Build Your Boat Now Before The Mobile Tsunami Washes You Away

The wave is coming. Like a tsunami that starts miles off shore, unnoticeable to the human eye in the middle of the ocean but gradually builds up speed and power as it gets closer to land, a mobile tidal wave is most definitely building. And it’s forming right in front of our very eyes.

You may have noticed people aren’t looking up very much anymore. No, when you see a person nowadays they are most likely looking down at their hand. Next time you are on public transportation, in a restaurant, at the mall or any other pubic (or private) place, take your eyes off your device and just watch people. It will blow you away how often people look at their mobile devices.

So as I was doing some recent market research I came across quite possibly the most staggering collection of mobile usage and commerce statistics in the world. It’s well worth your review if you want to know where the world is going. Since it takes quite a while to swim through I have pulled out some of the most impressive stats and wrapped them into a conversation about the mobile web. Spoiler alert: You’re gonna get wet!

6 Billion Mobile Devices

There are approximately 5.9 billion mobile subscribers, which is roughly 87 percent of the world population. Mobile subscriptions outnumber fixed lines 5-to-1. Also, there are now 1.2 billion mobile Web users worldwide, based on the latest stats for active mobile-broadband subscriptions. Did you notice the ratio difference between mobile subscribers and mobile web users? It is easy to see why the experts predict that mobile Web usage will overtake PC-based Web usage very soon and why it would be a good idea to have a real mobile strategy.

Many of those mobile Web users are mobile-only, meaning they do not, or very rarely use a desktop, laptop or tablet to access the Web. Even in the US 25 percent of mobile Web users are mobile-only. In mature markets, the mobile Web will be a leading technology for business to consumer (B2C) mobile applications and should be part of every organization’s business strategy. If you are a merchant or a local business you need to pay attention and build that dang boat, a figurative term for your mobile site and interactive mobile experience utilizing an app, mobile browser or text.

8 Trillion Text Messages

Speaking of text messaging. Over 8 trillion text messages were sent in 2011, overtaking voice minutes and making it the worlds most popular mobile communication medium. We have yet to see the biggest impact SMS and messaging will have on our society. A2P, application to person SMS, is expected to overtake person to person SMS in 2016. A2P messaging includes messages between applications and customers in financial services, advertising, marketing, business administration, ticketing, television voting, and other automated systems. This nascent market should not be overlooked – by 2016 A2P messaging is estimated being worth more than $70 billion.

Global expenditure on mobile advertising was approximately $3.6 billion in 2009, and is estimated to grow to $38 billion in 2015 and the worldwide mobile messaging market will reach $334.7 billion by 2015. For any businesses this is significant or a number of reasons, namely to identify the most cost effective platforms to utilize in their mobile commerce.  People respond differently to different types of mobile marketing, proven by studies in the UK and France, where they found opt-in SMS gets the best results, and in Germany mobile Web ads got the best results.  It seems time sensitive special offers or discounts (especially mobile coupons) were most likely to lead to a purchase.

$1 Trillion of Mobile Payments

Most significant will be the transformation in how we use our mobile devices in everyday commerce. Mobile ad spend worldwide is predicted to sky rocket to $20.6 billion in 2015, driven by search ads and local ads. A logical evolution for mobile search is towards mobile transactions. Once the connection has been established through the mobile device, brands can build up much more detailed profiles of users compared to online and plan follow-up campaigns accordingly. In 2009, there were 81.3 million people worldwide using their mobile device to make payments and it is estimated by the end of 2014, this is forecasted to rise to nearly 490 million. Mobile transactions will drastically change our society. The market for paying by mobile device could be well over $1 trillion by 2015.  Simply put, that is HUGE!

Now we know a flood is coming so let’s go back to thinking about your boat. If you were building an actual boat, would it be smart to build only to float in salt water? Probably not. Then why are we building systems and business only for specific devices and operating systems? If you follow that logic you will definitely drown when the tidal wave hits since 95 percent of the worldwide mobile device market is not an Apple.  It would be best to build your boat – a mobile-optimized web experience – looking beyond a single device to maximize reach.  Do it and you will surely rise with the tide.

@jnickhughes

Anyone Promoting NFC Is Fighting The Right Battle With The Wrong Weapon

Using NFC (Near Field Communication) to pay for something is not much different than swiping your credit card on a terminal.

Anyone fighting the battle to improve payments will agree it’s an all-out war against the decades old practice of using plastic cards and a centuries old tradition of paper and coins.  These payment methods are so ingrained in our everyday life we hold on to our wallets like our lives depend on it.  So how are we going to transition into the cashless society everyone keeps talking about?

Enter NFC, or Near Field Communication, which can be loosely described  as chips built into our mobile devices that transfer information to another device when  placed at a specific distance from a reader.  Some think this is the future of mobile payments, and some don’t.  I think ReadWriteWeb’s Dan Rowinski says it best:

 From a technological perspective, near field communications (NFC) is one of the most powerful and prominent innovations to come about in the last several years. But from a functional, real world standpoint, NFC is a technology without a clear-cut purpose. What problems does it actually solve? When it comes payments, how much different is a tap with your smartphone than a swipe of your debit card? What about the ability to open doors or share content with your friends? There are solutions already available on mobile devices for many of these “problems.” So, what is the real future for NFC?

Even before I put my gear on, saddled up my horse and rode it directly in the middle of the mobile payments battlefield I questioned NFC as the next big thing in payments.  Why?  Because using NFC to pay for something is not much different than swiping your credit card on a terminal.  Although there is more to the technology, like the ability to include services and software in the payment experience, I believe it is not fundamentally going to change the payment industry for a number of reasons.

Problem 1: Hardware Requirement In Phones

Your ability to swipe your phone and pay for something (via NFC) is dependent first and foremost on you having an NFC enabled device.  This is determined by an NFC chip placed inside your mobile phone when it was assembled.   The majority of phones on the planet carried by most people are not NFC enabled.  Although millions of phones will be shipped this year with an NFC chip inside, it will pale in comparison to the number of phones currently being used that lack the technology.  The mobile device you hold in your hand should not qualify you to purchase a product.

Just as SMS texting technology has nothing to do with your specific device, your ability to pay via your mobile device should not rest on the fact that you are “NFC” enabled.  In fact, what if SMS technology was not just for messaging between friends and family but actually carried a transaction between two parties – be it friends or customers/merchants?  More than 8 trillion text messages were sent around the world last year and those were pretty much all words between people.  It will be interesting to see how a communications technology that is already prevalent and widely used around the world can be leveraged for quick payments.  It’s would be adopted a lot quicker than a technology that will take at least three to five years to get traction and requires a big investment in hardware by merchants.

Problem 2: Hardware Requirement For Merchants

The second biggest requirement for an NFC transaction to work is the merchant must have an NFC enabled terminal so you can swipe your phone.  Expecting consumers to purchase new mobile phone hardware every 2 or 3 years is not too much to ask, but thinking merchants are going to upgrade their point of sale terminals to enable NFC mobile payments is outrageous.  Being on the front lines of servicing local merchants, I personally know these proprietors will do almost anything to not have to spend money upgrading their payment terminals.

And since technology is moving so fast these days the hardware that comes out this year will be ancient in a few short years.  So what are businesses supposed to do then?  Not accept mobile transactions anymore?  Requiring local business owners to upgrade their terminals every couple of years is a losing proposition.

Like anything, the answer is not more hardware but better software.  That is why even though PayPal is experimenting with NFC in some capacity moving forward, the company ultimately believes that the technology is a step backward when it comes to point-of-sale transactions.  Web enabled software connecting customers to merchants for communication and transaction is what will win the battle for mobile payments.  The solution that eventually goes deep into “main street America” will not depend on any new hardware that needs to be replaced every few years, but will leverage existing technologies and networks already in place and which are cost effective to both merchants and consumers.

Problem 3: Your Physical Presence is  STILL Required

Something I am not sure most have thought about when considering the payment experience is the concept of presence.  Many NFC supporters will talk about the security of NFC, meaning it’s safer because you have to be there and swipe to make transaction, similar to how most credit cards work today.  Although that is true, unfortunately this does not make the payments industry any more efficient than it already is.  Even when using a “new” technology like NFC, physical presence is still a requirement.  The point of a new transaction experience is to replace a wallet full of cards, not create new cards or re-create the card present experience.

What happens if I want to pay for something like tickets to an event, a dinner I want delivered to my house, or my rent due every month for my apartment?  Based on the requirements of Google Wallet and NFC, I have to do what I have done for the last 20 years and actually be present to use the payment technology, or call and read them my credit card numbers.

Even Erick Schonfeld agrees: “Waving a card (or phone, for that matter) over a reader is not a huge improvement in ease or convenience to simply swiping a credit card. Credit cards work. More importantly, people know how they work. They are not going to stop swiping and start waving without some incentive to do so.”

At Seconds, we believe the future of payments will be found in your ability to make payments regardless of your physical presence.  That is why we are very excited about our Pay by Text technology, we see a whole new world of payments when you disassociate proximity from transaction.

Whatever happens in war for mobile payments one thing is for sure, the battlefield will see many warriors and the ultimate winner will own a very large territory.

@jnickhughes

Here’s Google’s Homepage 1999 vs. 2012. Can You Tell The Difference?

Today’s design lesson:  Don’t change what’s working.  Here are two screenshots of Google’s homepage; one from May 1999 and one from January 2012.  See much difference?

1999

2012

May 1999 was almost 13 years ago!  The web has changed dramatically since then, yet Google’s search experience hasn’t.  This is a huge lesson for anyone looking to get traction.  One of the most difficult aspects of brining a product to market is user education – meaning after they hear about your product how easily do they start using it.  It’s important because when a user knows how to use a product or service they will tell others about it.

If they can’t use it, they won’t tell anyone.  It’s that simple.

Google has done many thing correctly, but arguably the best was to design their user interface so anyone could use it.  I bet your Grandma knows how to use Google.  I bet your child knows as well.

Can you say that about your web or mobile service?  Are you making it as easy as possible to use your product?

Want Hyper Hockey Stick Growth? You Must First Endure The Blade

We all love to talk about the companies experiencing massive user growth in a short period of time, generally referred to as hockey stick growth.  Twitter experienced it.  Facebook saw it happen.  Of course Google did as well.  All great companies at one time went from a small unknown startup with no users to a well known company with a massive user base.

A few startups currently experiencing meteoric hockey stick growth are Instagram and Tumblr, incidentally interviewed at a recent Techcrunch Disrupt about managing hockey stick growth.

As fascinating as the hockey stick growth can be, something intriguing happens immediately before the growth period.   Not talked about because it’s not as sexy, Something must be happening before the massive uptick in usage or the uptick wouldn’t happen at all.

So what is it?

I call it the blade.  As you can see, the hockey stick on the right has a flat section (the blade), an angle (the inflection point), and the  rising handle (growth phase).  The blade is the most critical point for any startup because if they get over it alive they move on to the crazy hockey stick growth phase.

Although the Techcrunch Disrupt interview is great and both founders offer a number of insights as to what its like to go through the insane hockey stick growth periods, they don’t really talk about the blade.  My guess is because it’s not as exciting as hockey stick growth.  In fact, it’s tough.  So tough it will make or break a startup.

Blades Require Heat

When referring about a hockey stick, deciding on a blade may be one of the most important decisions a hockey player can make.  The makeup of a hockey stick blade will determine how durable it is and how much stress it can withstand.  A blade — the bottom portion of a hockey stick that may be curved or straight — can help determine the way a player is able to control a hockey puck.  Wood blades today are frequently covered with a composite material, such as Kevlar. Kevlar is a strong, fiber substance that is designed to be used in high stress situations.

Being made of composite, hockey stick blades are malleable and can be shaped to a players advantage.  All it takes is heat.  When a player heats a blade, they can curve it and shape it to their liking.

As if you didn’t know… startups are situations of ridiculously high stress and immense pressure.  It’s almost like you sign up saying ”let’s see how hot it can actually get.”  As part of a startup, you are trying to create the most with the least amount of money, which leads to tremendous financial heat.  You feel heat trying to force the product down people’s throats, working towards product market fit. The pressure is on to prove a specific customer for your product before time runs out.  Lots of late nights, pivots, redesigns and tough conversations will create friction and heat amongst the team.

The blade period – the period of time after launch but before massive usage growth – is one of the most challenging times a team can go through.  Yet, therein lies the test.  The blade test for a startup team involves a number of points: to observe reality that the product is not an overnight hit, listen to feedback, watch available usage metrics, identify what is working and what isn’t, agree on changes to be made, make the changes, reposition the product, polish the messaging and many many others.

The key is to do all this without losing your mind and going crazy.

This situation is extremely difficult for a young team to get through, and that is why most startups don’t make it.  Failed startups don’t ever get to the position of hockey stick growth because they could manage the heat on the blade.   It’s like a right of passage. Show me a (successful) company that did not get over the blade.  The only way to get from launch to hockey stick growth is to get through the heat and over the blade.

Blades Are Short

If done correctly, the blade is just a phase in the life of the company; the shorter, the better.  Flat growth actually shouldn’t last very long if the founders are quick to make needed adjustments to the product, positioning, messaging, and user acquisition strategies.  When great products hit the market, people take notice and users are attracted.

It may be all relative, but some startups only last a few months on the blade, some last years.  Most are somewhere in between.  What does it take to get off the blade?  As I was researching about hockey stick growth, I found this article about the internet and how it finally hit hockey stick growth.  Interesting to note:

The Internet served an important role for a limited number of users, but it had serious barriers to entry. It displayed its messages in monochrome text; no color, no pictures. The Internet had to become pretty and easy. Lessons to be learned include that ease of use, attractive displays, entertainment value, cost-effectiveness, and genuinely new utility are the keys to type-one hockey stick growth.

The goal is to shorten the blade and reach inflection as soon as possible.  Notice how the above statement clearly illustrates the internet grew quickly once it became easy to use, was cost effective, entertaining and useful (of course this is referring to the world wide web.)  These characteristics are  what every startup is searching for in their product.

A lot of the blade comes from not knowing what to change, but a few major points come to mind.  Correct positioning in the market will allow for your product to actually be found by the right audience.  Finding the correct messaging will help the right people/customers to understand your value proposition and start using your product.  As your user base grows, features that help current users share your product will lead to new users.  And the correct distribution model will aide all other aspects and amplify growth.  As these are fairly general, it is for the fact that each action will be unique to your specific offering.

Not to be overlooked, part of putting yourself in the right position for hyper growth is building the right team.  It’s not about hiring, it’s about finding the right talent.  The correct people in the right positions at the right time will only help to shorten the blade and get a startup to hyper growth.

Blades are Remembered

Although any founder or early employee will tell you growth is what they are looking for, the times on the blade is are always the ones the remember the most.   Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO recalls the early days when they almost didn’t make it…. many times over in his book Delivering Happiness.  It’s a great read for any startup founder or early employee, as he re-lives all the challenging (and fun) times Zappos endured.  You can almost feel the sharpness and heat of the blade they got over.

Microsoft co-founder and fellow Seattle resident Paul Allen spends the majority of his book recalling the Early days of Microsoft, the struggles and challenges they faced on the blade.  I was not aware of all the times he and Bill were scared, feeling little hope for the future of their company.  Can you imagine Paul Allen or Bill Gates fretting over $100?  But… we all know the rest of the story.  I’m just glad they went through it at one time in their life as well!

So the blade is a fact of startup life.  The only questions are: how much heat can you take?  What will you do to shorten it so you can get on with growing your company?  And what crazy stories will you be telling when you do make it over the blade?

@jnickhughes

Groupon, Google, Ebay or Amazon: Who Will Win The Local Market?

No doubt he local space is heating up.  We are starting to see an all out war and currently there are 4 major players lining up their guns and taking aim on the local marketplace.

Groupon recently went public on the Nasdaq and is the undisputed king of daily deals, creating a new movement in local commerce known as the group coupon.  Yet things are not all rosy as they also created quite a bit of controversy as they approached the finish line.  Their numbers are greatly scrutinized  and they can’t seem to shake questions regarding the validity and sustainability of their current model.  Groupon no doubt made a significant splash in the local space, but do they have what it takes to transform our daily consumer lifestyle?

Google’s eyes have been on the local economy ever since they realized a critical mass of searches are local in origin.  Early on they knew local was a goldmine, the tough part has been designing products which bridge the gap between local consumer and local merchant in a way that adds value for both.  Google Places, HotPot, the purchase of Zagat, the failed acquisition of Groupon, and now Google Offers are all attempts to make a play on the local marketplace.  But to date it is hard to argue they have made any significant progress in solving the local market conundrum.  Will they do it?

EBay, the buyer/seller marketplace who has lingered on the outskirts of the web for more than a decade (and hinged earnings on a payment platform) looks to be emerging as a solid player in the local marketplace.  The combination of a number of acquisitions have placed them in a drivers seat helping power the next generation of location specific platforms.  Milo, Magento, Zong and Where all offer unique value propositions that when grouped together create a strong combination – and a strong competitor to the Googles and Amazons of the world.  This is one to watch…

The king of worldwide online commerce is Amazon, and I guarantee they their sights are set on the last mile of the web – the local market.  Their $175 million investment in LivingSocial seem a lot like a “look and feel” investment as they watch how the landscape is taking shape.  Make no mistake, the leader in worldwide e-commerce would love to be the worldwide leader in local commerce as well.  The question is, do they know how to do it in the way the everyday consumer will appreciate?

Ultimately, it is nearly impossible to predict who will eventually win out in the local market.   Remember, Google was late to the search party…

Another valid question is: will any of these major players hit the home run or will a new, tremendously different but effective startup with a better combination of commerce and communications transform our everyday consumer experience?

Share your thoughts in the comments.