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Startups, listen up: No, you don’t need an app

It seems like everyone who’s starting a business nowadays wants an app. They want to go mobile first and launch an app — maybe just on one platform too. Because, you know, that’s how you launch a lean startup right?

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“I want it to be like Uber crossed with AirBnB” or “the way Instagram launched on only one platform.” If you’re thinking about your app in this way, you’re doing it all wrong.

Going mobile-first only makes sense in a couple of situations where (a) your users need to use you on the move or (b) if the service requires a camera or something that is integrated into a phone. In most other cases, there is very little utility in it being your primary platform.

That’s the best way to decide if you need an app. Utility. Look at where people are primarily going to need your service. When will it provide them the most value? Are they at home? Are they at work? We spend 90% of our time at one of those two locations and both of them generally have computers and internet.

What’s the benefit that your service needs to get from being mobile, or on a mobile? If you can’t answer that question, then you’re probably better off starting with a website or a web app and not launching with a native app right away.

Another way to think about it is to look at how your users are going to look for or use your service when they need it. If they need it multiple times a day or if it’s use case means they’re not at home or work, then an app probably makes sense. That’s the kind of thing you’re going to search for in an app store. But if their first response is to Google for a solution then you’re better off having an SEO friendly website. You’re unlikely to be discovered amongst the thousands of other apps unless they’re really looking for you. If you’re stuck in an app store and your users are looking for you on Google, then you’re missing a huge opportunity. It rarely happens the other way around.

So next time you are thinking of launching mobile-first try and look at it from your user’s perspective and not the latest tech blog. Often what’s sexy isn’t effective and startups are all about focus and growth. Most times launching with only an app is not the most effective way to do it either.

This article first appeared on Roger Norton’s blog titled “No, you don’t need an app”. It was republished with the author’s permission. Image by Jason Howie via Flickr

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