“Competing on the App Store, you have to operate like a startup” — Ramit Arora, Microsoft

Operating like a start-up inside the world’s biggest company

Ramit Arora, Microsoft, interviewed live at MAU Vegas for Sub Club podcast
David Barnard

David Barnard

Published

When you think of Microsoft, you probably don’t think of mobile apps… but maybe you should! Microsoft 365 is one of the top productivity apps on the app stores, and Ramit Arora is a big part of that success. Ramit is the Product Manager on the Microsoft 365 Mobile and Mac team and an expert in-app monetization and optimization.

We recently caught up with Ramit in Vegas at the Mobile Apps Unlocked (MAU) conference, and we chatted (live!) about how a large enterprise like Microsoft is building such successful mobile apps.

Building seamless mobile experiences

These days, we can do just about everything from our mobile phones. As Ramit points out, even when an experience is available on both desktop and mobile, today’s consumers are increasingly choosing mobile — especially when it comes to making purchases. “We keep seeing this trend where people just want to make a purchase from their phone. Kind of like how a lot of people buy from the Amazon app rather than from the website. Because it’s just a more handy device when your credit card is attached. And we see almost 5x higher trial-to-paid conversion rates on mobile than on other direct channels… [Your] credit card is already attached, it’s a frictionless experience, and people trust providers like Apple, Google, and Amazon to manage their subscription,” he said.

App businesses can take advantage of users’ preference for making digital purchases on mobile by building seamless app experiences. (Bonus points if you bundle enough value in your app that users stick around for the long term.)

Thinking like a start-up

As Ramit points out, big corporations like Microsoft lose some of their competitive advantage on the app stores. “Paramount Pictures and the YouTube influencer are pretty much competing for the same eyeballs,” he said. This democratic environment provides a fairly level playing field, where indie developers (with or without name recognition) can build a great app, rank for keywords, and build traction with users.

But this democratic environment means a lot of competition, so big and small players alike have to continually iterate to win downloads and subscriptions. This is where it pays to think like a start-up. If you slow down or fall behind your competition, users may churn. “If you have an app on the app stores, it’s not like a bond that you bought and you keep getting dividends. You have to keep working on it, and you have to keep thinking about the next thing and the next thing and the next thing,” Ramit said.

Prioritizing the right things

You might think that once your app business reaches a certain size, you can stop worrying about prioritization so much. But the truth is, even a large-scale app business like Microsoft has to be pragmatic. As Ramit points out, “Your team size doesn’t grow the same way your MAU grows, right? … So our prioritization has to be more and more strict.”

To keep up with user needs and stay ahead of the competition, Microsoft triages their ASO ideas and picks the ones that are likely to have the biggest impact. And often the simplest ideas (like improvements to the performance, reliability, and size of the app) are the ones that matter the most. “[For example,] are we able to do 100% transaction completion? Because with those kinds of numbers… you know, at one point we had 5-6% transaction failure. So we first have to fix that,” Ramit said. Depending on the size of your business, different optimizations and feature releases will make more or less of an impact on your bottom line. So, for example, if you’re a small app business earning $100,000/month in revenue, do you really need a win-back campaign? Think carefully before investing too much time and resources into efforts that may not pay off.

Using AI (intelligently)

There’s a lot of buzz about AI lately, and rightly so. Generative AI has the potential to streamline a lot of rote and redundant tasks. But what’s the right way to add AI to your app? Ramit and his team think about it like this: “Whatever somebody might want to go to their computer to do, how can AI do that in an app?”

By incorporating Microsoft’s AI-powered Copilot feature, the Microsoft 365 team are finding ways to streamline tasks like creating Powerpoint slides and getting insights from Excel data. AI may not make sense for every app, but if you’re building a subscription app business, think about how AI could make users’ jobs to be done a little easier. It may go a long way.


Listen to this episode on Sub Club, YouTube, or search for Sub Club wherever you get your podcasts.

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