Mobile Product Excellence Can Make or Break a Company

Consumer internet companies are either going mobile-first or suffering the consequences. Mobile product excellence is a now a predictor of their stock market performance. The performance of some of the top digital companies paints a very clear picture.

Facebook is up 33% YoY. It has a mobile product portfolio of the highest quality. Facebook spent whatever it took to acquire great products like Instagram and WhatsApp. Mobile now makes up 80% of its total revenue, up 82% YoY. Mark Zuckerberg forces his teams to show him mobile-first products or he will kick them out of the room.

Google is up 32% YoY. It is fighting hard to maintain mobile ad relevancy as search became a mobile-first activity last year. It paid $1B to stay as the default search on the iPhone. It released a suite of mobile-first advertising products. Google’s SVP of Search immersed himself by personally going mobile-only for over a year, to understand where the gaps were in their mobile experience.

Yahoo is down 31% YoY. Mobile ad revenue is down 24%. Its mobile product portfolio is of mixed quality and has two sets of redundant apps for news and chat. In a mobile-first company, teams need to move quickly and collaborate effectively. Meanwhile, Yahoo still has an employee stack-ranking system that incentivizes staff to actively undermine each other. Microsoft, GE, and IBM have already ditched the same system.

LinkedIn is down 57% YoY. Their mobile product portfolio is surprisingly weak for the world’s largest professional network. Mobile did grow 3x faster than desktop, but still only represents 57% of traffic. Nobody can make heads or tails of their mobile strategy. They relaunched a somewhat improved flagship smartphone app in December and promised faster iteration. The rest of their portfolio is still buggy and confusing. They also closed a promising ad-targeting product, similar to one Facebook is opening up to 3rd party developers to extend their ad targeting reach across many apps.

Twitter is down 62% YoY. The consensus is that Twitter’s mobile product is in desperate need of a revamp. It’s simply too hard to use. Top tech reviewer Walt Mossberg called it “secret handshake software”. While mobile video watching and ad spend are growing steadily, Twitter is stuck with 7 or 30-second maximum formats. Their biggest product update YTD was displaying tweets on their desktop homepage. Original product visionary Jack Dorsey is back as CEO, but he’s also doing double duty as CEO of Square, which is down 24% since IPO.

Each one of these companies is full of remarkably bright people. But at various times, including now, they have been caught behind the eight ball on mobile. Even Facebook had to warn investors in 2012 about its weakness in mobile. Tech billionaire Marc Cuban once thought mobile would crush them, and it could have. Facebook tried to port desktop thinking into a mobile world. Mark Zuckerberg called that year “painful”.

Today, consumers are already mobile-first. Mobile is now the primary way people search, use social media, manage their money, stay informed and entertain themselves. You can still find a few activities where mobile is not primary, but it’s shrinking ground. That means both customers and employees are mobile-first.

Mobile is not a technology. It’s a behavior set, driven by a context where everyone has a remote control for the world. It is simply the new reality, and to ignore it is to put an organization in a position where an upstart can make them irrelevant.

Mobile-first companies are coming for every other industry. Having an app won’t be enough. Regulations are just constraints that create new business models. Consumers and talent will both go to where they can find a mobile-first experience. San Francisco’s largest cab company had a mobile app since 2013, and a medallion system. Uber is still driving them to bankruptcy.

Mobile product excellence will soon become a predictor of success or failure for every industry. Leaders will need to transform their organizations to deliver, and investors will undoubtedly hold them accountable.

Originally published in the Report on Business.

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