When it comes to any business, success boils down to the decisions you make. Sound decisions help you grow. Bad decisions hold you back. The stakes can be even higher with startups, as limited resources demand even tighter focus and fewer opportunities for do-overs.
As a young startup launching a cloud-based platform called Clio, we needed to select which mobile client(s) to support and decided to skip the Research In Motion BlackBerry. Opting not to develop a BlackBerry app hardly sounds like a tough decision today. However, this was 2007 and the mobile landscape was a vastly different place. There was Palm and no Android; the first Apple iPhone had just emerged on the scene; and BlackBerry was leading the pack with 44.5% of the U.S. PDA market as of Q1 2008.
Furthermore, our startup creates Web-based practice management tools for the law industry, which even today is considered to be one of the last hold-outs where BlackBerry dominates.
Certainly, there were technical issues at play in our decision. Research in Motion may have had a five-year head start on Apple, but they failed to build out a developer community and made the BlackBerry platform too complex for third-party developers. For end-users, navigating web-based applications on the BlackBerry browser was cumbersome at best.
The stodgy nature of BlackBerry stood in stark contrast to the iPhone’s fresh design and incredibly intuitive touch-based user interface. The iPhone was and is exactly what good technology should look and feel like.
The Clio Mobile App for iPhone offered a beautiful, dead-simple design that put a lawyer’s entire practice right at their fingertips. We were able to get a proof-of-concept Web app for iPhone working in less than a week, whereas a similar app for BlackBerry would have taken at least two months to build. With our limited development and engineering resources, we decided to launch Clio Mobile without BlackBerry support.
So there we were, in 2007, launching a legal Web-services tool without a BlackBerry app. During that first year, there were outcries from BlackBerry users – when were we going to develop a Clio for BlackBerry? Then it got quieter. 2009 marked the turning point when the calls from BlackBerry supporters became fewer and far between. Since then, we’ve rolled out apps for iPhone, iPad and Android.
“Play where the puck is going to be”
As a Canadian company, it’s practically in our DNA to quote Wayne Gretzky. The Great One once summed up the secret to strategic decision making when he said: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
When the iPhone first went on sale in June 2007, AT&T reported that more iPhones were sold in that first weekend than they had sold in the first month of any other wireless device in their entire history.
We believed that the incredible reception of the iPhone foretold its future success. Granted, the people who spent the night waiting in line outside Apple stores in sleeping bags and folding chairs represented the small minority of the early adopting tech crowd. However, if you want to see what the mainstream public will be using tomorrow consider what the local tech circles are using today.
Our solutions cater to legal professionals, but at the end of the day, lawyers are no different than other consumers. They’re attracted to beautifully-designed products and will opt for devices that make their working lives easier.
Know your customers
Understanding where our target audience fits in the technology adoption curve helped us realize we shouldn’t expend any resources on BlackBerry. The legal field is notoriously slow to embrace new technology – for lawyers, faxing is still a common communication method, after all. However, as a cloud computing provider, we’re already catering toward the bleeding-edge of the law industry.
The early adopters of the legal world who embrace the cloud are most likely the very same people ready to toss their BlackBerries aside the first chance they get. If we’re building a product geared toward the early adopters, we need to make sure we stay ahead of the curve in all facets of the design and marketing process.
Furthermore, our solutions target small practices and solo lawyers rather than law firms. These smaller businesses are far more agile when it comes to deploying a new technology platform. There’s no lengthy procurement process. A small firm can decide to use an iPhone or Android phone without all the red tape of their larger counterparts. Therefore, it goes to follow that Clio customers will more quickly gravitate to better technologies like iPhone and Android.
Scan the broader market trends
While change may move at a faster pace with smaller companies, large enterprises will eventually catch up. This appears to be the case with BlackBerry. A 2011 survey found that more than 30 percent of BlackBerry users in large enterprises (those with greater than 10,000 employees) expect to migrate to a different platform within the next year.
The main reason behind this major reduction in market-share? A lack of user satisfaction. The report also noted that employees are increasingly using their own mobile devices for business purposes, making end user satisfaction all the more critical.
As long as they prove useful, employees will continue to bring their personal tools to work, whether an IT manager likes it or not. That’s the driving force behind the consumerization of IT phenomenon.
Just as we looked at the long lines of enthusiastic consumers waiting to get their hands on an iPhone back in 2007, software companies catering to enterprise organizations would serve themselves well to keep a close eye on developing trends in the small to mid-size market.
Guest post written by Jack Newton