Dolphin Browser took the Android world by storm and achieved 50 million downloads in two years. “It’s much more than 50 million now,” reveals Edith Yeung, Dolphin Browser’s head of corporate strategy. Hailed by Lifehacker as the best browser for Android, MoboTap has since launched Dolphin Browser for iPhone, iPad and a HD version for Android tablets. (Fun fact: it’s also my 60-year old dad’s favourite browser). After this initial success, the next step is to tap into the hundreds of millions of new smartphone owners across Southeast Asia.
How it started
Yongzhi Yang, CEO of MoboTap (the company behind Dolphin), shares with us that he was previously a software architect at Microsoft and… well, he got bored. He was sorely disappointed at the stock browsers available on mobile phones and saw this as an opportunity to develop something smart, elegant, and innovative. This saw the birth of MoboTap in 2009 and the start of the development of Dolphin browser. What’s behind the name? Dolphins are smart – they learn fast and are easily trainable; and that’s Yang’s goal for the browser, that at the end of the day, it will be smart enough to learn each user’s needs and adapt to them to give users the best browsing experience they could have on their own mobile phones.
Though both hail from China, Edith and Yongzhi have spent a good portion of their time in the USA as well. Edith mentions that MoboTap has never considered themselves as a “Chinese company” – instead, their plan was always for international expansion, and indeed, it has taken off.
Different approaches to different markets
Besides packing a punch in features – lots of extra gestures for things like closing tabs, bookmark sorting, and voice command options – Dolphin is also working on social features coming in the near future. Furthermore, Dolphin is easily customizable with a number of add-ons, including Dolphin Webzine, which displays web content in a magazine-like format, and a web-to-pdf plugin that allows you to save entire web pages as PDF files.
MoboTap tailors its browser to suit the demands of different markets – this sets them apart from some rivals and has contributed to Dolphin’s success. Dolphin’s user interface in each of the countries it has a very strong foothold – China, USA and Japan – is vastly different, catering to the different internet consumption habits of people in each market.
For example, the interface targeted to the Chinese market resembles a phone homescreen and looks a little more cluttered. According to Yang, the Chinese are used to browsing and absorbing a lot more information at one time, and for extended periods of time. The interface targeted at the American market is much cleaner and simplified, in line with the flat UI trend right now. On a related note, it’s interesting that gestures are used much more in America, and Sonar, Dolphin’s aptly named voice control feature, is used more in China – it usually takes longer to write a word in Chinese.
Bonding with users
Edith tells me that within six months of launching, the browser hit one million downloads without any marketing effort – everything was based on word-of-mouth endorsements, attesting to how well the product worked and resonated with users. The team rolls out releases and fixes weekly. Yang attributes the startup’s winning culture to making the right hires:
We’re constantly on the lookout for people with the right DNA that fits in with our company culture. It’s fundamental that every employee is smart and responsible. Most importantly, we look for people who are passionate about the product, and take ownership of their projects.
Another factor would actually be Dolphin’s own users. Yang says:
We receive up to 20,000 emails a day from users that consist of regular feedback or crazy ideas. Some of them actually help us a lot, in terms of building themes and localizing our product.
Dolphin’s next step: conquering Southeast Asia
Yang explains that their focus will be on Southeast Asia for the next three to five years.
“Southeast Asia is huge – hundreds of millions strong. The uptake of smartphones is growing, and it’s not as saturated as it is in the US, so there is definitely room for growth,” says Edith. They hope to replicate their success in other countries with the same strategy – capturing a nascent market and working with strategic partners to achieve success; but they know this is not going to come easy.
Just as MoboTap has experienced in China, the Southeast Asia market has plenty of strong rivals, such as China-made UC Browser, Google’s Chrome, Opera and Opera Mini, Firefox for Android, Tencent’s One (the global version of its QQ browser), and interesting startup apps like Japan-made Sleipnir.
“It’s scary, but exciting. Each market in Southeast Asia has different nuances, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Edith explains. MoboTap hopes to use Singapore as a springboard to the rest of Southeast Asia, and is looking to hire marketing hands and are on the lookout for potential partners. If you’re interested, feel free to connect with Edith on LinkedIn or Twitter