Web vs. Mobile: A Startup’s Best Platform – by Mijbel AlQattan

I started advising* a client recently on a new startup idea that revolved around creating an online platform to serve the Kuwaiti community. The product is still in the concept stage, and our discussions were focused on developing the hypotheses for the value being delivered, identifying the customers, and choosing the channels to capture these customers and deliver our solution.

Inevitably, we talked about web vs. mobile, and deciding whether we should focus our efforts on launching an iOS/Android app or building a website. For reference, according to Nielsen Mobile Insights, smart phone penetration in Kuwait was 56% as of September 2011. Meanwhile, Business Monitor International estimates broadband penetration at 14.5% as of December 2011. However, it must be remembered that, on average, multiple users are on a single broadband connection, so the disparity is not that wide. Nonetheless, mobile internet usage is growing, and customers will probably want to use this platform in particular on their phone rather than their computer.

However, while we expect the majority of the customers to be mobile users, I felt that we should develop a web version first and foremost, albeit a mobile friendly one. The reasoning was two-fold:

  1. I wanted to develop an Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that fits both sets of potential customers, and gain insight from into the channel by testing the product.
  2. I can design and *deploy* a web MVP over a weekend, while an app would take much longer.

After the meeting, I found excellent blog posts by Fred Wilson and Vibhu Norby about the same subject that validated our platform of choice for even more compelling reasons. As Fred puts it:

“Distribution is much harder on mobile than web and we see a lot of mobile first startups getting stuck in the transition from successful product to large user base. strong product market fit is no longer enough to get to a large user base. you need to master the “download app, use app, keep using app, put it on your home screen” flow and that is a hard one to master.”

The “download, use, keep using, put on homescreen” cycle is going to be tough in early stages as the product is untried. What compounds the difficulty is that this would be an initial, incomplete and buggy MVP. User ratings will naturally suffer, which will send our growth into a further negative spiral. A web based solution solves these issues, especially one with a good landing page.

Vibhu also points out the ease of onboarding using the web:

“You have an entirely different onboarding story on the web. You can test easily, cheaply, and fast enough to make a difference on the web. You can fix a critical bug that crashes your app on load 15 minutes after discovery (See Circa). You can show 10 different landing pages and decide in real-time which one is working the best for a particular user. You can also close a viral loop: A user can click an email and immediately be using your app with you. You can’t put parameters on a download link and people don’t download apps from their computer to their phone.”

Split tests, iterative improvements and data gathering are all critical to validating our customer hypotheses. Performing those on an app is difficult, with approval cycles and time between user updates. Testing and refining on the web is much quicker and easier.

However, as Fred points out, we cannot ignore the mobile user. They are too important, especially at this stage and for this particular business model. Hence, a mobile-friendly web platform is where we are starting.

*For those who are unaware as this is only my second post here, I’m a partner at Cubical Services where we offer advisory and incubation services to startups and traditional small businesses.

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6 Comments

  1. Great post buddy, keep it coming

    Reply
  2. Great post Mijbel, thanks! 🙂

    Reply
  3. mijbel

     /  December 10, 2012

    Thanks folks.

    Reply
  4. Hoque

     /  December 10, 2012

    Nice post.

    Reply
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