Discoverability & Data: A Conversation with Ran Avidan (Part II)
In Part I of our conversation with Ran Avidan, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of StartApp, we reviewed what makes messaging apps so powerful and what users seek in terms of functionality, personalization, and other requirements.
In Part II, we discuss the growing market tensions between the big players versus the players, discoverability, and what’s next for the industry
Note: This conversation has been edited for length & clarity
Tell me more about the market need that you see. What is the gap? What are you hearing from the market that you’re saying to yourself, “Wait a minute. There’s something we ought to be doing here.”
Ran Avidan: There are five or six market leaders, and they’re using the user data in order to suggest the best activities for the users. But the biggest problem for users today is service discoverability. The discovery mechanism today is not that good. You have three million apps out there, and it’s very hard for people to understand what they want. What today’s messenger platforms can offer, because they have access to an amazing data for the users, is a discoverability mechanism that is personalized.
And this is what we do in our SODA and SODA Bubbles platform. Using the user data that we have – the first party data that we have for messaging bound together with all the data that we have in our database – we can actually suggest the right service and provide it inside the messaging that they already use.
What are you hearing from the market? What’s the need on the small and mid-sized player side, as they’re looking to compete with the big boys who can build it themselves?
Ran Avidan: It’s a very good question, and it depends. For bigger companies, ones with company size of 50 -100 plus, and with tens or hundreds of millions of users, they want data. SODA is a data co-op, so they need to share their data in order to understand their users better. Then, they are using our data to optimize their messaging platform, to have it personalized to the user. If they know their user interests better, they can now offer them a better application, or a better feed, or a better functionality.
But most companies are more interested in what you call “insights.” Something more aggregated, just to understand where their users are coming from. It’s more of statistical-analytical information.
Again, as opposed to bots, which are mainly, “I subscribe or I talk to a specific service,” our Bubbles actually are an interaction between people. So, most of the services that we provide live inside the context of a discussion.
Let’s say you and I both like specific content, like a specific sport team. We’re fans and an app then offers the context to subscribe to that team. Every time that there is a game, we get updates on all the things that happen in the game.
This is an engine to increase engagement, because we’re both getting updates when we’re offline, so now we’re back online, and it helps to engage a discussion between us.
What about on the advertising side? Is there benefit on that side of the equation as well, or not much there?
R: Of course. What we offer now in our platform is a way to target users better, help them monetize better, and even make a better experience for users in that they will get more relevant ads – as we see in Facebook, by the way. Facebook is doing a very good job knowing what their users want in terms of advertising.
I almost see a tension between the big players – the Kiks, the Facebooks, the WhatsApps – and the smaller apps, mid-sized apps, which obviously don’t have the same size network but have a highly targeted, highly identifiable audience.
How do you interpret that tension? Who wins? Who loses? How do you think about that paradigm?
R: First of all, you’re raising a great point . I think that one of the reasons the medium apps cannot grow significantly is exactly that – they cannot compete with the big guys.
When we created our social data platform, we created a co-op of sorts. It’s like a union that unites all the non-giant social apps to become like one entity regarding data. They can now face the big guys and say, “Okay, you’re right. I don’t have a billion and a half users. I have only like 20 million users, but in the co-op we have the same number and the same data.” We can now analyze the user data much better and we can utilize it for better advertising, for better monetization, and enhance our engagement the same way the big players are doing.
It’s like a glass ceiling, and hopefully our platform enables them to move to the next level.
Ran, tell me about your journey. You are co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of StartApp. How did you get here?
R: I had got my first degree in computers from the Technion, which is like the Israeli MIT.
Even before that, as a kid. I mean, were you giving up the soccer ball to instead be on a computer?
R: I did everything, but back then the computer was Commodore 64, and Atari. The internet was not there yet. The internet came only when I was a student. ICQ for instance came up in 1996 I think, or ‘97 even, and this is probably the youngest messaging platform. I used it as a student, and I matured along with the internet. Then later on, I worked with the first messaging service for mobile. We did it through mobile operators, probably the reason it was not that successful. It was successful, but not huge like WhatsApp.
Back then, the obstacles were different. The internet was very slow, and we used different kinds of technologies. Today, we’re looking at different paradigms, and the challenges are really different. But, I think that the space is so big and the challenges are so big that there’s enough room for so many companies to be there, to have their own flavors, to gain users. Now, we just need to get over the obstacles of understanding these users and of giving them the best solution that’s possible.
What’s next? What do you see as next in the industry?
R: I think there’s a parallel with what we saw already with the internet. At the beginning, the internet was very small, so for discovery, users were accessing directories, like Alta Vista. Later on came Google Search.
The internet was so big, and you needed a very effective tool for to improve discoverability. The same, I think, applies to mobile.
At the beginning, there weren’t so many apps, so it was easy. Today, it’s very hard to find the app you really want. I think that if we’re looking at what’s going to happen next, it will be the app discoverability that will be completely different.
The realm is currently being held by Apple and Google, by the app stores. I think that going forward other companies like Facebook will be the main drivers of discoverability for users. Users that already are spending most of their time between five to 10 apps on their device will use those apps to discover new things to do, or to read new content.
Look at browsers. Today users are using browsers less and less. I see a hybrid, a convergence between native apps and web apps. We see Facebook starting to do this and we see Gmail now doing it as well. If you install Gmail on your phone and you press a link from Gmail, it does not open your mobile browser. It uses in-app browsing. It’s better because it’s quicker, and it helps those apps to understand the user better. This convergence & that technology, I think, will grow and grow. Users will no longer have to actually download every app that they want to consume.
To hear this conversation in its original podcast format, please visit here.