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When I was a Stanford undergraduate in 2012, everyone seemed to be building apps. The sexiest tech startups—Snap, Uber, Facebook—were almost synonymous with the word “app,” and that the world was moving increasingly towards “mobile-only” software. Mobile fever was everywhere, and software = apps.
Now it’s 2019. App obsession has calmed down. In the meantime, I’ve worked at Google and started a video editing website called Kapwing, so I have more perspective on what it’s like to launch a startup. In this post, I’ll share my opinion on why founders should *almost* always build a website first instead of a native app in the early days of a startup.
Last September, my co-founder and I noticed that video memes were hugely popular and that there were several meme native apps, but there were no websites that helped people make video memes online. So, we built the web’s first video meme generator. Within weeks, Kapwing had hundreds of meme creators using the website daily thanks to the magic of SEO. Soon, our users were begging us for other video editing tools for the browser, and Kapwing was born.
The pressure of bootstrapping helped us discover the power of the web. As we scrambled to get traction, we learned a lot about SEO, the affordability of cloud storage, advancements in web technology, blogging, and the growth of web productivity platforms. Ilya Fushman, Dylan Field, and Clark Valberg all got involved as investors. Now, we built an iOS app to facilitate video downloads, although almost all product development is focused on Kapwing’s web platform. Based on my experience in Startup Land over the last 15 months, here are some things you should consider when bringing your startup to market.
Consumer usage: Mobile apps vs websites
According to research from the Chrome team at Google and others, people spend more time on mobile apps than they do on mobile websites. Apps account for up to 90% of time spent on a phone and 77% of the time on tablets. But app usage is heavily concentrated in a few favorite apps (eMarketer). More than 50% of consumer app time is taken by a Facebook or Alphabet app (Apptopia), and 90% is spent in a person’s five top apps.
Alternatively, time spent on the web is more evenly distributed across providers and publishers. In the browser, people visit new websites they find on Google, explore links from existing apps, and browse content without the barrier of app installation. As a result, it’s easier for an unknown startup to reach users for the first time with a web presence vs a native presence.
4 reasons to first build a website instead of a mobile app
Based on my experience …