Fresh out of the Thanksgiving holiday shopping spree, a few interesting reports came out digging into the Black Friday-Cyber Monday ecommerce shopping performance. cialis sale

rts/black-friday-2012.html” target=”_blank”>According to IBM, mobile engagement continued to soar, making up 24% of the traffic and 16% of the sales. Fab.com, a design-focused ecommerce startup, has been seeing very interesting mobile stats on sales and the dominance of the iOS platform – revenue from its mobile apps reached 25% of total sales just 30 weeks post-app launch (95% of which came from iPhone & iPad), and mobile apps generated over 1/3 of its Black Friday-Cyber Monday sales. This phenomena is not hard to undersand – people are simply spending more time with their phones than with their computers.

The continued rise of smartphone led to an appreciation for a “mobile first web second” strategy – in order to deliver the “right” mobile experience, you have to start building your product with the mobile UX/UI in mind (vs. building a website and then repurpose the web experience to mobile). As a result, countless startups focused all their resources and energy to build a killer iOS app (why iOS first? because it continues to dominate Android on engagement and monetization) only to realize there are some serious flaws in this approach.

Some of the issues around building a “mobile first/mobile only” product can be attributed to the unique properties of a mobile device (e.g. smaller screen translates into a constant battle between usability and monetization, small/ineffective ad units, etc.), but a few of the key problems can be traced back to how Apple runs its App Store.

Problems:

  • Discovery/Distribution – One of the key differences between the web and mobile is that there is no SEO/SEM in the App Store, a key tool for organic traffic and paid marketing for driving visitors to your websites. Yes, you can “kind of” buy pay-per-installs through ad networks such asTapjoy and Flurry, but Apple continues to crack down the whole pay-per-install model with its latest App Store rule change. The sheer volume of apps in App Store plus its notoriously random “Featured Apps” system makes it extremely hard for an app to gain any organic visibility. In short, no one has cracked the app distribution nut and Apple is not helping.
  • App Approval Process & Cumulative Reviews – In a web environment you can iterate much more cheaply and faster than you can do so on mobile. For one, it costs much less to build a “minimum viable website” to test key hypotheses than to develop a fully-functional native app. Apple’s app approval process has improved over the years in terms of speed and transparency, but it is still a barrier for fast iteration and testing (wait time running up to to three weeks). Furthermore, the fact that all Ratings & Reviews of an app is carried over across versions means that the first version “can’t suck.” The only way to avoid “getting on the app store stage before you’re ready” (to avoid bad reviews) nd test your app with users is through Apple’s Ad Hoc distribution (but you’re limited to 100 beta testers) or third-party hacks such as TestFlight.
  • Apple’s 30% Cut – Apple charges 30% revenue share on gross revenue generated through apps (in-app purchase AND ad revenue). 30% off the top is great profit for Apple in the short-term, but if no one can build a real mobile business in the iOS ecosystem given the high customer acquisition costs (see “Discovery/Distribution” above) and the hefty 30% payment to Apple (and we haven’t taken into account credit card payment processing, taxes, etc.), Apple might have a problem in the long run.

So what can you (and Apple do) beyond reconsidering the above policies?

  • (You) Build Web Presence to Drive Mobile Download – Instead of “mobile first web second,” maybe the alternative strategy is “mobile product web marketing” – leveraging traditional SEO/SEM and the web’s larger screen to do more effective, targeted marketing and a simpler on-boarding process. You do the “selling/convincing” on your homepage, walk the user through a sign-up process to create an account, then bring the user to the App Store to download the app. An example: I found out about Lift through an article and arrived at its homepage, which did exactly the above. I would’ve never thought of looking for the Lift app in the App Store otherwise. Instagram also leveraged its web presence (via shared Instagram photo landing pages) to drive awareness and downloads.
  • (Apple) Native “Share An App” Function and Referral API – The major benefit of Apple’s “closed” App Store ecosystem is that the user experience is much more unified across all apps. Contrary to the web environment, there’s no easy way to create a mobile viral loop among iOS devices to facilitate sharing an app with friends. One thing Apple should consider is to build in a native “Share An App” function that sits within each iOS app, so a user can easily spread the word with contacts who have iOS devices. To push this thought further, Apple could develop a referral credit API (e.g. invite a friend and get $10 credit when the friend installs/purchases) to further help facilitate native viral loops within the iOS environment.

Apple’s iOS ecosystem is currently enjoying the mindshare of developers, and developers need a thriving ecosystem that can help them build a business. It’s a fine balance to strike between maintaining the integrity of the user experience and optimizing on monetization, but Apple should start spending more time to help developers make a plausible business case by investing in “mobile first on iOS.”


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So, How Exactly Do You Find A Tech Cofounder/CTO/Coder??

There have been countless posts and discussions around the topic of “If I don’t know how to code/am not technical, how do I launch my website/startup?” (such as hereherehere, and here), but an in-depth discussion in class the other day prompted me to share a summary of insights and actionable suggestions that I thought would be valuable to others.

Last Tuesday, instead of the usual case discussion, we had an interesting group of guest panelists (Brandon LiuAnna PalmerJim Psota, and Hugo Van Vuuren) in class to discuss the very topic of “Hiring Tech Talent” (translation: How do I find a tech cofounder/coder???), and the discussion kicked off with a glance of the infamous tumblog MBA Seeks Code Monkey.

The biggest takeaway, surprisingly, is that finding a (tech) cofounder is VERY similar to dating (a panelist plugged OkCupid’s blog as a resource with nuggets of wisdom that are as applicable to dating as to startups/cofounder relationships). Below is a summary of tidbits from the discussion that resonated most with me:

How to attract/find tech talent:

  • Present yourself as resources, and know how to frame your skill set as an MBA (see more below)
  • Develop personal relationships
  • Be a magnet – attract, not attack (especially at networking events)
  • Get yourself a few technical advisors
  • Plug yourself into the UX/UI/design community – they would know good technical people whom they’ve worked with
  • Have a conversation on what they (engineers) are looking for, and how you can contribute – “What matters to you?”

How to identify top tech talent:

  • Best programmers work on side projects – they keep themselves abreast of the latest technical trends and learn from these side projects
  • Leverage your technical advisors to help vet candidates and ask the right questions
  • Best quality to look for (in the context of startups) – smart, tenacious, cultural fit, and can just “figure things out”

Sources for top tech talent that you can realistically attract:

  • Develop undergraduate students (especially at the inflection point – when they are about to graduate) – they are looking for “personal growth” (you can’t compete on cash/equity comp with Google/Facebook anyways)
  • Poach top talent who are working at good tech companies – especially when startups get acquired and/or they are at the end of their vesting period
  • Talented folks who do NOT live in prime cities/startup hubs – e.g. SF/Silicon Valley, NYC, Boston

What technical people value in a potential non-technical cofounder:

  • Tenacity, not getting stalled by not having a tech cofounder – e.g. testing hypotheses and validating the concept via MVP/customer feedbacks
  • Charisma
  • Network – leverage your network to recruit respected advisors, and offer your tech team the opportunity to work with these advisors
  • Leadership – have a vision and lead by example
  • Understanding in distribution/sales – how to get USERS (not a task engineers want to spend time thinking about)
  • Time is the most valuable thing in startups – skill in managing “time” and keeping people accountable

Tech product management/how to manage working relationships with your tech team:

  • Frequent, weekly communications
  • No surprises, small milestones
  • Take “time” and chop it up – e.g. set short-term, medium-term, long-term goals; 2-week product development “sprints”

How to get technically fluent:

  • Understand components of technical architecture – e.g. Web development stacks
  • Focus on means to get to understand code, not necessarily learning how to code – only spend time learning how to code if you enjoy it
  • Ask questions – don’t pretend you understand everything
  • Sit next to your tech team and observe how they work

There’s no “one silver bullet” and it takes time to find the right technical cofounder/team, but you can start building relationships and technical fluency now.


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