Win $5000 – Kik Launches In-Phone SDK and Competition

In February this year, Fred Wilson wrote a great piece about the need for mobile app “glue” (my words). Here is the exact phrasing:

“When I was at the music hackday a few weekends ago, I noticed that it was easy to build something interesting by simply snapping together a few web apps and then building some light glue between them. I suspect it will be even easier to do that on mobile and the era of “meta apps” that deliver functionality across multiple apps is upon us. And I think that has the potential to create some new startup opportunities.”

Well, Kik has become one of the first gluemakers. Read their blog post – The Kik SDK: Build Real-Time Sharing into Your App in 10 Minutes.

Kik has provided a device resident SDK so that application developers can build sharing into their apps. It is such a powerful idea – sharing done on the device. Until now, if a mobile app developer wanted to do sharing, that capability had to be basically hosted “in the cloud”. Think about picplz & instagram. They have had to use Facebook, Twitter and other “web” platforms, and connect to them via some cloud servers. Well, with Kik’s SDK, mobile apps can now share “natively” on their mobile platform. No more cloud – huzzah!

‘Everything is better with friends’ By giving your users the ability to share with each other in real time, your app will be that much more fun and compelling (see the Sketchee story below). Sharing can also give a big boost in adoption – when a user who doesn’t have your app receives a Kik content message from it, Kik offers to take them directly to your download page where they can install it. All of a sudden you aren’t asking your users to share your app with their friends, but to share content from your app with their friends – content that requires them to get your app to view and interact with it. It’s the difference between inviting someone to join a social network vs. tagging a photo of them that requires them to join the social network to view it. And best of all, it will only take you 10 minutes to add this kind of functionality to your app.

On top of all that, Kik is giving away $5000 to each of the top three applications built on their SDK. Finish your app by August 8th and you can get in on that.

iMessage & The Canadian Impact

The launch of iMessage was an announcement with pretty significant impact on a few big/hot tech companies in Canada. Kik has obviously built a private messenger service around iPhone, RIM has taken an aggressive stance on promoting BBM, and of course lets not forget all the Canadian telecos.

Being an investor in Kik and some others impacted by the new iOS announcements, Fred Wilson wrote a brilliant post analyzing the impact. “Expect platform owners to work against you”.

In fact it was so interesting, that the product manager for RIM’s BBM service re-tweeted it (note that Theban is a good friend).


Fred Wilson to devs: Expect platform owners to work against you | Tech News and Analysis
12 hours ago

Which prompted this amusing exchange between him and I.


@ThebanGanesh you sir… are an ass… re-tweeting this as a “platform owner”


@dpmorel lol – it’s a balancing act. Platforms need to protect themselves from the ‘tragedy of the commons’

It is a fascinating lens into how RIM thinks of BBM and their own platforms. Despite my “ass” comment, I agree with him. Innovation often comes from the community who build things for the platform. The platform then needs to pull the best ideas back into the mothership – sometimes as an acquisition, sometimes they build it themselves and take on the “incumbent” in the community. This is in theory a good thing. We want the best innovations to be widely adopted. We want private messenger everywhere so we can all stop paying atrocious rates for SMS.

And those atrocious SMS rates charged by carriers, brings me to my next conversation. A good friend of mine runs messaging at a major Canadian carrier. Him and I have had the debate several times over the past few months on whether or not private messenger is a big threat today and now for them.

What i mean is that the argument about building SMS over data to drive costs down will go away in a few years as soon as LTE is deployed so ideally I want to invest in a solution I can leverage for more than a couple of years or so…

Customer experience and scalability are key for me. If I am spending money to improve the customer experience, it has to be open to all subs without having to invite people, therefore is has to scale.

The problem I have with the kik, textplus and the likes is that they are closed communities of 100,000 in 30 different countries or so and only address their own P2P niche market whereas SMS is an open community of a couple billion compatible devices; no need to register, invite friends, etc… While P2P SMS is plateau’ing in Europe, A2P SMS traffic is growing at a 25% rate yoy. In Canada P2P SMS is still growing at a 20% rate yoy and the A2P side of the business is still non existent.

P2P = peer 2 peer (i.e. customer to customer), A2P = application 2 peer (i.e. app to customer).

That list contains some some big, big knocks on ALL private messenger services – iMessage, BBM, Kik, TextPlus, etc. They are closed communities!! Meanwhile, with SMS, I can literally text ANYBODY in the world. Also, private messenger solutions don’t (yet) provide a solution for applications to talk to customers (A2P). And the carriers have a very real solution coming – LTE with better SMS clients on phones. SMS was literally one of the best services ever created – open, standards driven, no registration, etc. Awe-inspiring engineering. And with LTE the carriers will be able to take advantage of the cost savings of routing SMS over data, and they’ll have the biggest community (5b GSM users) and simply the best solution.

Buuuutttt… its not here yet. And thats what this is all about. Messaging is in transition and there’s an opportunity to own “messages over data”. Richer messages, more social messages, better user experiences, more cost effective for customers, etc. Its a fat, fat bazillion dollar market. And thats why this has happened:

  • Apple launched iMessage, Facetime, etc
  • Facebook bought Beluga
  • Google + GoogleVoice + GoogleChat + Android push notifications
  • RIM doubles down on BBM
  • Venture industry putting big money into potential disruptors like Kik, Textplus, Color, etc

By the time carriers get LTE out the door with new devices in market, the top end of this market may have already been won to the tune of 200-500 million users.

There is maybe some good news for Kik out of this announcement. For a startup the biggest problem is almost never a competitor. The biggest problem is typically non-adoption. Nobody knows there is something better than texting available. Nobody knows that Kik exists. Well, Apple & iMessage are about to blow up the “private messenger” space. In an ideal world, as the market grows, Kik goes along with it.

It’d be amazing if Kik & RIM (or others from up north) could figure out how to own this market. There are huge opportunities still – the A2P problem, the “interconnect” problem, etc. Lets hope they can figure them out and build ginormous services.

The Misinterpretation of Minimal Viable Product

A few years ago the two memes of minimal viable product and lean product development were my favourites. There was this old-world, chronic problem of products getting stuck in product development until they reach “nirvana” – feature-itis, scope creep, etc. There was nothing more frustrating than sitting in a meeting where a product manager (with zero research or understanding) would state something like “we need to support groups, we absolutely can’t launch with out it or else it will be embarrassing”. So 18 months later product dev’t would complete, a few million would have been burnt and then we’d test it on the market and lo and behold nobody cared about that feature. Expensive. We can call this the “Microsoft Excel” product development methodology.

Why Lean Product Development Evolved... copyright Phil Gwinn

Now I am seeing the opposite problem. Startups are launching crap under the excuse of “testing the market”. I think as a collective group we need to come together and put down a firm set of launch requirements:

1. Crashing should not be a launch feature. Please stress your stuff.

2. Whatever your apps core purpose is, it should do it fast. i.e. you should do performance testing.

3. You should use real designers – it should be easy to use and be easy on the eye.

You should still aim for simplicity & a bare bone set of features, but your product must work and meet the expectation of a professional product. A great example of a company doing this well has been Kik. Their core messaging product worked, worked fast and looked great – was super simple but also had some well thought out viral hooks. They even survived eXtreme scaling!

An exception to MVP, I don’t think it would make a lot of sense to use MVP if you were attacking an existing industry. Sometimes you know the business model, you don’t need to test it out. And your product has to exceed the current bar of products out there. This, for instance, is why it was ridiculous for the Playbook to be missing major features (like email) at launch.