Hi Brian, and welcome. We are going to talk today about your web design and mobile apps business. When did you start, and where are you located?
Brian: We started in 2007, and we are based in Portland, Oregon.
2007 – that’s already a long road behind! Do you remember how it all started?
Brian: It has been 6 years, but it doesn’t seem like it has been quite that long. My partners and I previously worked at a dotcom company, where everyone would be rich when it was time for the IPO. How many times have you heard that story? When it became obvious that our future was not going to be as rosy as we were led to believe, it seemed like a great time to strike out on our own. Honestly, I’ve wanted to start a business as far back as I could remember, and it is just something I had to try. Fortunately, I had some amazing partners to try it with. Without them, we would not have made it to this point today.
What were the first steps to start? Most people are paralyzed about the idea of getting the first customers. And because recently you have expanded to a mobile app development business, how have things changed over the years?
Brian: They should be paralyzed. It takes a lot of courage, and tough times are guaranteed. We had to pay our dues just like everyone else, but eventually, we found ourselves in positions where we could try new things. That is how we got into mobile app development and e-commerce systems.
I bet that since 2007 the value proposition of web design has changed. In 2000 it was all about convincing people that they need a site. Now it’s more about having a site that matters. You even say on the site: “We don’t sell code. We solve problems.”
Brian: Yes. The market dynamics have changed quite a bit. Initially, I think people were enamored with the novelty of what websites could do (hence the explosion of Flash sites in the early 2000s). Like any maturing process, the honeymoon phase simmers down a bit, and people take on a longer-term view. Words like Conversion Optimization and User Experience come to the forefront of the priority list, as we all try to find an edge over our sophisticated competitors. These days, we are more like digital therapists. Come lie on a couch, and tell me all your problems. Then we figure out how to solve them for you.
Do you need a sales team to make cold calls, or how does selling web design work these days?
Brian: The bulk of our leads are inbound. We have put a lot of effort into SEO over the years, which has helped us grow rapidly. We have been very proactive with channel partners as well, which has been wonderful. However, we do have a small sales team to facilitate the qualifying process.
What about networking? Most developers think that they need to put up a presentation site, and then they just need to wait in their basement office for orders to come.
Brian: Good old networking. I think all of us have struggled with that aspect of lead generation, but if nothing else, it is good just to get out and talk to people. I’m a terrible networker, but I really like talking to people, so we just trade stories, ideas and have a few laughs. Since many leads will come from out of the left-field, all you can do is cover many grounds and enjoy the conversations. Take a lot of people to lunch and coffee, and really get to know them. The speed-dating scene of most networking events is enough to drive you crazy. Presentation sites are nice, but that is just for basic credibility. Nobody is going to visit a site that they never knew existed.
You have an impressive portfolio in web design. But what would you say are your strong points?
Brian: I would say we are very tactical as far as implementation goes. There are many brilliant, creative people in this world, and they can whip up some gorgeous UIs, but making it work as good as it looks is our strong suit. I realize that would seem like an obvious expectation, but I can assure you that solid functionality is not as common as people might think.
And what was the most interesting website you built so far?
Brian: There are many interesting sites and apps, but I think a mobile app that I think is just plain cool is My Auto Cloud. The concept was spawned by a couple of sharp guys out of the Seattle area who found a way to eliminate many problems for both dealerships and vehicle owners alike. Everything from maintenance to dealership customer engagement is covered.
What about responsive design (mobile-friendly sites). How do you explain to a customer that although you can see most of the sites on the new smartphones, having a specific mobile version of the site makes a difference?
Brian: I think 2012’s Black Friday numbers spoke for themselves. With nearly one-quarter of online sales coming from mobile devices and the exponential growth of mobile visitors (and bounce rates, for that matter) that can be found in Analytics data, it makes the decision pretty simple. Nobody likes to let potential sales escape. We simply identify the leak, and marketers know what to do at that point.
Easily going over the mobile development part of the business, why is it important for a business to have a mobile app?
Brian: If we are talking native mobile apps, productivity apps are huge. They can streamline processes, and usually for less than the cost of an employee’s annual wages. This can be anything from estimating, inventory management, reducing sales time dramatically, or virtually anything you can think of.
And who is your typical customer? Big companies?
Brian: We have seen a huge variety of clients come through the door. Some are entrepreneurs with an idea; others are Fortune 500 companies. Mostly we enjoy working with thriving businesses, which can take a lot of different sizes and shapes.
What types of mobile apps do you do?
Brian: We enjoy working on productivity and enterprise apps, but we have done our fair share of entertainment apps as well. We have done some games, dating apps, catalog apps, e-commerce extensions, and community-driven apps.
Aren’t businesses affected by the crisis? I think it’s the most common way to turn off your proposals. How do you find the right customers?
Brian: If we are still in a crisis, I do not see it. I read the news just like everybody else, but I only see more and more opportunities. Sometimes the pain is a necessary force for change, so I think many companies are tougher and more resilient when cornered. I think the economic downturn was a catalyst for retooling, and fortunately, we are the ones who fabricate those new tools.
What do you think about the younger generation? The business model has changed a lot – they build all sorts of mobile apps, cloud apps, social sites not knowing how to monetize, just hoping they will become the next Facebook. Isn’t this kind of a lottery?
Brian: It is absolutely a lottery approach, but look at it this way. Without these pioneers, we as a society will never advance to the next level. Somebody has to successfully build the first airplane, harness electricity, invent refrigeration – things that we all take for granted today because they are so readily available. Most apps will never make a top 10 list, but most people have realized that they will not make a fortune selling $0.99 apps. True profitability comes from apps that enhance efficiency, productivity and have a recurring revenue model.
What would be your advice for a small business willing to have a site or mobile app done?
Brian: Think about the addictive quality of the app. What makes somebody go back to it several times in a day, every single day? If you don’t have a good answer, then keep thinking about how to meet peoples’ needs before you build it. It is truly that simple. The hard part is envisioning an idea that good.
What would be your elevator pitch?
Brian: We bring worldwide audiences to unknown companies by developing mobile apps, e-commerce systems, and custom development. Without the right tools, there is no way they would be able to achieve their true potential. If it doesn’t exist, we can create it. Simply bring us your challenges, and we will find a way to overcome them. We don’t sell code; we solve problems.