By way of keeping you connected to the hot new companies that debut here in Silicon Valley, one in particular caught my eye and it’s called ContactRoom. As you can imagine, a company that does a lot of B2B contracts needs to have a streamlined process and until now we’ve had basic ERP functionality, but the Workday of B2B contracts hasn’t existed until now. Getting a contract signed is part of the sales function and both the selling performance and the legal terms are key. Now companies can track both the sales reps and the terms to see which are performing, or not, and adjust accordingly.
There are a number of wins here. First, all contracts are kept in one place, so there’s no keeping contracts on individual computers. Second, one of the hardest parts is compliance and making sure the parties perform their duties. ContractRoom insures that duties are performed on-time, on-budget and to the required specifications, while providing full visibility to all parties throughout the process. Please watch the video below.
I think the biggest win of all is with this process in place, companies can be more flexible on their contract terms. The biggest roadblock has been compliance – if you do a bunch of one-off contracts in volume, how are you going to track compliance? Therefore a lot of companies pass up business in favor of not changing their contract. Now with ContractRoom, companies can be more flexible and therefore win more business. I’m excited to see what ContractRoom is able to do in the next year.
Dec 04 2014
HTML5 Is An Alternative When Getting Started With Apps
At the DEMO Fall 2014 conference what we do is watch other companies debut their products and then take feedback from a panel of judges. I watched Brad Lawler of Draft present and the judges liked his financial services solution and they commented a lot on the excellent look-and-feel of his app.
Sorry to say, but appearances make a huge difference in just about everything these days and mobile apps are no exception. Incredible to me is that Brad designed the app himself. He says he studied design for a few years on his own, and when it came time to design his app, he worked with a few different agencies, where he learned a lot but created the final design himself.
Brad’s user interface looks wonderful and it’s a testament to his talent as a person who can do a lot of things well. A lot of complaints I have about HTML5 interfaces is that they are slow and clunky, but his was fast due to optimization on the back end.
Brad wants to create apps for iOS and Android so that he can have apps in the respective stores, but otherwise thought a company could achieve many of the same benefits through HTML5. It’s yet to be seen whether this is the right approach. The trend now is people like to use apps on their mobile devices, versus the mobile web. Draft has made a high performance HTML5 app, but I think what some people might miss is the ability to launch it from an icon. True, you can make a shortcut on your home screen but most people don’t know how to do this. Also, in later versions, users might want features that require local processing or data caching, which is not robust on HTML5 versus native apps. Either way, everybody was impressed with Brad’s app, and it isn’t lacking, he wants to do a native app soon, so more power to him.
As an FYI to people who want to develop an app. If your app connects to external hardware, like a heart rate monitor, or uses native features of the phone like GPS, the accelerometer, or requires local processing – these usually require native development.
Nov 22 2014
Finding Success With Enterprise Apps: Usability Is Key
Ryan Huff is CEO of Cirruspath which provides a way of more seamlessly integrating with CRM systems. When asked what the trend is with enterprise apps, he said it was all about usability and you can’t expect to get it right in the first release. I speak with many enterprises who are interested in app development and many of them are just becoming aware of what it takes to develop a good mobile app. Keep in mind that a poor mobile app is likely not to be used and might not have much of an impact on an organization.
Ryan says that organizations can’t expect to get it right on the first try or even the second try, but it takes a lot of investment and iteration to get it right. As far as developers he told me that it is still expensive to hire developers, especially the ones who can get the job done. Our research shows that the average cost for a mobile developer is about $130K per year and he says this is about right. His developers work out of southern California while QA is offshore.
He has about 10 developers and he is responsible for the product management. Normally, you might have a 4 or 6 to 1 ratio of developers to product managers, but it’s just him right now, so he has a big job. Stay tuned for more coverage of DEMO Fall 2014.
Nov 22 2014
DEMO Fall 2014: Mobile Trends
I was excited to cover DEMO Fall 2014, which ended yesterday. I have a lot of content and thoughts, some of it is already out and I’ll be pushing the rest of it out as time permits. What I want to bring you is a sense of what you would learn if you were there and I’ve picked a good person to interview to give you that perspective (I encourage you to catch the next DEMO event). Erick Schonfeld is the executive producer of DEMO and he and his team reviewed scores of startups and selected the 40 who are attending. After reviewing so many startups in the space and considering he’s been covering technology startups for a long time, he has quite a vista into what’s going on regarding mobile trends.
Although he didn’t want to talk about his other venture while running DEMO, Erick is also a mobile entrepreneur and his team has developed a video editing app for iPad. He has managed mobile projects and has a feel for what it takes to get an app built and distributed. This also contributes to an accurate perspective. Watch the interview below to get his thoughts on current mobile trends:
Current mobile trends include apps that do only one thing but do it very well such as Valet Anywhere, which at certain locations, allows you to get your car valeted and it is very unique in that the valet comes to you wherever you are. Skillpocket is a marketplace on your phone to find talent such as designers and developers. PathSense is an app that reduces the drain on your battery caused by GPS (which is a battery hog) – it tracks your motion and momentum to calibrate your position. Erick also discusses the evolution of tools for developing mobile apps and some of the constraints in hiring developers and designers.
There is strong demand for developers here in the US, but the rest of the world is coming up-to-speed on mobile technologies which provides a deeper bench for talent. Despite the availability of developers, a lot of tasks like user interface design and user experience are handled here in the states.
I remember talking to a development vendor in Estonia and asking him if his firm designs apps. He said yes, but he wasn’t sure if we would like their design sense in Estonia because perceptions of good design can be quite different in different geographies. If the app was for a US audience, he recommended the design be done in the US. Conversely, I remember seeing the incredible work of a Polish designer. He had a great eye and wasn’t even formally educated in design. Because of the demand for his talent, I could never book him. So it is possible to get good design overseas, but it may be more work to find individuals with your design sense.
Nov 22 2014
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Advice to Wearables Entrepreneurs From Skully CEO
I spoke with Marcus Weller, CEO of Skully today at DEMO Fall 2014. I asked him what advice he would give to entrepreneurs who are thinking about getting involved in wearables. He had some great advice and that is to focus on your core use case and get that right before you move on. I thought that was spot on, because you may have read other posts of mine where Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, says, “It’s easy to add; it’s hard to edit – it’s hard to focus.” Apple is successful because Apple has always focused. That’s what entrepreneurs these days need to do and not only that, there are many executives at important companies who need the same advice. An app isn’t a catch-all, but is made to solve a specific need that is usually task-specific.
Marcus says his helmet is “like a fighter pilot helmet for motorcyclists.” It has a heads up display that gives the rider full visibility around them. This is especially important for motorcyclists because they typically don’t see well in their blind spots.
Another thing that non-riders might not think about is it’s hard to get turn-by-turn directions on a motorcycle. If you think about it, a motorcyclist doesn’t have a hand that’s free to pull out a mobile device. Skully not only provides GPS navigation, but also readouts from the gauges on the motorcycle.
Watch the video interview below:
Marcus adds, “…the key thing for developing a wearable is to be very focused on a specific problem and to go deep on that problem rather than trying to be all things to all people.” This is true not only for wearables but for any startup or new product or service. With limited resources you have to focus, otherwise you won’t do anything well and you’ll run out of resources before you’re done.
I also liked what Marcus said about doing away with the UI (user interface), because really, you wouldn’t need to interact with the device so much if it were more situationally aware. To make a more situationally aware device is going to take AI (artificial intelligence). Apple bought Suri for its AI capabilities. It might be an unfair test to throw Suri against the general population, but after seeing it perform, I’m underwhelmed and it shows us how far we have to go with AI. It isn’t easy or cheap, but the person or company that cracks the code will do well.
Nov 20 2014
Payment System Turns People Into ATMs
One of the things I love about conferences like DEMO Fall 2014 is they get you outside of your normal way of thinking, and that’s what is necessary to be truly innovative. Who ever thought of turning people into ATMs? It’s pretty crazy and it could either go wrong or it could go right. Just like the mobile carriers were disintermediated by WhatsApp, this payment solution by Ali Goss of HelloBit could push banks aside for at least one of their services – money transfer.
International money transfer processes are full of friction. It’s hard to pay vendors overseas, there are hefty fees involved, and it usually requires a special trip to the bank where you fill out a long form. For some reason, my international vendors don’t take PayPal. One time I sent a check to my team in Poland and they were very sad because it can take up to 6 weeks to clear – I didn’t know it would take so long. Watch the video below:
Platforms like these provide a solution to those transferring money, and it makes it especially economical for sending small amounts of money.
Many people are not aware that it is possible to swap in your own custom keyboard in iOS 8 (a software keyboard, not a hardware keyboard). Such keyboards have been possible on Android for a while. I talked with Ping Wang of iQ Technology and the CEO Ray Chao about their new DejaVu Keyboard product at the opening welcome reception at DEMO Fall 2014.
The main benefit is it helps you type faster and is useful for words that are unique to you or your profession. Let’s face it, the rate a which you can type on a mobile keyboard is a big friction point on mobile devices and DejaVu Keyboard can really speed things up for users.
Watch the video below:
Stay tuned and prepare to connect with more innovative ideas at DEMO 2014!
Nov 19 2014
Watch Mobile App Development TV at DEMO Fall 2014 in San Jose
As host of Mobile App Development TV, I’ll be covering DEMO 2014 to bring you the very latest in app development trends, best practices, strategies, and insights.
I’m excited about the lineup of speakers including Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and cofounder of Twitter, Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, Peter Thiel, Former CEO of PayPal and Matt Rogers, Founder of Nest. That’s a heavy hitting lineup, straight from the heart of Silicon Valley. We’ll be here November 18, 19 and 20.
A number of successful companies have launched at DEMO, including Salesforce.com, Evernote, Jawbone, Cisco WebEx, Vmware and many others. I’m especially excited to hear about Steve Wozniak’s latest venture. Stay tuned on this blog or watch twitter for @johnmobilecast.
Nov 19 2014
$19B Acquisition Lighting the Mobile App Developer World On Fire
They say that the rising tide floats all ships. What about a tidal wave? Many people are dumbfounded at the valuations that app companies are receiving, especially in the messaging world, but looking back at history can provide some perspective.
Messaging has been hot for a while, starting with AOL in the 90s, then platforms were developed that integrated the many messaging solutions. Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011, and although that wasn’t an app deal, it set the tone. Facebook then bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012; the biggest app deal to date, and it seemed like a lot, but that deal has been totally eclipsed by Facebook’s latest $19 billion dollar WhatsApp acquisition.
WhatsApp isn’t the only app company to be highly valued. Last week we saw Airbnb receive a $10 billion dollar valuation as it seeks to raise additional cash. So it’s not just messaging apps. As a result of this activity, anybody who is involved in a mobile project has seen a lift from these deals. Money for mobile projects is easier to raise, and people with ideas for mobile projects have seen the stock in their projects rise. Watch this video to hear what drives a deal like this and the effect it is having on the mobile development community:
Building the app is supposed to be the easy part, but acquiring users is much more difficult and boils down to cost per user. According to Bill Fisher, Founder of Summit Advisors, “When you look at the cost per user that you’re buying WhatsApp for, $42 – $43 dollars per user, it’s really cheap when you look at the overall industry.” When you compare “Twitter at $150 dollars per user or LinkedIn at $120 dollars per user, WhatsApp looks rather inexpensive.”
WhatsApp is an example of a company that grew well and played all of its cards right. “Most app companies have trouble getting users” and leveraging their user base to find new users, according to Brian Blau, Research Director for Gartner Group. That’s something people don’t understand, especially in the technology community. App development is a hot skill, but even hotter than that is knowing how to grow an app’s user base. One thing is for sure: these large deals validate the mobile app industry and raise the stature of all involved.
Mar 26 2014
Mobile App Increases Revenue at Walmart
“Customers who use the app actually shop with us two times more frequently and spend 40% more than a customer who doesn’t use our apps,” according to Wendy Bergh, Vice President, Mobile & Digital Strategy at Apps World 2014. While many companies want assurance of a return before they invest, Walmart is an example of an innovative company who took a risk by investing in mobile apps without any clear return in sight. By taking a risk and carefully listening to her customers she was able to provide a substantial return on investment to Walmart through mobile apps. It makes sense that Walmart would find this opportunity, because there is a lot of low hanging fruit with people spending more time interacting with apps and less time engaged with other media. If you want to retain and grow your audience, you need to meet buyers where they are, and increasingly buyers are interacting with mobile apps. After Walmart released its first app, it didn’t receive the ratings that they wanted, so they did a lot of thinking and usability testing to create an app that was closer to what customers want, and this was the one that paid off.
The features they provide include a digital shopping list, the ability to scan items in the store to determine the price, and the ability to see newly discounted items. One particularly unique feature is the “geo-fencing” of each store location. When a customer is in the store, the user sees the specials for that store. Watch the video below to learn more and to see how mobile traffic eclipsed web traffic on Black Friday:
For Walmart strategists, their goals are to make the mobile experience faster and more convenient, so their customers can save money and live better lives. To create a high performance team, they set up their development office in Silicon Valley so that they could draw on the rich talent pool here. Have you see these types of returns with apps? Please comment below.