What You Need To Know About Engineers To Do A Mobile Startup

If you want to work with software people, you need to understand how they see the path to success.

What You Need To Know About Engineers To Do A Mobile Startup
[Image: Flickr user Ines Njers]

The App Store released its “Best Of 2013” just before Christmas, showcasing some of the best iOS developers in the industry. Every year, thousands of would-be CEOs see apps on that list and resolve to join the ranks, only to be frustrated by the iOS development process, or working with developers generally. So, what do non-technical people need to know to make a mobile startup work?


That’s exactly the question I set out to answer when I wrote Mad Men of Mobile, a collection of one-on-one interviews with 13 of the greatest mobile innovators and entrepreneurs out there today. Here are five key points which the founders agreed on.

“One of the core desires of any software engineer is to create something that gets used by people, has impact, and makes the world a better place.”

Adam Cheyer was cofounder and VP of Engineering at Siri. Creating a successful app is all about the end user–make sure your app or game makes a positive difference to your users’ day, whether it helps save them time, enables them to be more productive, or entertains them for a few minutes, or hours, at a time. Great software requires a strong sense of empathy for the people who will be using your product.

“Always focus on innovative technology, real inventions, and quality. Business success comes as a natural consequence.”

Philippe Kahn has successfully started and sold three tech companies, each for several hundred million dollars. His fourth company, MotionX, develops technology which is used in popular sports apps such as Nike+ GPS. Like most of the founders interviewed in Mad Men of Mobile, Kahn owns patents for the innovative tech which sits behind its apps, and this, in part, is where the value of many startups lies.

“There is nothing outside of music for us. There is no world outside of the musical world.”

Michael Breidenbrücker, founder of RjDj, has worked with Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer to create apps for The Dark Knight Rises and Inception. RjDj specializes in creating context aware and augmented music apps for iOS. By finding a niche in the App Store, and honing a niche technical skill, the company has successfully cornered an area of the mobile market.

“UX is what rules the world of personal electronics.”

Christian Kraft has worked as an innovation expert at Nokia for almost 17 years and invented several of the company’s most successful patents, including threaded SMS chat. While many in mobile may believe the old adage that “content is king,” those succeeding in this space understand it is actually less about content and more about context. No one can predict how and when your target audience will want to use your app until you have placed it into their hands, so get it out there and let them test it first, even in some analog way. Give surveys to your beta testers. Make mockups for people to see. Do as much as you can to validate the idea before you build any software.

“The number one determinant of entrepreneurial success is persistence. If you are not prepared to go to super human levels that are beyond rationality to realize your dream in this industry, then your chance of finding success is virtually zero.”

When Chris Barton cofounded Shazam in 1999, there was no App Store, no iPhone, and certainly no investors looking to back a mobile startup (how times have changed). It was his team’s sheer tenacity and dogged determination that convinced a market, and industry, that apps like his were going to be big. Fifteen years, and more than 350 million users later, it seems he proved them right.


These quotations were excerpted from Mad Men of Mobile, which is now available in paperback and Kindle.

Danielle Newnham was on the founding team of mobile apps agency Ubinow, and is cofounder of digital innovation studio We Make Play. She is also the author of Mad Men of Mobile, and Women on Top, a book about female tech founders, due for release in 2014. Find her on Twitter @daniellenewnham.