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Nick Heller is responsible for New Business Development across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Google. Based in Zurich, Switzerland, he focuses on new product incubation and exploratory efforts in technology, meta-data licensing, strategic partnerships, special projects, as well as alternative distribution models for existing and new business initiatives.
Heller took the time to sit down and discuss Google’s forecast for Africa, how he manages his multiple projects, and his vision of the next generation of mobile phones.
Memeburn: Google is innovating at a furious rate right now with new products launching almost every week. How does it feel to be part of that?
Nick Heller: Obviously everyone wants to be successful, but we at Google also believe in being innovative, trusted and ethical — and ultimately making a big positive impact in the world.
MB: How does one best manage a creative / innovative environment when good ideas are coming in from every corner?
NH: Focusing on the user is one of the core tenets of product development at Google. Moreover, we believe that open systems lead to more innovation, value, and freedom of choice for consumers, and a vibrant, profitable, and competitive ecosystem for businesses. On that basis, we manage innovation as it relates to our core strategy — making the world’s information accessible and useful — and with a focus on open systems that will ultimately benefit the end user.
MB: What’s the best thing about your job?
NH: The work we undertake at Google can have a direct positive impact on the world at large. It is challenging and in turn, stimulating, making a difference.
MB: And the worst?
NH: Managing the constant influx of opportunities.
MB: How seriously is Google taking the emergence of Africa as a commercial and innovation magnet?
NH: Google is indeed serious about Africa on both fronts, and our strategy is to get users online by developing an accessible, relevant, vibrant and self-sufficient internet ecosystem. We see huge opportunity here.
MB: What is Google’s African strategy?
NH: So, just to expand on the answer above, Google’s mission in Africa is to make the internet an integral part of everyday life in Africa and strengthening the internet ecosystem, by increasing its relevance and usefulness, eliminating access barriers for potential users, and developing products that are meaningful for the countries in the region.
We are also enabling Africans to develop locally meaningful products with things like: iGoogle (allowing developers to create gadgets), maps API (allowing them to leverage our Maps products to build other apps and websites), the Android platform (an excellent opportunity for them to develop Android apps), Chrome (for the development of brower-based applications), App Engine and our cloud offerings.
MB: Do you think the mobile web could be a ‘game-changer’ for Africa?
NH: For many people in Africa, the mobile is the first point of access to the internet. Mobile technology provides a more cost effective way to get online, and therefore can be a significant driver of economic and social good. We’ve focused on creating products that provide utility and real value for the end user.
For instance, the Google Tips product answers health and agriculture related queries to users in Uganda via SMS, thereby providing accessibility to all mobile users, even those without internet access. Another example is Gmail/ Chat SMS, launched recently in Ghana, Senegal and Kenya, which allows mobile users to chat with desktop Gmail users via SMS, thereby addressing a social need and bridging the mobile and internet worlds. For more advanced mobile users with an Android device, we’ve recently launched the Android Market in Kenya, which is beginning to spark the local Apps ecosystem.
The mobile web will be a key enabler for finance and commerce, social interactions and health, and Google wants to be on the forefront of these developments. For more information about Google’s efforts in Africa, please take a look at our blog.
MB: What will the mobile phone of the future look like?
NH: As the speed and reliability of connectivity increases, and the cost of sophisticated ‘superphone’ devices continues to plummet, the next generation of mobile computing is beginning to emerge. The unique features and sensors on these sophisticated devices — such as voice, image, touch and location — combined with data and the power of cloud computing, offer incredible opportunities for value creation.
MB: What’s the most exciting project in front of you right now?
NH: Our focus on empowering Africa with the next generation of mobile computing is a project of consequence.
MB: Do you see much innovation coming from emerging markets?
NH: In most cases, creativity loves constraint, and therefore a lot of innovation comes from emerging markets. Often times the most creative solution is uncovered because of the lack of resources. Once the internet begins to penetrate further into Africa, we envisage incredible developments for the technology community — stay tuned!