Which Type of Mobile Company Are You?

Here’s how to transcend your market position and achieve unicorn status.

Published on Nov. 19, 2021
Which Type of Mobile Company Are You?
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Just a few years ago, companies doing well in mobile were considered early adopters — and mobile itself was still fairly niche. 

Now, however, there are more people watching their mobile phones than TVs. People are shopping on mobile more than ever before, and even traditional companies are seeing more mobile activity than web activity. Because of this, mobile has become an arms race, where companies are fighting to maintain their status as market disruptors or working to emerge as new industry leaders. Others are simply sitting on the sidelines waiting to figure out their next move. 

There are four types of mobile companies that currently make up the app ecosystem. Read on to figure out where your company stands — and what you need to do to fend off threats, capitalize on opportunities, protect your hard-won disruptor status or gain more market share.

The 4 Types of Mobile Companies

  1. Mobile Unicorns
  2. Sleeping Giants
  3. Mobile Visionaries
  4. Mobile Spectators


1. Mobile Unicorns

Mobile Unicorns have defined their industries. Now they need to continue making big bets. 

They lead the app stores in terms of app ratings and rankings. They’re known for developing industry-defining tools, processes and methods, and they have leveraged mobile so successfully that it’s now their key revenue driver. 

They tend to either be in categories that were disrupted by mobile and were quick to seize the opportunity (think Facebook) or are themselves the original disruptors (think Uber and Airbnb).

But they’ve got a few vulnerabilities. Established legacy companies (Sleeping Giants) have the resources they need to accelerate their mobile journeys. They just haven’t yet. This is prevalent in the banking space, where a disruptive company like Chime rises to prominence, but established brands with massive market share, like Wells Fargo, still have the potential to outpace challengers when they wake up. 

Mobile unicorns also have to watch out for visionary companies that are working to re-disrupt their categories. The biggest threat in both cases is their own complacency. 

Sound like your company? Here’s how Mobile Unicorns can protect their positions.


Don’t get too comfortable. Continue disrupting and launching new big ideas. 

Mobile Unicorns must maintain the same type of rapid iteration responsible for their original success. The main difference between now and then is that they have large mobile organizations committed to mobile excellence, as well as the security and infrastructure they need to launch big ideas with very little negative impact on users. All of this puts them in an even better position to disrupt now than when they started.


Don't prioritize minor improvements over major feature releases 

Avoid falling into the trap of spending too much time over-optimizing for speed and making small iterative improvements. While these things are important, they shouldn’t take the place of launching compelling new features. Without those, unicorns are vulnerable to organizations that are willing to make big bets. 

Read More From DevOpsA Digital Adoption Platform Can Transform the Way You Track Software Success

2. Sleeping Giants

Sleeping Giants are being surpassed by competitors. They need to put their resources to work.These are generally older, more established companies that weren’t dependent on mobile to build their original user or audience bases (think Bank of America, Hilton and McDonald’s). Now they’re being challenged — with varying degrees of success — by mobile-focused competitors. 

Although they command mid-to-high rankings in the app stores, they aren’t seeing the performance or engagement that their unicorn counterparts enjoy, due in part to infrequent app updates and not having prioritized mobile development.

Organizational legacy is their number-one roadblock. Since the status quo has been working for many years, they tend to follow the rule of thumb, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 

This mindset often results in underestimating the risks posed by mobile-first challengers until it’s too late. As users demand mobile solutions to traditional problems, companies that seize the opportunity to offer these new solutions will become serious competitors. 

Is your company a Sleeping Giant? Here’s how to wake it up, bring down market disruptors and transform into a Mobile Unicorn.


Acquire, develop or improve upon existing mobile execution 

As soon as a Sleeping Giant introduces a dedicated mobile DevOps infrastructure, it will immediately open itself to a new realm of possibilities. This usually means hiring a team of dedicated mobile developers, but the capabilities they need aren’t easy to acquire in a rush. They need to start now to avoid falling even further behind those that have a head start. 


Leverage economies of scale 

Because Sleeping Giants have resources and organizational experience, those that prioritize mobile have the ability to bypass many of the growing pains that hold emerging companies back. There’s a good chance that the challengers threatening their market share don’t have the access to the same financial or operational resources.


Tap into established business and consumer audiences 

Sleeping Giants already have an existing audience to roll their mobile products out to, and they can quickly outperform younger challengers in areas like customer support and loyalty. With excellent mobile execution, Sleeping Giants (now very much awake) will be able to rapidly iterate on how they engage with customers, and garner new types of insights that allow for even deeper customer relationships.


3. Mobile Visionaries

Mobile Visionaries are the trendsetters. But now they need to develop a clear formula for transforming the value they offer to users into business success. 

Mobile Visionaries like Basecamp, Houseparty and Paired are the artisans of the mobile world. They excel at mobile execution but have yet to maximize the business potential that can result from their capabilities. 

These companies have strong app store ratings, very high update frequencies and often see great traction. But unlike Mobile Unicorns, they haven’t managed to translate their executional expertise into a serious threat to existing market leaders.

In the 2010s, we saw Mobile Visionaries like Snapchat opt for maximizing traction in lieu of more traditional business success metrics like revenue. The new generation of visionaries, however, have realized the importance of meeting clear business objectives. 

Here’s how mobile visionaries can shed their status as niche players and move into Mobile Unicorn status.


Avoid making big bets that drive small returns

With an artist-like focus on technological excellence and perfection, technology tends to be the sole driver of business decisions for Mobile Visionaries. This can result in them falling into a cadence of small incremental changes to their product and put them at risk of being out-developed by challengers that know how to capitalize on their target market.


Experiment and iterate faster than anyone else in the market

Mobile visionaries are unencumbered by existing market share or revenues that would be at risk if experiments fail. This allows them to make big bets that have the potential to catapult them into Mobile Unicorn status.


Pair knowledge of customer needs with a deep understanding of market dynamics

Mobile Visionaries must ensure that their big swings are informed by big-picture business objectives. Pair this with their intimate knowledge of the qualitative customer experience, and their chances of a large payoff increase exponentially.  


4. Mobile Spectators

Mobile Spectators are waiting for a sign. Stop delaying; it’s time to actively participate in the mobile space, or you’ll be left behind for good. 

As the name suggests, Mobile Spectators are currently watching the mobile landscape from the sidelines. This is most commonly due to either a lack of understanding of how to leverage mobile for business success or being younger companies yet to hit their stride. Companies that tend to fit this description include Royal Dutch Shell, accounting firms and most of the government.

If they’re present in app stores, their ratings and rankings are usually low, and their updates are rare. Although the Mobile Spectator usually hasn’t built the necessary in-house capabilities to reach mobile success, there is often internal ambition. They just need to tap into it to drive their mobile programs forward.

Is your company a Mobile Spectator? Here’s how it can do even only a little and see enough initial return to motivate the powers that be to keep building mobile programs. 


Invest in your own capabilities rather than taking shortcuts

The sense of a potentially missed opportunity, combined with a hesitation to make the necessary investment in developing mobile capabilities, can lead Mobile Spectators to take shortcuts such as investing in an outsourced mobile project, usually delivered “as-is” by well-meaning agencies that execute on a brief to the best of their abilities. But this almost never pays off in the long run. When the Spectator doesn’t invest in its own capabilities or engage an agency partner for long-term cooperation, their app might see some initial success but will rapidly become outdated.


Just get started

Mobile Spectators have a world of opportunities at their fingertips; they just need to get started. Although the path to Mobile Unicorn status will be long, every step will positively impact the Mobile Spectator’s business and relationship with its end users. By starting on the mobile journey, these companies will open themselves up to an entirely new market.


The Takeaway

No matter how good or even beloved an app’s user experience is, it’s how the developers operate behind the scenes that determines whether they’ll remain dominant, capture market share or get outpaced by innovators.

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