What’s Your “Super App” Strategy?

Sam Lin
5 min readDec 26, 2020


I realized “Super App Strategy” may not commonly reckon in Silicon Valley when bouncing ideas with colleagues recently. Partially because most iconic success stories started from China instead of Silicon Valley, such as WeChat & Alipay. Some even argue it’ll never work in the west. Yes, they may be right. Success is seldom reachable by simply copying exactly what others do anyway. Also, I’m not saying this will be easy nor for everyone. But because of that, it’s typically very rewarding to whoever successfully adapt properly for their unique context.

For some, the “Super App” strategy makes more sense, e.g. social, payment, navigation & even smartwatch/car/TV if you generalize “Super App” a bit further. In general, you should look into broader user journeys or user touchpoints, e.g. Uber wants to be the 1st super app in the west. So be brave to dream big differently, here may be something you can “steal” 😉.

Source: FT The ‘operating system for everyday life’. Psst! FT, “Platform” is a better analogy than “OS”.

What Is A Super App?

Once upon a time, a visionary leader shared: platforms can be in very different forms. Indeed if we further generalize the platform concept to all “Platform-ish” mechanisms, Alipay & WeChat are good examples of how a popular mobile app becomes Platform-ish to many 3r party services. In a simple term: one app rules them all. Users can complete many tasks within an app with no hassles, e.g. finding & installing apps, new sign-in, dealing with different UX.

Convenience Store Analogy

Super App is not even a brand new idea. It’s one form of Platform-ish: a one-stop-shop, such as a convenience store. Which creates aggregated synergies on the “Place” function in terms of McCarthy’s 4 Ps. The key value proposition is to increase convenience for shoppers at one store. Which maximizes the utility function of a store to visitors. Similarly, super apps are “convenience stores” providing convenient services: [X,Y,Z…] within the same place to users. A fun fact, 7–11 is on a very different level in the east. You can literally do everything at 7–11 in Taiwan. This’s a great example of how a franchise successfully goes beyond by adapting to a regional market.

goo.gl/maps/KSaT8rDPVykbbidq6, 7–11 @ high altitude: 2.2 km

Customer Adoption — The Real Secret Source

Jeff Bezos said: “The only thing that’s disruptive is customer adoption”. This is especially true for Super App strategies. Anyone can build a platform, but only a platform with many active users “matters”. Simply because a high user reach is the best carrot luting more creates to a platform. So the platform and ecosystem virtuous cycle may start to feed into the further growth for Consumer & Creator Interactions. Which is the real “business” of any platform. As momentum builds up, a platform can sustain itself eventually & increases the Barriers to Entry to new players. But how can you really start it?

Super App Virtuous Cycle

Grow The Utility & Connect The Dots

To start something new, you need to believe in “If you build it, they will come”. To boost your chance a bit better, you need to focus on the core utility function first. It’s something that brings users to your app in the first place. As you figure that out, you may consider suitable Super App strategies.

For example, Alipay rises up from the boom of Alibaba e-commerce initially. It also “got lucky” as a First Mover, because no popular 3rd-party payment services were established in China back then. Therefore, it quickly became the top Chinese online payment provider. Then the boom of smartphone happened, Alipay moved very faster to adopt & eventually became a Super App. A few critical moves were:

  1. The distribution problem is not a thing for Alipay because of its dominance in mobile payment with 54.5% of transactions in Q3 2019. While others working hard to acquire merchants, all merchants rush to join Alipay ecosystem because they’re afraid to miss out on business. This gives Alipay a very strong bargain power of suppliers.
  2. With full control of its payment end-to-end UX, process & risk factors, Alipay moved fast on mobile payment innovations, such as adding NFC & QR code support. These make mobile payments super easy everywhere. Sometimes even fun e.g. the digital HongBao(lucky money) war. Naturally, the transition to cash-free & convergence of online + offline worlds were accelerated.
  3. Eventually, to connect the dots, Alipay opened its door & made it easier to create Mini-Apps for 3rd parties. It’s not only lowering the barrier for SMBs, those who can not even afford to build their own apps. But, it also increases the convenience to users & its payment utility. So guess what, users spend more time on the app because they can do their jobs easily there. Which feeds into its virtuous cycle.
Source: Critical User Journeys: How Google product teams react when growth slows

How May It Work For You?

In the digital economy, some opportunities may be good to apply the formula. To be fair, Alipay’s success is indeed very difficult to replicate. For example, US mobile payment has not yet reached the same scale. Not even with endeavors of Apple & etc. because US payment ecosystem is very established & complicated. Nevertheless, you may still steal a few tricks by digging deeper.

  1. Focus on enhancing your core utility functions & usability to grow the user base first. In the digital economy, you need to be №1 or 2. If it’s not possible in your current big pond, try to target a smaller pond. Better yet, redefine your own pond if you have a strong heart.
  2. Mindfully explore your Critical User Journeys & expanding to adjacent Jobs to Be Done, e.g. by time, place, people, etc. domains.
  3. Build the facility to make it easier for your target partners. So, they will come to your “platform”, because it’s beneficial to them too.

You might just get lucky. Psst! Starbucks mobile app, what do you want to be when you grow up 🤔?

Source: Alipay @ Play Store

One More Trick

Next time when you need something in Taiwan, check out 7–11. Not only 7–11 likely has it, but also 7–11 is everywhere in Taiwan. Try: LivingBobby — LIVING on 7-ELEVEN FOODS in TAIWAN for 24 HOURS!

Full Disclosure

The opinions stated here are my own, not those of my company. They are mostly extrapolations from public information. I don’t have insider knowledge of those companies, nor a whatever expert.



Sam Lin

A Taiwanese lives in Silicon Valley since 2014 with my own random opinions to share. And, they are my own, not those of companies I work for.