mobilized: An Insider's Guide to the Business and Future of Connected Technology - S.C. Moatti (2016)

Introduction. Experiencing the Mobile Revolution Firsthand

Mobile has eaten the world.2,3

It’s a technology that has greater power than most of the technologies that came before it. What’s more, its power is only going to grow stronger, its reach into our lives deeper.

In this book, I am going to explain how mobile came to be, what makes the best mobile products, and how these factors influence the present and future of the industry.

To begin, let’s talk about where mobile gets its power and how I became interested in it.

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Most of us have a fairly simple way to keep technology at bay when we want to distance ourselves from it: we walk away. We leave the office or factory at the end of the workday, we turn off the computer, we switch off the TV. . . .

But what of mobile products? Do we walk away from them the way we disconnect from most technology?

We hope we can simply turn off our smartphones, but very few of us do. In fact, statistics show that two people out of three place their mobile devices on the nightstand next to their bed.4 It’s the last thing we put down before we go to sleep and the first thing we check when we wake up.

We’re not being forced to sleep with our mobile devices within arm’s reach. We want to do it. We don’t want to be separated from it. It’s become what’s called a sticky technology, where we’ve formed such a strong attachment to our mobile devices that our use of them is an ongoing, almost unconscious habit.

What if instead of a smartphone, our favorite mobile device was a watch? An earpiece? A pair of contact lenses? A smart patch? A smart pill? A digital nerve ending? As mobile devices shrink, they get more and more integrated into everyday objects around us and more and more deeply embedded within us.

The mobile revolution isn’t simply a technological invention from which we can disconnect at any time. We can’t disengage from the air we breathe or from the feet that carry us. Similarly, in today’s world we can’t disconnect from our mobile products.

Our mobile products are new extensions of ourselves.5 What we should expect from them is what we wish for ourselves: an attractive body, a meaningful life, and becoming smarter about the things that count. This is the foundation behind successful mobile products.

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To begin, let me tell you how I got involved in mobile and how my views about it were shaped.

For most of my professional life, I’ve helped companies become mobile. I’ve launched and monetized mobile products that are used by billions of people.

In 2007, I was part of a team of Stanford graduates who joined the incubation labs of Nokia. When it came to mobile, Nokia was the undisputed market leader. Our mission was to build a service that helped users discover information about an object or a location simply by pointing their phone at it. Within less than two years, our team grew from 3 to more than 70 people. Millions of customers downloaded our app. The press gave us some really nice reviews.

Soon, it reached the top 1 percent of the app store and received coveted industry awards, including an International Digital Emmy nomination and WSJ Innovator runner-up.6 In fact, it was so successful that Nokia decided to preinstall it on every one of its smartphones. It was a big deal for our small team.

At the time, two out of every five smartphones were sold by Nokia. The company was so successful at it, in fact, that several of its competitors, mobile manufacturers like Samsung and Motorola, were headed toward bankruptcy. Meanwhile, recognizing the implications of Nokia’s success, a few Silicon Valley staples were radically changing their strategy to become mobile.

This was really exciting, but at first I didn’t get it. Why would blue chips like Apple and Google put their entire business at risk to enter a market that was so quickly consolidating?

I wanted to find the answer, so I embarked on a journey to understand how companies and people would become successful in this new mobile age. How would mobile start-ups make their mark in a world ruled by giant phone manufacturers and operators that strictly controlled access to their online content and services? What would happen when incumbents placed their bets and consolidated? And more importantly, what did that mean for me, you, and all our friends and colleagues? How would the mobile revolution affect our careers and our lives?

I looked for a formula that would help me navigate the mobile revolution. To my disappointment, I found none. Successful mobile insiders guarded their successes and secrets, and although I uncovered books, white papers, and blog posts, they at best only scratched the surface.7 There was no guide for making sense of the burgeoning mobile industry.

In 2010, I left Nokia and started my own mobile company. I worked days and nights with an awesome team of pioneers in our tiny office in SoMa, the start-up neighborhood of San Francisco. We set out to build a product that would capture mobile’s essence, one that would connect people and be super-contextual and personalized.

We came up with a few ideas that fit these criteria and, after some trial and error, decided on one: dating. We then refined the idea, figuring that the best way to meet someone is to be set up by friends. So we developed the product to match friends of friends who were nearby one another and whom we thought could be a romantic match.

Soon after we launched, we found a passionate group of loyal users. On our mobile app, they could browse through thousands (eventually hundreds of thousands) of profiles and ask their friends for an opinion. It was simple and fun. It was hyper-personal and safe at the same time. We kept tweaking the experience based on what people liked.

We raised money from some of the smartest Silicon Valley insiders and piqued the interest of Facebook, the social networking giant. They liked the way we thought of mobile and offered to bring us in to help them figure out what they could make of the mobile revolution. We sold the company. I joined Facebook.

At Facebook, I worked with very bright and ambitious people to try and keep up with the company’s exponential growth. They brought me in because of my experience building a mobile start-up, but the nature of the work at Facebook was completely different from what we did at a start-up. At my previous job, we were trying to discover what people would actually do with mobile. At Facebook, we knew what users wanted; our job was just to keep up with the incredible rise of the social network as it branched into mobile.

I loved the work we were doing at Facebook, but I decided to leave when Trulia, the real estate marketplace, offered me the opportunity to head up its rentals division. I found myself surprised again at how different this experience was from my previous ones, even though we were yet again driving the mobile revolution. Trulia’s founder asked me to join precisely because of my work at both a mobile start-up and a hyper-growth company. But instead of developing our mobile product, my team and I focused most of our time and effort increasing mobile revenue and consolidating our projects to reduce cost.

In 2015, I was invited to serve on the board of directors of Opera Software, the global mobile browser and advertising network. I remembered the company as a market leader providing high-performing mobile browsers to Nokia and other phone manufacturers. When smartphones became mainstream, Opera completely reinvented itself. In only a few years, it became a market leader providing mobile video advertising across more than one billion mobile phones globally.

Despite my experience in several tech companies, I still could not wrap my head around the mobile revolution. Organizations big and small were rushing into it without thinking much about the consequences. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs were excited about using mobile to create new business models without much consideration for the impact it might have on society. Corporate America was in a hurry to launch apps at any cost without thinking about how mobile could be a source of additional revenue. Governments eagerly anticipated access to massive amounts of data that could help prevent terrorism without considering how it would limit citizens’ freedoms.

It all felt random, and no one seemed to be defining the formula for mobile success. What was the nature of mobile and the essence of its impact on our lives? Beyond features and functions, business models and money, what was our vision for the mobile revolution?

I looked for insights from friends and colleagues, trying to uncover the rules behind great mobile products. I sought to identify the commonalities between the most successful ones and understand what the others were doing differently. In addition to managers and coworkers I had worked with at Facebook, Nokia, Opera, and Trulia, I spoke with executives at mobile pioneers, including Apple, Amazon, Airbnb, Google, Instagram, GreenOwl, Lyft, MyFitnessPal, Pandora, Slack, Tinder, Uber, Viber, Yelp, Andreessen Horowitz, Autodesk, and others.

In 2013, I began blogging about what I learned at www.ProductsThatCount.com, and my essays were syndicated to such other sites as the Harvard Business Review and the Huffington Post. Soon, readers began sending me their own case studies, perspectives, and questions.

These years of experience and research finally resulted in the creation of the Mobile Formula, a set of three all-encompassing rules behind exceptional mobile products. The Mobile Formula is the backbone of this book.

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Mobilized is for anyone who wants to participate in the mobile revolution, from recent college graduates to working professionals, serial entrepreneurs, and corporate leaders. Whether you have your own mobile start-up, work at a hyper-growth company, have a job at an established corporation, or are between projects, you will learn how to apply the Mobile Formula to your own circumstances. In the process, you will help build a more connected world by being a better-informed participant in the mobile revolution.

This book is also for anyone interested in cutting-edge technology, innovative marketing, artificial intelligence (AI), and how these and related fields intersect with human psychology, economics, and social movements. Mobile is an entrenched part of your life already (if not, it soon will be); this book will provide an insider’s perspective into how that occurred.

I realize mobilized might seem like a book on technology, but really it’s a book about us humans. Of course, we’re going to look at technology and what makes for great mobile products. But if you only study the technology, you’ll end up with an incomplete picture.

Why? Because the best mobile products are based on human-first principles. Great mobile products don’t look inward, focusing soley on churning 1s and 0s; rather, they look out at the world and the people in it. Mobile doesn’t rob us of our humanity; it amplifies it.

The Mobile Formula is about us, humans, and what matters to us. So in addition to the Facebooks and Ubers of the world, we’re also going to look at such forward-thinking individuals as mathematician Pythagoras, author Leo Tolstoy, philosopher Martin Heidegger, and statesman Nelson Mandela to see how they went about finding answers to life’s big questions.

Here is what lies ahead:

image Chapter 1 talks about how the mobile revolution is transforming the business world on all levels—technologically, economically, strategically, even culturally.

image Chapters 23, and 4 describe the three components of the Mobile Formula. They look in detail at what the most successful companies are doing with mobile, and how mobile replicates human behavior and amplifies human experience.

image Chapter 5 examines how the Mobile Formula applies to past and current mobile products, and how we can use it to predict what future mobile products will do.

Throughout the book, I apply the Mobile Formula to case studies of companies that joined the mobile revolution—how they did it and how you can, too.

As you’re reading, you’ll find many references to Facebook. That’s not just because much of what Facebook is doing in mobile is laudable, or because the mobile revolution is mostly about software, less about hardware. It’s also because, since I worked there, I know how we made our choices. I’m not trying to push Facebook or their choices on you, though. In fact, I write about the intriguing choices made by several other Silicon Valley companies, including Airbnb and Pandora. All these familiar players are a big part of the evolving mobile story.

The Mobile Formula works in organizations of any size and ambition. But the specifics vary a lot, and this book provides ways to understand them and tailor them to your own situation. As you read, make notes about the specific aspects of your situation that require particular attention, and how the Mobile Formula could be applied to them.

At the beginning of each chapter, I provide a brief summary of the content to follow. I half-kiddingly title the boxes by the old Internet acronym TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read), but they are meant to set the stage for what you are about to read rather than give you an excuse not to read it!

At the end of each chapter, you’ll find some key take-aways to focus on. Review them alone, discuss them with your team, and share them with your network. If you have questions, I’m here to help.