• Bubba Murarka: “We’re Underinvested as an Industry in Android”

    bubba_lifestyle_001DFJ’s newest managing director, Bubba Murarka, knows a thing or two about mobile. He has numerous bets on mobile companies, both personal and professional; he blogs and closely follows the writings of top mobile analysts, including Horace Dediu; and, oh, yeah, he was the first product manager at Facebook to get behind Android. (StrictlyVC previously wrote about Murarka’s background, including his seven years at Microsoft, here.)

    If you want to know about mobile trends, in short, you could do worse than talk with Murarka, which we did last week. Some outtakes from that conversation follow.

    You’ve written that it’s no longer about iOS versus Android but which Android “versions” and “flavors” startups should get behind. Do you think the best days of the iOS are behind it?

    There are two different ways to frame it – that it’s a zero sum game and only iOS or Android can win, or that both are important parts of the mobile ecosystem. I subscribe to the latter. But we’re underinvested as an industry in the Android portion of the ecosystem. Four out of five phones sold have Android on them. It’s an insanely big switch, and Android will be leaping to more and more types of devices. Google announced [last] week its new wearable platform. That means all wearables could conceivably run Android. Google announced at CES the Open Automotive Alliance, so they are porting the Android to the car. You can imagine over time that Android will be the defacto, default OS for everything. And in that world, you need to start — as a venture industry and startup community — making more bets on Android.

    What’s the hold-up?

    I think it’s harder in the Bay Area. I can count the number of Android phones I see carried in a day by entrepreneurs – it’s usually none. And I think it’s hard to imagine something that you don’t use every day. I do think there’s an underrepresented opportunity that startups are beginning to go after, but I’d say it’s still way less than 50 percent, which, to me, would seem reasonable.

    You have a giant phone. Is this the future of smartphones? As importantly, where do you carry it?

    I have a man purse. [Laughs]. No, it fits in my pocket. I have an Android phone and an iOS phone and got the [Samsung Galaxy] Note [to see how I’d use it]. And since getting it, I’m using my iPad a lot less because I don’t mind watching video on it.

    If you look at where data consumption happens on mobile, more than 50 percent is video, so in that world, this bigger screen makes a lot of sense. [Taking into account] socioeconomic situations in other countries, where maybe they can’t afford to buy a phone and a tablet but one device, this also starts to make a lot more sense. You also get really crazy [good] battery life.

    You’ve written about subscription opportunities over smart phones. What do you see coming?

    Right now, people are pretty much subscribing to either storage or to music. I think communication apps are probably [going to become bigger and more capable of charging subscribers, too] like WhatsApp’s 99 cent [per year] model.

    It wouldn’t surprise me to see others like game companies adopt that same kind of subscription model. So instead of offering in-app purchases, [they could] start to offer a dollar-per-month unlimited in-app purchasing. That creates a much more sustainable, predictable model. What happens if you just give everything to a user for 99 cents a month?

    What about mobile multitasking? Do you see opportunities for startups to make that easier to do?

    Android actually allows it. I can use two apps at the same time on my Note, though it’s a little clunky. There are rumors already about iOS 8 having some inner-app communication functionality, too, so I think there will be new ways to do it.

    An opportunity I see specifically isn’t for a company to build an app themselves but rather to build their app to be embedded in other apps. Like, it would be interesting to me if Microsoft never shipped Office for iPad or iOS devices but rather shipped the Office Document Viewer; all of sudden, every app [would have] access to viewing and editing [in] a Microsoft Office doc, so now you [could] multitask within an application.

    If you think about common problems that every app needs to solve, an interesting company is Layer [a communications platform that can be added to any mobile app by adding fewer than 10 lines of code]. It doesn’t have its own standalone messaging app; it’s messaging for other apps, all happening in the context of other apps. And that’s intensely powerful.

  • Bubba Murarka: DFJ’s Newest Whiz

    bubba_headSteve Jurvetson has always been DFJ’s boy wonder, a polymath whose interests range from nanoscience to space travel and who received his electrical engineering degree from Stanford in two-and-a-half years (then he nabbed his master’s, then an MBA).

    Now, the Sand Hill Road venture firm appears to have found a new whiz in Bubba Murarka, who was brought on as a managing director last May and has some pretty impressive credentials of his own.

    The son of a scientist and an engineer, Murarka grew up in San Jose and Cupertino before heading off to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Ca., “mostly because I wanted to go somewhere my parents couldn’t drive to see me by surprise,” he tells me over coffee at San Francisco’s Epicenter Café.

    As he was graduating, Microsoft recruited him to Seattle, where in 2001, Murarka was among a group of graduates to invent one of the earliest versions of social networking, an online application called Three Degrees. Eighteen months after Murarka arrived at Microsoft, however, his group was reorganized, its resources cut, and Murarka headed back to Cal Poly and earned his master’s degree.

    Again, Microsoft came knocking, this time offering Murarka the chance to run all product for Bing in the Bay Area. He happily stayed another three years. But by 2008, like a lot of top talent, Murarka — who speaks fast and smiles often — found himself at Facebook, where he talked his way into a business development role. He says he wanted to learn something new. What he discovered was how to handily outmaneuver traditional biz dev people. “I’d built Web software and desktop software and I understood the product and the engineering side of things,” he says. “The business person would have to bring in the engineer or product manager and I’d just start negotiating directly with that person and all of a sudden, we’d have an awesome deal for Facebook. It was sort of like a superpower.”

    It became too rote, in fact, so in early 2011, Murarka asked to switch to product management. With the move, he became the third product manager at Facebook to focus on mobile, and the first to zero in on Android specifically, eventually leading more than 50 people in the creation of Facebook’s Android app. (Given Android’s adoption, it’s probably the most-used interface for Facebook at this point.)

    Whether all of that experience will translate into success at DFJ is an open question, though it’s easy to see how it might.

    Murarka, for example, recently led the Series A round of CircleCI, a “continuous integration platform” that basically takes code sitting on a developer’s GitHub repository and quickly runs tests on it on Amazon’s Web services, pushing out what’s working to end users. The company has plenty of competitors, including CloudBees and Semaphore. But CircleCI has “built the best product out there,” says Murarka, “and as one of the few VCs who has written and shipped desktop, Web, and mobile software, I think I uniquely get it. I really see the power of the future they’ve created.”

    In the meantime, Murarka, a nut for all things mobile, can’t resist developing a still-stealth mobile company in parallel. “The agreement I had with DFJ was that I’d finish the company building, so I’m chairman but I got out of an operational role at the end of 2013.”

    Murarka replaced himself as CEO with a former COO of Virgin Mobile. “So, it’s like, going to be a thing,” he says excitedly.

    I ask the newly minted VC if his startup has raised any capital. “None so far,” he says with a slight smirk. “We’re still debating.”

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