Nicaragua Business Opportunity: Quadcopter Delivery Service
Amazon faces some pretty steep hurdles in making quadcopter delivery a practical and economically viable service in the United States. But what if there were a city of over a million people where most streets have no name, house numbers are rare, and the existing postal service has a shockingly high failure rate? If such a city existed, wouldn't it be a perfect place to try out a quadcopter delivery service?
Welcome to Managua, Nicaragua. I recently visited a friend there, whose address (modified for the sake of privacy, but spiritually intact) is, "From the Nicaragua Chamber of Commerce, go three blocks toward the sunrise, then half a block away from the lake." Needless to say, they don't get much mail at that particular home. None, to be exact. When she found out my wife and I were flying to see her, she asked if we could bring an extra suitcase full of stuff that is either unavailable or very expensive in Managua. As it turns out, this is common practice for ex-pats, as mentioned in this great article about the mail system, addresses, and options available for receiving deliveries.
Having a smartphone in Managua is still a sign of wealth, and they're a common target for theft. We discovered this firsthand, when my wife's phone was lifted from my pocket at a nightclub, about two hours after our arrival. We knew pickpocketing was a risk, which is why we chose to bring my wife's old Motorola Photon Q with us, instead of my newer, pricier phone. I had my hand on the phone almost the whole time we were there, so nobody could steal it without my knowing. But she borrowed it to take a photo -- the club was a very cool-looking, gritty, open-air place, jammed with people and alive with energy -- then slipped the phone back into my pocket. I realized about twenty seconds later that I hadn't had my hand on that pocket... and discovered it was now empty.
However, enough people have smartphones (now one more, thanks to our tourist generosity) that I expect anyone who wanted to receive a quadcopter delivery could figure out their GPS coordinates and write them down. Then it's just a matter of placing the order. If they don't have their own network access, they could use a friend's phone, or a computer at an Internet cafe, and place an order for delivery via quadcopter. Heck, they could even request delivery from a brick-and-mortar store, if the item isn't currently in stock.
Given the current state of delivery services, the bar is awfully low. You would be competing with a postal system that nobody trusts. And with messenger services, I suppose, but I would guess they're fairly expensive, introduce the risk of theft by the person making the delivery, and face the same problem of unnamed streets and no house numbers. Regarding regulations, I have no idea whether there's an FAA equivalent you would have to wrestle with. And I'm not sure how big the market would be, given the relative poverty of the population. Theft of quadcopters would be of some concern, of course, but there could be some creative ways around that. (Parachute drops? Exploding ink? Self-destruction?) Electronic payment might also be an issue, since it's largely a cash-or-trade economy. But still... doesn't this seem like a pretty ripe business opportunity?
You might ask why I'm not doing this myself, if I think it's such a great idea. I'm happily ensconced in my own world, as a software developer and author, and am too risk-averse to be an entrepreneur. So, I offer this up to anyone with the capital, creativity, and raw chutzpah to make it happen. If it works, and you make millions of dollars, the only finder's fee I ask is that you buy a copy of my book.