Why Your Favorite App Isn’t Business-Related And How It Can Be


Todd McKinnon


Todd McKinnon is the CEO and co-founder of Okta.

More posts from Todd McKinnon

Editor’s note: Todd McKinnon is CEO of identity management firm Okta.

Think about your favorite app. Let me guess. It’s a consumer app — something like Uber, Instagram or Pinterest. So what do we do to get business apps into that list of favorites?

It’s rare to hear end users rave about an enterprise app that’s useful, simple, engaging and (dare I say) emotional – particularly all at the same time. We have some work to do if we want to perfect the enterprise user experience, which is why we should learn from beloved consumer products. If we put the user experience first and incorporate utility, simplicity, engagement and emotion into our products, we can make work just as easy and delightful as posting a photo.

Utility: What would you do without it?

The most important aspect of the user experience is utility. The design, simplicity and engagement of an app don’t matter if the app isn’t useful. As Brian Hansen, our UX architect at Okta, says, the key to creating a product people love is to create something they didn’t even know they needed and now can’t live without.

Take the various (and now abundant) transportation-related apps like Uber, Lyft and Waze, for example. A few years ago, if you were using your phone to get a ride to the office or the airport, you were probably calling a cab company. Now a ride just about anywhere is only a few clicks away, and if your driver doesn’t know the best way, or wants to check the traffic, that only takes a few seconds on your phone, too. Users love Uber, Lyft and Waze because they’re useful – they enhance your travel and driving experiences so much so that I’d venture to guess you haven’t dialed Yellow Cab in months, maybe years.

How can cloud providers learn from their success? We should strive to create an experience so useful that users can’t imagine working without it. Asana is already doing that with project management – with some users abandoning email entirely, saying, “Asana or bust” after getting up and running with their workflow solution. dotloop is another that has revolutionized how people work in real estate, encouraging almost 1 million agents and brokers to trade in FAX machines and scanners for cloud software – and creating the opportunity to get deals done on their mobile devices.

Every enterprise should aspire to have its users ask, “What would we do without this?” They can only do so by prioritizing utility as the most important component of the user experience.

Simplicity: Going beyond ‘easy’

The key to a simple product isn’t that it’s just “easy” to use; it’s that it helps you do things easily. There’s a big difference – and more often than not, it means the product team probably spent as much time on the back-end as the front-end, making the app just as powerful as it is beautiful. The best consumer apps seem to do this seamlessly.

Take Strava. In its simplest form, Strava allows users to track bike rides or runs via a mobile device. The app also has features designed to motivate athletes and provide camaraderie (which I can tell you comes in handy when you’re doing a tough climb), which Strava made possible by investing significantly in its backend.

The engineering team behind the interactive Minifeed employs a distributed messaging system, a real-time computation system and a WebSocket server, all of which enable Strava users to easily and quickly keep up with other athletes. Consumer apps like Strava that use back-end technology to make the user-facing solution easy to use are the ones we need to mirror in the enterprise.

Enterprise solutions known for their ease-of-use are few and far between, but some are starting to pick up on the importance of simplicity upfront and power in back. Box, for example, knows how important speed of access is to its users. That’s why they use ratcheting systems to keep performance at a steady state so users can upload, share and collaborate quickly and easily. ClearStory Data, an up-and-comer in data analysis, is another company that’s making significant investments in the backend to provide users with an experience that makes analysis simple, but also powerful – so collaborating and making data-driven decisions at work has never been easier.

Engagement: Making work as enjoyable as Pinterest

Sustained engagement has proven tricky when it comes to business apps. When we talk about user experience at Okta, we often talk about “stickiness,” describing how difficult it is to leave an experience once you’ve logged in. Pinterest has quickly become the poster child for engagement in the consumer world – it’s just about as sticky as a site can get. Twitter’s average of 3 seconds per user pales in comparison to the almost 16 minutes that users stay on Pinterest.

Put simply, that gap is because Pinterest always offers something new, beautiful and relevant to its users not in the form of a constant update stream. And while Pinterest skillfully uses visual stimulation in the form of pins of designer clothing, exotic destinations and famous faces, that’s hardly the only way to engage users. Just offering relevant recommendations will do the trick. Spotify’s personalized discovery tools provide song and artist suggestions for music lovers based on what they already listen to (and they just acquired Echo Nest to make those tools even more powerful), while Kindle integrates with Goodreads so readers can see what books are popular, and what their friends think of them.

The intent behind recommendations and relevant discoveries is to put users first. And as I’ve said recently, it’s an area enterprises (both software providers and their customers), can improve on. It’s something that we think about daily at Okta – not only giving users access to the apps that their employers say they need, but also those we think will increase productivity. (Or apps they’ll benefit from in other ways, like by watching March Madness.) If we as an industry can successfully engage users like our consumer counterparts, we have an opportunity to make work easier and more enjoyable than ever.

Emotion: Customer service as part of the UX

Utility, simplicity and engagement are all qualities of an app that prompt users to proclaim “I love this app” but there’s one thing we haven’t covered that makes us feel a personal, emotional connection to a product. That’s customer service.

Even if your solution is beautifully designed, power-charged and engaging, your users will inevitably have an issue – or just a simple question – at some point in the relationship. If you’re in e-commerce, it may be an incorrect mailing address. If you’re a service provider, it might be a specific feature or downtime. Whatever it is, you need to have a customer service team in place that’s going to interface with the customer directly and ensure that the issue is fixed. And fast.

That’s why consumers applaud Zappos – the classic example of customer service – and why successors like Gilt Groupe implement systems like Zendesk to make sure their support is top notch. (And with an 84 percent customer satisfaction rate, you can be pretty sure Gilt’s doing it right.)

In the enterprise, customer support spans the entire lifecycle, from sales to adoption to addressing issues. (And the issues you’ll run into in business are often more complicated than an ill-fitting pair of shoes and have further-reaching implications than an angry tweet.) Every touchpoint, whether its rollout or fixing a bug, should be personal and positive. It’s not just about customer service in the enterprise; it’s about customer success and understanding customers’ business problems before even thinking about implementing a solution.

We can put the user first, too

Lauded, popular consumer products put their users first. Plain and simple. Enterprise software providers are on the way there. We can point to companies like Box, Asana, dotloop and ClearStory Data for already getting its pieces of the user experience “puzzle” right. There’s still a lot of ground to cover, but if we focus on utility, simplicity, engagement and emotion like our consumer counterparts, we’ll have the opportunity to change the way we work and get a business app or two on that list of favorites.

Image by Oksa/Shutterstock

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

20 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

21 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android