Posts from mobile

App Streaming

We’ve talked a lot here at AVC over the years about the difference between web and mobile and the pain points around mobile web and getting users to download your native app and the challenges of dealing with all of this stuff. Deep linking and app constellations are part of the solution but the mobile environment remains a far cry from the web where you could follow links all day long and never need to download anything.

Google, which has a strategic interest in making mobile more like the web, is working on something called App Streaming which allows a user to get the benefit of a native app experience without having to download the app. Here’s a blog post that talks about how all of this works.

This is still pretty experimental but I think its an important tool for companies who are struggling to grow users/usage on mobile.

I started writing about deep linking in mobile apps in mid 2012 and it took many companies, including Apple and Google, two to three years to implement deep linking in a way that makes it truly ubiquitous to users.

I hope it won’t take as long for app streaming to come to market and get adopted by the mobile operating systems and app developers. The more we can do to make the mobile experience web-like the better in my view.

Feature Friday: Google Now Stories

The Google Now app has slowly but surely become one of the most used apps on my phone. I use it to keep track of my favorite sports teams, stock prices, weather, travel times to my meetings, and, most importantly, stories I want to read. I have never told Google Now what I want to read about but using all that Google knows about me, and that is quite a bit, Google Now always has something interesting to read for me.

This morning there were roughly twenty story cards in my Google Now feed. They are an eclectic mix of stuff. This screenshot from my phone shows a small sample of them.

google now stories

I like the user experience of swiping the stories out of my feed after I’ve read them or if I don’t want to read them. I can also leave them in my feed to “read later” by not swiping them away.

I also like the “is this card useful” question that you see in the screenshot above. I’m not sure what causes that prompt but I always answer it because I know it’s making Google smarter about me.

I’ve tried many news apps over the years. None of them have ever stuck for me. Google Now stories has stuck. It’s really good.

Going Offline

Our 60+ portfolio companies have meetups among themselves more 50x a year. These meetings are part of something we call the USV Network. They also have peer mentoring services and a large number of vibrant slack channels. The idea is to get them sharing information with each other in a networked model versus relying on the USV team to provide the information flow. We still do that, of course, but its not the primary way that information flows around our portfolio. We believe in the power of networks and we try to use them in our business as much as as we can.

Last week in one of the meetups, the subject of international expansion and the lack of reliable (and expensive) mobile data in certain regions came up. A number of our portfolio companies have found that providing offline functionality in their mobile app improves app usage and adoption in parts of the world where mobile data is less reliable and more expensive.

This makes total sense but it was not obvious to many of our portfolio companies and it was not obvious to me either. Which is why I am passing this tip onto all of you. If you have a mobile app  that is doing well in the more developed regions of the world but is struggling in the less developed regions, think about going offline. That might help.

The Mobile Downturn (continued)

I wrote this “mobile downturn” post 18 months ago. It rings more true today than when I wrote it.

Some friends emailed me about investing in a mobile consumer startup last week and my reply to them included this line:

doing anything in the consumer mobile space these days is super hard. i can’t think of many consumer facing mobile apps that have gained massive traction and sustained it in the past three years. can you?
I saw this post this morning in my news feed. It goes over all the reasons why it is so hard to break out in mobile. We’ve been through all of these reasons ad nauseam here for years and years. This is not a new thing. But this chart from that post certainly sums up the challenge:
power law curve

So if you want to launch a new consumer mobile app, what do you do? The best answer I have heard to that question came at breakfast yesterday with an entrepreneur. He said he plans to build mobile web experiences that can go viral and build adoption of his product and use that as a funnel to drive adoption, over time, to his native apps. I’ve seen that work.

But even so, it’s not an easy time to build consumer facing mobile companies. It is not an easy time to invest in them either.

In our first fund that we invested from 2004 to 2007, 57% of our investments were in broad horizontal consumer facing companies. This was pre-mobile so many did not have a mobile app when we invested. But all of them that are still around are predominantly mobile companies today. That percentage declined to 45% in the fund we invested from 2008 to 2011, and further declined to 30% in the fund we invested from 2012 to 2014. In the fund we are investing now, which is about 75% invested, that percentage stands at 35%, a bit of an uptick, largely because we’ve gone a bit later in our consumer facing strategy and have largely limited our investments in consumer facing businesses to ones that have strong product market fit.

The funny thing about all of this is that I don’t see any shortage of entrepreneurs walking into our offices with plans to build and launch consumer facing mobile apps. While the odds are increasingly against them, hope springs eternal it seems.

Feature Friday: Etsy Shop Updates

Our portfolio company Etsy launched a super cool feature called Shop Updates a few weeks ago that I would like to talk about today.

Etsy sellers have always been great marketers. They bring buyers to their shops on Etsy in a myriad of ways. I remember back in the early days seeing Etsy sellers promoting their shops face to face at craft fairs. They still do that, of course, and much more.

Social networks are an obvious place for sellers to reach new buyers and Etsy sellers are all over them. But it hasn’t been that easy for a seller to be creative on social networks. Posting a link to their shop on facebook, or tweeting or pinning their latest item is fine. But doing that over and over quickly gets boring for everyone.

Enter Shop Updates. They allow a seller to take photos of their items in the real world and share them on social networks and into the Etsy mobile apps with links back to their shops and item pages.

An example will be illustrative.

Glittery Moon Vintage has this porcelain vase for sale on Etsy.

porcelain vase

She can post that image to facebook, pinterest, twitter, and instagram and get buyers to come and take a look.

But with Shop Updates, she can take a picture of that vase in the real world and post it to facebook or some other social net.

vase on fb

My favorite thing about this feature is the orange shopping tag that signifies that the shared image is “shopable” or “clickable”. You click on that orange tag and are taken to Etsy where you can look at the item and buy it.

These items also show up in the Etsy app to everyone that has liked your shop. Here’s a screenshot I took of my Etsy app this morning:


Here are some more details on Shop Updates in case you want to learn more.

So don’t be surprised if you start seeing orange tags showing up in your Twitter feed, your Facebook feed, your Pinterest app, and your Etsy app this holiday season. Shop Updates also show up in Instagram without the orange tag because Instagram doesn’t make their images clickable.

And when you see those tags, you should think about clicking and buying something unique and special for your loved ones this holiday season!

Mobile Apps For Both Sides Of The Market

In the web era, if you had a two sided marketplace, you had one app that served both sides of the market.

In the mobile era, it seems that it is better to have different native mobile apps for both sides of the market.

Ridesharing and delivery companies like our portfolio companies Hailo and Sidecar have apps for the rider/buyer and apps for the driver.

Etsy has the buyer focused Etsy app and the Sell On Etsy app.

And yesterday our portfolio company SoundCloud launched Pulse, their creator app, on Android.

This requires more development and marketing resources for each side of the market, yet another reason why building a business in the mobile era is harder, more complicated, and more expensive.

But it sure feels like this is how you have to do it. I’ve seen folks try to put both sides of the market in a single mobile app and it doesn’t work that well.

Winner Takes Most

The history of the Internet and mobile is that in many categories the winner takes most of the market:

  • Search – Google
  • ecommerce – Amazon
  • Social – Facebook
  • Ridesharing – Uber

We can go on and on with making a list like that and I have left off many many markets, but I think this short list I made at least gets the point across.

The reasons are many, but at the core are network effects and the fact that the more users and data a service has, the more value it can create for its customers and users.

We strongly believe in network effects at USV and look for them as the primary form of defensibility in the investments we make. We don’t always get things right and we certainly don’t always end up investing in the company that wins the market. But we understand how these things work and invest with the mindset that winning a market can result in a very large return on investment.

Lately, we’ve been wondering if there is an end to this pattern on the Internet and mobile. We think it is possible that an open data platform, in which users ultimately control their data and the networks they choose to participate in, could be the thing that undoes this pattern of winner takes most. The blockchain is the closest thing to emerge that looks something like that. But the blockchain hasn’t (yet?) shown that it can produce something important like Google’s search or Facebook’s social graph and until it does, we are just waiting.

This is an issue for society to ponder. As I have spent time in Europe this past month, it’s easy to see that the search engine they use here is Google, the social graph they use is Facebook, and so on and so forth. If the US produces the networks that win most of the market, that’s an issue for the rest of the world. The Chinese have dealt with that issue by protecting their market. The rest of the world (mostly) has not.

Will that always be the case? Will the countries with the most sophisticated tech startup communities end up winning the global economic race as we transition from an analog to a digital world in which the winners take most of the market?

It’s unclear to me how all of this plays out, but it’s been on our minds at USV and we are talking a lot about it. So I figured I’d talk a bit about it here too.

Messengers, Movies & Music

I was looking at comScore’s list of the top mobile apps in the US for “time spent” recently.

Here’s the list (#14 was apparently an error so I left it off):

top 13

rest of the 25

It’s all about messengers, movies, and music. I am being somewhat inaccurate in the choice of the word movies. I should use the word video. But I like the alliteration of the M words so I’ll stick with the word movies for this post.

Movies and music make a lot of sense. I often hit the play button in the SoundCloud app and two hours later I’m still listening. And I know my kids can binge on Netflix shows for hours at a time.

But messengers is interesting. Sending a message in Kik or Whatsapp or iMessage takes almost no time. Replying to one is the same. So for messaging apps to be so well represented in this list means that we are going in and out of them so frequently that these little bits of time add up to a lot of time. Google search is in there for the same reason.

The category I’m a bit surprised to see pulling up the rear is games. I would think games would be right up near the top with messengers, movies, and music. This list is for the month of August 2015 so its not the volatility of games (a hit business if there ever were one) that causes them to be poorly represented. It’s the fact that on mobile devices in the US, we seem to like talking, listening, and watching more than playing.

I find that interesting.


Last week, our newest portfolio company Clue announced that it had raised a Series A round from USV and Mosaic. Co-Founder and CEO Ida Tin‘s blog post is here. My partner Albert’s post on why we invested in Clue is here.

There’s an interesting backstory here and I thought it might be useful to tell it.

A few years ago our oldest daughter told the Gotham Gal that she was using this mobile app called Clue to track her cycle and related health data and she loved it. She recommended it to her.  So the Gotham Gal took notice and ended up participating in Clue’s angel round. So our family has been a user (first) and then an investor in Clue for a few years now.

I got wind of this sometime later and asked the Gotham Gal why she picked Clue in a field with a number of strong competitors. She responded “in this market I’m backing a woman and Ida is exactly they kind of person who should be running a company like this.” That shut me up and ever since then I’ve been rooting for Clue.

Earlier this year USV did a roundup of all the interesting things we’ve seen in health care apps and Clue was on the list. I was mindful of my conflict of interest but did mention that I thought Clue would be raising a Series A this summer. Albert jumped on that and the result was our investment in Clue’s Series A.

If you believe, as I do and as USV does, that the mobile phone is the new EMR, then I can’t think of any better example of that than Clue. Women use it to track their cycle and their fertility and a whole lot more. I have not yet met a woman who uses Clue that doesn’t love it.

Ida says it best in her post:

Millions of people across all cultures are using Clue. With every single data point a user enters, we are moving the world toward an educated, informed and empowered future – for our users and their partners and families, for mothers and daughters and sisters, for doctors and patients.

I am super excited that USV and that our family are investors in (and users of) Clue. It’s a great app and a great company.