Mobile First? For Flickr Co-Founder’s Startup Findery, It’s Second

Photograph by Peter Foley/Bloomberg

Caterina Fake, co-founder of Hunch and Flickr, in New York on June 14, 2010.

It may seem strange that in our smartphone-obsessed world, Caterina Fake’s startup Findery is just now launching a mobile application, after building the business for the desktop first. With mobile usage set to eclipse desktop usage in the U.S., some might say Fake, who co-founded photo-sharing site Flickr and is chairman of the board of Etsy, should have known better to start her business on a platform that’s losing relevance.

But Fake, who founded Findery in 2012 and raised $9.5 million in venture capital financing for her 12-person startup, has good reasons for doing things her way. Findery allows people to pin notes, stories and photos by places they’ve been to on a shared map. By launching on the desktop first, she said it gives her mobile app a higher chance of success, and other founders should take note. Here’s why:

How did you decide to develop on the desktop first?

A lot of apps have the empty restaurant problem, meaning no matter how good a restaurant is, if you look through the window and nobody’s there, you figure there’s no way it can be a good restaurant. This cold start problem is real on apps especially. When you start with an app, you have to search for it, download it and keep it on your phone. So your tendency is to be much more unlikely to return if you have a bad initial experience. And on the Web, it’s a lot more forgiving medium. You come to a website, you check it out, if it doesn’t float your boat, you come back in six months, it’s evolved, it’s changed and it’s a better experience. It’s not the same bad-experience tax you would get from an app.

Are there certain kinds of businesses that should be built on the desktop Web first?

Certainly properties that are content-based, media companies, ones where there’s some kind of activity or engagement or involvement like social media.
Rumors of the Web’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Mobile is dominating, it’s growing, it’s the future and it’s how we will be using things. However, in terms of the time frame of technology, the Web is an incredibly flexible medium and it’s a great way to test out content. And it’s just a much better prototyping medium. You can beta test it and soft-launch it.

What were the benefits for Findery?

We’ve been developing content so that you have a good experience on mobile when you start using it for the first time. People have been able to use their keyboards to put content in there. So it’s really rich, going into the launch of our app. We need to have stuff in Lithuania and stuff in Guam. The world is a really, really big place and we’re a really good example of a company that this works for.

But around the world, isn’t it even more important to develop for mobile first? Because many Internet users start on mobile.

We are a U.S.-based company and it’s not a surprise that most of the people that have been creating content are U.S.-based, but we have really strong power users in Tokyo, Dubai, Sydney, Manchester, England, Texas. Over time social media grows in a very organic manner. You don’t know where your community will grow.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been known to end meetings where employees begin their presentations talking about computers rather than smartphones. Are some executives over-doing it on “mobile first” rules?

They’re a great example of a company that was very successful on the Web for many years and have a very established business there. Right now, it totally makes sense for them to focus on mobile. I’m talking about launching new products, not evolving established products. EBay, Yahoo, those companies all need to be better on the mobile device and should be thinking mobile-first, definitely. It seems counter-intuitive, but because startups tend to be small and tend to have limited resources, you need to start in a way that is going to lead to the most success for your product. It’s a kind of a philosophical position.

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