A Long Interview with Path CEO Dave Morin

12/20/12Follow @wroush

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much higher than you ever had on a computer. Which is really nice. And your ability to activate users is much greater as well because you have these notification channels. You can pop up things on the screen. You have to be very careful with it, because if you do it too many times or for the wrong reasons, just like with anything on any platform, people will get rid of you.

But I think if you can add value to people’s days in unique ways you can actually pop open your application for the user and do some things for them. There are some nice things there. I also think because users are spending so much time with their phones, there is an opportunity to actually have a lot more engagement than you can achieve on the Web in some cases. Users are opening applications many, many times a day, which is pretty amazing, and spending pretty long session times each time.

And so, there’s a lot of opportunity there. I think the neat thing about mobile is, fundamentally the reason we call it a “phone” is it’s a device made for communication. You open it to interact. So the best place to build products is usually in a place where users are already used to doing things. We pick this up so that we can interact with people. If you can create new ways to interact, that really sort of, not just new ways but more efficient ways and more fun ways and more personal ways, then people will use your application. The battle for retention is all in that realm. Or retention and engagement, I guess. I guess everything I said was more of an engagement thing. Retention in a social system is one of those things where it’s completely dependent on the number of people you have connected the user to.

X: The more friends you’ve got in your network, the less likely you are to leave.

DM: It depends on the network. Every network has a marginal utility curve. At some point, the number of friends stops mattering. But also, for a short period of time, the number of friends really matters. If it’s zero, then 99 percent you’re gone. If you have one friend, 80 percent. Two, for us, it’s about 10. If you have 10 friends on Path, you are in pretty good shape and people stay. In a social system it’s very hard to retain anyone if you can’t help them get to that place. Different networks are different. If you were to go ask Facebook, I think it’s much higher than that. If you were to ask Twitter, it would be different.

X: A quick question about the Web, and then back to this retention question. Can you imagine a future where Path is more of a hybrid entity, where it’s not just mobile but there is a larger Web component? You’ve already got these landing pages for social updates—if you post to Facebook, there is a link that sends you back to a Path page on the Web. So, why can’t we curate that experience more? Why can’t we post directly to the Web?

DM: Your question is, could I imagine a world? Yes. Look, like I said, our vision is to build the best product in the world for bringing people closer together. I think if we can find a way to do that with the Web, that is similar to what we’ve been able to achieve on mobile, then we might do it. Right now we don’t think that we can.

A big reason why is actually because mobile—this thing is not just a consumption device, it’s a creation device. Everyone’s got a camera. If you think about it, if we were to shift a big percentage of our user base over to computers, they would basically not be contributing to the network the same way. Our number one type of content is photos. Our number two is text, which you could do from a computer. We also have this feature called “Ambient,” which automatically updates your Path for you based on your movement. So let’s say 50 percent of our users aren’t on phones; that type of content isn’t being generated. So the composition of the network changes. It’s not to say that we couldn’t figure it out, but it would actually change the nature of the content, so that’s something we would want to consider pretty intensely.

We just moved to the iPad, within the last month. Perhaps this is an interesting side tangent for you. In terms of development processes and things. Honestly one of the hardest things about doing these mobile companies is that we have to run parallel teams for each platform. Which is something that I think honestly I completely underestimated the complexity of.

X: By platform, do you mean iPhone versus iPad, or iOS versus Android?

DM: iPhone, iPad, and Android. We have to have different teams on different version numbers working on the same features. It’s incredibly hard to build both at once. You have to choose which you are going to build first, and then move it over here. Then move it over here and vice versa. It turns out to be this incredibly complex process. You also have to take a different approach to each one. What works on the iPhone doesn’t necessarily work on Android. Each one has a different human interface guideline.

And then iPad is a completely different thing—we have to build a completely native tablet experience for the iPad. And so, you know, we did some interesting things where we did a horizontal, landscape view on the iPad which is completely different than anything we’ve done anywhere else and is designed entirely for a tablet experience. So, each one of these requires the entire focus of a team. We have to staff that resource and manage it. That’s a different level of complexity than just building one Web app, which deploys across all these different screen sizes.

X: It must make you a little nostalgic, once in a while, for the Web.

DM: It does, but it doesn’t. I actually really love this. It’s just kind of amazing how much more—you know, I spent a lot of years personally writing front-end code and designing stuff for the Web. I spent a lot of years on the Web. But the kind of stuff you can do with UI, especially on iOS with Cocoa and UIkit and all this stuff, the speed and the tactile nature of the interface, you just can’t pull this stuff off on the Web, and it’s a totally different UI world. It’s super fun.

X: Going back to the retention question, I wanted to ask what kind of company this is supposed to be—in terms of the number of people you have to have on Path before it becomes a real business. I don’t know what the actual numbers are, these are the only numbers I could find, but you’ve got something like, in total, you are in the millions for sure and maybe past 10 million. In terms of your daily and active users, according to sites like App Annie and AppData, it’s a tiny fraction of that. AppData says you have … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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