Last Saturday I joined Shaherose Charania, CEO of Women 2.0 and her team at the offices of Heruko in San Francisco to take part in a life changing experience called “Founders Lab Mobile Edition”.
Founders Lab, is available for both men and women who wish to build a high growth mobile venture from the ground up. Participants are screened for their expertise in three fields, engineering, design and business development.
This years group of 18 broke into five teams working five days a week, for five weeks to produce 5 viable mobile products. All this work gets done outside of normal office hours, permitting participants to keep their day jobs. The first week was brilliantly structured allowing the group to settle in, get to know one another and learn in context about the mobile eco system. We heard from many luminaries from the mobile start up world.
Lars Kamp, from Accenture, whom I could listen to forever, made it clear that part of our mission was to find a sustainable business model. He explained that if it costs 100k to ask an agency to build a mobile application and you get $1 per unit revenue, to break even you have to sell 100,000 applications. Mobile applications alone are not a business model because the loyalty and retention falls within 180 days. Lars advice was to find a way to get money outside of just user sign up. So here was our challenge how to engage and retain users?
The answer to user retention came from another mentor Jessica Livingston She suggested that you start with a problem that people can’t live without and be prepared to see it change. The popular photo sharing site Flickr, for example, started out as a massive online multi player game with photos as a small feature. Users responded to the small photo feature and Flickr was born. By listening to users and their feedback, they will give you what you need to shape the service.
Eric Ries also encouraged us to look to our users. He spoke about the process of learning to Pivot and measure the product for its value to customers. Read my blog post at Women 2.0 for the full article.
Once the advisers had left for the day, there we were, 18 strangers with little more than butcher block paper, a few pens and a passion to build the dream of making it work. Shaherose set us short get to know interviews and idea generation exercises so we had an opportunity to listen, learn and interact with everyone in the group.
Within four days, five teams had formed and product ideas were being discussed. I had seen so many people I wanted to work with, I was not forward about asking, I just trusted the process of synergy. My intention was to learn from others current in the mobile industry and support them with my experience as a user experience design expert.
When I received an email from an engineer with over 30 apps to his credit and a senior director in product management from a mobile browsing company asking me to join their team, I shed a tear of gratitude into my Cappuccino at Cafe Barrone. Aware my former bosses boss, ex CTO at Yahoo! and now head of his own start up, was holding court only tables away, a strange feeling came over me, maybe, just maybe, the dream of doing a start up in the valley could be part of my reality.