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Does Mobile = Money and Desktop = Road Kill?

Travel Startup Road KillThis is a guest article from Drew Myers.

So, you’re building a new travel technology startup. Do you build for desktop or mobile?

Mobile is the future, without a doubt. Don’t listen to me; take the word of Rich Barton and Bill Gurley at the GeekWire Summit. Yet, often times, mobile is a secondary consideration for founders working on new products.

I spoke with a technical co-founder abroad (outside of the travel industry) about a week ago. He is several weeks away from releasing his beta offering, which is absolutely a mobile use case, in my opinion. Yet, when I asked him, “what is your beta offering designed for?” His response was “desktop.”

Matt Zito picked up on the same issue at the Eye for Eye Distribution Summit he recently attended, and shared it as one of his takeaways in his last blog post:

2. Mobile is the future yet hardly anyone in the audience is investing in mobile for their travel companies. This didn’t make much sense.

The obvious question — Why?

I’ve been thinking constantly about this lately, particularly since it’s one of the mistakes we made with Oh Hey World in the very beginning. There are a few things at play here.

1. SMART phone adoption abroad isn’t what it is in the United States. 

In regional terms, only North America will boast average smartphone penetration rates above 50% in 2013 among mobile users, as Canada crosses the 50% mark this year. Western Europe as a whole will cross that boundary in 2014. *Source eMarketer

This is significant for two reasons. Both you and your target customers don’t get the mobile lifestyle. Mobile is a two-sided marketplace. You have to have supply and demand and, at least abroad, there is neither at scale. That will change over the next few years though.

Which leads me to point #2…

2. As an entrepreneur, it’s unnatural to build something for a lifestyle you don’t understand.

As I mentioned, I made this same mistake 12 months ago, designing and building the first version of Oh Hey World for desktop instead of mobile. Why? Well, the travel addict I am, I had been off traveling for two and a half years and wasn’t truly “living” in the mobile world even though I had an iPhone since 2008. Why would I design for a use case I didn’t truly understand? Well, I wouldn’t. And I didn’t.

For anyone who doesn’t live their life from the palm of your hand, it’s incredibly hard to choose to build a product for people who do. How will you build an amazing product that’s intuitive for someone living a life you don’t understand? Well, I will tell you, the chances aren’t in your favor. :)

3. Design and Development = Greater Time and Cost vs. Desktop.

It’s certainly more costly and time consuming to build and iterate a mobile product than a desktop offering. To nail mobile, you have to build native iOS, Android, and mobile web. You have to keep all three of these versions in line going forward. The biggest issue with going mobile is actually the available real estate you have to work with. Or lack thereof. A small screen forces you to “cut” everything in the user experience that’s non-essential. It forces better design. So, of course, it’s easier and quicker to build for desktop and put everything under the sun on the page. But, as you’ve often heard, less is more.

Mobile or Desktop?

It’s clear. We’re transitioning to a mobile world, and those who don’t focus on mobile will be left in the dust.

How can foreign travel technology entrepreneurs crush it in the travel industry? To maximize chances of success, go live in the United States (or London) for 6 months, understand the lifestyle in which everything can be done directly from your phone, then go build a mobile offering for your home market ahead of the curve.

I can assure you — the mobile phenomenon is real, even if it hasn’t reached your own country. There will be multi-billion dollar mobile companies built abroad that no one has even imagined yet. Will yours be one of them?

Drew is the co-founder of Oh Hey World. Global nomad originating in Seattle. Ex-Zillow community builder. Social Entrepreneur. Microfinance advocate. Travel addict. Find him on Twitter @drewmeyers.

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