Sunday, July 01, 2018

Disruption - Scaling an Application

Today in the NYT they had an article about an online dating app called "Raya". This tool is designed to let exclusive rich / celebrity folks match rather than being mixed in with everyone else on Tinder.

From my perspective, the interesting fact isn't what the application is "about", but how easy it is to build a scale a worldwide tool with all necessary functionality. From what I can gather in the article:
  • The entire company is run with only 13 people, including technical staff
  • The platform is exclusive to Apple iOS, and costs $7.99 / month (if you are accepted, which is rare), with additional up-charges
  • This world-wide, fully functional app was built with limited investment and seed funding
  • The app was built and launched quickly, in likely a year or so (based on the dates provided in the article)
Let's look at how modern platforms and capabilities have enabled this sort of rapid delivery, scaling and enabling of a business model.  In the past, building a business such as this would have been a large-scale project.  By building it on the Apple iOS platform, however, the developer is able to tap into a huge amount of existing infrastructure, including:
  • Apple basically provides distribution through the iPhone, operating system, and entire infrastructure of the App store which includes billing 
  • Increasing power of the phone itself (likely all these rich and famous folks are on the latest models) enables advanced features and fast responses, as well as a consistent experience for users
  • The platform and embedded capabilities allow for rapid builds and prototyping, upgrades and security
It is astonishing that such a ubiquitous and enabling platform exists, with the ability to scale to an essentially infinite degree, with little (to no) up front investment.  This platform and environment facilitates rapid prototyping, the ability to grow quickly (if there is demand for your app), and provides an entire environment for notifications, customization, etc... that you can leverage.

If someone would have told you ten years ago that you could
  • Build a piece of software that can reach customers around the world
  • Scale up at a rapid rate with little or no upfront investment
  • Have billing, notifications, user experience, etc.... mostly done for you "out of the box"
You'd think that they were dreaming.  And yet it is here, today.

What are the implications of this?  I think that a lot of the assumptions that we make about how strong incumbent positions are, how fast challengers can emerge, and how low the barriers to entry are for many markets are incorrect.  Since the key demographics are already all mobile (and the majority of the highest income US consumers are on iOS), you can jump quickly into Apple and evolve rapidly.

Since many companies today make little or no profits and "value" is the stream of future cash flows (when presumably the company will be profitable and able to capture and hold market share and customer revenues), the fact that competitors can rapidly come into your space with little incremental investment should make long-term investors shudder.  

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

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