Why the Web Giants Can’t Go Mobile-First

As a mobile startup with an impressive web-based competitor who’s been around and has deep deep pockets, we get asked this question a lot: “Can’t XXYYZZ  build your app in 12 days?” When we explain Melltoo‘s value proposition as a mobile first social selling platform with a payment and delivery service and a built-in chat function, people understand how we are different from our web-based competitor. They immediately recognize that we have a compelling value proposition. However, they always come back to: “They have tons of engineers, I’m sure they can build the same app in a month.” Then we show them Melltoo, and they inevitably go “WOW” but nevertheless say: “It’s an amazing app, but XXYYZZ has loads of cash, they can do what you did and CRUSH you.” Well no. They can’t and let me tell you why.

1) Mobile First, Mobile Only

In Fall 2012, Facebook launched it’s native mobile app for iOS and Android and declared itself to be a mobile-first company . This was after a “painful” (Mark’s words) 18-month transition for one of the world’s largest web companies. Why was it painful? Because the mobile experience is totally different from the web. And if you are used to building for the web first, while your mobile app plays catch up, then your mobile experience will always be sub-optimized and limited. There are certain things that the mobile can do that the web can’t, such as geolocalization, pulling from the camera hardware, and push notifications for starters. So if you’re building for the web first, you will neglect these oh-so-important mobile-only features, which means your user experience will be sub par.

2) The Amputation Problem

In order to become a mobile-first platform, you’ll have to greatly streamline and simplify your web experience in order to maintain consistency across services and platforms. Just this March, Paypal rolled out it’s new “mobile-first” website which fronts a major overhaul of Paypal services to enable and enhance mobile transactions. The point here is that the move to mobile is not simply about building a front-end app. It’s also about what’s going on in the backend; and in some cases, the move to mobile affects the product offering at its core.

3) Organizational Misbehavior

Let’s suppose that the big web incumbent has an enlightened CEO like Mark (Facebook) or David (Paypal), who recognizes that it’s time to go mobile-first. Then, there’s the rest of the organization to contend with. Large successful companies are run by large numbers of people who require bureaucratic processes to work together effectively. Forgetting brainstorming on Slack, like we do at Melltoo. Bureaucratic processes are by definition slow and that’s why large companies move slowly. Once our enlightened CEO figures out it’s time to go mobile, she has to coax her board of directors and clue in all her senior management. Then, after much back and forth, strategy is hammered out across departments and implementation plans are drawn up. New bureaucratic processes need to be introduced at this point to manage change and reduce risk. Finally, the little worker Joes, on whose backs the company runs, need to be retrained and realigned. The whole organization needs to be restructured to tame the misbehaving beast.

4)The Hiring Nightmare

The average non-coder seems to think that if you can build a “hello world” program on javascript, then you must be able to build an app. The reality is a bit more complex. To build a good app, you not only need an experienced front-end app coder, you also need a UI/UX expert, a backend database coder, a backend administrative web services coder, a project manager, and the officeboy who serves coffee and brings donuts. And if you are a big, successful company, then you’ll need two of everyone because you have an image to protect in order to win the “Employer of the Year” award. And no, you can’t just get your existing engineers to do the job. Firstly, they may not have the expertise. Secondly, who’s going to do their current job? So you have no choice but to hire and we know how that nightmare goes.

A Dollar Now is Better than Two in the Future (no matter how near)

Suppose you are the web-based incumbent that is making tons of money with your website. Melltoo shows up on the scene, a startup with 6 (at last count) team members and some VC funding. Melltoo hints at a future of unrealized potential. You sense that Melltoo could be disruptive, the keyword here being could. Would you at this point overhaul your entire business model and take your organization through a painful transition in order to respond to the little startup nobody has heard of? I think not. And your board of directors is unlikely to go for it. Which means you won’t move until Melltoo has 50 on the team and a Series B under its belt. Then the battle begins, and may the most innovative company win!