Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Daniel Craig of Hotels.com.

Daniel is the eCommerce Director at Hotels.com responsible for the company’s global mobile products. He has been working within Hotels.com for over five years and has most recently concentrated on growing the company’s mobile business from the ground up.  In his role, he is responsible for developing the company’s mobile vision and product strategy as well as leading the execution against this plan.

What is the biggest challenge when developing a company’s first mobile app?

With the first mobile app the questions you might ask are, what do I build and where do I build it? Since there is a lot of fragmentation in the mobile space, with Apple iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows, you need to focus on where your target audience will be most likely to use your application.

When you were first developing the app for Hotels.com, what were you looking for as a baseline to present to management?

The challenge is how to get as many customers as possible and maintain good return on investment.

When Hotels.com started out, there was a mobile website for 3 years, which gave us data and ammunition to acquire additional budget for application development. The business case was formed around 3 main pillars: Increased conversions through more features, increased retention. and demonstrated marketing efficiency of mobile experiences.

Marketing efficiency was a great point of interest. Once someone downloads the app for the first time, if they continue to use it, there is a far better slew of ROI compared to marketing channels like paid search. We can achieve higher conversion rates through user experience like attractive maps, photos, full screen, etc.

What is the optimal background for transitioning into mobile app development?

With app development, we are looking for a hybrid background of core programming skills and good eye for design, animations, and other elements of user experience and design.

They need to know how to store things locally in the app so we don’t need to download info twice. They know how to build a simple database. So in the end, you do need multifunctional developers to create the best app you can get.

Interestingly, we found that the best mobile app developers have a background in gaming.

Are there reasons why companies shouldn’t outsource mobile app development?

Some companies fall into the trap of delivering a mobile experience that is separate from their other products. Often times people can’t access the information that they need because the outsourced firm doesn’t know their clients’ businesses. Seamless multi-channel experience is important for retaining mobile users.

What Can a Company Do if an App is Underfunded Before the End of Development?

What typically happens is that companies try to bite off too much. The key is try to get something live, and get some ROI, from there, get extra funding/invest more.

Getting the app live will require that you either reproduce everything in a web experience (as opposed to an app experience), or create portions of the app as web views. In a sense, you are turning it into a hybrid.

Looking forward

After reading about Daniel’s experiences and insight, are you going to move closer to the mobile frontier? By 2014-2015, they say more users will access the web through mobile browsers than desktops. Are you going to be there?