Startup events and Investor talks today have this catch phrase – ‘Mobile First’. Its actually started two years back when Fred Wilson wrote a post that says “Mobile First Web Second.”
I recently tweeted, “Can write a post why ‘Mobile First’ is not a right strategy!”. The response to that made me write this post.
Why I said that?
There are some brilliant mobile apps created by startups in recent years, the biggest challenge for all of them is discovery. Few startups are working in this problem too – helping users to discover your mobile apps. The problem is – these startups themselves are struggling in getting users to discover them first.
Google’s Android has over 700,000 apps in Play Store. Apple’s iOS App Store has over 700,000 apps. Assuming these were unique, as a entrepreneur, your startup has to fight with over 699,999 competitors on user’s smartphone, who on an average has only 65 apps installed. Another trend, many users regularly uninstall apps they do not use; once uninstalled – it is very unlikely they will install it again!
Building a successful startup requires two skills – building a product and marketing it. I tweeted that few days back – “Building a product is one thing. Marketing it is another. Remember that!”
Building the Product
Product development in startup is not easy. Everyday there are at least 3-5 updates to the live web application. Even before users realize, they are using on the latest version of web app.
On mobile this is tricky, its impossible to send 3-5 daily releases for your mobile app everyday. Its even more trickier to get your users to download and upgrade the latest version of mobile app every time.
Marketing the Product
Turn around and look at web – what are the ways you can get your start up discovered – Natural Search, Paid Search, Display Marketing (Advt based or Behavior based targeting), Social, Email Marketing and so on. Most of these is very flexible, you can do it all.
On mobile, there is only one mode of discovery that works – Mobile Advertising. Its still not a easy mode of advertising; far expensive; spray and pray approach as its not intent driven (remember – no one is asking for your app!) like Google Adwords and extremely less efficient since its end result is not landing page with one-click sign-up, but its downloading the app, registering the user and retaining him as well.
Btw, I am a believer in products that are driven by value to customers; and not through marketing.
So how does one get Mobile Strategy right?
Glance through the smartphone and check the apps you are most actively using. Its Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Evernote, Quora and so on. These are essentially web first, mobile later products.
Effective Mobile Strategy is simple – get your product right on the web, acquire initial users, iterate your product (fast), get it right quickly, ensure engagement is in place. Once you have users engaged on the web, they will see value in your product to download your app and stay connected.
Hint – Look at Quora. It was valuable to its initial set of users who were so engaged with the product that they were screaming for getting a mobile app. Quora launched iOS app in Sept 2011; Android App a full year later in Sept 2012.
As a product manager, know that driving adoption and driving engagement for a product are two different things. Don’t try to drive adoption of your product through mobile, its extremely challenging and next to impossible. Instead use mobile as a extension of your product to drive engagement.
Then what about WhatsApp, Instagram, FourSquare, Pulse, Angry Birds and others?
I don’t think anyone has defined this yet, so let me say what are truly mobile first verticals –
- Communication – If core of your product is deep integration with phone address book. (Eg, WhatsApp)
- Location – If core of your product starts with location awareness. (Eg. FourSquare)
- Camera – If core of your product starts with ‘taking’ photos. (Eg. Instagram)
- Free Time – If core of your product is being valuable to user on the move or leisure time. (Eg. Games, News aggregation services like Pulse). Again extremely difficult category – you compete with Facebook, Twitter and 1000s of apps in this segment.
Yes. These products are not exceptions – they are truly mobile first products.
Wait, will VCs invest in my startup if I dump Mobile First approach?
Next time anyone suggests you or advises you to go Mobile First, just ask them tips to hack app discovery and drive adoption.
The games of investing are simple. VCs will invest only if –
- A proven team or experience entrepreneurs (at least 1X entrepreneurs)
- If consumer startup – then traction; if enterprise startup – then revenue.
I don’t think any VC will invest in your startup just because you are Mobile first. Take any strategy – web first or mobile first; as long as you get the above two things right for your product – VCs will chase you!
While I was drafting this post, two interesting posts related to this topic came up.
Fred Wilson wrote following in his post “What has changed“, – “Distribution is much harder on mobile than web and we see a lot of mobile first startups getting stuck in the transition from successful product to large user base. strong product market fit is no longer enough to get to a large user base. you need to master the “download app, use app, keep using app, put it on your home screen” flow and that is a hard one to master.”
Cristina Cordova put up some interesting stats about User Retention in her post – “The Biggest Problem in Mobile: Retention.”
Restating it again as concluding remarks: “Mobile Strategy is simple. Get your product right on the web, acquire initial users, iterate your product, get it right, ensure engagement is in place. Once you have users engaged on the web, they will see value in your product to download your app to stay connected.”
Update: I received few notes from startup founders to also include a important note in this article which I missed – ‘Even when you build a web application, design your product as a responsive web design’. I completely agree.