Mobile first? Forget it: Go mobile second — you’ll live longer

Image Credit: Clifford Joseph Kozak

Will the entrepreneur who has completely lost focus over something a VC once said please stand up? Good. Now that you’re all standing, let me tell you a secret: You don’t have to go mobile first.

In fact, for some startups, going mobile first will kill you, while going mobile second will let you live long and prosper.

They say: Choose one platform to reach product/market fit

You say: What’s good for Yo wouldn’t work for SalesForce

“I run my business entirely on my phone,” said CEO of SalesForce Marc Benioff earlier this year. “I believe this is the future.” He was making the point that with more and more data being stored in the cloud, desktops will be less of a must.

And while this is true, unlike Yo, SalesForce itself could never have been built mobile-first. You know what would happen if it did: No one would use it.

Why? Because SalesForce — as most SaaS — is for entire companies. And companies are comprised of people, who own different smartphones on different platforms and versions. So companies can’t use tools that are limited to only one platform.

If you want to be a company-tool that’s mobile first, you need to develop for all platforms and all versions, and that’s not an MVP or something for a startup budget.

They say: Keep it simple

You say: Overbuild. Test. Remove. Repeat.

Keep it simple, they say. And they are right. But the thing about “Simple” is that Simple is perfection. Simple is not your starting point, it’s the end result of a long perfection process. You reach perfection by building, measuring, improving or removing.

If you want to reach perfection faster, don’t just build — overbuild! Then measure. Run tests. Measure again. Talk to your customers. Discover which features bring them the most value and which don’t. Then remove the ones that don’t and perfect the ones that do.

If you go mobile first, you’ll never be able to do this fast enough or cost-effectively enough. If you go mobile first, it will take you 10 times longer to reach Simple.

They say: Design, design, design.

You say: Value, value, value.

They’ll tell you that mobile is all about design. They’ll tell you that mobile users won’t give you the time of day. If your design won’t convince them to stay within minutes, seconds even, they’ll leave for good. And they are right.

So the question you must ask yourself is: Can my value proposition be grasped within minutes? If the answer is No, you shouldn’t set yourself up for failure by going mobile first.

Some products require a mindset of delving into details. When a CEO is looking for the perfect solution for an important aspect of their business, like a CRM or a development tasks management tool, they are willing to take some time to explore solutions. They are likely to read comparisons, testimonials and blog posts. Then, once they reach your site, they will want to watch a video, read about features, review the pricing, read case studies. Hell, they might even request a demo.

So while your design better not be ugly, what you really need, more than anything, is to communicate value. This decision making process is completely different from the one that results in installing the Secret app. It’s about richness, not leanness.

They say: Follow the trend

You say: Know Thyself

You need to know who you are and what you want to achieve. Stand in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eyes and answer this question: Is going mobile second a deal breaker for my target users, or just an annoyance? Will it prevent them from using my tool, or will they use it and love it, while they constantly nag me about mobile?

If it’s a deal breaker, find the way to go mobile first.

If it’s a “nice to have,” resist the temptation and focus on building something perfect that brings value. Then, when you have enough users / customers who are devoted to you and you can spare the resources, go mobile to support your service.

Then you’ll really have something that can live long and prosper.

Daria Shualy is Don Draper at daPulse, a collaboration and knowledge sharing tool that turns founders into managers. She’s also former founder and CEO of two e-commerce startups. Reach her @darshu.

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Phillip Dews
Phillip Dews

My blog was not responsive for the longest time and I just relaunched it so I decided to use Bootstrap to build my theme! So glad I did as it does it all for you!

I still know of soke  top bloggers out there who still have non-responsive sites which is a shame. Like you say it takes a lot of overbuild get get simple and elegant. I am still tweaking my media queries as we speak but its getting there!

Every site should never stay static and always be evolving! Top post!

- PD

Neil Jackson
Neil Jackson

In reference to the article title.... Surely it depends on what your product and requirements are?

Stan Beloff
Stan Beloff

Why not to use cross-mobile frameworks such as http://phonegap.com and cross-mobile & browsers testing services like http://www.testize.com to abstract yourself from mobile-first vs secord?

You should build the app that reach out your customers anywhere anytime regardless if they are on desktops, mobiles, or tables? 

Just use the right instruments for this

Tibor Szász
Tibor Szász

@Stan Beloff The moral of the story is to think before you act, not a description of an implementation problem.