Mobile is about solving problems

News Corp’s mobile-first startup The Daily is done, publishing its last story later this month.  “The single biggest failing?” writes former employee Trevor Butterworth. “You can’t create an entirely new brand and take it behind a paywall after 4 weeks, while limiting its footprint on the Internet, and then expect people to buy it.”  He also said The Daily’s content wasn’t differentiated enough.

To me, the two-year experiment at The Daily — which we should all applaud — signals a bigger challenge.  Mobile is not merely another form factor, but an entirely new ecosystem that rewards utility.  To succeed, companies must solve consumers’ problems.

If you watch startups pitch their products, they frequently begin by describing a real-life problem. For example, when you open up the wine menu at a restaurant and struggle with a selection.  That’s the problem “Corki” recently described at a Startup Weekend event in Seattle, and the team plans to solve it with an app that scans wine lists and enables users to pick their favorite wines based on personal tastes.  The problem leads into the opportunity and sets the context for everything.

"The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself," explains Y Combinator’s Paul Graham. “By far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.”

In the journalism world, countless mobile efforts are platform extensions.  There’s an urgency to get our branded content in front of consumers, wherever they are.  Such extensions are a competitive reality, but they’re often just a new design for a new form factor.  A growing number of mobile-first efforts, like The Daily, aim to rise above repurposed content with a fresh approach.  But many lack a real problem to solve.

At Breaking News, we think about this a lot.  What are the problems to solve around breaking news?  That’s what we’re working on right now, and stay tuned for more blog posts about the unique challenges and opportunities of breaking news in a mobile universe.

(Post by @corybe.  Earlier: 9 ways to become mobile first)

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