a reality!
What’s your vision for how people in remote corners of the globe use mobile technology?
My vision for tomorrow’s mobile world is one where everyone stays connected, everywhere. Where the people in the most remote areas can have access to the same information as those in the most urban cities, equalizing the playing field. From healthcare information, to news, to education, everyone will play a part in the global social network.
I’m also perplexed by the fact that we all accept the frustrating process of jumping from Wi-Fi to 4G to 3G or SMS. I expect that this will soon be a thing of the past. People don’t care what network they’re using. What we want is to stay connected, period. I think the whole process will be streamlined and invisible to the user, wherever he/she is.
What have been some of the roadblocks to your mission?
Things are sometimes more slow-going than I am willing to accept. I am always 10 steps ahead, something that can be frustrating, but honestly I can’t imagine working any other way!
Be-Bound is a disruptive solution, and that has its positive and negative points. Disruption in telecommunications is almost an oxymoron. But that’s really what we see ourselves doing. As with any disruptive solution, we are creating our own market and ecosystem, and all of this takes time. That’s something I am learning to work with.
At the operational level, there are the challenges inherent to the telecommunication field itself. Telecommunications tend to be disjointed, separated country by country, government by government, each with its own operating system. Deploying in developing countries means as well, dealing with specific political and regulatory issues. All this makes planning a difficult task: each country inevitably has its own timeline.
Why should app developers be interested in these potential new users?
The potential for developers is simply enormous.
Let me give you a statistic to put this in perspective. Seven out of the top 10 countries in terms of app downloads are developing countries, while the top 10 revenue generating apps are in developed countries. Think about that for a second! The enthusiasm for content is clear. And there’s an advantage to being at the forefront of this movement, and reaching first-time users, where apps have a far better chance of succeeding than in the already saturated markets of developed countries.
But beyond the pure market opportunity, we would like them to participate in the first all-inclusive mobile digital ecosystem for the emerging markets. This is what matters and what Be-Bound is trying to create.
What types of apps do you believe users who haven’t been connected would be interested in? What are the needs of this audience?
This is a very important point, and developers should consider this seriously. What’s important and popular in our everyday lives, is not going to be an automatic win in emerging markets. Lack of relevant content is one of the major barriers to internet adoption in general. Sixty percent of content is in English, that is to say: not in people’s native language. Developers need to think about creating content that’s locally relevant. Though it’s safe to say that games will continue to have widespread success, people like apps that help them in their everyday lives, and that’s where developers who do their homework on what’s relevant to various populations will most likely see better success.
What’s been the response by new users to the efforts of Be-Bound?
Even though this technology is something that they’ve never seen before, there is a lot of enthusiasm for Be-Bound. All users understand what we mean when we say staying connected even without Internet. We’re solving a real problem for them. Being connected is a social must-have. We get a lot of ideas and recommendations coming our way from people who want Be-Bound to have more apps available in their area.
What mobile technology trends or innovations are you most excited about right now?
The Android smartphone models being created for affordability. While many are focusing on the next big thing (5G etc.), the mobile world has also taken a step back and realized how many people have yet to join the ecosystem. Making smartphones more affordable is a decision to invite the rest of the world to the playing field.