clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Millennial Entrepreneurs: Born to Solve Mobile-First Business Apps

Having grown up using gaming apps, mobile natives get the importance of user experience and offline connectivity.


As graduation is upon us, thousands of mobile-savvy millennials are joining the workforce — and they are reimagining how mobile applications can make their work lives better.

Today’s graduates will be driving the shift to mobile-first applications, and they have great millennial role models such as Christian Reber, CEO of 6Wunderkinder (makers of Wunderlist); Aaron Levie, CEO of Box; Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox; Ian Shakil, CEO of Augmedix; Glen Coates, CEO of Handshake; Mike Silagadze, CEO of Top Hat; and Bret Taylor, CEO of Quip.

Why are millennials leading the charge for mobile-first business apps? First and foremost, millennials are mobile natives. According to a recent comScore report, 81 percent of the U.S. population ages 18-34 have a smartphone, and one in five of those users only use mobile devices to access online applications and services. In fact, mobile phones are so important that 40 percent of millennials believe that losing their phones would be more traumatic than losing their cars.

Companies desperately want to adopt more mobile applications in order to cater to these workers, but are struggling to figure out how to do so. Their internal application development processes are rooted in Web and client/server capabilities. Further, most software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors are lacking when it comes to an understanding of how to build delightful mobile apps. But now, millennials are creating a new generation of mobile-first business-application companies that are poised to deliver what internal applications and traditional SaaS vendors cannot.

Millennials bring a completely fresh perspective to mobile development. They have used mobile devices from a young age and therefore understand the requirements of a successful app. Having grown up using snappy gaming apps, they understand that great user experience is of paramount importance on mobile. They know that connectivity is sporadic when on the road, so they appreciate the value of offline application access. And having used services such as Uber that would have never been possible before smartphones, they recognize that mobile creates an opportunity to develop entirely new application categories. Because of the innate understanding of what makes mobile unique, it is likely that the Bill Gates, Marc Benioff or Larry Ellison of the mobile world will come from the millennial generation.

What are some of the companies with millennial CEOs?

Augmedix is an example of a mobile-first business-app company built on Google Glass. While CEO Ian Shakil was completing his MBA at Stanford, he met Pelu Tran, a Stanford medical student who is now chief product officer. Shakil and Tran wanted to find a way to help alleviate the paperwork burden that plagues doctors. Having used mobile technology for most of their lives, and knowing that doctors are always on their feet, they knew that a mobile application was key to solving this problem. Further, the two understood that mobile wasn’t limited to just tablets and smartphones — it meant wearables, too. Augmedix’s solution allows doctors to better care for their patients by allowing them to effortlessly capture information from patients using a Google Glass app.

Handshake is a mobile-first wholesale-sales order-management platform. Founder Glen Coates, a millennial who started his career in the wholesale industry, wrestled with handwritten orders and poor technology while selling at trade shows. Coates saw that that consumer-focused mobile apps were light years ahead of business apps — and when the iPad was released, he saw a platform that could transform how sales were conducted in his industry. By taking his knowledge of great consumer mobile experiences and applying it to business, he developed an easy-to-use mobile app that expedites wholesale ordering, reduces order errors and enables salespeople to sell more product.

Top Hat is a classroom-feedback platform that runs on mobile devices. Students can ask questions; professors can conduct quizzes and demonstrations as well as gauge students’ absorption of the material — all via mobile devices. CEO Mike Silagadze recognized that the classroom-based university education system needed a facelift at the same time the world was going mobile. Students can now access information on devices that they already own, in a format that they recognize — and both student and professor benefit. Now more than 300 universities use Top Hat’s mobile solution.

Quip is a mobile word processor that allows users to create documents on phones and tablets using chat-like collaboration. Co-founded by Bret Taylor, formerly CTO at Facebook, Quip is freeing up users to work via mobile devices rather than being bound to a desktop. Recognizing that companies and individuals were switching to mobile, Taylor also realized that word-processing software wasn’t up to snuff. Quip has enabled users to move further away from traditional desktops by revamping familiar word-processing techniques to cater specifically to mobile users.

While each of these companies serves different needs across multiple industries, they are all a part of a millennial-led, mobile-first shift. As more and more millennials move into the workforce, companies should be watching the mobile-first solutions that will follow suit — and the talent that builds it. Given their fluency in mobile, millennials will be the first generation to truly crack the code for mobile business apps.

Kevin Spain is a general partner at Emergence Capital Partners, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm focused on business cloud applications. He sits on the board of several companies, including Doximity, Viglink, Handshake and Welltok; he has investments in Handshake and Augmedix, which are mentioned in this article. Reach him @kevinspain.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.