Sequoia’s Aaref Hilaly: The Biggest Opportunity in Mobile that No One Is Talking About

By: Kahuna | December 27, 2013 | Trends in Mobile

It’s become a cliché to say that your mobile phone is the “remote control for your life.” Push a button and you can buy anything, order any service, or simply change the temperature in your living room. New services spring up every day to take advantage of the fact that there are now billions of people walking around with mini-computers in their pockets.

At work, it’s a different story. While music playlists might sit alongside important emails or documents, what people actually do with mobile devices at work is pretty much the same: email and calendar. Some might use a couple of consumer apps that have crossed over to the workplace, like Dropbox* or Evernote*. But almost no one uses apps at work in the addictive way they do at home.

That’s about to change, creating a huge opportunity for developers of mobile business applications. It’s happening now because of a confluence of factors that are finally creating a critical mass of modern mobile devices in the enterprise. These include:

Blackberry’s implosion: The company’s latest troubles were the final straw for most customers. I’ve heard from banks and pharmaceutical companies with tens of thousands of Blackberry seats that they are now finally moving off the platform. In total, there are 18 million subscribers to the Blackberry Enterprise Server who will need to find a new home on iOS or Android.

BYOD is the new norm: Not long ago, companies discouraged employees from using personal devices at work. Today, according to a June poll of 424 companies by InformationWeek, 68% of companies have some “bring your own device (BYOD)” initiative, with an additional 20% developing a solution. Pretty soon, companies will no more buy their employees phones than they do the clothes they wear to work.

Tablets as laptop replacements: At Sequoia, we meet regularly with forward-thinking CIOs. In our recent roundtable discussions, we found that very few companies issue tablets to employees. That will change as tablets grow more powerful, data increasingly moves to the cloud, and core apps like Microsoft Office finally make their way onto the iPad. Laptops will be displaced at work as they are being at home.

All of this creates a massive opportunity to create new mobile-first enterprise apps, which take advantage of the fact that people use mobile devices differently from their laptops. The session times are shorter, the UI is vastly different, and the context in which they interact with devices is far more varied than sitting at a desk.

Mobile creeps into the crevices of life previously inaccessible to computers – it fills the “gap time” between meetings, waiting for something to print, or while standing in line to be served. Today, people use that time to browse Facebook, dismember fruit with Ninja weapons, or perhaps triage email. Tomorrow, they will use part of that time to get things done. Some obvious new use cases include capturing information quickly while on-the-go after a meeting, or submitting expense reports while waiting at a red-light. But there are many others which people have yet to imagine, as well as new data trails for individual workers and companies to analyze, so that they can become more productive.

As with any new area, there will be competition, not least from the incumbents. Companies like Salesforce and Workday have companion mobile apps to go with their browser-based products, and provide them to customers for free. If reviews in the AppStore are any guide, they will struggle to create compelling mobile experiences that are consistent with their core products – as one user (godD4ddy) wrote on October 2 in a review of Workday’s app, “I’ll stick to the desktop version”.

It’s early days, but there are signs of mobile-first enterprise apps starting to emerge. Young companies like Clari*, Cotap, and Kahuna are leading the way. Many opportunities remain untapped, with lots of scope to solve new pain points or reinvent existing core business applications. Take the HR review process, as an example. I’ve just gone through it at Sequoia, where I had to carve out time to sit at my desk and struggle to recall how people have done over the prior 12 months. How much better would my reviews have been if I had an app that made it easy for me to capture data in the moment, so that my feedback was grounded in a rich dataset collected over the prior year?

In many ways, mobile at work feels like the PC market before the Internet, or the web before social. Compared to existing yardsticks, it looks big and fast-growing; compared to what it will become, it’s small and just beginning to accelerate.

* Disclosure: Sequoia Capital is an investor in Clari, Dropbox, and Evernote.

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