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Google Ventures team member talks mobile disruption at MassTLC

Emily McLaughlin, Associate Site Editor

What do you do for a second act when the world's most popular mobile platform gets backed and then acquired by the world's most popular search engine? Why, you join one of the world's largest tech venture funds, of course.

That's what Android co-founder Rich Miner did. After leading the development of the

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Linux-based platform at Google for nearly four years, Miner joined Google Ventures soon after the first Android-powered phone was sold in 2008. The venture fund, which gets a tidy $300 million annually from Google, is making a name for itself with its data-driven approach to tech investing.

During Mass Technology Leadership Council's 2013 Mobile Summit in Boston, Miner took the stage to discuss mobile disruption in both the enterprise and SMB sphere, giving his expert advice on where (and how) investments should be made.

Here are some of Miner's main points, brought to you by Mobile Summit tweeters.

Funding in the early stages

Miner, who got his Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and considers himself a "Boston guy," said he lobbied hard for establishing a Google presence in the Boston area when the search giant showed interest in backing the Android technology. Google's Cambridge, Mass.-based office now employs about 1,000 engineers. No one could be happier about this than the mostly local crowd at the event. The fact that Miner is also located here, as opposed to the investment firm's headquarters on the West Coast, has also been a boon to Boston tech entrepreneurs.

The result has been that Boston is building a healthy ecosystem of mobile companies, even if the city has not yet achieved "mobile powerhouse" status. The mobile base includes such successes as the mobile payments platform LevelUp, created by Cambridge startup SCVNGR, and Adelphic, a mobile advertising firm. One resource the area could "probably use more of," Miner said, is expertise in mobile user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).

User experience and app success

UI/UX talent is a hot commodity. Mobile for mobile's sake will get very little traction in a marketplace where the chief customers are humans. A great UI encompasses everything users may interact with when it comes to an information device: the display screen, keyboard, mouse, menus, search bars or even how an app or website invites interaction. The user experience is determined by device aesthetics, response time, graphics, usability and the content that is presented to the user within the context of the UI. So, it makes sense that any tech startup whose customers are human needs to have a passion for UXes. According to Miner, however, UI/UX talent seems to be sparse:

User experience is "absolutely critical no matter what you're doing," Miner said, whether you're putting a doorknob on a door or designing a floor plan for a new house. In his view, great mobile apps have three things in common: people love the app, it's intuitive, and it's easy to explain to investors and the world at large why the app is good.

A warning for mobile startups focusing on the enterprise space: Miner said people make the mistake of thinking that, because they're building an enterprise app, they don't have to worry about UX. "The most successful enterprise apps are ones that have some consumer DNA," he said. Employees are people too, and increasingly expect their work apps to offer the same usability experience as their consumer apps.

Get started now on building a mobile company

Mobile technology has revolutionized the consumer market, but Miner believes the real disruption will be for companies -- big, small and medium-sized.

The shake-up is coming, Miner said, so be prepared. Coming from someone with 25 years of experience growing businesses with innovative communications and interface-intensive applications, that is one pronouncement that CIOs should probably take to heart.


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Emily McLaughlin, Assistant Site Editor
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