Keys to your startup’s success — Delay going mobile if you can
There’s something romantic about mobile. Telling your friends, ‘I just built a new website,’ doesn’t get the same response as saying, ‘I have a mobile app.’
People put mobile on a pedestal. It’s associated with a higher level of technology.
So as startup entrepreneurs, what do we do? We put the emphasis on mobile from the start.
But why can this be dangerous? Are there ever any valid reasons why we should hold off on building a mobile app?
We’re going to answer these two questions in this article.
Why can going mobile at the beginning be dangerous?
Mobile apps are great and they serve a definite purpose. But when developing on mobile there are 3 things you have to keep in mind.
#1 Slowness to iterate
The process for pushing to the App Store or Google Play Store is slower then with web. For a while, the Google Play Store submission review process only took a few hours, but that changed in 2019.
The company [Google] implemented a more stringent review. It then began to advise developers to plan for review times of at least three days between submission and the app going live. But the length was reduced for established, trusted developers who continued to see faster reviews, Google had noted.
Potentially 3 days for the Play Store. And for the App Store?
On average, 50% of apps are reviewed in 24 hours and over 90% are reviewed in 48 hours. If your submission is incomplete, review times may be further delayed or your app may be rejected.
So why is this review time an issue? Notice what Eric Ries says about what you need in the initial stages of your startup.
“You need a “learning and discovery” process so you can get the company to the point where you know what to execute.”
— Lean Startup by Eric Ries
A “learning and discovery” process.
Where does the learning come from? The learning comes from customer feedback on the changes you’re making in your product.
So with mobile, you can’t show the customer anything until 24–72 hours after you’ve finished and pushed your changes. Now say your release is finally approved but you realize there’s a problem. Feedback is negative. Or feedback isn’t negative but you see how a change could benefit your current users.
You implement the small change. When will your customer’s see this change? 24–72 hours later.
That might not sound like a big deal. But at the outset of your startup, when you’re constantly making changes, that halt of the process…
- …kills your momentum.
- …slows down the feedback, iteration cycle.
- …increases anxiety on every push, because if you let in a bug you may have to wait days for the bug to be fixed.
All these things are momentum killers at a time when momentum is so important.
#2 The native vs cross-platform question
When you go mobile you always have to answer 2 questions?
- Do we go native or cross-platform?
- If we go native, do we build for Android or iOS first?
Answering these two questions upfront is very important. The decision you make will effect you for a very long time. And there are definite pros and cons to each decision.
For more on this topic check out my other article: Building your app cross-platform can be dangerous, especially for startups.
You don’t have to worry about these questions with web apps though. Web apps work everywhere, Android, iOS, and desktop. With web apps you also add a demographic of desktop/laptop users.
Also, the chances of you realizing the need to leave web entirely will seldom happen.
This means the web app you build will always be a part of your platform. But with mobile? You can find tons of articles online about people who had to switch from native to cross-platform or vice-versa.
If you make the decision to go mobile later, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision of whether to go native or cross-platform. This will decrease the chances of a rewrite later on.
#3 App stores take a cut of your revenue
One fact that is important to remember is that the App Store and Play Store take a percentage of every dollar you make.
The Apple App Store even goes as far as requiring that you include their Payment API as an option to process payments. You can’t even mention the fact that Apple is taking 30% of your revenue to your customers. For some companies, this can be a deal breaker.
But what about the advantages of mobile?
This would be a very incomplete article if I only told you one side of the story. There’s no question, there are many advantages to mobile.
- Mobile apps are faster than web apps.
- Mobile apps are better able to use your mobile device’s system resources
- Mobile apps can work offline
- The look and feel is more natural with a mobile app.
- There’s a certain amount of respect your brand gets from having a mobile app.
And there’s many more advantages. But, do these advantages mean you should go mobile at the outset? No.
Why do I say no?
Your first goal is to validate a product. You don’t need all the bells and whistles to accomplish this. At the outset, your app…
- …doesn’t need to be blazing fast.
- …probably doesn’t need the resources that are only available with mobile apps.
- …doesn’t need to work offline.
- …doesn’t need the most natural feeling product.
What you need is a simple, barebone product to validate your idea.
The following quote by Eric Ries is very important for you to take to heart.
“The MVP is that version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn loop with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time. The minimum viable product lacks many features that may prove essential later on.”
— Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Once you’ve validated the idea.
Once you have traction.
Once you know that the customer understands the value of your product and is using it.
Then you can pour whatever resources necessary into building a mobile app. Because you’ve already validated the idea.
The choice to build mobile or web first is up to you. But when making this decision remember these 4 very important points:
- Speed of iteration is important, and with mobile you will iterate slower.
- When building web first you don’t have to worry about whether to build for Android, iOS, or cross-platform.
- Going mobile will mean you have to give Google or Apple up to 30% of your revenue.
- Your first goal is to launch an MVP to validate a product. That doesn’t always require the advantages that mobile provides for you.