TechStars Seattle alumnus Leanplum is today announcing an $825,000 funding round from TechStars, Kima Ventures, VoiVoda Ventures, and a number of angel investors found via AngelList. The company, founded by ex-Google engineers Momchil Kyurkchiev and Andrew First, is building a platform to offer product managers analytics and A/B testing tools for mobile devices.
A/B testing — displaying different things to different users in order to determine which option best suits a purpose — pervades the Web. Companies like Google and Facebook constantly test features among a small subset of users before rolling them out to the general public.
“If you talk to a lot of product managers, they say that on the Web they’re used to this iterative approach and using data to optimize the experience for users, and on mobile they’re really just guessing,” Kyurkchiev says. Because apps are often distributed solely through a single marketplace, companies aren’t able to experiment as quickly or thoroughly as they are on the Web.
This, again, makes app stores the software equivalent to fast food — anyone who orders a Big Mac knows exactly what they’re going to get, and this limits how much McDonald’s… er, app developers are able to experiment. Every app release is a gamble that relies on the assumption that every aspect of the release will appeal to the app’s audience. If it doesn’t, or if there’s a problem, filing an updated version of the app and having it reach the marketplace can take days or weeks.
“I think what’s really making this type of optimization really acute right now is the fact that there’s a giant shift in the industry to free-to-play,” Kyurkchiev says. “This means that, with this free-to-play shift, these apps are being run more like services. It’s not like back in the day when it was a 99-cent purchase and then you’re done.” Every change made to these app-service hybrid runs the risk of alienating users, which in turn cuts into revenues. The ability to test and refine a feature and ship updates without long delays helps mitigate that risk.
Leanplum’s platform, which is currently in private beta, aims to provide that service to mobile product managers. Kyurkchiev says that the platform is already being tested by several “small to mid-size” companies. App marketplaces won’t offer unique experiences over night, but at least now some developers will be able to experiment a bit and remove some of the guesswork from the equation.