The rise of chat bots and the fall of apps

It once was cool to build a mobile app and many startups in the past had built successful businesses with them and a minimalist web site. Now the chances of a new mobile app, creating mindshare and enabling a spot on a person’s home screen is next to impossible. We’ve reached peak app and new style of apps called chat bots are taking mindshare.

App stores are flooded, the majority of apps are rarely downloaded or found for that matter, as they do not rank.

It’s now harder than ever for a developer to build an app, that will replace the staple set of apps, a user does have on their devices. The frontier has changed to chat apps that have a conversational style interface either using text or voice (think siri). If you are building a new mobile app, stop! and reconsider how you are going to reach your target audience.

These new chat apps are leveraging existing instant messaging apps and agents on websites. Increasingly also APIs are being created and exposed to allow developers to interact with well known personal assistants like Siri. Some may argue that the interaction between human and computer is frustrating. I’d agree, having occasional back and forth sessions with Siri, to dial on my iPhone, a person I call regularly. However the situation is slowing improving as machine learning/AI technology improves behind the scenes.

Many will argue that we are not seeing anything new, that it is just the same technology and approaches that have been around for ages. The quest, as such to pass the Turing test where a judge can not determine if he or she, is talking to a machine or a person.

I think we’ve reached an inflection point, where a new class of conversation chat bot is being enabled by the gradual and constant exponential evolution of computing technology, sharing of open source component technology (such as natural language processing) in conjunction with the ongoing to quest to provide individually tailored answers to people’s own question through understanding the explosion of data available online.

This is also backed up by a dramatic increase in tech news coverage regarding startups in the US and with training/conferences covering this area.

So forget building a mobile app and start building a chat bot!

 

 

Going visiting in real world – off to the Bay Area

For years, I’ve sat behind my screen to read, view and consume content about the tech world and startups. However its dawned on me of late, that you need to get over to the US and see & do things in the real world. Why? Because regardless of the power of the internet, most entrepreneurs and techies around Silicon Valley do things in person. You need to be there.

I want to experience this culture, not just observe things through the internet. Which of course, is open somewhat, to interpretation and to my own uncorrected biases. Through getting on a plane, and doing the long flight over the pacific, I’m hoping to learn and gain experiences that can help me accelerate my current stealthy endeavours. Its a quest, many Australian techies and entrepreneurs are taking of late.

There are many reasons for this. The main reason seems to be, frustration with the current environment and ecosystems in Australia, to support early stage tech endeavours. Many, like myself, get all excited and enthused via their online activities, only to find that, when they get out from behind their desks and talk to people in the real world (in Australia) that the reality is so different. I’ve often thought, it was just a lag in time between the US and Australia. Now, I’m not so sure! I’m leaning more towards a more conservative business and finance culture, that has limited understanding of the culture of tech entrepreneurs, creative & programmers.

So I’ve booked my trip. Two weeks in San Francisco and the Bay Area, arriving 28th July 2014. I’ve yet to fill in my calendar, which I’m looking to start doing next week. Am going to use my network to find relevant people to meet, am going to go to meetups – interested in Streaming Analytics, Big Data, Quantified Self, Wearables, Startups – idea to IPO and of course I’ll do a few touristy things besides visiting Apple, Twitter etc.

It’ll be an adventure. Will I want to return home or stay there? Lets see. I think I could be swayed!

Reviewing The Customer Development Manifesto

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I’m always drawn back, when reviewing material, to Steve Blank’s The Customer Development Manifesto. This happens most often when hearing about other people’s startups but always when I contemplate mine. So I wanted to tell you about my drivers for this material.

In the past, I’ve worked on my ideas and when I’ve explained it to some, they of course, have said that will never work. I suppose what happens, is that after a while, you stop listening to them. As no matter, what you present to them, they’ll say the same thing. You stop making progress and to some degree, you get tired of hearing about the negative. Thus you just block them out.

Now this can become a tad dangerous, if working in isolation, with no form of feedback to help alter the path you are taking towards building out your idea. Hopefully into a business that is meeting your vision and objectives; whilst not burning through all your cash.

So how did I start to break this working in isolation, ignoring all those that couldn’t glimpse my vision?

I started by participating in programs and groups, where there were more people like myself (that had similar frustrations) and that wanted to learn about the wider entrepreneur world. Thats the key, I believe, is to start to work out how to educate yourself, based on the startup lessons learned by others.

Then I engaged, more advisors. The funny thing was, as I started to engage with them, a pattern started to form. That was they didn’t know what to do to help me, if I didn’t already have customers and a detailed business plan. I can remember vividly in one meeting, being told, the solution for the next step, was to get a customer. I walked out thinking to myself, that’s easier said then done. As significant more work was required, before I could actively fund the build and production environment for a single customer.

None could also show me a successful business plan, that had been used to grow a tech startup either. Made me very worried, when I heard statements like its confidential or go google ‘business plan’.

Eventually I found a new advisor and mentor, that guided me through the earlier stages and helped me to create, a structured approach to interview and discover what my potential customers were really like. As part of that structured approach, we included questions, to determine also, if our hypothesis about a revenue model were true or false.

Its how to break out of the ‘working in isolation’ scenario. Start getting in front of your potential customers talking to them in a structured manner. You need to show professionalism and that you are focused.

In my case, what we discovered is that unfortunately at that time, we didn’t have a viable business model within the target geography and market that we were looking at. I had at that stage, nearly burnt through all my cash, and decided to park the startup idea. The startup idea, was to build a Cloud hosted SaaS marketplace, leveraging Australian uISVs looking to sell across the internet. Around that time or shortly there after in 2008, Apple’s App Store started its meteoric rise.

I was disillusioned after parking my idea. I’d invested a lot of time and energy after all. So I went cycling a lot, thinking about what to do next. I continued being involved in the local tech startup community and over a coffee chat one day (somewhere in 2009), some one pointed to Steve Blank’s Customer Development process.

After I looked at some of the material, I thought geez, there’s a lot of elements and stories about lessons learnt here that I really associated with. I’ve been through a lot of this Customer Discovery stuff before. What I learnt, which Steve keeps reiterating is:

“There Are No Facts Inside Your Building, So Get Outside”