Back during the crazy days of 2010 I was fortunate enough to work at one of the hottest mobile shops in the country – Übermind in Seattle. Business was not just booming, it was insane. A company that had existed at a low level (head-count wise) for 10 years boomed from 30 to 180 people in approximately a year and a half before being acquired by the consulting wing of Deloitte and assimilated into their global head count of over 160,000.
If companies had slowly started thinking about apps in 2008, they were absolutely freaking out about them by 2010. To say we had to turn business down was an understatement. My talented co-workers turned around apps for the biggest companies in the world in a matter of weeks but we weren’t allowed to talk about the majority of them.
At that time major companies did not have the in house resources to produce apps but they did have the money and the desire so we did amazingly well for a time. Not unlike the early days of the web, I had a feeling these companies would eventually be able to build up their own resources and as 2011 came to a close it was already starting to happen. Many of these teams were simply small shops like ours that were acquired and brought under the mega-corp umbrella (Small Society etc).
As the independent shops were locked up one by one the app stores reached unheard of numbers of apps and the saturation point made it harder and harder for a small team to make an impression. I remember the first time I saw EA drop all their app prices to .99 and take over the entire best seller list for games on iOS one weekend. And it’s only gotten worse since then.
It’s Getting Serious Y’all
From now on success is going to take more focus, more time and more money. With average app prices steadily moving lower and the freemium pricing model decimating the gaming industry it’s daunting even thinking about releasing a successful app. It’s time as an industry to realize things have changed and we’ve lived through an amazing transition but building real businesses now is going to take a lot more work.
Startups who released a new app in 2 months are going to need to figure out a strategy that extends beyond a single platform into an entire ecosystem like Evernote, Dropbox, and others. Novelty apps are dead or dying and the “I have a great app idea” people will soon be moving on to something else.
As for my former colleagues at Übermind they are now pitching against the biggest consulting firms in the world as Deloitte Digital and there is no doubt the field has grown fiercely competitive.
Mobile as Mainstream
Mobile is now mainstream and every major corporation in the country has an app strategy and is furiously revising their IT infrastructure to allow personal iPads and other devices into the fold.
I’m incredibly thankful that I got to experience this wild ride. I missed the first bubble but co-workers who lived through it said our parties almost matched theirs – something that should perk the ears of any tech worker.
We had a lot of fun and that spirit of changing the world was like electricity in the air. But those days are mostly over, and the industry is reaching maturity. Pretty soon mobile will be as exciting as Sharepoint and Oracle implementations, in fact it’s closer than most people even want to think.
Back to the basics
Now in late 2012 as the dust is finally settling its time to get back to the basics by building a company that provides value to the customer. Support all platforms, have a real revenue plan, and build a real marketing department. Mobile devices have opened up amazing new opportunities but as the devices reach a saturation point, the businesses that will last are the ones that realize some things never change, even when everything does.