Uber is reportedly hiring for a 22-country expansion of its food delivery service, UberEats. The ride-hailing company brings some clear advantages to the table – superior logistics, faster and cheaper delivery terms, and the ability to cross promote the service with its popular core service. A curious thing about Uber’s planned expansion, however, is the mix of developed and developing markets on the list: Dubai, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Brussels, Stockholm, Hong Kong, Taipei, Jakarta, and Bangkok, to name a few. The economic, political, and geographic diversity of these markets illustrates a key aspect of emerging-market cities: they’re hard to categorize.

Middle- and upper-income urban areas in developing countries have specialized market dynamics. They fit within national and state or provincial administrative structures, but they are not necessarily a microcosm of the national environment. There are also a diverse set of potential hazards to mitigate. Challenges include unfamiliar legal and political frameworks, the ease of doing business, livability, and economic stability. In addition, reliable data on specific city-level market segments can be scarce. Uber will be going after consumers directly, but other companies might consider enterprise, small- and medium-sized businesses, or government buyers. City governments often provide health, transport, waste, security, and energy services, and they are looking for innovative technology solutions that will achieve better results and greater inclusion.

Companies that recognize the opportunity in emerging-market cities can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach, nor can they tailor solutions and strategies for each and every city. Commonalities may go beyond the obvious. To find meaningful clusters or segments, companies often need to get creative, using proxies for data that are only available on a national level. They also may need to “get local” to find information – a challenge when small regional teams are more operational than strategic. Still, cities are a very worthy focus for investment. Some are as big as nations, and they’re growing, along with consumption and economic strength. Infrastructure investments are robust, signaling future growth and an eventual end to traditionally weak national distribution systems. And most importantly, half the world’s population will live in emerging-market cities by 2030. The time to figure them out is now.

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