Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mobile app user retention is hard. Why?

With Fred Wilson's post titled What Has Changed today there have been lot of discussions around shifting landscape of VC funds to enterprise from consumer space.  Wilson's points were 1) that consumer space has matured over last several years with well established platforms, such as Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, etc., therefore it's difficult to find a service that is not provided by the platforms and 2) that it is very challenging to have active user base who continue to use the service on the mobile environment.  These two points are causing VC funds to shift to enterprise.

After reading the post, I saw Cristina Cordova's post highlighting the difficulties in building and sustaining monthly active users (MAU) on mobile.  She sited SocialCam, Viddy, Draw Something and Path as the examples of difficulties for startups to sustain the growth while maintaining the active user base.

Mobile app user retention seems really hard.  Why?

It's because of two reasons in my view: 
  1. "My friends are not on it" problem
  2. The app does not simplify the life of the user

Most mobile apps have user adoption problem.  People are not adopting the apps.  Most of the time mobile users including myself think of mobile app as Kleenex.  It's a purpose built UX for getting something done on the go.

If I look at the mobile apps that I use and friends around me use, I see two main themes.  First is communicating with friends.  This is a hard problem to solve if the app doesn't have a network where my friends are on already.  Many apps are creating their own network without clear strategy to leverage existing networks or to build that critical user base.  The apps that I cannot use to share with my friends have limited utility.  The reason why Kakao Talk was a smashing success among Korean users was mostly because they solved this problem.

Kakao Talk CEO Sirgoo Lee at the recent press conference
announcing music and electronic book shop next year

Second is simplifying the life.  There are too much noise as is in our lives as is.  I don't open a new mobile app unless it simplifies something a great deal.  Zite is one example that I use (I cannot think of too many.  Many mobile apps on my iPhone have not "retained" me...).  It simplifies my life by surfacing the content that I will mostly likely be interested in from multiple sources.  It saves my time from having to scan Google News, LinkedIn News, and Hacker News.  Although I do scan these sites on my laptop, it simplifies these steps somewhat.

I think there are many other reasons.  Care to share yours with the rest of us?


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