The Next Killer VR Apps: Beyond Games and Entertainment

img_2575 Last week I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with some amazing VR entrepreneursat Chetan Sharma’s amazing annual conference including VReal’s Todd Hooper, Baobob’s Maureen Fan, and PlutoVr’s Forest Gibson   As you can see above, Chetan picks the worst location for the event but we made it work.  As part of the event I contributed the essay below which I wanted to share more broadly for discussion with all awesome people that are coming together for Oculus Connect this week!
  We are nearing the tipping point of mass market virtual reality (VR). It has taken a bit longer to get here, with the delay stemming from the cost of first generation hardware and manufacturing capacity. However, that’s changing. Earlier this year Mobile VR platforms like the Samsung Gear reports more than one million monthly active users and Google Cardboard reports that VR apps are being downloaded more than 25
Continue reading "The Next Killer VR Apps: Beyond Games and Entertainment"

TechCrunch VR Post

I’ve taken the red pill and am a VR believer. Shared some of what I’ve learned so far on TechCrunch: http://techcrunch.com/2015/12/15/getting-real-about-virtual-reality/.

Re posting the article here too:

Hacking together a VR experience* to see firsthand what’s involved, revealed just how close we are to something great, but there are five areas that need to fall into place for VR to become a technology we all use daily.

The medium needs to be defined

As I started to think about the kind of immersive experience to create, I realized that I didn’t even know how to think about the right way to tell a story in VR. For instance, how long should the “story” be? What would be considered important?

As an engineer, I rarely considered something like the best point of view for the camera. With VR, that’s a critical part of the experience.

Creating something for VR is less of a technical problem than Continue reading "TechCrunch VR Post"

TechCrunch VR Post

I’ve taken the red pill and am a VR believer. Shared some of what I’ve learned so far on TechCrunch: http://techcrunch.com/2015/12/15/getting-real-about-virtual-reality/. Re posting the article here too:

Hacking together a VR experience* to see firsthand what’s involved, revealed just how close we are to something great, but there are five areas that need to fall into place for VR to become a technology we all use daily.

The medium needs to be defined

As I started to think about the kind of immersive experience to create, I realized that I didn’t even know how to think about the right way to tell a story in VR. For instance, how long should the “story” be? What would be considered important?

As an engineer, I rarely considered something like the best point of view for the camera. With VR, that’s a critical part of the experience.

Creating something for VR is less of a technical problem than

Continue reading "TechCrunch VR Post"

My Launch Scale Talk

A few folks have emailed requesting this so I wanted to post Launch Scale talk I gave a few weeks back. I hear official videos are coming soon so will update this with that link when they are published.  Enjoy!

Mast Mobile

Mast Countdown, NYC It’s a proud moment to see Mast Mobile launch today. Mast is a mobile communication platform that makes employees more productive and saves businesses time and money by replacing the need for desktop phones. It does this all by being built into the core mobile carrier network, yeah, the cell phone towers themselves, so it can work with any mobile device including iPhones, Android, and anything else you can throw at it. I co-founded Mast prior to joining DFJ, and today my role is as the non-executive Chairman of the Board. Mast Mobile got off the ground because of an amazing group of co-founders: David Messenger and Peter Lurie, both with prior experience from Virgin Mobile, Sprint, American Express, as well as one of the best technology leaders I’ve ever had a chance to work with, David Dawson formerly from Microsoft.  They are the dream leaders for this business
Continue reading "Mast Mobile"

Launch

Today I gave a talk at the Launch Scale conference which was a lot of fun.  Check it out!

Control

This week I’ll be on stage at Mobile Future Forward to talk about the “New Waves of Innovation” given the Connected Intelligence era we are entering. While I’m excited about engaging in this important conversation, I wanted to share an observation I’m having as I prepare for the conference. Control over software distribution has never been so tightly restricted in the history of commercial computing. This is deeply troubling for a number of reasons, but I am hopeful for a change in this trend. If we take a step back to the early 1980s, we can recall a wave of commercial computing where Microsoft possessed an incredible position of power over software distribution. However, Microsoft did not have unilateral control given the architecture of the time – client applications with no network connectivity. This meant that physical retail, direct sales, and bundling partnerships were all viable healthy distribution channels for
Continue reading "Control"

Part 2 of 2: Should you build for the Apple Watch platform?

It was no coincidence that I shared the framework I use to evaluate new platforms at the same time as the Apple Watch was announced last month. My intent was to set the wheels in motion and ask the question that product teams, CEOs and VCs are now facing on the eve of its availability: What version of the Apple Watch should I get? Should we prioritize building an Apple Watch app?

My informed answer is yes.

How did I get informed? First was through holding the Apple Watch and experimenting with the UX in a private demo. I was further influenced by discussing a friend’s perspective after he wore the Watch daily for a few weeks, and hearing how it changed his behavior in a short time. Apple is going to sell a lot of watches and people are going to enjoy using them.

Let’s revisit my platform analysis framework question by question

Watch
16585696370_8b9e0e2905_k
2566992664_977268ded8_b
Continue reading "Part 2 of 2: Should you build for the Apple Watch platform?"

Twin Prime

Today I’m thrilled to announce my fourth investment, Twin Prime, is launching.  I vividly remember first hearing about Twin Prime from my friend Semil Shah. Shortly thereafter I asked one of Twin Prime’s early investors, Rohit Sharma, out to coffee to learn more.  Over coffee with Rohit, I found out that one of my old friends, Om Malik, led Twin Prime’s seed round. Here I was, already very excited about Twin Prime before I even persuaded founders Kartik Chandrayana and Satish Raghunath to meet with me.

As the founders explained their insights on last mile mobile acceleration I knew I wanted to be part of their extended team. I could tell they both possess the key characteristics DFJ looks for in entrepreneurs. First and foremost, Kartik and Satish are those special types of founders that combine domain expertise (both have PhD’s in Computer Networking from RPI), deep professional networks (they worked at Cisco and Juniper), and passion to build an iconic company (bringing great company builders around them such as Anand Rajaraman and Venky Harinarayan at Miliwave Labs as well as Rajiv Khemani at Moment Ventures in addition to Om & Rohit). Secondly, and just as important, they had a brilliant insight around mobile data acceleration that improves the mobile experience for consumers, businesses and network owners. I intuitively knew everyone who had a mobile device would eventually benefit from Kartik and Satish’s approach.  

Okay, okay I also really liked the name Twin Prime. :)

As a former Product Manager for Mobile at Facebook, I experienced what happens to product and business metrics when performance lags – they go the wrong way!  More viscerally, as an end user, I am frustrated by intermittently slow mobile apps in a way I’d never felt on my laptop.  As I reflected on the fact that a vast majority of Internet consumption was shifting to mobile devices with wireless data connections, I knew there was a huge opportunity for Twin Prime.  I’ll spare everyone the geeky details and focus on the most important thing to know: 

Twin Prime makes mobile apps fast.  Everywhere.  

If you have a mobile app try Twin Prime and thank me later. 


Part 1 of 2: Should you build for the Apple Watch platform?

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nwinton/3057095782

In anticipation of the Apple Watch launch, many are considering whether to make a bet on the new platform. Will it be another Apple home run product with significant new platform opportunity, or not? This is part one of a two part series with my take on that question.

Over the years I’ve been using a framework to evaluate new platforms based on my observations from working at Facebook and Microsoft, two companies responsible for creating, managing, and at times, mismanaging great platforms. The framework involves three factors and associated questions:

  1. Technology enablement – Can something be done that wasn’t possible or easy to do before?
  2. Distribution – How does the platform help you gain new users and engage existing users?
  3. Business model – Does the platform provider have a clear business model that you can align with to sustainably share in the value created?

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/maphutha/1303854829

 Technology Enablement

Technology enablement has been the historic core focus of companies building software platforms. Microsoft’s DOS and Windows are two examples of platform design driven by technologists on both the build and the buy sides. Historically, APIs, tools, documentation and compatibility were the focus of the platform owner because that is what technologists cared about. As computing became more mainstream, technology enablement shifted to table stakes for creating a valuable platform. This was further accelerated when open source platforms such as Linux, MySQL, and others extracted no value for using their technology. Adding GPS to smartphones, to give you my favorite example of technology enablement, has spawned multiple new killer applications, like Waze and Uber, that weren’t previously possible.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eogez/4493167721

Distribution

For technologists this was often the least obvious factor to evaluate, but as any entrepreneur will tell you, “they will NOT come if you build it”. Over time as distribution (nee Marketing) has primarily moved to digital channels, ownership of customers has shifted to the platform owners instead of traditional intermediaries like retailers, wholesalers, etc. Prior to this disintermediation, platform owners offered co-marketing, referrals, default placement and financial incentives as the key forms of distribution given the complex value chain. After this disintermediation, Facebook and Apple took these concepts to new levels of scale with Newsfeed, Notifications, and the App Store, as central features within their platforms. Generalizing beyond these examples infers that platforms with direct customer relationships can offer structural distribution, such as access to friend lists and address books, or they can offer surrounding distribution such as merchandising in an app store.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/factoryjoe/34148922/>

Business Model

One of the biggest risks for app developers is that the underlying platform will subsume their app’s functionality into the core platform. Newer platforms, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, introduced another version of this risk with their shifting

Continue reading "Part 1 of 2: Should you build for the Apple Watch platform?"

The Three Skills of a Great PM

TL;DR: Good and Great PMs differentiate themselves by focusing on improving the rate of various aspects in product development. Good PMs improve rate of execution and rate experimentation. Great PMs also improve the rate of idea validation. 

Recently a few founders I work with wanted to discuss what a product person does and how to tell a good one from a great one. After thinking through it I decided to share what I’d come to believe makes a good vs. great PM after time at Facebook, Microsoft and my own (mostly failed) startups. More importantly, I’m very curious to hear how others identify great PMs.

5142145393_48a8baa876_bSkill One: Rate of Execution

Fundamentally, a PM helps a company more quickly define, build and launch new products. Entry level PMs start off by writing specs, triaging bugs / issues and helping project manage, with engineering management, specific releases. More experienced PMs take responsibility for successfully launching new products which requires coordination and decision making across a wide constituency such as executives, marketing, legal, finance, etc all while never letting the product’s soul be compromised. While every company has its own specific approach to product development a skilled PMs ensures that every successive release happens faster with better results.

This is really hard and the number of PMs that can do this is surprising small given the number of people with PM titles. Why is it hard? Because often the key to becoming faster involves changing the way things are done in areas a PM has no authority over. Specifically, sometimes it can mean changing composition of the engineering team and others times it means persuading various stakeholders that the plan is the right one so work doesn’t have to be redone. It can even mean getting the CEO to change his mind or even just flat out telling the CEO “no”.

Not surprisingly it is often not until a PM has had 5-10 years of experience building & shipping products that they can reliably accomplish this level of performance. In a startup this is the minimum level of competence that should be hired as an individual contributor PM. Needless to say when evaluating PMs measuring their impact on rate of execution of their team is critical.

4393914288_68c10a576c_oSkill Two: Rate of Experimentation

With software product delivery happening continuously via the web it has become critical for the product development process to include rapid experimentation to validate assumptions & features before committing resources necessary to launch them. PMs start building this skill by learning the mechanics of experimentation that includes multi-variant testing and how to construct good experiments. Experienced PMs shift their focus to increasing the throughput of experiments their company can run as well

libtech
Continue reading "The Three Skills of a Great PM"

3 Types of Notifications

https://www.flickr.com/photos/postmemes/14876404921/in/photolist-oEzsU2-6ySueJ-6yNpCp-o5SmJA-9aqABV-awo33u-4UHdYz-9AM9vi-yP8Ni-4UHeiF-9QWcmV-9atiAk-9fpeaj-9fyWAN-8iXQ5k-9fvP22-9fyWzJ-a69WFk-68thin-9n4wdv-aVrJBr-7XiLD3-7aXSx1-7xk83j-bVShhj-6s3Lk3-efr8xX-dFCvDi-fLur7b-a5CpcV-dTaciK-gYy1G4-btt8yn-6YwU6j-fieNMs-6TACCc-77WX54-6UCabD-7tKmy9-fqgG5K-b2Kmn6-fGJdaU-74ySFz-6U4jSe-efr9pK-efr8Vn-7zZWk2-efqUmD-efqTvD-6FNCt1/

Photo credit: Post Memes via Flickr

Talking with founders is one of my favorite parts of being an early stage investor. Recently a founder casually mentioned there were three types of push notifications. I pounced on the comment as I had thought the same thing independently and was I excited to hear someone else’s definitions. Turns out we were in completely different places: the founder was thinking about notification technology while I was thinking notification use cases.

The three technical types she outlined were push, local, and in-app. In reviewing the iOS dev docs, one could also frame three as badge, message, and sound. The reality is that on either dominant mobile platform, notifications have a lot of unexplored potential in terms of tech and UX.  And as the sophistication of notifications design grows in support of user engagement (not new user growth as is commonly discussed) the need for specific language to analyze the different types of notifications grows since not all of them are made equal!

With that in mind I’m going to enumerate the key notification use cases given their importance to mobile application design, engagement, and growth. Personally, I’ve come to believe there are three common types of use cases for notifications*: (1) user-generated, (2) context generated, and  (3) system generated. Diving into each a bit more:

  1. User-generated notifications: These notifications contain content created by a human using the app to other humans. Generally, these are the most engaging but especially so when the content they contain is private and directed to specific people. Mobile messaging is the highest volume example of this type of notification but other examples include comments / likes / favorites on posted content or @ mentions. My current favorite example of this notification is getting a new photo of my son from my wife.
  2. Context-generated notifications. These notifications are generated by an application based on the permission of its users. This is the fast growing category of notifications because the amount of machine readable data mobile devices create: location, contacts, calendars, and much much more. The norms around context-generated notifications are still be worked out between developers and users. Location-based notifications currently dominate this category but other examples include information about your next meeting (time relevance) or updates about your favorite sports teams (interest relevance). My current favorite example of this notification is when I get notified there is a designer nearby via Highlight (disclosure: I’m an investor there).
  3. System-generated notifications. These notifications are generated by an app based on the needs of the app. This type of notification can usually be called re-engagement at best or spam at worst.  Sometimes these can create value for the end user like letting you know a friend has started
    Continue reading "3 Types of Notifications"

Kiwi

Getting to use Facebook for work, while I was part of the company for five years, was hard to top but I found a way – playing mobile games is now part of my DFJ job description.

I’m thrilled to share my third investment for DFJ and my first out of our eleventh fund, into Kiwi’s Series B led by Northgate Capital.  Kiwi is an AAA mobile gaming company co-founded by Omar Siddiqui and Shvetank Jain and initially funded by Omar Hamoui and Sequoia Capital. This team is one of the rare Android-first developers that have gotten five of their titles into the top twenty-five grossing of the Google Play Store. You can read more about Kiwi’s Series B funding here, here and here.

Now, as has become a bit of a personal tradition, I’d like to share the story behind my investment into Kiwi.

Since joining DFJ just over a year ago I’ve been talking about the large opportunities available on Android.  As a result I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the most exciting Android-first focused startups that are pushing the mobile experience further than most folks in the Silicon Valley think is possible. Nevertheless, I had trouble finding right team, concept and investment opportunity to get behind and wasn’t sure if I’d find the right Android-first company.

It turns out, sometimes as an investor, you have to be found instead of doing the finding.  Lucky for me Omar Siddiqui found some of my blog posts about Android so he asked for an introduction via our mutual friend Matt Wyndowe.  Even though Matt spells his last name so wildly, he is anything but wild when it comes to making introductions. He is one of the most thoughtful super nodes I know!

In our first conversation, Omar captured my imagination with his vision for building an amazing Android-first company focused on AAA games and distribution. As I spent more time with him and the team I started to learn new things about mobile gaming and Android that floored me.  Especially around how Android distribution and monetization were working in the wild.  The scale of Kiwi along with the number of Android product experiments they’d made was astounding.  Just as importantly, Omar and I had a very natural communication rhythm that led to several deeply engaging conversations around the future of Android and mobile in general that profoundly affected my thinking. Needless to say, I quickly knew I wanted to invest.

The only rub with investing was that Kiwi already had an incredibly strong investment syndicate with Northgate committed to leading the Series B with participation of Sequoia and Omar Hamoui (the founder of Admob) who led the Series A and

Continue reading "Kiwi"

Thoughts on the Amazon Fire Phone

Benedict Evans has a thoughtful post up on the Amazon Fire phone. I agree it is going to be a fascinating first experiment to see how an Android fork without Google Mobile Services (GMS) fares outside of China and a while back wrote about other ways to compete with GMS. Ben also raises a great question around how any company’s motivation to build an Android fork that does not run GMS can be at odds with consumers needs and desires for a phone. It is worth quoting his point directly before going further:

“All of this takes us to the elemental question – why, exactly, are you forking Android? What important problem do you solve that’s worth reinventing the wheel, while taking on the risk of building on someone else’s platform, open-source or not? Why are you asking people to buy a phone with second-rate maps and a second-rate app store? Are you offering them something you couldn’t otherwise do in return, or just addressing your own strategic concerns? Are you solving a user problem or your own problem?”

This certainly got my attention given my experience leading Android products at Facebook. Let’s list out most likely motivations driving Amazon, and any other company, when they decide to fork Android:

  • Lock-in current ecosystem customers;
  • Capture a valuable data asset for Maps, App Stores & more;
  • Long term market pressures on Google and Apple to innovate.

What follows below is how these three motivations address both Amazon’s and consumers’ problems. The rub, however, is the number of consumers who face problems starts off small but grows dramatically over time. In writing this, I’ll make a very conservative assumption that Fire Phone will attach to 5% Amazon Prime users, who are the most loyal to the company, in the first 3 years in the market.  Amazon has never released the total Prime subscriber count but recent articles suggest it is at least 20 million (holy crap, Amazon has a $2 billion dollar subscription service).  Lets look at why Amazon would invest so many of its resources to build a phone for just 1 million customers and how many customers it could ultimately impact.

In the near term, current Amazon customers are delighted by amazing end-to-end scenarios across Amazon’s web, tablet, TV, Kindle and now, finally, smartphones. Their digital content works seamlessly across all of their experiences.  This is the Apple “vertical playbook” that has created hundreds of billions of value. However, Amazon is attaching a very different business model to this vertical play by approaching the hardware as near zero margin business*.

This means, in the near term, Amazon will view success of Fire Phone not in total units sold, but

Continue reading "Thoughts on the Amazon Fire Phone"

The Three Phases Of Mobile Advertising

We all know mobile advertising is big today and will only get bigger (read Mary Meeker’s internet trends if you need to be convinced). As consumer time continues to shift to mobile devices, more dollars will shift to mobile advertising. While mobile ad spend lags behind today, it will eventually catch up and surpass desktop and television if you believe, like I do, that Facebook’s 59% of Q1’14 earnings from mobile are the bellwether. Best of all, this rising tide will only get higher as mobile ads evolve in their format and targeting abilities.

Because of all of the above I view the mobile advertising landscape as having three distinct phases:

Phase I (before my time to 2012)

 

  • Traditional IAB units shrunk to fit inside a small screen, resulting in a bad user experience
  • Targeting mobile ads was difficult because every app was its own silo with no cookies, re-targeting
  • Incentivized advertising dominated because of volume of installs they could drive and the nascent understanding in app purchasing

Phase II (2012 to 2015)

  • Native ads took off with a better user experience, but largely the same content and goals as previous ad formats
  • Targeting improved to match levels of web-based ad targeting (including cookie equivalents, re-targeting, and real-time bidding).
  • Facebook — and soon, others — created world class self service ad tools to attract large amounts of direct marketing / user acquisition marketing spend.

Phase III (2016 to beyond)

  • A class of mobile-only advertising units such as sponsored push notifications, try before you buy app previews, and other to-be-determined formats emerge and take off.
  • Mobile-only targeting data where the data mined originates from our device sources, such as current location, current apps installed, calendar, and address book data deliver massive value to marketers.
  • All the big players (Facebook, Alibaba, Yandex, etc) make piles of money through direct monetization and via mature ad networks that share 90% of revenue with publishers.

So, where are we today, mid-way through 2014? I believe we are firmly into Phase II and starting to see some evidence that Phase III is ~24 months out. As an investor, I am trying to find key opportunities around products that will support large businesses once Phase III is in full swing. Like the web, large communities of users and communication applications are the early winners, but there will be more variety as mobile devices grow and our time spent on them increase.  Can you think of others? If you have ideas in this area, of course, please drop me a line.

Note: Tomorrow I’m on a panel talking about Mobile Native Ads at Grow.co so decided to prep for the discussion by blogging my current thoughts on Mobile advertising. Feedback

Continue reading "The Three Phases Of Mobile Advertising"

Silicon Valley Is Underinvested In Android

I know what you’re thinking…”Oh, it’s Bubba again, blogging about Android.” There he goes again….But, it’s true. The Silicon Valley ecosystem, as a whole, is wholly underinvested in Android. In fact there even seems to be a rising sentiment that building on top of Android is a poor strategy.  There are a probably many reasons for this but here are a few reasons that seem particularly large.

First, the number of folks in the Bay Area startup and technology scene with Android devices as primary phones seems to be inversely proportional to the worldwide distribution of Android. How will we all be able to build for a platform we don’t natively use? Yes, many of us will adapt quickly if forced, but technology is a speed game — will other regions already steeped in the ins and outs of Android development and distribution beat us at our own game? It’s possible. Just look at the messaging giants spreading across Asia and the Pacific.

Second, the intellectual horsepower and curiosity in the Bay Area toward mobile is incredibly rich and varied. Yet, the majority of this attention is focused on iOS. I understand why, all the hot consumer apps start on Apple’s platform. But, one side effect of this is that we aren’t able to form equally deep opinions on Android as a platform, or its forks, or apps on top of each. We are more than prepared for the next iterations inside iOS and advancements to the iPhone hardware, yet we don’t seem to have a similar level of curiosity and exploration for the Android platform. Every now and then, a mobile startup will survive long enough to go “cross-platform,” and those teams get to experience the wondrous joy of Android (it ain’t easy, folks!), but those are often isolated experiences.

I believe most mobile observers and investors would have a difficult time trying to name 10 Android-first or Android-only startups in Silicon Valley. How is it possible that so few of these exist, and how is the next mobile unicorn going to be created if we don’t have large numbers of experiments running on Android? It’s cliche to say “we are living in a very special time,” but…we are! Look at all the new platforms emerging around us — virtual reality software (like Oculus VR and Morpheus), the Bitcoin protocol, drones, 3-D printing, and more. Android is one of these platforms, and perhaps one of the biggest in terms of size, reach, and potential market value.

Android is literally a freight train, an unstoppable force and a computing platform that will only increase in power. To that end, I want to see and fund the true Android-first startups out

Continue reading "Silicon Valley Is Underinvested In Android"

Bear Hugging Android

From a consumer perspective, a mobile operating system has to offer certain experiences to be considered a viable option. Many of the challengers to iOS & Android have painfully learned this. The most important mobile services are maps and app stores, so consumers can use these devices to navigate, search around them based on location, and to leverage all of the sensors and capacities of the phone. Beyond these, there are also a variety of secondary and tertiary mobile services including communication, games, media, cloud backup, and more. All of these have one thing in common, however: they are massive web services at their core.

Controlling the critical mobile operating system services creates outsized value for companies — independent of who owns the underlying platform. Google arguably has the biggest advantage through its Google Mobile Services (GMS) suite which are anchored by Maps & the Play Store. On Android it uses this advantage to require inclusion of secondary and tertiary Google services as well as to dictate product design requirements in its interest in exchange for giving partners a license to the core GMS suite. This is a tremendous leverage except for places like China, where there has been a proliferation of alternatives for key mobile operating system services.

While there have been a handful of investments in new mobile operating systems (startups such as CyanogenMod and Xiaomi which are based on Android while Windows Phone, Firefox OS and Tizen have all been built from scratch by large companies), there hasn’t been as much focus on competing with GMS. It is hard to imagine a startup viably competing with Google’s offering in maps or app store. Larger companies such as Amazon, Yandex & Microsoft (with Nokia), are starting to do this, but it’s very expensive to directly compete in these core mobile operating system services.

For a while I’ve been curious if there were other ways to compete with GMS but never found anything convincing. That is, until Facebook bought Whatsapp. I’ll get the disclaimer out of the way: I own Facebook stock, I’m a former Facebook employee, and I’m a current happy user of Facebook.

Back to Whatsapp and Facebook…it turns out that a great way to compete with GMS is not to compete head on with Google, but to control other critical points of the mobile operating system experience. With the shift to over the top communication apps a new critical mobile operating system service is emerging. Specifically, Facebook is now in a position to offer a preload of “Facebook Mobile Services” (FMS) that includes Whatsapp, Instagram, Paper, Messenger, and other Facebook apps and services. Combined, these apps represent an emerging mobile communication suite that is so

Continue reading "Bear Hugging Android"

The Mobile SDK Crunch

A few weeks ago, at InContext (organized by DFJ portfolio company Everything.me) in San Francisco, I participated on a VC funding panel discussing trends in mobile apps, contextual experiences, and the market for investing in mobile apps. Toward the end of the panel I blurted out the phrase “The SDK Crunch”, which made it to Twitter and started to spread. Yay, another mobile catch phrase!  Just kidding.  However, I’ve been thinking about this a lot since then because of the number of mobile startups I’m seeing that require an SDK and partly because of my time at Facebook, a company which has one of the most widely used mobile SDKs. 

Let’s briefly unpack the term SDK: By definition, an SDK is how applications can integrate functionality from another app or service.  There can be several ways apps can integrate with third parties but the most prevalent, on mobile, involves including code libraries from third parties into your app. The other common way is through APIs that don’t require third party code to be included in your app, but does require the you to understand the third party’s offerings intimately & keep in sync with their development roadmap.

Mobile platforms — iOS specifically — introduced new challenges with respect to application integrations because there’s no way for an app to provide an API to another app on Apple’s platform. This is the case because Apple optimized for protecting user’s security, battery life, and a host of other reasons, but from an interoperability standpoint, the architecture is constraining. Additionally, because of the velocity of app development and iteration, more and more supporting infrastructure, such as a/b testing & push notifications, is powered by third parties. This has resulted in two things: (1) application integration through web services, which require the device to use more data while also being beholden to a 3rd party’s uptime; and (2) the explosion of SDKs that rely on inclusion of a code library being used on mobile platforms.

Houston, we have a problem.

The best analogy I can think of here is a mixed drink. It’s pretty hard to make a bad drink if you only mix one or two ingredients: Gin and Tonic, Rum and Coke, Vodka Martinis, and so forth. As one adds more ingredients to a drink, the more likely it is to end badly for the drink itself (in the case of a Bourbon Treat) or for the drinker in the case of a Long Island Iced Tea.

Wagering a guess, I’d say the average mobile app on iOS contains at least seven (7) third party code libraries: analytics (often multiple), ad serving (networks, meditation, offerwalls, video,

Continue reading "The Mobile SDK Crunch"