Digital single-servings: Why Yo, a crude app that took only eight hours to make, hit it big; Come on, Silicon Valley, you can do better than this

Digital single-servings: Why Yo, a crude app that took only eight hours to make, hit it big

BY MATT MCFARLAND June 23 at 9:17 AM

There are 1.2 million apps in Apple’s App Store. Most of them you’ve never heard of. Most of them will quietly fade away, lost in a competitive marketplace. For app developers, it’s a daunting task to create something that stands out and gets downloaded by thousands. This makes what’s happened with Yo in the last week so curious.

Yo is a messaging app in which users can hit a button and send each other a “yo,” which arrives on their smartphone as a push notification. The app took only eight hours to build. It was launched on April Fool’s Day. Yo’s logo is as vanilla as possible, simply a shade of purple. Its security was weak enough that a group of college kids hacked it. That led its co-founder to write a post, headline: “We were lucky enough to get hacked.”

Yo does not appear to have a lot going for it. Yet somehow it caught on. The app’s Twitter feed reported Sunday that it has over one million users. Any start-up employees that have toiled away for months on a little-known app can be excused for bashing their heads against a wall in frustration.

Yo appears likely to be a fad. As Robert Scoble put it, Yo is the pet rock of 2014. Sunday it began falling down the list of the most downloaded free apps. It still closed the day in a respectable spot, No. 9 overall.

Whether Yo lasts, its success is a reminder that the digital world remains a place for entertainment, conversation and single-servings. We’ve seen in the past the popularity of single-service Web sites such, and

When apps or Web sites are intensely narrow in their focus — and deliver a single serving — success comes easier. We know exactly what we’re going to a site for.

The app Make it Rain, in which users swipe their screens to accumulate dollars, succeeded for similar reasons to Yo. It reportedly was generating $50,000 a day earlier this year. It’s a simple, silly and dumb app.

There’s something humorous about an app that is incredibly focused on something very small. Anything that is funny is worth talking about and sharing, which helped Yo gain that viral traction.

The trend of digital single servings can be seen in Facebook’s strategy. Its recently been unbundling its services into a handful of narrowly focused apps, such as Messenger, Paper and Slingshot.

If there’s a lesson in Yo, it may be this. Apps that do something fun that no one else offers — no matter how dumb the concept – are likely to succeed. Keep it simple, and stupid can — for better or worse — be a winning strategy.


Come on, Silicon Valley, you can do better than this

BY VIVEK WADHWA June 23 at 7:36 AM

A new messaging app, called Yo, has created a sensation in Silicon Valley.  It is being hailed as the next big thing.

The amazing breakthrough?  Sending the word “Yo” to a contact with just one click.

This app received justifiable ridicule from Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert and many others.  But some technology industry moguls are taking it seriously.  Marc Andreessen wrote on Twitter that people who make light of it are missing the point; that Yo is “an instance of ‘one-bit communication’ — a message with no content other than the fact that it exists.  Yes or no.  Yo or no yo.”  He referred to the developing world’s use of “missed” calls as a communications mechanism and chided the naysayers for being biased.  He wrote: “the hilarity around Yo includes two problematic biases: Bias that one-bit comm isn’t useful, and bias that all markets are like the U.S.”

I don’t think Andreessen or the cohort that invested $1.2 million in this venture really understand what the needs of the developing world are or how and why the poor use technology.  The “missed call,” for example, is a way to send a message to someone with whom you have agreed on what the ring means.  The poor in South Asia and Africa commonly use it to send messages to one another without having to use cellphone minutes.  A hang-up after one ring might mean I have reached my destination safely or I want you to pick me up.  This method of communication comes from necessity rather than from vanity. It is the only means of communication some people can afford.

My concern is that the adulation and funding that the Yo app has received will send a terribly wrong message to entrepreneurs all over the world, encouraging them to misdirect more investment into building more silly apps and other equally meaningless, mindless projects.

Entrepreneurs with world-changing ideas usually have a very hard time gaining funding from venture capitalists.  That’s why they have to resort to crowdfunding Web sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, appealing directly to the public for investment.  Even there, some of the most promising ideas don’t get funded, either because it is hard to explain their value or because they are too risky.

The world has many problems to solve.  Billions live without reliable energy and lack adequate access to water, health care, and education.  More people die from lack of clean water than from war.  Our food system, the primary source of income for billions, must grow to meet the needs of another two billion people.  Poverty is endemic on the planet. These are some of humanity’s grand challenges.  And it is not just the developing world that endures these ills: many parts of the developed world do too, particularly in relation to health care, education, and poverty.

The good news is that solutions to these grand challenges are at hand. Several technologies, such as computing, medicine, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, robotics, and sensors are advancing exponentially while their prices drop. These are enabling entrepreneurs to do what only governments and large research labs were previously able to do in solving big problems.  Inexpensive sensors can, for example, be used to monitor soil humidity, optimize watering, and build on-farm diagnostic systems that minimize the amount of harmful chemicals used.  These can revolutionize agriculture.  Other types of sensors can monitor human health and test for disease.  Entrepreneurs can build apps that combine health data with genomic data to understand the correlation between our genome, habits, and disease and to develop holistic treatments.  They can design robotic assistants to help care for the elderly and build tutors to educate the hundreds of millions of children who don’t have access to schools.

Yet Silicon Valley, which could be taking the lead in ridding humanity of its ills, is focused on scoring big hits by solving problems so small they can be said to be non-existent. Yo’s roots are in Israel, not Silicon Valley, but the app is typical of Silicon Valley. The venture-capital system, which fuels the technology industry’s growth, is geared towards rolling the dice in the hope of receiving returns of five to 10 times the invested capital within five or seven years.  Such home runs are rare, and this has sent the system into decline, but little has changed.  It’s still the silly apps that get the funding and attention.

Investors believe that the quickest hits come from building apps or games that go viral, or from creating Web sites that automate business processes.  This was surely the case in the social-media era, when even children who had not completed their college education could write apps.  But we’ve built enough messaging and photo-sharing apps, and have bigger opportunities now.  It is possible for the young and the old to solve real problems, to great effect.

It is time for Silicon Valley to step up its game and graduate from the minor league.

Vivek Wadhwa is Vice President of Innovation and Research at Singularity University, Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance fellow at Stanford University, a Visiting Scholar at the University of California-Berkley School of Information, Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization, Exec in Residence at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, Senior Research Associate at Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program, and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Emory University’s Halle Institute of Global Learning.


About bambooinnovator
KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (, a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia; subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities, some of the world’s biggest secretive global hedge fund giants, and savvy private individual investors who are lifelong learners in the art of value investing. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as an analyst in Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, value investing, macroeconomic and industry trends, and detecting accounting frauds in Singapore, HK and China. KB was a faculty (accounting) at SMU teaching accounting courses. KB is currently the Chief Investment Officer at an ASX-listed investment holdings company since September 2015, helping to manage the listed Asian equities investments in the Hidden Champions Fund. Disclaimer: This article is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute an offer, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any investments, securities, futures or options. All articles in the website reflect the personal opinions of the writer.

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