Recap: DevFestDC: Mobile Apps Panel

28 Sep Recap: DevFestDC: Mobile Apps Panel


I had the pleasure today to attend the Google Developer Group Dev Fest, which is a day-long dual-track conference on Startups, Mobile, Big Data and other emerging Google technologies. Here is a recap on a panel on mobile startups: what’s involved, what are the challenges, and how to get started.

Thanks to Shiva Thirumazhusai of Nasotech, one of the organizers, for the opportunity to attend.

Moderator: Shashi Bellankonda, Social Media Swami @shashib

Alec Walker, mPortal @mportal

Munish Ghandi, Founder and CEO of @hy_ly @munishgandhi

Chris Schroeder, CEO and Co-Founder, App47 @chris_schroeder @app47

Barg Upender, Founder Mobomo @bargmarley @mobomoapps

Jonathan Altman, Founder @async_io

Shashi Bellamkonda began the discussion by asking each of the panelists questions around trends, execution, and requesting advice based on their experiences in consumer and enterprise environments. Some of the highlights (I am paraphrasing – so if i inaccurately report the gist of the message, that is all on me!):

Chris: Ideas are cheap, execution is expensive! Great ideas are plentiful, but turning it into a busines that generates revenue is tough. There is a big gap between developing an idea, getting a prototype, then bringing a product to market. Especially with mobile apps.

Chris: Biggest piece of advice is to “watch the patterns” in developing your business. With App47, it’s a company focused on systems management for mobile apps. His previous business was a similar model, but for mainframes. He continued to make the point that the more things change, the more they stay the same…

Alec: It’s important to consider the business reason for why you are developing your product, service, or app. mPortal sells into the enterprise, and works with very large cable companies, who aren’t just looking to generate revenue. In some cases, they are looking to change the way that their customers watch TV, and that affects the work they do. It could be customer retention, it could be sales and conversions. But think carefully about the problem you are trying to solve – that is most likely 50% of the challenge.

Barg: There is no shortage of great ideas. His company Mobomo began as a crowdsourcing application for traffic patterns. They received a ton of publicity, but not a lot of revenue. Then Google announced an app that effectively did what they did, and they needed to pivot, and now they consider themselves a services company and they’ve seen success. His most recent company that he’s launched,  HitchRides, however, leverages the technology they developed for Mobomo, and leverages maps and locations to make it easy to find taxis. Need to be fluid and keep your eyes on what’s happening and what people need.

Jonathan: It’s critical to set the stage with your app / mobile product by making the final vision really clear, even to your family and friends and early adopters. Spend some money on UX design and graphics. If you have an idea for where the product will end up, set it up from the beginning that way. This is particularly important if you are in fundraising mode. Early adopters will put up with some warts, and will give you feedback. But don’t take them for granted, and be sure to take care of them down the road.

Munish: On the topic of distribution, conversion and downloads are really hard to get. It’s important to look at everycustomer as a marketer. It’s really not a viable long term strategy to “buy” your way into distribution, or to try to cheat the system by naming your app something that comes up first in the App store. Instead, make sure you have a social hook: Instagram was a great example of that – every time someone shared a picture, it was marketing Instagram. Then, assuming you have a social hook – make sure the feed is your friend: Twitter’s feed, Google+, Facebook, etc.

All: One of the keys to developing a successful app is in finding the feature hook – the one thing that people want to use in their daily lives. Native apps that do that and people use every day are the ones that are successful. Hook into Facebook and other platforms when designing and writing an app – don’t be an island, connect into everyone else. You have to tap into preexisting places and apps that people use every day.

Barg: On a question on HTML5 versus developing native apps: listen to Mark Zuckerberg’s talk at the recent TechCrunch DISRUPT that talked about how they were built on HTML5 and found it to be a mistake: it wasn’t ready yet. Now they are focused on native.

–Elizabeth Shea, @eliz2shea 

Elizabeth Shea
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