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Thoughts about seed startups and their mobile app decisions

Over the weekend I read my friend Antonio Rodriguez’s post about the challenges of creating mobile apps in lean startups

Antonio points out that’s is much harder for a seed funded company to build mobile apps today than startups that had only been focused on the web just a few years back:

“During the 2005 "everyone loves AJAX” era when I started Tabblo, front-end engineering meant Firefox2/Safari2 and the dreaded IE6 challenges of making the DOM dance. Today if you are working on any semi-interesting service you are also likely to want to support iPhone OS 3.x/4 out of the gate, Android 2.X, and likely also the iPad (which though it now carries the iOS 4.2 moniker actually tends to require a ground up rewrite). So what was a 1 man effort in 2005 is now a 2-3 man job at minimum. And every entrepreneur who I meet who tells me they can outsource this is fooling themselves in much the same way that the MBAs who claim they can outsource technology do.“

It’s quite true. It’s much easier to create a web service with your seed capital than trying to build for iPhone, Android, iPads and a web site at the same time. I also agree that outsourcing your mobile app isn’t my favorite approach by any means. 

I wrote about Tumblr’s low burn rate in the early days of the company. It was just two people working on the site for a long time. And in those days, David and Marco didn’t have to spend any time/resources on creating and supporting Android, iOS and Blackberry. They just worked on the website. 

Svpply took the same path for their initial release. They raised a small seed round and focused their energy on the web site with their launch. 

Other lean startups started by launching an iOS app first. A good example is Instagram. They don’t have a web offering and they don’t have an Android app yet. 

I think the key with all of these examples is that they are focused. They are not trying to boil the ocean. They are making a decision on their product, their user experience and they are executing against that plan. In many ways, raising less than $1MM of seed capital brings constraints. Embracing those constraints can be a good thing. 

So it’s true. It’s is a difficult, expenseive and complicated path these days with all of the various mobile platform considerations. But if you have a modest amount of capital in the bank, I would not let this confuse you. Your app may be best suited for a mobile first experience or it may not be.

You need to make an active decision and then make it happen.