Business mobile apps

Apps and SMBs – a Microsoft experiment with Joshfire

A few weeks ago I wrote a slightly disparaging post in response to a mailshot I had received from Microsoft. The tone of the post was why has Microsoft sent me an email that turned out to disappoint. Had they got their marketing totally wrong?  A business that spends a huge amount of money on marketing?

Later that day I got an email from Ally Wickham at Microsoft. She introduced herself as a Senior Audience Marketing Manager at Microsoft and the orchestrator of the email campaign. I called Ally and we had a good chat about what she had been trying to achieve which was to understand where apps are going in business, particularly small business. I felt this to be an interesting enough and valid subject and offered her the opportunity of writing a guest post. Seemed fair.

Here’s the post:

Guest post in reponse to :

A few weeks back, the team I’m working in at Microsoft joined up with a company called Joshfire to launch a unique project to help UK SMBs to build apps.

My speciality is looking after Developer Groups and I spend most of my time thinking about how we can help developers, not necessarily small business owners. Unless, of course, that small business is focused around coding software.  So this project with Joshfire was a bit of a departure from the norm and is something I’m really passionate about. Helping businesses with apps reminds me of a project I worked on years back in my early career when I was at Sage.

Around 2002, Sage UK had a product called “Sage Website Builder” aimed at helping its small business customers build a website.  It was a bit clunky (Customer got sent a box with lots of forms to fill in, which then were returned to Sage who used the forms to create said website!).  “Every small business needs a website” was the claim, but, frankly, at the time, they didn’t. Most of the websites created were with static content and if you wanted to know something you found a phone number (and an actual address!) to call to find out more.

Then, of course, websites evolved – buy online, bookings online, interacting and feeding back, sharing, blogging, news feeds and so many more  – so that today, over a decade on and it is evident that all small businesses need a website.  In fact, many small businesses are a website with no actual physical premises for trading.

So I wonder if the same will happen with apps.  “I need an app, an iPhone app, an iPad app” is a statement I hear a lot in marketing circles but when you dig into the conversation many people haven’t thought about ‘why?’, ‘What is the app for?’, What’s the app strategy?’

Will the fact that so many apps are appearing – some amazing, innovative, quirky; some nothing more than gimmicky, some that are websites in an app format – drive the same kind of innovation that happened with websites, with improved functionality, innovations that connect SMBs with their audiences in ways that websites cannot or because they want to engage more deeply?

This is an ongoing debate – When to App? Why build an App? – search any of these terms and you’ll discover lots of opinions and, of course, there are many thousands of apps available across a number of app stores – Apple’s App Store, Android’s Google Play as well as both Windows & Windows Phone stores.

With the Joshfire initiative, what I’m aiming to find out is if there is an appetite for small businesses to have an app? And if there is one, once the app is there, what’s the right way to promote and help develop that app, and in turn, that business.

I don’t have an answer yet.  But I do have a lot of cuddly toys to share.

Back to me

Apps are particularly trendy at the moment. I hear “we need an app for this” all the time. They are still currently very much the domain of the expensive developer.

It’ll be interesting to find out how Ally and Microsoft get on with this project. The danger for Apps is that they are seen to only offer a subset of the functionality available to users of the full blown website. Also there is the question of whether it’s apps that people really want. Why not just better mobile implementations of your desktop site? But as Ally said – what do you want your app to do?

I’ve asked her whether she might be willing to share the results of her experiment, assuming there is something to share. It is easy to understand that there might be a reluctance to do this but let’s wait and see.

Thanks for the post Ally.

Trefor Davies

By Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of, writer, poet,

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