How and why can mobile companies succeed? Xconomy event speakers tell all

(Photo by Daniel Dern)
(Photo by Daniel Dern)

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Mobile Xconomy

What do cars chatting with smartphones, teenagers deprecating FaceBook and email, and turning expertise into a mobile product have in common?

Answer: They were, variously, discussed, dissed, touted, and exhibited  at Xconomy‘s  sixth annual Boston-area Mobile Madness Forum — this year, subtitled “2014 – The Next Disrupters” on Wednesday at the Microsoft NERD Center in Kendall Square, to a roomful of founders, CEOs, investors, developers, and others who turned out for the half-day event.

“Xconomy attracts high quality speakers, and good topics,” said James Gardner, an account director at ISITE Design who has attended a number of previous Xconomy events. “I wanted to get a glimpse into some of the Boston area startups in the mobile space that are getting traction, and to network with attendees and meet with old friends.”

Many of the speakers flagged Boston as one of the leading geographic choices for companies looking to work in the mobile space.

WHAT MOBILE MEANS IS METAMORPHING

“We now think about mobile not about devices but as a set of behaviors,” said Jennifer Lum, cofounder of Adelphic Mobile. “For example, a mobile behavior isn’t someone at their desktop but, say, commuting to work, perhaps reading the news on their phone.”

“We think about ‘device’ and ‘use case,” said Matt Douglas, chief executive of Punchbowl.

On the other hand, mobile does involve and require devices. “From my point of view, Google Glass is ‘mobile,'” said Doron Reuveni, chief executive of mobile app testing service uTest Inc.

TEENS CHANGING MOBILE LANES

To provide insight into what devices, apps and activities today’s teens do — and don’t — use, Mobile Madness brought in four local teens: Madison Calkins from Hopkinton High School, Caitlin Cheng and Will Pincince from Milton Academy, and Matthew Rice from Hingham High School.

All, of course, have smartphones — but two recalled their first “non-smart” flip-style phones, where the “world” icon-ed button, supposedly for the Internet, didn’t do anything.

Today, they use email rarely, mostly for more formal communications, and similarly Facebook is for school activities, while turning to newer apps like Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp for talking and sharing among themselves. (Parents and other adult family members joining Facebook is another reason for teens to turn elsewhere.)

MOBILE DOS AND DON’TS FOR SUCCESS

Mark Kasdorf, CEO of mobile design firm Intrepid Pursuits  talked about the different expectations for mobile — specifically smartphone — apps and websites versus those for desktop and tablet. “A great mobile app does one thing and does it really well. So, for example, just because photo-sharing is hot means you should add a photo-sharing feature. Mobile apps aren’t mean to be ‘destinations that you live in.’ Figure out what problem you want your app to solve, and solve it.”

Much of the discussion focused on “learn from our lessons” advice for newer mobile companies.

“90 percent of the value is getting users to use the product, not the product itself,” Wayne Chang, co-founder of Crashlytics advocated. “Crashlytics made the installer experience and other aspects easy, versus there being to many steps to learn and do … And we wanted to be part of a customer developer’s multi-day emotional journey in debugging, so we added things like a giant ‘Fixed’ stamp animation marking when an issue closed. These weren’t directly related to our product, but differentiated it, and created a ‘Wow!’ experience.”

Another lesson-learned war story came from Fixsu chief executive Micah Adler. “The difference between a successful versus unsuccessful company is how you react to bumps in the road.” Fixsu, Adler noted, started as a news aggregation app developer, but when the app’s initial success didn’t continue, “We took our skill in combinatorial techniques to app promotion,” said Adler. “We saw there were tremendous inefficiencies in how mobile media was being purchased for promotions. That was a hard problem we knew how to solve.”

Jim Buczkowski, director of Electrical and Electronics Systems at Ford, talked about incorporating mobile tech into vehicles. Allowing the vehicle to work with mobile devices like smartphones makes sense, said Buczkowski, “Because the development and approval cycle for a car is much longer than for a consumer device. And you don’t want to have to upgrade your car when you get a new phone.”