A group of thirtysomethings in Venezuela say they have a solution for the insanely long supermarket lines that symbolize their country’s economic turmoil: a mobile app that allows people to take a number from home.
The software, developed by seven Venezuelans, is an example of innovation from frustration in a country with one of the world’s most troubled economies, where private investment has all but dried up.
Long lines at banks, government offices, hospitals even bus stops have been the norm for years. They're a symptom of an acute economic crisis in a country that is sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves but struggles to stock its shelves with basic goods such as milk, laundry soap and toilet paper.
The app is being offered by a company called Sincola, a combination of the Spanish words “sin” and “cola”, which together translate as “no line.”
“We thought we’d try to find an answer to a long festering problem,” Ronald Rodriguez, Sincola’s CEO, told Fusion. He said the idea for the app was the brainchild of a friend who grew exasperated after waiting seven hours for a doctor’s appointment.
Here’s how it works: a person uses the app to send a text message to “take” a number and virtually get in line. The person later receives three text messages: the first is their actual number in line, the second gives them an estimated wait time, and a third when it’s time to get off the couch and head to the store, office, or business.
Rodriguez said he and his colleagues developed the software three years ago, but interest has picked up in recent months as the lines continue to worsen. Sincola now has over 100 clients, including restaurants, banks and some national and regional government agencies.
If adopted widely, the app could potentially be a gamechanger in a country where grocery shopping has become almost a test of endurance, with some people getting up in the wee hours of the morning to stand in line for hours to buy food at government-run grocery stores.
Venezuela's line-standing problem has created jobs for people who make a living by standing in line for others, as well as peddlers who sell chairs, juice or bags to those spending their day in line. Sincola won't address the root problem of Venezuela's economic meltdown, but it may ease the daily burden of snaking lines.
“Hopefully the app will help bring some order to the ‘cola,’” said Rodriguez.