Stiff is for Martinis. Skava Founder Talks Flexibility for Mobile

Just this morning Nokia revealed its ambitious plans for HERE, its mapping service, with cross-platform support and a penchant for the very device-compatible HTML5.  It’s a flexible plan on Nokia’s part, setting the phone-maker’s sights on software and accessibility.

That mentality is something Sudha Varadarajan would appreciate.  As the founder of mobile development firm Skava, Varadarajan sees the necessity for flexibility in today’s rapidly evolving world of smartphones and tablets.  Her company specializes in building mobile interfaces for retailers, a transitioning industry that’s found great potential in personalizing the user experience through the immediate accessibility of mobile devices.

In today’s Spotlight Series we here Varadarajan’s startup story, learning from her experience the required perspective for surviving the mobile landscape today and in the future.  As a rare female coder, Varadarajan chose to lead her company as the CTO, determining that a deep understanding of her company’s core product is behind its ultimate success.

What key changes should a retailer make when crafting a mobile strategy?

I think there are two main considerations for retailers. The term “mobile” now encompasses iPhones, Androids, Kindles, tablets etc. and now iPad mini is on the horizon.

So, firstly retailers need to think long term and build their mobile solutions on a platform that is flexible enough to adjust to the myriad of new mobile devices as they come onto the market.

Secondly, many retailers are taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach to their mobile and tablet solutions. However, we always recommend to our clients that how they should build smartphone website is very different to how they build a tablet website. Smartphone users tend to access retailer’s mobile websites when they are on the go, want to get to a retailer’s product page in as few steps as possible and check out quickly. They are far more likely to use features such as a ‘store locator’ or ‘click to call’.

However, on a tablet, consumers are usually in a very different setting and mindsets compared to their smart phones, so are looking for a different experience.  All the industry statistics point to the tablet being a more lucrative device in terms of sales for retailers. They tablet shopper earns more money and uses their tablet when they are at home in a relaxed setting and has a higher total average order value than any other device – including desktop. The tablet gives retailers a real opportunity to create rich engaging experiences for their customers and set themselves apart from the competition. That is why we always recommend to our clients to create different experiences on mobile verses tablet.

See the entire CEO Series with Kristen Nicole on Pinterest and Springpad!

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In creating an agile “omni-platform” for your customers to create and optimize mobile retail sites, what distinctions have you noted between Android and iOS for consumer behavior?

While both devices provide equal amounts of traffic, it has been our observation that iOS devices convert better by an order of magnitude. Since we generally present the same user experience and site to both consumers, it leads us to believe that the consumer’s comfort with using the device to navigate the site all the way through to checkout, is better on iOS. Also certain android devices convert better than others from our experience, indicating the customers with those devices are more comfortable using the device to browse, search and purchase.

All the retailers are saying the iPhone users are a more lucrative customer and many retailers will create an app for iPhone first before providing one for Android.

You made the bold decision of being the CTO of a company you founded, rather than the oft-taken path of naming yourself CEO.  How has this affected the way you’ve built your team, and how has this positively impacted your product?

I am a product builder at heart. If I had been in real estate, I would have been the architect and mason and not the sales person. To me, it is very clear that you need to pursue what you love in order to excel in it. For everything else, you can find someone better qualified to do the job. Life is short and I believe in ensuring I leave a lasting impact.

I carry with me a lot of passion for building great products and building them to high quality standards. I am very exacting on my team about how something must be built and what standards it must adhere to. Over time, this passion has carried forward to my team, and now I see that same exacting attitude flow from the senior members of my technology team to the more junior members. We have a superior product because I have succeeded in transferring to my team the same passion for product quality and customer service in everything we do. Just yesterday, I received the following note from one of our large retail customers and was surprised to see it echo what I truly value and what my team does too

“My belief about Skava: you have high standards for your teams and for the services you provide. The customers experience is as important to you as it is to us.”

You’ve paved your way as a rare female coder, going on to launch her own company. What gives you confidence in the future?

I know the nuts and bolts of the product we have built. Every hinge, every screw, the design of every component is clear in my head. That level of understanding comes from being a coder and I know how to take this product from A to B tomorrow. Should there be a new technology and a new challenge, I know how to lead my team to fold that into our product. I do not make decisions in the dark. When I stand before a customer and am posed a question or a challenge, I am confident in my product’s ability to rise up to the challenge and solve the problem. That level of knowledge gives me the confidence in being able to take our product to becoming one of the best of breed and gives me immense confidence in the future.

SUDHA VARADARAJAN

MOBILE MASTER

Downloadable app vs. mobile web?

Strong believer of both and they provide different services for me – if I use a site frequently then I prefer the app to the web. I expect the app to remember me and what I like and personalize my experience, make it faster and more relevant. However, if I do not frequently visit the site, then I use the website and expect it to be easy to use and quick to find what I need.

What we recommend to our clients – and what is a benefit of working with Skava is that they use a hybrid approach. A Mobile Website should be the priority as most people will try and access your site first via their browser. With our unique platform, once we have built a mobile website for you, we can reuse that investment to create an app for only an incremental cost to ensure that major retailers have a presence wherever their customers try and connect with them.

Dream collaboration?

It was always Steve Jobs. To me what I do is envision a product and how it should function. I then go about solving the problems to bring that product to life, and no one has done that better than Steve Jobs. He was masterful in bringing very complex products to life with such a simple user experience, that even 9 month old babies can use some of it. In his absence, it will have to be Jonathan Ive. I am a builder at heart and admire anyone who can build something unique and leave a lasting impression behind for future generations to benefit from.

What would you say is the source of your entrepreneurial spirit?

Ambition, Knowledge and Hard work – something I learnt from my father who was himself an entrepreneur. To be a good entrepreneur, you need to have the brains and the ability to build a really great product. Then, you need to have the drive and energy to struggle, overcome large obstacles, beat the odds and come out successful. An entrepreneur is the general of an army. It is his responsibility to create the plan of attack and lead his people into executing it. He has to have the strength, courage, determination and vision to continue to push forward against the odds and use clever strategy and planning to succeed.

About Kristen Nicole

Named by Forbes as a top influencer in Big Data, Kristen Nicole is currently a Senior Editor at SiliconANGLE.com. She got her start with 606tech, a Chicago blog she dedicated to the social media space, going on to become the lead writer and Field Editor at Mashable. Kristen Nicole has also contributed to other publications, from TIME Techland to Forbes. Her work has been syndicated across a number of media outlets, including The New York Times, and MSNBC. Kristen Nicole published her first book, The Twitter Survival Guide, and is currently completing her second book on predictive analytics. Follow my work (and some sprinklings of personal interests) on Google+