Making it on Mobile: Insights from Trinity’s Recent mCommerce Event

Earlier this month, Trinity hosted more than 100 tech industry leaders and luminaries at a San Francisco event titled “Mobile Commerce: The Next $100B Opportunity.” The event was moderated by Re/Code editor Liz Gannes and drew entrepreneurs, engineers, and executives from many of the most innovative companies shaping mCommerce today, including four esteemed panelists:

  • Rishi Garg, VP of CorpDev and Strategy at Twitter
  • Sarah Tavel, Product Manager at Pinterest
  • James Reinhart, CEO of thredUP
  • Sean Behr, CEO of ZIRX
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The diversity of this panel and the richness of its discussion were reflective of today’s complex and rapidly evolving mCommerce landscape. Liz kicked off by asking each panelist to describe an app that has helped push the limits of mobile transactions. Not surprisingly, the panel lauded Amazon and Uber for ushering in what many are calling the “On-Demand Economy,” where goods and services are increasingly delivered to consumers at the touch of a button. One deeper insight that emerged from this conversation is that smaller mCommerce startups are forced to out-innovate these industry leaders in their chosen niches to survive. For instance, thredUP has claimed a market leading position in quality used clothing vs. Amazon thanks to innovations like its Clean Out bag, which lets users easily clean out their closets and make money on clothes they’re no longer wearing. Meanwhile, ZIRX has carved out a rapidly-growing business in on-demand valet parking where Uber is unlikely to compete because Uber’s model depends on agents driving their own cars rather than handling users’ vehicles. Both companies also highlighted the importance of empathizing with users in order to drive product insights. James said that at thredUP, engineers regularly get into the field and interact with moms in the context of their daily lives to better understand their needs as customers. Meanwhile at ZIRX, employees often use their own service to park by their office in downtown San Francisco, allowing them to stay current on product updates and continuously refine the ZIRX user experience.

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While James and Sean talked about the challenges and opportunities facing entrepreneurs carving out vertical niches within the mCommerce ecosystem, Rishi and Sarah provided complimentary viewpoints on how social platforms like Twitter and Pinterest are horizontally impacting mobile business models. Rishi highlighted that “less is more” on mobile, pointing out how Twitter’s 140-character limit turned a design constraint imposed by early smartphone models into a revolutionary new mode of short form communication. Meanwhile, Sarah stressed the increasingly visual nature of mobile shopping apps and the potential for photo rich platforms like Pinterest to serve as an important channel for shoppers to discover new products. In a world where screen sizes are small and attention spans limited, pictures are often more important than words for driving conversions.

The synthesis of all this discussion was a handful of important takeaways for any aspiring entrepreneur looking to build a successful mobile commerce app in today’s market:
1) Rely on modular design: Given the tight screen size and time constraints a mobile consumer typically faces, great mCommerce apps deliver content sequentially in simple, single-screen units. This minimizes complexity, streamlining user flow and heightening user satisfaction.

2) Iterate, iterate, iterate: On mobile, every pixel counts. Seemingly minor changes to UI and UX can have a significant impact on user activation, engagement, and retention, so it’s important for any mobile first startup to be constantly improving its app.

3) Create a magical product experience: The best mCommerce apps transcend their limitations and tap into their unique advantages, including 24/7 accessibility, location awareness, and real-time push notifications, to offer users an unprecedented product experience.

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On behalf of Trinity, thank you to Liz for being a great moderator and to Rishi, Sarah, James, and Sean for being such thoughtful panelists. Your discussion helped all of us advance our thinking on where mobile commerce is headed in the months and years ahead. And thanks also to all our distinguished guests for taking time out of your busy schedules to share a wonderful evening with us! We’re looking forward to the next one.