Why Startup Founders Should Use Old Phones

Here’s a picture of my phone (look right):stratosphere

It is so old that it looks new again. Why do I use such an old phone? Wrong question. The right question is: Why you are using a newer one? Let me explain.

Back in the dawn of time (~2005), I was responsible for product development at Bunk1. Time after time a member of our dev team would tell me a feature was ready for testing. Knowing that over 70%+ of our users ran Internet Explorer (hey, it was 2005), I would open the page up on IE and… instant fail. Virtually all of our tech team used Macs and surfed the web using Safari. When they tested the new feature, it worked for them so they were ready to push live. See the problem?

Yes, it is very important to be on top of the trends. Yes also, following the cutting edge is critical to your long term planning. But if you build your current feature set around what the best tech can do, you risk leaving the bulk of your potential users behind.

Let’s say you get the latest phone running the most recent Android OS. Then you build an app that completely rocks… on your phone. But what about the >90% of the Android phones out there running older versions of Android? Does your app work properly for them? You are probably ready to object, “but they’ll update the OS on their phones soon enough.” Perhaps, but what about the hardware? Slower processors, less onboard memory… how fast will your app respond? I have seen several apps look incredibly slick on the latest phones only to see them hang horribly on slightly older models. Can you take that risk?

Bell Curve-top 10pct

Now let’s say you use an average phone. As you can see from the graph below, now over half the market is on par or ahead of you. If your app works on your phone, you’ve got nothing to worry about from them. As for the much older phones, they probably drag for everything and their owners are just toughing out the last few months until they’ve completed their two year stint and get a ‘free’ upgrade. Those users aren’t going to blame your app if it hangs; they’ll just curse their phone – the same one they drooled over just 18 months ago – and soldier on.

Bell Curve-top 67pct

Hey, I know you want the cool toys but you’ve got a tech empire to build. So suck it up and get behind the curve!

Confession: I just ordered a Samsung S4. It’s a little ahead of the sweet spot but in the hyper-fragmented Android handset market, the S3/S4 models are as close to ‘standard’ as you can get. Besides, I’m not building a new app… right now. šŸ™‚


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About Andrew Ackerman

Andrew is recovering consultant turned serial entrepreneur, startup mentor and angel investor. He is the Managing Director at Dreamit, currently in charge of the UrbanTech accelerator program. Andrew has also written for Fortune, Forbes, Propmodo, CREtech, Builders Online, Architech Magazine, Multifamily Executive, AlleyWatch, Edsurge, The 74 Million, et. al. Andrew began his career at Booz & Co consulting on strategy and operations for Fortune 100 clients. After a brief stint at Kaplan helping transition their traditional classroom test prep services into online products, he then joined Bunk1.com as COO/Head of Product where he spent eight years building it from scratch to the leading provider of web services to the summer camp industry. After being bought out of Bunk1 in 2008, Andrew managed a family office where he was responsible for both incubating new ventures and for managing over $50M of alternative assets including hedge, private equity, and venture capital funds as well as a number of direct investments in private companies. Andrew was also the founding CEO of Layercake.com and has a keen appreciation for how hard it is to build a successful startup, even under the best of circumstances. Andrew received his MBA in Operations & Marketing from Chicago Booth (Beta Gamma Sigma) and a BA in Economics & Political Science from Johns Hopkins University (Phi Beta Kappa). He speaks Hebrew fluently as well as some Spanish, French & Japanese and is working on JavaScript.

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