Lessons learned from 18 year olds


I’m currently one of five professors teaching a business course to first year/first quarter undergraduates. This course is unique in that it’s a combination of business 101 while tasking students with creating an mobile app based business. (Details can be found here.) A winning team is selected from each class and those teams then go on to compete in the bonus round with a eight angel investors to see if they can get some funding.  I’ve been impressed by the drive that many of these 18 year olds have. They’re all very smart but it’s the drive that sets them apart. As you’d expect, there are some things that I’ve learned from this experience.

Most apps are a business – This class challenges students to come up with a business model with an app that helps them execute on the strategy. It became quickly apparent that if these students could write code, they’d be creating these apps as tools for themselves and not worrying so much about making money. (I’ve used the metaphor of smartphone as a Swiss Army knife before – which would metaphorically make the apps a tool – and this became more true for me during the competition.)

Being 18 years old, does NOT mean you’re a sophisticated mobile user  The vast majority of my students had never heard of Foursquare or many of the apps we discussed. They did know about Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. AND hearing about it doesn’t mean they were on those apps. They’re good at texting and making calls. Yawn.

Context will be baked into all apps within 5 years - It’s hard to imagine there will be an app in five years that won’t be contextually aware. As I talked about in my last post context can be thought of as:

  • Who you are
  • Where you are
  • What time is it
  • Have you shared your intent (via Twitter, Facebook, etc)

If an app isn’t aware of those items, it will be severely limited.

Freemium is the way to go – You won’t get rich off of ads, with 70,000 impressions getting you enough money to buy a large pizza. But the annoyance of ads will drive up subscription totals. (Just don’t make them so annoying that no one uses the app.

By Michael Myers