This Man Shapes The Best Hollywood Bodies And Can Help Overcome Harmful Startup Lifestyles

Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is a show and an episode that I've been so excited to share with you... It's been a long journey for me - in fact, a three-month, twelve-week journey to improve my health and fitness, and I've been so keen to share this with you. Let me just give you a backdrop before I introduce today's guest.

Before I was introduced to today's guest through a good friend of mine, actually - Andreas Kambanis, who's been on this show twice before (you can find him in the archives); he launched Fit Men Cook. Anyway, I reached out to him at the start of the year and said, "Andreas, I want to get fit, I want to get healthy; I'm feeling that health is one big goal of mine this year", and it's really important to me because I've lost my father last year, I lost my sister-in-law to cancer, and I just wanted to focus on health, because I've been abusing my body, like many of us do.

So Andreas connected me with today's guest, and I started his program, and I'm telling you - it has changed my life forever. I am the healthiest and the fittest I can remember being, and I want to bring this to you and try to encourage you as the listeners to actually rethink about your health and your fitness because it is so important to the overall success of what we do. Let me introduce David Kingsbury.

There's something that I've neglected to mention - he is responsible for some of the best bodies in Hollywood, and I'm talking about the top, A-list celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and all those amazing, sexy Hollywood actors; he is the personal coach and helps their fitness. He's got some training programs and he's been working with me for the last 12 weeks. Also, I do want you to go to, where I am going to post my before and after image, so you can see the impact that he's had on my life.

David Kingsbury - he can be found at, and he's here on the App Guy Podcast. David, welcome to the show!

David Kingsbury: Hi, Paul. Thank you very much for having me on the show!

Paul Kemp: Thanks for changing my life! As I said, we were initially introduced through Andreas and then I started your program, with a huge commitment, but not knowing what to expect. It must be so rewarding, doing what you do... Let's go back to why you got into fitness in the first place; let's start from the start of your story.

David Kingsbury: Yes, of course. I've always been very passionate about my own personal fitness, and that was sort of my route into becoming a personal trainer and setting up my own gym and all these kinds of things which I did. I've actually been a qualified personal trainer for 12 years. I qualified when I was 17 years old, and I've been working in gyms ever since then. I progressed through working in normal health club gyms where I'd be just writing programs for members, cleaning the gym equipment, all that kind of stuff, through to eventually setting up my own very small personal training studio in Buckinghamshire.

Once I was set up within the film studio there, then the works kind of naturally progressed onto me training actors for roles. I never necessarily had the intention of training actors, it was just part of the process of the growth of the business. I just wanted to run a successful health and fitness business that was delivering really good results, and it just naturally progressed into that because of my location, and I guess because of my experience and the results I was achieving with people.
In terms of doing this for a job, I'm very fortunate to have a job in fitness and to be successful in the fitness space, because like you say, it's one of the most rewarding jobs that you can do, seeing people's lives and bodies transform and their health transform. It's incredibly rewarding.

Paul Kemp: I'm really keen to talk about that initial first step into training actors. We're talking about some of the world's most recognizable names. With Logan, the movie that's just been out, everyone knows Hugh Jackman... In fact, when Andreas introduced me to you, he said: "He's the personal coach to Hugh Jackman." I never really put two and two together, and then suddenly Andreas was like, "No, you do know who that is."

How intimidated were you when the actors started coming through your door, and how did you overcome that intimidation?

David Kingsbury: It was quite a surreal experience initially... Although luckily I wasn't just thrown into it; it was kind of a gradual process, in some respects. I'd been at the film studio already a couple of years before I got my first film contract; around two years I'd been training people at this studio, so during that two-year period, because I had my own space, I would have other actors coming and using the gym with their trainers. So I'd say hello to those guys, but I wasn't actually training them directly myself, so there was kind of that nice, gradual introduction to it for me.

The first actual film contract I took - my first full-time contract anyway... I'd done bits and pieces with lesser-known actors up until then, but the first big contract I took was Snow White and the Huntsman. It was a nerve-wracking experience for me because I was desperate to do well. I really wanted to show off my skills and to really demonstrate my abilities, because I wanted to last in the industry and to be established in that industry. You're only as good as your last job as a trainer, so if you don't provide good results, then that does get noticed.

Also, when you're working with actors, the risk in terms of risk of injuries and those kinds of problems is huge, because the whole film relies on them being able to shoot. If, for example, an actor does become injured during training, and it affects the shooting of the film, it presents huge problems. So it was a very nerve-wracking experience initially, but once I got into that first film role, I used all the years of experience I had and all the hundreds (if not thousands) of people I'd worked with prior to that - I used all that experience to really provide a very solid service. I think that's why I've kind of been established in the industry since then.

My progression onto training Hugh Jackman - that was quite a surreal one. It was around the time I finished this Snow White and the Huntsman -- it was a little bit later, actually, and I had done a few other little bits and pieces in other films... But I had a call from the studio and they were like "Oh, we have an actor that would like to come and see you today." I didn't think too much of it, and thought "Okay, chances are it'll be an actor I haven't potentially even heard of, or whatever."

About ten minutes before they were set to arrive, they called and they said: "Oh, Hugh Jackman's on his way to the gym", and instantly I felt the blood rush away from my skin, because I became so nervous, basically... From my point of view, that is an opportunity of a lifetime, to have someone like that walk through the gym doors and be inquiring about personal training. That's a make-or-break moment really because those opportunities don't come around very often.

It was sort of a fascinating experience with him coming in and then talking through how I would help him train for the role, and so on and so forth. He booked into training with me the following morning, so I must have done it right, I must not have been too starstruck or nervous.

Paul Kemp: That's so interesting. So in terms of actually getting someone like that - Hugh Jackman and others - to listen to you, because they have, pretty much as we would expect, everything they need in life... How can you give them the discipline...? Were they responsive to what they had to do? How can you encourage them to stay the course?

David Kingsbury: Working with actors, especially when you're working with the real top guys (and girls, obviously), they are some of the hardest-working people you'll ever meet, and they are incredibly motivated. They understand themselves; they are a brand, and they are a product in some respects, and they know that they have to work hard for that brand. If therefore a role requires training, then they embrace it and they go for it because it's part of their process of becoming that character.

When they're acting, when they are being another character, they do embody them in a lot of ways, and they do embody them in a physical respect, too. If that character is a very strong physical character, then they will want to take the onus as part of that. It links in with their business sense, but also in their creative sense in becoming that character, too.

They are, in some ways, some of the easiest people to work with, because they are so motivated. I always say to people, "If at the end of your program you're going to be shirtless on a billboard, then that's motivation enough."

Paul Kemp: Yes... Many of the appster tribe listening to this and reading the blog are not top celebrities and not actors, but we are passionate entrepreneurs, startup founders, hardworking developers, and I guess it's interesting you say that someone at the top of their game are the best people to work with because they're so motivated. I can imagine listeners like this are not so motivated because we've got distractions... But if Hugh Jackman can do it, and he's got everything he ever wants, I guess, in terms of what money could buy, then there's no excuse for us. What life changes does it make getting fit and healthy? How rewarding can it be, at the end of the day?

David Kingsbury: In terms of increasing your health and fitness, it does have huge benefits on other aspects of your life, as well. They will vary from person to person, but that could be big improvements in self-esteem, confidence, but also the more physical benefits in terms of energy levels and focus, as well. I find it's a huge motivating factor for a lot of people, the physical side of things and doing the exercise, and I find that the people I work with often comment on how it improves their focus, their productivity and their concentration during their working days, as well. So it does have both physical and mental benefits for anyone who is hardworking and is looking to really build something, as a business or as a startup.

Paul Kemp: Yes, because I often find that a lot of people get into apps because they want to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, they look at it as money... But what I've realized over the years is it's not just money that is success, it's the fact that we only have one body to walk around this world in, and in success one of the top ten things is having a healthy body and a healthy mind, and having all those things you talk about - high self-esteem, energy - which health and fitness can give you. 

Let's actually help some people then... It's been really interesting to go through the program that you put me through, and just to give people a taste of what to expect, if they were to go through your program - would you be able to walk through an average program of what anyone signing up would expect to go through with you?

David Kingsbury: Of course, yes. Obviously, the initial setup is creating an account page on my website, and then from there you basically fill out a questionnaire; during the questionnaire, I get a really good idea of what your current level of fitness and also what your goals are, and what you need to do in order to achieve those goals. I'll look at things like your current exercise levels, also I will look at your weight, your body fat levels and all your personal information in that respect. With that information I can then create the custom element of the plan.

Once I receive that information, I will then get to work on building the best plan possible for you to achieve your goals. It's a combination of exercise, and the exercise will be broken up into resistance training, which will be classic weight training movements, also some cardio training, which will be either intervals or low-intensity cardio or a little bit of both. Then there'll also be some circuit-style workouts around there, as well.

The proportions of each of those will vary, depending on your goals. For example, if someone wanted to primarily build muscle, then the focus would be primarily on resistance, and you wouldn't include too much of the others because they're essential for that... Whereas if someone's goal was to drop body fat, then you'd have a little bit more of a balance of all of those, so there'd be more of the resistance, the intervals, the circuits and the cardio.

In terms of the amount of training that people do, it can really vary, and you can get great results on a variety of a different number of sessions per week. Some people will be limited to perhaps three gym sessions a week, and before they start a training plan, they might think that three sessions a week is not enough to see results, but it absolutely is. If you can get those three sessions in; never feel that because you can only do three you can't achieve results, because you can.

Other people want to spend a lot more time in the gym. We do have people that train six days a week potentially, or slightly less, but maybe doing double sessions a day. They might be doing a cardio in the morning and then the weights in the afternoon. The amount of training does vary, and it will vary based on the person's lifestyle and what time they have available, and it will vary slightly based on their goals as well.

Paul Kemp: The effects are dramatic, aren't day?

David Kingsbury: Yes, absolutely.

Paul Kemp: You got me on a five day/week program, and really after just seeing three, four weeks of progress, it's enough to keep you going and keep you motivated.

David Kingsbury: Yes, that's the thing - a lot of people talk about motivation; they say that they struggle with motivation, and it's very hard to be motivated for their training. A big part of that is a lack of results. If you see results quickly and they are sustained results and you see them week after week, then it's hard not to be motivated; it'd be hard to give up at that point. Whereas if you are struggling and you're not really seeing changes, then obviously the drop-off rate is much higher.

One of the reasons why people are so successful on my training plans is because they do see results early, and that really helps to keep them motivated. And obviously, they've got myself for accountability, as well. They'll do weekly check-ins on their page, I'll receive those and then I can review those and give them the support that's necessary. From those check-ins I can see how their training is going, how their food is going, how their sleep is going, and I can make assessments and help them improve things.

What separates a successful training plan from an unsuccessful one nine times out of ten is the nutrition, and this is where the results are seen, through the nutrition. If your calories are calculated correctly for your goals, then you will work towards and achieve your goals... Whereas if your calories are left to chance, then your results are left to chance, and you, therefore, are not going to necessarily see the results. Essentially, by calculating the calories, you take all the guesswork out of achieving results.

Paul Kemp: And I'll tell you what was great, talking about motivation... I have reached a small goal in a way - I became member of the month at my local gym.

David Kingsbury: Oh, that's fantastic.

Paul Kemp: There's a big poster at the gym saying:

“Paul Kemp, member of the month”.

David Kingsbury: There you go... That's brilliant.

Paul Kemp: It's just wonderful, because I know that there are other members who started around the same time, because of course it's the new year and the gym is packed with new year's resolutions; they've all dropped off and they pretty much stayed the same, and they've seen a huge change in me. That definitely is enough to not just make this a diet, but more a life changing experience.

David Kingsbury: Absolutely. You'll know from that - to achieve those results it's not an easy process. You do have to work for it, but the results are well worth the effort that you put in. And the longer you're on a plan, the more it becomes a part of your routine. Then once it's fully integrated into your routine, then it's something that you don't really want to live without after that point.

Paul Kemp: Yes, and to be fair, I have actually mixed it with meditation as well, and I've gone through how to stay motivated when going to the gym, and I use meditation techniques to create every session as if it's the first time you're going...

David Kingsbury: Fantastic.

Paul Kemp: ...because after several weeks of continuous training the novelty starts to wear off, and that's where you start to use those meditation techniques. I've suddenly realized what happened to me was when -- I think I was running for something, maybe in a car park, and I suddenly ran and thought, "My goodness, this feels like a different body..."

David Kingsbury: You can just keep going, yes. That's a fantastic feeling, isn't it? When your body exceeds your mind, in that sense, it's such a great feeling.

Paul Kemp: Yes, so that's enough to inspire anyone who is thinking that they need to act upon what they're hearing here, definitely give it a try because the success you may be getting in your startup or your business is actually nothing if it's not followed by the health and fitness that you can succeed with.

Let's talk about nutrition - you mentioned nutrition. I've really enjoyed the change of diet that I've found on yours, and I believe that you're thinking about a new product that by the time this goes live will have launched.

David Kingsbury: Yes, absolutely. By the time this is launched, I will have released a subscription nutrition product. Essentially, it's a really smart way of delivering custom food plans that adapt as your body adapts and they grow with your goals and they adapt to your goals as well.

The way it'll work is, again, you fill out a questionnaire on the website and it will calculate your calories, and it'll also calculate your macros. Your macros are the breakdown of your fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, and different macros that will help to achieve different goals - it will select those based on your body type and your goals as well. Then you will have a page on the website which will have all of the recipes; there will be hundreds and hundreds of these recipes, and they will all be perfectly balanced for you to achieve your goals.

You can essentially select any of the recipes that you would like and include them in your food plan. If you follow that, then it's going to be the exact calories to achieving your goals. Each month you'll be e-mailed out a reminder, which is basically to do a check-in. You fill out a check-in on that, and it will then adjust your calories accordingly to either the changes in your goals, or the changes in your body type. As your weight increases or decreases, your demand for calories also change. Likewise, if your goals change - for example, if you shift from wanting to drop body fat to wanting to gain muscle, then there's quite a large shift in how many calories you need to consume.

The system is incredibly smart and it adapts all the way through, creating a custom menu for you every single month. Also, there'll be new recipes added weekly, so you'll always have new ones you can try if you want to... Or, of course, you can stick with your favorites if you love them. It's going to be a really nice product, and that's going to be available now from my website.

Paul Kemp: Right, 

David Kingsbury: Correct, yes.

Paul Kemp: And the thing that in a way has changed my view of food and the way I consume food is that for most of my life - adult life, anyway - I've kind of gone to the fridge and decided there and then what eat, when looking in the fridge. But what's happened to me is I've gone on this journey of preparing all the food for the week - that's breakfast, lunch and dinner in one go. It's kind of hard work at the start, but the benefits are great. I know that society is not set up at all to help us keep healthy. There is temptation everywhere, and actually getting food on the go is really hard.

David Kingsbury: It is, definitely. The preparation of food - that's all about focusing on your goals and working towards them, because if you're not preparing, then you'll essentially -- like you say, it's very difficult to get the calories right, and also it becomes much easier to go and eat things that are not healthy and that are not good for you. The easiest way of keeping your willpower in check in that sense is by having food prepared with you.

The biggest part with nutrition is about understanding your goals, because once you know where you want to be, then you can work back from that to where you are now. The information in the middle there is what you need to be doing each week, and the essence of that is following the correct food plan and eating the right calories for your goal.

Paul Kemp: Absolutely. David, we're kind of in the last few minutes... I wouldn't mind exploring the app world with you, in a way. I've had past episodes of this show actually where we're spoken to these very successful app founders, entrepreneurs, and one of the areas they said is in most need of development, especially given that we have these personal devices, smartphones on us all the time, one of the biggest areas is nutrition and getting smart education about nutrition.

We don't learn this at school, our kids are not being taught the proper way to eat... And society - especially the West - are we on an epidemic of obesity and unhealthiness? What views do you have on how we can change our society because it just seems like we're on the -- I mean, I heard today about the food wastage in the U.K., it's some billions and billions there every year. What can we do to get a healthier lifestyle?

David Kingsbury: Yes, in the world today there are more overweight people than there are people starving, which does show that there is a very unequal balance of food available. The majority of people that are overweight are in the Western world, and a lot of that has to do with the availability of food. Food is so readily available in the Western world, and junk food is, as well. With that, there comes a lack of understanding as to what the body needs, and really what the body can get away with, in a lot of respects, in order to maintain a healthy weight.

Obesity is increasing. The amount of people that are sitting at a healthy weight is decreasing, and therefore the strain on society (especially in the U.K. the NHS, and obviously in the States) is massively increasing. I think there has to be a huge focus on leveling that out and getting people back into a healthy way. The only way I can see that being done is really through education early on in life - teaching this stuff to people at schools, and so on...

Then also, you've got to go back and teach the parents, as well. I think probably one of the easiest ways of doing it - well, THE easiest way - is with technology. People are using smartphones more than they are watching TV. It's gonna be the way to get the message across, and it's about developing products that are very user-friendly and that don't make it a chore to understand what you need to eat. I've got ideas of apps I'm working on, but they're big ideas, so they're going to be a long time in development... But I really do think that there need to be products available that can simplify the whole process and make it easy for people to maintain a weight that they're healthy at, but still being able to enjoy certain foods, without the typical bodybuilding or healthy eating chicken and rice and broccoli.

It needs to be enjoyable foods, and it does need to have your treats in there occasionally for people, because if they don't have those, the likelihood of people sticking to a healthy food plan becomes much less. It's about balancing your week, essentially... If you can balance a week out so that your calories come in correct for a week, then you're going to be in a good position. If you calories are coming out way too high for the week, for example, then you're going to gain weight.

In terms of the products that are available, there is so much unhealthy food available... I think that something has to be done in that sense, to try and improve the quality of the food that is cheap and readily available in this country.

Paul Kemp: Absolutely. I actually used an app from our mutual friend, Andreas, to track my progress. It's called Snapsie. It's a lovely app, and I encourage everyone to download it.

I was thinking as well, technology cannot improve us physically. There's no surgery, there's no way of -- you have to put the work in at the gym. But what I'm realizing is that smartphones, iPhones - everyone at the gym is carrying one of those, and everyone is using it to either listen to something (a podcast etc.). I've learned so much as well, because when you're exercising and listening to something educational, your retention is so much higher.

And obviously, using the phone for the timer, the workout plan and everything. It's so easy now.

David Kingsbury: Absolutely. I think technology is going to play a huge part in giving people confidence in what they're doing, and supporting people with what they're doing. A lot of people don't start their fitness journey because they're worried they're not going to see results, and they're worried that what they're doing is incorrect.

With the improvements in technology there, you can create products that are going to be more customized to them, and therefore they can reassure them that what they are doing is correct. But it has to do it in a very simple and user-friendly way, so that it doesn't scare people off, and anyone of any ability can use it.

Paul Kemp: Yes, and I just want to really encourage everyone to try this: there's a section in gyms - the bodybuilding section... I have one in mine, and I'm sure most gyms have them. I thought it was a no-go area, too intimidating. And I'll tell you, since I've been in that section of it, I've met some of the nicest people alive; they're lovely. All the bodybuilders coming there are just really genuine.

David Kingsbury: They're incredibly supportive, because for them it's more than just staying fit, it's their passion, it's their hobby, it's their life. They live and breathe it, and therefore their knowledge is great and they are very supportive of one another. It can be a daunting place... I remember when I went into my first bodybuilding gym when I was about 17; you feel about one foot tall, but you soon realize that these people are very friendly, and if you need help, they will give you help. They're not the type of people, in general (this is a generalization) -- but they will give you support; they're not going to knock you down.

Paul Kemp: Yes, and that's even the Hugh Jackmans of this world... So there's no excuse for all of the appster tribe now - if you are feeling that you need more health and more fitness, don't just sit on this information, act. You can go to, it's episode 520, with David Kingsbury. Or, David, how best can people reach out to you personally and connect? What is the best way of getting in touch?

David Kingsbury: The best way of finding out a little bit about my products and about my history of training actors for roles, and also visiting my blog for some really nice free content is my website, which is Also, if people are using social media, I can be found on Instagram @TeamKingsbury, and also Twitter @DavidKingsbury. The focus of those is more motivation and giving people support and things to try, whereas the website is the hub of knowledge and information, but also the platform on which I supply my online training from as well.

Paul Kemp: Well David, thanks for coming on The App Guy Podcast and changing my life for the better. All the best with your future projects, and maybe we can do another show in a year's time to make sure that I'm still on track.

David Kingsbury: Yes, absolutely. That'd be brilliant!


How I Built A Multi-Million Startup With $3,000 At The Age of 19

A chat between Josiah Humphrey Co-Founder and co-CEO at Appster and Paul Kemp host of The App Guy Podcast

Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. Today, this show is all about inspiration. We love success stories, we love to know that it is possible to create awesome businesses around apps and around the mobile space. Today I've got one of the best success stories I can remember talking about in a long time. I've got the co-founder and CEO of Appster. 

Let me just explain a little bit of his success story before introducing him... 

In 2011, and at a really young age of 19 years,  he started a startup with less than $3,000. Now, he has since grown the company Appster to nearly 400 employees and works with technology startups from all over the world. Astounding!

Let me introduce Josiah Humphrey to The App Guy Podcast.

Josiah Humphrey: Pleasure to be here, man. I'm excited to talk about the world of apps.

Paul Kemp: And we're excited to talk about you. Let's start from where you started from... Can you take us back to when you were a young 19-year-old guy and you had this $3,000 in your pocket? How on earth have you gone from that to nearly 400 employees? Tell us the story.

Josiah Humphrey: It's been quite a journey... We started in 2011, so it's been about nearly six years now. It was just myself and my co-founder, Mark McDonald. This is not the way I would recommend everyone start a business, but we had this idea that if we can go and get an office in the city, a really big, fancy, expensive office in the city, that will force us to do well and create a business. You know, not the typical advice that you would want to give someone, which is to bring on a lot of expenses before you have a good revenue, but at the time we were very naive and we thought it would be a cool thing to do. 

We actually managed to put on some suits, look a little professional, and we ended up signing a lease for an office. It's actually the tallest office building in the Southern hemisphere in Melbourne, Australia. We signed a lease there, and then all of a sudden it was like: 

"Okay, now we have to make rent." 

Then we were kind of going through the process -- we hadn't actually started Appster at that point yet. We were running a marketing agency first and helping clients with their marketing. We then also started an education company. This was ironic because I'd dropped out of school at 17 and I just thought it was funny that we'd started an education company to educate students on how to do well in exams, after being a dropout myself.

Then eventually, later the same year we also came up with the idea of starting Appster. We eventually ended up closing the education company down... We thought: 

"We want to work in an industry that's growing, and then even if we're stupid and we make a lot of mistakes, we'll probably just grow anyway. So we opted for the mobile industry" 

That was actually the whole idea behind getting into the mobile industry, and I think it was a great choice. I don't just speak for myself, you only have to look at the explosion of growth in the mobile industry and the smartphone industry, it's just been tremendous. So that's how we got started. It was very much a "burn the ships" moment, getting an office. It did really put us outside of our comfort zone. It was a shock to say to ourselves: 

"Okay, now this thing's real. Now we've got outgoing expenses..."

I do always try to challenge people. You have to, in some form, get outside of your comfort zone. If you have a family and you're putting food on the table, I'm not saying "Sell the house and put every single cent into your startup", but you do have to challenge yourself; you do have to get outside of your comfort zone. So that's how we got started.

Paul Kemp: I agree. So, you mentioned the explosion in mobile... When I started The App Guy Podcast I didn't think I would have enough guests to fill up a ten episode series, and here we are on episode 518. It's just been a constant flow of founders and CEOs over the years.

Josiah Humphrey: It's amazing.

Paul Kemp: Josiah, you talk about real startups... Do you feel like any of the entrepreneurs or wantrepreneurs reading this think they're running a startup, but really they're just kidding themselves?

Josiah Humphrey: Yes, well I think it depends on what you're building. There's a lot of (let's call them) appreneurs that are kind of just building a single type of app - maybe it's a game, or maybe it's got some utility value that maybe they're going to sell on the App Store for 0.99... At least at Appster, the kind of people we work with, the technology entrepreneurs, they see a certain type of opportunity in the market, maybe something that's not being done as well as it could, maybe they could bring a new solution to an industry, or in some sense maybe disrupt the status quo of that industry with technology. 

For me, there's a very big difference between just making a cool app and actually deciding to build something that might one day become a great company. It depends on what the concept is, but we've seen over the last few years the rise of on-demand (e.g. apps such as Uber), or certain types of marketplaces (e.g. apps like Airbnb). That's the space that I'm more familiar with - how do you build a sustainable, fast growth company as a technology entrepreneur? 

Paul Kemp: Yes! Let's explore this, because I think when people see the success of certain companies on the App Store, they feel they can imitate the success, but what you're talking about is building a real technology startup -  not just an app... Let's flesh out this idea. For example, how can we really monetize an app?

Josiah Humphrey: Well, I think there are various stages, right? We see a lot of people get into things too quickly, or they think that their idea is absolutely incredible and it's guaranteed to work. Actually, in a lot of those cases they really need to slow down and really challenge themselves, being brutally honest and asking the question: 

"Am I actually really solving a core problem? Is this a problem in the industry?" 

I used to be a fan of Gary Halbert who was a copywriter back in the day - nothing to do with the apps or the technology business, but he always used to use the notion of a starving crowd... Are there people that are absolutely screaming for a solution? Do they need something to be better? Can you look at an industry that you have experience in (or it's a personal problem you are having) and you think to yourself: 

"You know what? There are other people out there that have this problem as well" 

then you might be closer to finding your starving crowd, or (in other words) solving a core problem.

Then there is another issue on top of finding your starving crowd. So, it's great if you're solving a problem, but then is the problem something that you can make money from? And there are two ways that you can look at that. Obviously, you look at Snapchat - not yet profitable, but IPO’d recently; I think they had a top of 26 billion in terms of market cap. Not profitable, but still extremely valuable. Their evaluation comes from their user base, and Snapchat has obviously had some tremendous growth over the years.

Then there are other apps that actually have a business model. You look at SaaS (Software as a Service), say a company like Atlassian, that provides different software tools to software developers, and people pay $5/month for those services, and that might be like a SaaS model. So either you're building a user base that could have a lot of valuation and maybe you exit that company later or you take on investment and eventually get acquired, or something like that, some sort of liquidity event... Or you're building a company that can eventually sustain itself through cash flow. Sometimes that's a SaaS model, sometimes that might be a freemium model, you might be building a game where the app is free to download and then people pay for the service over time, they buy in-game currency or whatever it is.

But you need to figure out if you then have a core monetization model because there's certainly a lot of problems... For example, going to a new city and not knowing where the nearest public bathroom is, right? There's apps for that, but can they build a sustainable business that might be worth tens of millions of dollars, or a hundred million dollars one day? Probably not.

At Appster, we generally focus on people that are trying to disrupt an industry or build a solution that has some type of monetization model, and they have their sights set on building a great company. Maybe a company that could be worth millions or tens of millions of dollars one day. That's generally the ambition that a technology entrepreneur has when we work with them.

Paul Kemp:  I love the fact that you mentioned looking at core problems. We've had lots of episodes with founders over the years and many keep coming back to the theme: 

“solving a core problem”. 

Now, the other big theme from all my episodes on The App Guy Podcast is around getting feedback and validating your idea. How do you validate a business proposition or idea?

Josiah Humphrey: Validation is key. Definitely, before you bet the farm and you decide to spend whatever it is  (say tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars in development). Especially if you're trying to build something world class - such as a world class platform. It is going to cost a lot of money. Hence, it makes sense as an entrepreneur to validate the idea before committing the extensive resources. 

A perfect example is actually Appster. Before we got started (and before we had nearly 400 employees and a few different offices around the world) it was just Mark and I. We had this idea: 

"Okay, we want to help startups and companies build apps, but we don't know if it's going to be a good idea, so how are we going to test it?" 

We've always taken this approach to business in general. Everything is an experiment. There's no guarantees in business, or in building a company or in having an idea. You have to experiment.

In fact, at Appster at the start we had no developers. We simply thought it was a cool idea. So, we hired an actor and we filmed a video explaining our intensive development process. It sounds funny going back to it now. As it happens, we filmed him  talking about how we develop apps etc. We also built a very professional website outlining our process. Then we spent maybe a hundred dollars on AdWords to drive some real traffic to the website and test it.

We ended up: 

  • getting leads
  • calling people
  • bringing on clients

Then it was a mad dash to hire some developers and start doing the work. But I would challenge people to do the same thing. For me at least, the number one reason that I see startups fail is that they believe their own grandeur so much... For example, an entrepreneur may say to him/herself 

"This is guaranteed, it's going to be a million-dollar or billion-dollar..."

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they were going to build the next Facebook. You know, we probably hear around 2,000 ideas a month from all over the world. It's just crazy how many people have so much belief in what they're trying to do. On the otherhand, these same people fail to ask the basic questions 

"Have you validated the idea? What core problem are you trying to solve? Have you got real feedback from customers? Have you asked the questions on whether or not they're willing to actually spend money on this solution?" 

the amount of deer staring in the headlights from entrepreneurs is concerning. 

To this point, I think you have to be very smart about how you can do validation, and I don't think that it means having to actually go and build the product right away. There does come a time and place when you just have to build the product. You have to get it out there, you have to test what the market reaction is, but things you can do initially are 

  • building a prototype
  • getting a designer
  • talking to people that might become users.

You can ask the question: 

"Hey, this is the idea that I have. What do you think about it?" 

Walking them through the process, seeing if they have the a-ha moment and think 

"Wow, this thing's fantastic!" 

Then asking the question: 

"Would you pay money for this? What would you pay? What if this was a paid service." 

You have to be also very wary of asking friends and family, particularly if they're not in the industry that you're trying to serve because these people will be too polite. 

You want, as much as possible, people to be brutally honest about whether your idea is good or not. The last thing you want to do is waste time and money, spending the next three years of your life on an idea that's not even any good. 

Success is also looking for the right people. Let's give an example. Say you are building an Uber for haircuts, Actually speaking to people in your target demographic is essential. Such as, people who use a barber on a regular basis. Finding out who those people are and speaking with them directly. 

Then I would still even be cautious of the feedback you get there, especially when you're face to face with someone. Not everyone's going to say: 

"Well, that's a crappy idea." 

Not everyone is that blunt or, let's just say honest. So you could take it even a step further, and I think Facebook certainly has just some wonderful targeting capabilities these days.

For example, let's talk again about the Uber for haircuts business model. If I wanted to validate this idea, I would: 

  • set up a landing page
  • have some images of the app
  • say "Sign up for free to get early access to our Uber For Haircuts app!"
  • collect their e-mail address and phone number
  • then call up those people to validate

This way, the people giving feedback are not someone you've found on the street who are going to be friendly to you face to face. They are someone actually showing an interest from an ad that you've published. It doesn't cost too much on Facebook to run these sorts of ads and target the right kind of people. 

You could target people who are interested in hair products or people who have liked a very famous local barber shop in the area. You can be specific with your targeting on Facebook. This is why I absolutely love Facebook for validating ideas. 

Then ask your new audience questions such as 

"What do you think about the idea? Is this something that you would use?" 

Not only that but also say: 

"Hey, we're actually in the process of building this thing. Would you like to be on the beta list for this?" 

Through the journey of validating that idea and, in fact, every stage you can really lean on these people in a big way. That, I guess, is always my advice to people that are going through a journey of validating their idea whether it’s at the idea stage, the prototype stage or the MVP stage. You need to stay close to your customers and people who are using the app because they are really going to be your source of truth at the end of the day. 

Furthermore, you will be able to use analytics and measure retention, onboarding and all the different things that are so crucial to really seeing if your app can eventually get traction.

I probably sound like a broken record saying it, but you really have to take the approach of challenging your idea completely and being brutally honest about yourself as to whether this idea is going to be good or not. At the same time (it's a tricky thing), you have to balance this brutal honesty with having an absolute certainty and belief that you want to make an impact in a market and do something remarkable. Remember to ask: 

"Is this something that actually has legs? How do we validate this at every stage?" 

Those are some of the things, as an overview, that I would be thinking about if I had an idea I was trying to validate.

Paul Kemp: Josiah, what I love is the fact that we're on the same page. The reason I started this podcast was to get genuine stories of app success and cut through the hype. You mentioned 2,000 app ideas come to you every month...

Josiah Humphrey: Yes!

Paul Kemp: I'm pretty sure that the success stories submitted to publications, like techcrunch and mashable, are in the tens of thousands. They opt to ignore the vast majority of ideas and publish the very few one off overnight success stories Big tech publications make it seem easy to be an app millionaire.

Josiah Humphrey: Exactly.

Paul Kemp: Do you feel like there is almost too much misinformation surrounding how hard it is to build a successful app business?

Josiah Humphrey: Yes. I definitely think that it's glamorized. I feel like entrepreneurs, specifically technology entrepreneurs, are like what rock stars were in the '80s. I live in San Francisco, so this is very much glamorized around: 

"Oh, this person started this thing and in six months they were a multi-millionaire." 

You hear that story in the press all the time. It's funny, a lot of these people are my friends and peers. In fact, we worked with a bunch of different startups that have gone on to have multi-million-dollar valuations, be acquired and all this kind of stuff. You'll see, even in these cases, the amount of hustle, the amount of grind, the amount of work that goes into making an "overnight success". 

I'm certainly testimony to this mis-perception of overnight successes. 

It's not something like: 

"Oh, I have a really cool idea. I'm going to stick it up on the App Store and then I'm going to be a multi-millionaire." 

This never happens. I can't think of one case where I've seen this happen. 

It always takes: 

  • hard work to validate the idea at different stages
  • hard work to build what could be considered something that's just an amazing product
  • hard work to then figure out what those channels are going to be from a marketing perspective and what's really going to fuel the growth

All of these things take a lot of work. 

If you're thinking about getting into the App startup space, then you'd better be prepared to really put in the effort and understand that it's not necessarily going to come easy.

Look at our success stories at Appster. Who really knows what is actually going to be successful. Often times, it's not even the original idea that was successful, but rather something else found through a lot of trial. 

This is why I was talking so much about validation and testing so many different things and running a million different experiments. 

Through trial and error and improving over time, you eventually come out with a product. 

Often times, the first version of the product is not actually what ends up being successful. I can give a million examples of this. 

  • YouTube was a video dating site
  • Twitter was a service called Odeo - it was a podcasting service

Paul Kemp: Oh, really?

Josiah Humphrey: Yes, exactly. What's another famous one...?

Paul Kemp: Instagram?

Josiah Humphrey: Yes 

  • Instagram was a Foursquare knock-off
  • PayPal was a transactional software for BlackBerry
  • Flickr started off as an MMORPG (or maybe that was Slack)
  • I think Slack started off as a game.

Again, I can quote many more examples, but my point is if you're wanting to become another success story - it requires: 

  • a lot of grit
  • a lot of persistence

These dedicated entrepreneurs know that it’s not always the original idea that is going to make it. It's generally: 

  • a lot of iterations
  • a lot of improvements
  • it's talking to customers
  • it's getting feedback over a period of years

all these things combined gets determined entrepreneurs to success. I think it’s really important to question 

"Do I want to put in the work?" 

Because it's a lot of work, I can tell you that much.

Paul Kemp: Josiah, one of the other things that I get asked quite frequently is how to get funding. I know you've got some tips perhaps for those founders and CEOs that are at the start of their journey.

Josiah Humphrey: Yes, that's an awesome question. It's a question that we get asked all the time:

"I've got this really great idea, but I've got no money." 

I think first of all you have to think about the resources that you have. There's a few ways to go about this. In other words, there's different options. 

Option 1

When you've got an idea, you might want to find an engineer, maybe give them some equity, maybe a couple of engineers, and maybe that's your way to pay for the development, for building the product. 

In some cases like that, maybe you can't afford to pay a salary, so it's literally just all equity; you guys become partners and you're able to build a product. This is if you're a non-technical founder.

Option 2

Another way is maybe you work with freelancers, or maybe you off-shore it (depending on your budget). Sometimes this can be a really good way to build something. But also throwing a little caution to the wind (remember, it’s just my perspective). I have the full belief that if you're really serious about building something great, then it has to be world class. Working with freelancers is, typically, very hard to control regarding quality. 

Option 3

The other option is working with a company like us. We're more on the side of building something world class and running validation and designing product strategy and all the kind of stuff that we do. That comes with a large cost. It can cost $100,000 dollars (and sometimes a lot more than that). So, first of all, you have to think about: 

  • what are the resources you have to invest?
  • What are you willing to dedicate?
  • what do you think is the best path in order to make the product?

This is the first step. 

Then it's deciding on what your appetite is like for raising investment. You have to understand that if you're wanting to raise investment, then you're going to have to give up equity. In fact, equity (technically) is the only thing you have as a startup entrepreneur. When you have an idea, that's all that you have. 

You have an idea and you have equity, that's it. 

You have to be really careful giving away equity early on. You may find, very quickly, you could be diluting yourself out of the company. You could lose control of the company at later stages of funding (depending on what kind of terms you have with an investor).

Then you have to decide, are you able to maybe grind it out and get some version of an MVP out before you go and take on serious investment? If you have an MVP, then you're probably going to be able to save a bit more equity. Sometimes, you save significantly more equity, because you've got more of a product out. 

However, if you've just got an idea, then be prepared to give away equity. In fact, be prepared to give away a lot more equity than you would if you had an MVP released and you had traction with it.

Now, some investors are going to be taking a lot more equity. For example, working with angel investors, particularly if you only have an idea, is going to cost you more equity. 

In fact, investors are going to want to have already seen traction because of the way funding markets are right now. Investors will want to see that you've grown users, maybe that you have some traction in some form in terms of revenue as well. It's different in every case. For first-time founders that are raising their seed round (the first round of funding that you would get; after that comes series A, B, C and onward), we typically recommend founders try and raise from friends and family first (if they can), before professional investors and particularly VCs. 

Most VCs don't do an incredible amount of seed funding. Also, you're going to get much friendlier terms raising from friends and family, because generally they're not investing in the idea, their risk profile is much lower, and more than likely they're actually investing in you and in the relationship, the rapport that you have with them.

Working with angels investors (again, take this with a pinch of salt because it depends on who you find) can be very generous investors. They may simply believe in you and they believe in the idea rather than having to see traction. But generally, it’s going to be trickier in the way of negotiating good terms with just an idea.

So, I would say these are some things to think about when trying to raise funding. 

Now let's talk about the fundraising process. 

This is different for everyone. We have a workshop that we run where we coach founders on how to raise funding. 

It’s obviously different in every case. For example, a guy from last year who was 18 (at the time), raised about half a million dollars with the first call he made to an investor. 

This rarely happens. 

Most of the time it's meeting after meeting after meeting, and being rejected constantly. 

You have to build a very strong mindset and the fitness to be able to go out there and be rejected time and time again, particularly if you're working with professional angel investors versus friends and family.

I often hear from founders the same themes. For example, I’ll get a call like: 

"Josiah, I'm trying to raise funding and I'm really struggling... I'm having a hard time raising the funding" 

This is where I sort of know what's up. I'll say something like: 

"This sucks, man... How many investors have you reached out to?" 

The founder says:

"Well, I've spoken with two, three investors and all of them have said no." 

I reply: 

"Well, reality check, dude... Speak to a hundred, speak to two hundred, speak to three hundred before you complain about you can't raise funding." 

A perfect example of this is Airbnb. They have a 20 billion and they've just raised another 500 million or another billion in cash to expand (I think). As it happens, they were rejected by every investor in Silicon Valley. In fact, the investor that said: 

"Okay, we'll put up some cash" 

...didn't even like the initial idea; they were just like: 

"You know what? We love the team. We think you guys will somehow figure it out." 

You have to really question yourself. 

Are you willing to take on rejection hundreds of times? 

Sometimes. getting rejected hundreds of times is what it takes to get the funding. Not everyone's willing to put in the hard work.

Paul Kemp: Josiah, in the final few minutes we have you on this episode, the biggest thing I’m asked is how to launch your app and market your startup. In fact, this is relevant to me now because I'm currently helping launch an app where I have an ownership stake

Josiah Humphrey: Oh yes...

Paul Kemp: How can we cut through all the noise and market an app successfully?

Josiah Humphrey: Yes, that is sometimes honestly more critical, having the right distribution model for your product. Often times it's more critical than even the product itself. We work on a lot of products and do a lot of marketing. In some cases, we've done some really crazy stuff and got many, many downloads in just a weekend.

We see a lot of different things because we test a lot of channels. A lot of people come and work with Appster and they say: 

"What should our marketing strategy be? What channel...?" 

They all want tactics, they want a quick fix tactic:  

"What channel should we use? What sort of ad should we run on Facebook for a cost/install campaign?" 

But to me, it's like: 

"Okay, before you even think about that..." 

For me, the foundation of all marketing really is that your product is your marketing; that's really where it starts. 

First of all, you have to look at your product and say: 

"Is this something that I know would just create this incredible experience for whoever is using it?" 

And the way that I would challenge people on this concept is to go and look at the apps that you use every day. In a given week, the average person only uses about eight apps. Take a look at those eight apps that you use, and ask yourself the question  

  • is the app that I'm building as good as those top apps?
  • Is it world class?
  • Does it have an incredible user experience?
  • Do people walk away from it saying, "Wow, the app is amazing!” , “The app added a lot of utility/value in my life!"
  • and finally (and more important than everything else - the magic sauce) they users say something like "Okay, now I'm going to tell my friend about this app."

Can create an app that is going to give you organic word-of-mouth marketing. 

For example, take the app Uber. They probably have a bigger app marketing budget than any company in the world, yet their number one channel is word-of-mouth, organic referrals. Because someone uses it and and says: 

"Oh my gosh, this is much better than using a taxi." 

So, to me, this is the foundation of app marketing. Before you think about: 

"Oh, what cool marketing channel am I going to use?"

think about your product and making it world class.

Now, let's think about marketing channels. 

For everyone, it's going to be different in various cases. There is a lot of emphasis placed on: 

"Oh, let's just run a Facebook ad campaign and we'll be good." 

To me, Facebook is probably the best channel in mobile, particularly for the targeting capability. Even then, there's a lot of acquisition costs in there, especially if you're building a freemium app or an app that doesn't have a monetization model (yet). You have to be careful with your acquisition strategy and your cost/acquisition. 

Sometimes, it's actually about doing the things that don't scale. What I mean by this is:

  • getting your app out there
  • knocking on doors
  • really driving that organic growth

Now, the best way to do all this is to first focus on marketing. Especially if your app is location-based or if it's something where you're trying to build a brand. Typically, it's not smart to just launch an app globally right away, because you want to try to build brand equity very quickly in one place, where people can start talking about it and people can start using it. 

Let's say it's a two-sided marketplace and you need to find buyers and sellers. Again, taking the Uber for haircuts model as an example - you have to find barbers and you have to find people that want to get a haircut. Well, you'll have to find both of those people, and if you spread out too quickly  (let's say you go after the whole of America first), it's going to be harder for you to build both sides of that market. 

So you want to try and focus on one location at a time. 

Facebook is a perfect example of this strategy. They did this at Harvard, and then eventually moved out to other universities, but they focused on one place first. This is where I think people make big mistakes all the time, thinking: 

"Well, I'm going to take this global right away. Look how big my market is, I have a billion people that I can potentially reach." 

It's like: 

"No, dude... You need to focus on a very small subset of the market first, and make those people raving fans." 

Deliver a lot of value for those people, build a brand up there, get word of mouth happening.

Like I was saying, going back to doing the stuff that doesn't scale, knocking on doors. 

I think Tinder is a really great case study of this. It's not like they had crazy amounts of downloads overnight and everything just went bonkers for them. They had to work to get the initial traction. The one thing they did is they helped people reach what's called the a-ha moment. What Tinder did was go to universities. They would get people that throw a party to download Tinder. 

The smart thing was they were doing it at the same time, they were setting up both sides of the market. The a-ha moment in Tinder is when you get a match. 

"Okay, someone likes the way that I look!" 

But my point is that even an app that had the explosive growth Tinder had, guess what - once upon a time they had zero users and they had to build a street team and go out there and actually hustle to get their first downloads and focus on one location. 

So often times it's about doing the things that don't scale.

The other side of the coin (and some of the stuff that we help our clients do as well) is then you're looking at scaling out marketing campaigns and testing different channels and optimizing different channels. This can be a lot more complicated. You need to test a lot of channels, you need to test a lot of: 

  • creators
  • banner ads
  • ad copy
  • landing pages

Test all these different things. 

There's a lot of different channels: 

  • paid ads
  • producing content that's really useful for an audience
  • running events

There's all sorts of different things. Test those different channels and break down the investments that you're having to make, break down what the cost/acquisition is, and then if you can, you break down what your ROI is for each of those channels as well, and then you end up having a very clear picture of "What channels are working best for me?"

At the end of the day, marketing is not something that happens by luck these days. It's not like you just buy a billboard ad and then you have a hundred million downloads. It's very much about running scientific experiments and using the scientific method. In terms of scaling campaigns, that's probably the best advice that I can give - don't just throw money into a hole and not know where you're getting results from. I'm sure a lot of other people on this podcast have explained the process of how that's done, but it's critical that you don't just leave marketing to chance. You have to run experiments, you have to measure, you have to understand your metrics. That's probably the brief overview advice I would give around marketing.

Paul Kemp: Josiah, that is absolutely incredibly valuable. One of the big objectives of this podcast is to try and save people money, and one of the easiest ways to burn money is to hire a PR agency and expect things to be taken care of.

Josiah Humphrey: Oh, yes.

Paul Kemp: Josiah, it's been wonderful talking to you. This has been one of the most valuable chats I've had in a long time, and I really appreciate your time.

Josiah Humphrey: Awesome.

Paul Kemp: How best can people reach out and connect with you? What's the best way of getting in touch?

Josiah Humphrey: If it's for Appster, just For people that are going through the process, we have a lot of completely free resources. Under our resources tab, you can learn more about funding, about user acquisition, about how to build apps that are sticky. We have tons and tons of different whitepapers that I think will be super helpful for people that are going through the process. So that's the easiest way to get in touch with us and check out what we're all about.

To the listeners/readers that are out there, make sure you're willing to put in the work, and more than anything have the self-belief, because it can be a lonely road. Probably people that are listening/reading this - you're doing the right thing because you're getting out there and you're learning and you're thinking about: 

"How do I build something great?" 

Keep on this path of learning, and also try and develop the self-belief that you need to figure it out. Remember, it’s a journey your going on.

I think sometimes people are too impatient for success. They think, "It's supposed to happen in three months. Every other person is an overnight success", but this is actually not true. I think the thing to really think about - something that I certainly try to ask myself every day - is: 

"What seeds am I planting on a daily basis that are going to grow into trees?" 

Kind of a funny analogy, but: 

"What seeds am I planting that are going to grow into trees one, three, five, ten, twenty years from now?" 

If you think like that and understand that most success stories and most successful people are actually playing the long game and they've been doing it for years and years - I think Jeff Bezos is probably my favorite example of this. Understand that it's about the long-term. If you're willing to be consistent over three, five, ten years - that's when you'll truly see success.

If you like this content, find more at or subscribe to The App Guy Podcast by searching Paul Kemp in your favourite podcasting app


5 Really Good Reasons NOT TO Use Twitter Ads

I just launched my company’s new app called Velapp and used alternative growth hacks to Twitter paid ads. I reduced my potential cost per click (via Twitter) by over 500%

Is Twitter advertising best when you go through their self-serve ad dashboard?


I have used Twitter ads in the past, but I found it costly and very time consuming.

Luckily, I found alternative growth hacks. Here is my experience using a new influencer service from Trend Pie and finding success on Product Hunt

Listen To Episode 498 - Victor Ricci founder of Trend Pie

Listen To Episode 498 - Victor Ricci founder of Trend Pie

Listen on Android

Listen on Android

My top 5 reasons to stay away from Twitter’s own ad platform.

1. Twitter Charges Too Much for Performance

On average, a thousand views on Twitter costs anywhere from $9 to $11. As I say, you pay too much using Twitter’s own ad platform.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 12.41.45.png


As it happens, I just paid an average of $0.26 per 1,000 impressions using Trend Pie

I achieved 3,610,173 impressions and this cost $1,000.

In fact, here is the full report showing:
Impressions 3,610,173
Engagements 72,120
Engagement Rate 2.03%
Retweets 73
Likes 514
Media Views 59,710

Seeing the Twitter activity on launch day filled me with great excitement.

This is just one example of Retweets from a single tweet:
Original Tweet:



My click performance was high because of the massive number of followers from accounts who retweeted.

2. Target Trending Keywords

Trend Pie started my campaign around the spring break. This meant they targeted the keyword ‘Spring Break’ in a few tweets.

For example….

A good strategy is to start a campaign around a relevant big event so you can jump on the band wagon of a trending keyword.

3. Twitter Engagement Targeting

Everyone knows its not just about a follower count or number of impressions. A better metric is number of engagements.

In my campaign for Velapp, I achieved:
Engagements 72,120
Engagement Rate 2.03%

I used a tracking link because I wanted to share my experience with my community. This cost me in a lower engagement rate. If I never used a tracking link, I could’ve achieved a higher engagement rate of about 2.3% (which is 82,938 total engagements)

4. Twitter Has A High Cost per Click

Now remember, not all of my tracked clicks would’ve registered. However, in launching Velapp and working with Trend Pie, I achieved 1,903 clicks; almost all of these UNIQUE CLICKS.

This compares to using Twitters own ad platform at a potential cost around $2.75 per click.



So, conducting the equivalent Velapp campaign, but using the Twitter self-serve ad network  would’ve cost me a massive $5,233

5. Quality Of Clicks

In our live campaign, every 2.4 clicks from either Trend Pie or our hunt day on Product Hunt resulted in a download. We spent a total of $1,000. This meant a very low cost per install of $1.26.

This compares to an average of say $6.50 per download, but then this is all over the place when you run your own campaign on Twitter


Note: It’s challenging to attribute each download because I had two initiatives under way at the same time - Trend Pie and Product Hunt. Total spend was $1,000

In summary

Here is an infographic to sum up my growth hacking experience...

Listen to episode 393 w. David de Min of Velapp

Listen to episode 393 w. David de Min of Velapp

How My App Got 30 Million Downloads Appearing On CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Daily Mail UK, Huffington Post, NY Times And More

Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is the show where we appeal to app developers, app entrepreneurs; even if you are working in corporate and you're just fascinated with what goes on in the app world, then this is the episode for you - do stay tuned. I go around the world, find amazing founders and go through their stories.

Today I have really found a terrific founder... Get this - he has had over 30 million downloads for various apps that he's created. It's just a dream for anyone who's getting into the app world, so we're going to learn a little bit about the success he's had with those apps. But more importantly, we're going to go through what he's doing right now with a company that he is the CEO and co-founder of - SwingDev. They're developers that can create apps or websites for you, and they do it in a beautiful, very high polished way. Jo, first of all, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.

Jo Overline: Thanks, great to be here!

Paul Kemp: Terrific to have you on. We're going to go straight into it, man... 30 million downloads - that is a remarkable achievement. I would love to know, was that manufactured/strategized? What was your success owed to?

Jo Overline: It was kind of a mix, I would say. Certainly, there was a big element of luck in the whole thing. I think every great success probably has that little bit of luck. To really propel things forward, it was about leveraging that luck into a strategy to maximize the impact and just really push things forward so we could get the most out of the opportunity. That was the key thing that really drove things forward with that and changed thousands of downloads into millions of downloads.

Paul Kemp: The app was called Ugly Meter, and it resulted in you getting onto the Howard Stern show not just once, but four times... How did that come about? That's incredible.

Jo Overline: Well, there was a lot of press at the time, and it was never my intention. It was funny, because the whole reason I made this app was to -- I was just learning iPhone development at the time, and every time I needed to learn a new feature, I would come up with a mini project; really, the best way to learn is to just jump into it.

I needed to learn how to use the iPhone camera, so I'm just sitting there, thinking

"What could I do? This sounds fun, let's just do it."

I just did this app; I spent a few days with it, figured out how the camera worked... I never had any intention of selling it or making any money off it, but when I made stuff, you just put it in the App Store and let it be out there.

I woke up one morning and there's a message for me from the Daily Mail in the U.K. They're saying,

"Hey, just letting you know we're running a whole story on celebrities and the Ugly Meter, and we're rating everybody and doing all this stuff..."

I was like,

"Okay... That's cool, I guess."

I didn't really know at the time... I'd heard of the Daily Mail, but I didn't realize how big they were and the impact this would have on my future. 

30 million downloads of Ugly Meter

Things went pretty crazy from there. It got picked up on the U.S. side, all the news stations were covering it; I went live on CNN, Jay Leno did it in his monologue...  Howard Stern - that was one of our big breakouts. They contacted me... They had heard of it also, and I was a huge fan of the show, so I made that a priority, of course. It was a really great experience to meet all those guys that I listened to for so many years. It kind of got a life of its own and just went forward through the media nationwide, and even worldwide.

Paul Kemp: Yes, what's really fascinating and what I'm learning immediately from you, Jo, is that a lot of the listeners, the appster tribe are always asking about how to get free press, and here you are, without any PR agency I'm guessing, you just get this random call and it propels you into success. I'm almost grateful that we can learn about this story, because so many developers are trying to push their app so hard, get into the press, get rejected from all these journalists... And yet, if you build something that is viral -- why do you think it went so viral? What was the essence of the app that just kind of caught the imagination of the press?

Jo Overline: It's easy... There's one thing that the press needs. A lot of people make this mistake when reaching out the influencers in the press. The press needs a story; the press is not in the business of just writing about things... They love a story, and even better, they love a juicy story. Ugly Meter appeals to people's vanity, and everyone like to do this and see what happens. One of the big things about it was, whether they admit it or not - we know by the download numbers - everybody was downloading this. 

Keep in mind, this was many years ago, so the App Store worldwide was much smaller that it was today. We were instantly number one in the App Store, which was a big deal. We got the fun coverage by Daily Mail, but what happened was as the later news stations picked it up, they wanted to cover it, but they needed a new angle. It was actually an interesting view into the inside of the press because it was Fox News first that did it - completely fabricated a fake story that it was being used as a tool for bullies in schools, because they wanted to put a twist on it that sounded bad... Which is completely false, completely made up; this was never once reported or used as that, but the thing is, as soon as there was this controversy behind it - it was all made up, but it was there - that's when the media really ran with it, because they truly had a story.

What I realize is bad press and good press... Good press loves bad press. They love to run with these types of stories, because everybody -- literally, every news station across the country, and every comedy show ran with it. There were days where I'd do 50 morning show interviews just to talk about it, like morning radio shows. But really, you have to create a story. 

I see a lot of people trying to promote their apps, and they just put them out there and tell people about it, but the reality, the truth of it is nobody cares. It's another app; there's two million of them out there. You need to be unique, and you need to craft a story. That's what PR is all about - creating a story around what you want to sell, to give people an emotional connection to it.

how to get press

Paul Kemp: You're reminding me of my wonderful chat with the founder of Blonde 2.0. She was responsible for the Yo app, which I think attracted a hundred million downloads. The things I'm learning from that episode and from you now is that there's the connection of having a story that is slightly controversial as well, which is what the press love. Really interesting for any app developers who are struggling to get any exposure... It's a good thing to think about.

Should we transition then into what you're doing now? Because I guess this success gave you the freedom to choose your own future, although you were an independent developer at the time. Tell us about the story in the aftermath, coming off the back of this, and what eventually ended up with you founding SwingDev.

Jo Overline: Yes, so it really opened up a new world. Being in software development, since I was a little kid, was my dream; it's what I'm passionate about, it's what I love to do, and this really opened up to me the thought process of

"Wow, this is a real business. We just made a ton of money, and we don't need to stop here. What could we do? What's the greatest thing that would make me happy to do every day?" 

We thought about those things, had a ton of incoming requests... There was so much press around it... I just had hundreds of e-mails like,

"Hey, I have an app idea. I want to make an app. I want to do this, I want to do that."

Seeing that, I kind of came to the realization that

"You know what? I was so successful, and it changed my life... I would like to help other people do that, too."

It really made me focus on meeting people who had good ideas and are really passionate about them, wanted to develop them, wanted to create their own success... And to really take what I learned and what I know and mentor them to that success. 

That lead me into taking certain projects that I wanted to work on, and moving forward, it just kind of became too much, though. I mean, I was only one person; I had my partner, Ryan, who was a designer, but I was the developer, and you can only do so much. As the incoming requests started coming in more, I had a friend - partner, now - who actually lived in Warsaw, Poland. We were talking and he's like,

"You know, I've got these friends out here that are just brilliant developers, maybe we all partner up. You have this pipeline of projects and a lot of things you want to work on... Why don't you do what you love - work with the clients - and we'll build the engineering on the backend over here?" 

We did a trial, project experiment and it worked. That was about four years ago. Over time, our team has gotten bigger... We've built out a business. These days, we concentrate on working with startups. People have ideas, need execution... We make software, but we're not a usual software house. We have a clear goal, which is to make clients succeed. It's not about just letting them drive a process and getting billable dollars out of them. We work really closely with them to make sure they have an actual game plan to succeed with their ideas.

Our culture is really easy - we hire the best people and we create the environment for them to come up with amazing, creative solutions for the best clients. 

Paul Kemp: I love this, Jo. It's one of the reasons why I started the podcast, in a way - to help people, to help startups really fulfill good ideas, and I love that we've met some like-minded people along the way with this show, now 514 episodes. You know, this is the first time that I've spoken to an entrepreneur who has pivoted from the basis of success rather than failure, which is quite interesting. Normally, the themes of my podcast are a pivot, because you're perhaps not achieving the success you want, and yet your pivot is based on the success you were having, and then expanding into what you really wanted to do, which was to build apps.

Jo Overline: Yes, I saw it as a real opportunity. I had something that few people get, and it was like

"You know what? Now I can do whatever I want. What do I want to do?"

and it really was about working with startups and helping them have the same success. That's the thing that really drove me. 

Over time, it kind of created a culture of uncompromising quality. We never have to compromise. We work with the best people, we work with amazing clients, and it makes us unique because we are truly passionate about what we do. Anyone who works for us, they're not just your average software developer; they're like artists of their craft, in a sense. Those people are really driven to do creative, unique things, and our clients appreciate it. It's actually allowed us to enter the Bay Area, and we're highly trusted out there in the whole VC network, in the startup network, to come in and just deliver a hundred percent of time because it's just not an option for us. We're there to deliver every time, with the best quality. 

Unfortunately, in the software business that's a unique business model, to deliver quality on time and on budget. It's good for us, but unfortunately, the industry itself has a high dissatisfaction rate overall with outsourcing, so we really take a different approach. It's not about outsourcing, it's about partnering and creating success.

Paul Kemp: I love that. Let's talk about the clients you work with because you mentioned startups. Many of the appster tribe listening and reading this will be startups, maybe the founder. What do you find are the types of startups that you end up working with?

Jo Overline: There's a big range. There's everything, from the guy that walks in the door and has drawings on a napkin, to -- we work with a lot of series A, series B funded portfolio companies of the VCs. We're a boutique operation, we can't take every project. We need to take the right projects, and we take the ones that we can truly deliver amazing work on. We have to find the right people, and really anyone in that range. 

business plan on a napkin

We don't have a typical client that we only work with. It's more about the person, their idea and do we believe in the idea? Are we passionate about it, too? Because if we're not, we just don't even go down the path. We help them find someone else that may be a better fit, but we really only engage in the things that we truly believe in.

Paul Kemp: Jo, there's obviously people listening who have their own ideas, an  you're approaching this as an investor, because you have to invest in the company through your time and your effort. What assessment do you use then, when you're looking at a new idea?

Jo Overline: Well, we do a lot of planning up front, analyzing ideas, markets and things like that, to make sure there is a path for success available... Because there are millions of ideas; everybody out there has an app idea, and what we've come to realize is ideas mean nothing unless you're willing to execute and you're able to execute. So that's what we concentrate on, an execution plan - how to really bring something to market, how to create an MVP and beta versions that are successful. 

There's kind of backwards approach (some see it as a backwards approach) that we take. If a client comes to us and they have $20,000 (I'm just making up a number) and they have this idea of the app they want to make, what we actually do up front a lot of the times is we look at it and we're like, "Okay, I understand that you have this much, but let's strip things back; let's build this light version of it for half as much money. Don't spend all your money now with us. Let's get that and get some feedback and then get some new features." 

Generally, the people we work with are very smart and they have new ideas, and the last thing we want to do is have them spend all their money on a version and have no revenue to continue with these future ideas they have. While a lot of dev houses out there work with people, and when someone says

"Hey, I have a $20,000 budget"

they're like

"Alright, perfect"

and they take it and they build what they can... We really take an approach to do what's best for the client, for their long-term success. 

Our mindset - say we have a company that's got seed funding - is to put the company in a position where they can get their series A. If in our head we're doing everything and our goals are aligned, then that's when success comes. Everyone should be of the mindset to just get to the next level and be on the right path to do that. We're never opportunistic... We don't just go along with clients; we're a little different. 

I tell clients up front,

"If you're looking for a team of yes-men, we're certainly not that. We're going to speak up. We're going to tell you if you're doing things from our experience in a bad way or in a wrong way."

We're not going to force anything on you, but we will give you all the information that we can give you to let you make what decision you think is best. Of course, the last decision is up to the client, but we arm them with everything we know to help them make the best decisions possible. 

Paul Kemp: Jo, you've clearly worked with a lot of startups, regarding different apps... What metrics are you using right now to gauge success of an app? Is it still downloads, or is it other parts of the process, the metrics that you look at really in depth?

Jo Overline: It's really depended on the business case, and funding... There's a lot of variables there. Raw downloads mean nothing if you don't have a plan to eventually monetize, because you can't just operate for free forever. We work with clients to have those ideas up front; you have to have it in the back of your head, even if you're not going to monetize something from day one. There should be at least some type of idea of how it should work in the future. We kind of go through planning with them to figure those things out if they don't know yet.

Really, we gauge success as things go to the next level, and as you reach the next milestone, whether that milestone means a certain amount of downloads or a certain amount of revenue or a certain amount of press. It's unique to each situation, but we help the client set those milestones up so we can measure progress. Just making progress for progress means nothing unless it can be measured. We actually set goals and we help the clients try to meet those goals.

Paul Kemp: I was really interested -- the issues about branding, for instance... You help a lot of startups and you've learned yourself the importance of branding when it comes to press and stories and downloads... Any tips for the budding entrepreneurs out there who are working hard on their apps about how to get better branding, or help with marketing? Any tips that can really help those entrepreneurs that are trying hard with their apps?

Jo Overline: What we really learned is there are so many apps our there... The market is huge. Before [unintelligible 00:20:50.12] you could just put an app out and a lot of people saw it [unintelligible 00:20:54.23]. There are a lot of big players in the game now, because there are a lot of money, and now we're in the day we're competing with big brands. I don't think Ugly Meter probably would have had the success that it did years ago because I didn't do anything to promote it; it would just disappear into a sea of other apps.

We found the approach is never compromising on quality; you need to decide what you're going to do, and you need to do it better than anyone else. Then, if it's a niche market or whatever it is... It takes sweat; there's no magic answer, short of

"Hey, we'll throw millions of dollars at it."

That's not the situation most people are in.

It takes sweat. Get the word out there, work through target user groups, get their feedback - that's really the thing that matters. No matter how much of an expert you are in your industry, you'll find the users will tell you things you never knew before. It's about listening to users, building that confidence that you care what they think, and then hopefully driving organic growth from there. As a developer, you're responsive to what your users want, you listen to them and you try to follow the path of what they need. They will naturally recommend your product to others. 

Paul Kemp: The feedback thing has come up on the podcast many times. How did you go about getting feedback...? Obviously, you've got the reviews, which are maybe skewed to apps and bugs in the app. But how did you actually get good feedback from those users that maybe are the potential future power fans?

Jo Overline: It's actually pretty simple. Yes, reviews are actually a bad way, because people who write reviews, in general, are the angry people. They have problems, and they want to write a review. I don't even personally read them because I don't...

Paul Kemp: Unless they're leaving a review for The App Guy Podcast. I've only had five stars so far, which is...

Jo Overline: See, that's an accomplishment because, for every person that's happy that's speaking out, there are ten angry people that are speaking out. Those four and five star ratings are not easy to get. Really, the way you get the feedback you want is ask for it. Either you create communities around your app or around your idea, or go find the communities out there... There's a group for everything out there. You find that and you just as for their feedback. Create beta groups if you need to; give people inner circle access so they feel special and they feel obligated to help you with your idea because they're getting a benefit.

Really, ask for it. That's all you need to do. If you have an app that's been launched ten times, say... You've kind of passed the threshold of someone who just tried it and said,

"Oh, this is stupid"

and disregarded it. If someone launched it ten times, then put a pop-up and ask for feedback. Say,

"Hey, thanks for using this. Will you be willing to give us feedback?"

and put a little form to collect info.

I found those people that are starting to engage with the app and are asked for their opinion, they are really willing to give it.

Paul Kemp: Fascinating advice. In the final few minutes we have with you, Jo... This is a show that has inspired many working in a corporate environment to leave and become independent developers or startup founders,  just working on their own. You have been independent now for many years; I can't imagine you've had too many bosses in your life. What's it been like over the years to be boss-free, independent and pretty much making your own decisions? How important has that aspect been to you?

Jo Overline: Yes, you're right, I actually haven't had an actual job with a boss since I was 19 years old, which is 17 years ago now. I mean, I had my kid jobs, but I've never in recent history been in that position. Really, it's a blessing, it's the greatest thing in the world, but there's a lot of stress that comes with it, there's a lot of hard work... It's certainly not easy. 

A lot of people that have never been in the position are like,

"Oh, look at you... You get to do whatever you want and go all over the world or you can just stay home all day..."

There are, surely, great benefits, but at the same time there is a lot of sweat and there's a lot of work that people don't see. You're up nights and weekends, and your business and the thoughts of your business literally never leave your mind; it's what you think about all the time. 

It's an overwhelming thing, which is why when I chose the path of this, I had to truly do something that I was passionate about and loved because I knew from experience in the past that it would overtake my life. I needed to really know that I was going to do something that I loved. 

Paul Kemp: So do something you love, that's the thing I'm getting. Jo, it's been fascinating going through your story with Ugly Meter and the Howard Stern show and SwingDev and all these things you've done... What a stamp you're putting on the planet.

I wondered how best can people reach out and connect with you? What's the best way of getting in touch?

SwingDev on The App Guy Podcast

Jo Overline: The usual way is, of course, LinkedIn. If you want advice, if you have a project, if you want to talk, if you want to tell me you love me, if you want to tell me you hate me - I'd like to hear it all, so shoot me an e-mail. It's I'd love to hear from anybody. That's really the best way. If you have any comments or questions, I'm always happy to talk to anybody. I like meeting people, I like caring about other people maybe in similar situations that I am in business or life, or people that are trying to achieve that and need some advice or direction from what I've learned. I'm always happy to share that.

Paul Kemp: Jo, thank you for coming on The App Guy Podcast, episode 514 - it's a special one. I appreciate your time and all the best for the future.

Jo Overline: Thanks, I really appreciate it. It was great being on.


Why We Quit Our Corporate Jobs 6 Years Ago

What's Your Life About?

story of finding a co-founder

Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is the podcast where we really do appeal to app entrepreneurs, app founders, startup founders or if you're working on a side project. In fact, anyone who wants to really make a difference in the world of tech. I have a lot of archive episode. To listen and  access to over 500 episodes of The App Guy Podcast, either search Paul Kemp in any of your podcasting apps or click Archives on my website 

This is episode 513. Today, I'm really excited about my guests I have on the show. They're based in San Francisco - the hub of where all the tech action is happening. They are into app intelligence. Let me introduce Andrew Levy and Robert Kwok, the co-founders of Apteligent. 

Apteligent is an app intelligence company (based in San Francisco), and it is software which allows you to get app insights into events such as: app crashes, app load times, network latency etc. These co-founders have also fascinating startup stories, so let's get stuck in.

Andrew, Robert, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.

Andrew Levy: Thanks for having us.

Robert Kwok: Thanks for having us.

Paul Kemp: Thanks for coming, both of you. Let's jump straight into you, Andrew. I would love to know how did you get into the startup scene? 

Andrew Levy: Sure. I was going to school at a college out in Baltimore, and I knew I wanted to start a company early on. I did all the usual entrepreneur classes and business plan competitions in college. I actually got first place, so that motivated me a bit. Then I knew I needed to be out in the Valley - or wanted to be out in the Valley - to eventually start a company.

I got a job with HP that offered to pay for me to move out here to the Bay Area. That sounded great at the time. I flew out, I started working there... That's actually where I met Rob. We were working on data warehousing systems there. To be honest, it wasn't the most exciting job in the world, but we learned a little bit about enterprise software, and I guess eventually the kind of company we wanted to create. We wanted to create a different type of company than the one we were at at the time.

Paul Kemp: Were you both working in a garage, by any chance, like HP started?

Andrew Levy: No, that would have been fun... It was more like a giant cubicle farm. [laughter] But we met a lot of great people. We actually went our separate way at this point. Rob started a different company - he can talk about that - and I got into Ycombinator, a startup incubator based out here. That was about 18 months into HP. After I got in, I quit. The other two co-founders at the time were at Stanford; that was for a different company than Apteligent. We were focused on applying collaborative filtering to e-mail. Essentially, you can think of Gmail Inbox before that existed. 

We found it was very tough to monetize e-mail. Eventually, we got to be working on a few other projects, but didn't quite become passionate anything else we were working on, so by the end of 2009 - it was that summer that we were in the incubator program... By the end of that year, we just decided to disband that company.

We also happened to go through a different accelerator - Lightspeed Ventures - we did two at the same time, but it ended up working out, because after we disbanded that YC startup I met up with Rob, we started working on a few ideas together, eventually got to be building mobile apps and that's what lead to the founding of Crittercism, which was Apteligent's previous name.

Paul Kemp: Okay. Robert, in terms of your story - give us an insight into how you actually got into startups.

Robert Kwok: Sure. It's kind of a similar story to Andrew. I've always wanted to start a company. Just talking about it, I realize that it's been in the family business for a while. My grandpa  moved here from China, and he actually started a restaurant near San Francisco, in the East Bay. That restaurant became successful, and that's how he brought the rest of his family to the U.S. 

There's a crazy newspaper story about him and how he was separated from his wife for 20 years while he was starting this restaurant. My parents also started restaurants; my dad started one as well, so I guess it's kind of been in our family history there.

When I went to high school, I used to buy and sell magic cards, that was my side business back then. Then I went to MIT, and I guess I just met a lot of like-minded people there that also wanted to dream big and change the world, so I would spend a lot of late nights talking to friends about ideas in terms of what we could build and start companies - that was always the plan.

I started working at HP after MIT, and met Andrew there, as well. My plan was basically "Let's work there for three years, get some experience and then I'll quit and start a company." I think literally it was almost exactly three years after I started where I left HP, and then moved to Berkeley and started a company with some other MIT friends. Coincidentally, it was also an e-mail startup idea. I didn't know Andrew was working on e-mail at the time. 

Our idea was a little bit different... We were trying to create a new interface to triage e-mails. You can imagine, e-mail's been the same for the last 20 years - a list of e-mails on a web page - so we had this idea where it'd be a 2D interface, you could have all your work e-mails in one corner, you could have different sizes and shapes; more people on the thread would mean the shape would be bigger, more important e-mails would be red, versus blue... That was kind of the idea, and we ran into similar problems where people just wouldn't pay for e-mail. 

We also had a huge falling out in the company because two of us had a crush on the third co-founder, so that was a major problem. [laughter]

Paul Kemp: Which one of you won?

Robert Kwok: We actually both lost. She started dating this 40-year-old guy that she met on OkCupid.

Paul Kemp: Well, her loss anyway.

Robert Kwok: Yes.

Paul Kemp: Both of you - that's fascinating. What I've learned already, and from all these episodes I've done of the App Guy Podcast (over 500), one of the biggest takeaways is that entrepreneurs -- it's in the family. If you are listening right now or reading this and you have entrepreneurial parents or grandparents, just expect that it's in your blood.

Let's transition then into Apteligent. I'd love to know what you can do for the app developers, the startup tech people that are listening to this. How can you help them with app intelligence?

Andrew Levy: Sure. In the early days of Apteligent we very much talked with a bunch of other mobile entrepreneurs, mobile developers, mobile teams, and they were experiencing the same issues that we did while we were building mobile apps, which was that it was very difficult to understand user experience, especially once you released the app out into the app store. 

You see those app reviews saying, "This app sucks, it doesn't work", it's really not helping you get to the bottom of what actually happened. So what we created with Apteligent is a data-driven approach to understand where users are struggling in the app, and most importantly why.
Commonly, a lot of people will talk about analytics tools. Most of those tools just look at user behavior and they'll tell you that one of your funnels - say checkout - is dropping on step 3 of 4. That's great, but they don't tell you why are you losing those users, what is happening to them. So what we did was we built an SDK, a tool that you can embed into your apps and it sends off real-time diagnostic data about the performance. Think about all the ways an app can fail: slow load times, crashes, network problems, it could be a device or an OS-specific issue, a location-specific problem... 

We combine the performance data with the behavioral data, so what the user is doing and how performance impacted their behavior. Then we connect that to the business impact. For example, if you have a high crash rate, obviously your churn will be impacted. That's what's unique about what we do - our ability to connect a technical tool with the business impact.

Paul Kemp: Robert, I'd love to know the idea for this then - did you fall upon it based on the work that you were doing, or did you collaborate in a more strategic manner to bring this to life?

Robert Kwok: I guess there are a couple things. One, we were developing apps for ourselves, and we had an issue... There was actually a bug in some of the code that I wrote, where we'd worked three months building this app, and when we tested it everything was great, but then when we launched to a new user, it was looking for some value that would only get set if you're an existing user. So every new person that would download the app would have this crash.
Apple's App Store at the time didn't really have much there - I don't think it still has that much now - and it told us everything was fine, but then all these people started e-mailing us and saying, "Hey, your app doesn't work. Every time I load it, it crashes, so I can't even use your app." So we thought, "Well, there has to be a better way."

Paul Kemp: What's really interesting is that a few episodes ago we talked about the idea of building things for yourself and discovering problems. Scratching your own itch. How did identifying this problem lead to becoming a fully-fledged successful startup called Apteligent.

Andrew Levy: Right. So at this point, we had been iterating on a few different things for a while, so we were running out of money. We really wanted to make sure that this itch that we were scratching was real, so we did a few things: we spoke at a bunch of mobile meetups to hear feedback.

The other thing that we did was we created a simple landing page, a form where users could sign up, they could leave an e-mail address if they were interested in finding out more information, and we made sure that we hit some thresholds in sign-ups and combined that with the feedback we were getting to validate that we were on to something.

We also ended up applying to a different incubator called AngelPad. We had those sign-ups and that validation, the feedback, and then we actually ended up getting into that incubator, so a combination of both of those things - we said, "Let's go for it."

Robert Kwok: We also happened to know a lot of app developers at the time. For example, one of our friends actually made the number one gaming app in Asia at that point; it was a simulation cooking game. It had millions of users, and we were able to do a lot of the grunt work and just try to get as many people that we knew using it, going to meetups and talking to people there, going to hackathons, and just having that level of one-on-one connection with people really helped validate the concept also.

Andrew Levy: Right. The idea was to do unscalable things at the time, and I recommend everyone do those things.

Paul Kemp: What I'm learning, guys... You're picking up on many of the themes that The App Guy Podcast has touched over the years, and one is the importance of your own network and tapping into that, which clearly benefitted you with the game. Also, really trying to understand the feedback from the potential customers and users of your service. Do you feel like there are any other tips you can give any of those startup founders who are listening to this and want to give themselves the best chance of success?

Andrew Levy: Well, as I was alluding to before, I think people tend to hold their ideas to their chest, but like you said, you need that feedback, you need to get out there and talk about it, bounce ideas off folks, and part of the benefit of being in a place like the Bay Area is, like you mentioned, the network. It's not the only place to start a company; certainly, there's other startup cities all across the globe. It definitely makes it easier to be in those places where you can hang out with folks and talk about AI, or self-driving cars, or whatever you're into. Surrounding yourself with like-minded folks will lead to a higher chance of doing great things. 

Robert Kwok: The other mistake we actually made early on was we would spend too much time perfecting something before releasing it, and when we switched to this new idea I think we just went for it. A lot of it is just getting over this fear that it's not going to be perfect, or it's not going to be what you really want it to be, and just launching it and see what happens, and just keep iterating over time. 

Paul Kemp: Yes. So you are an app intelligence company; I wondered, do you actually aggregate any of the data that you get on the backend? For instance, the number of crashes, or the average load times. Do you create some reports or anything that you can share with us about the aggregate data that you're seeing?

Andrew Levy: Yes, certainly. I encourage you to check out We have a lot of publicly available benchmarks there, and also some reserved for enterprise customers. What we learned over time was that we're collecting a ton of rich information about the mobile ecosystem; let's leverage that in a way that we can give it back to our customers in the community in the form of industry trends and benchmarks, like average crash rates, average load times...
We have a global device directory, so if you're trying to launch an app and you're trying to figure out "What devices, operating systems, configurations should I be testing on? What is the average stability or bandwidth available in certain regions?" We provide all of that data so that you can create your test and release plans and you can benchmark how well you're doing relative to your competitors in certain app store categories. Tons of rich information.

We also - this is really interesting - have been able to apply some data science and machine learning to the data to understand how performance is impacting business KPIs. I'd mentioned churn earlier, and we actually found that crashes can decrease next-day app opens by up to 8x, and they can increase churn overall by up to 6x. So huge impact on just that one performance metric along. 

Of course, if your other metrics are not doing too well - it's taking too long to load, or certain flows are delayed - it will have an impact on the business. On that site, you can actually find -- we publish research reports every 4-6 weeks that go into even more detail about the industry.

Paul Kemp: Yes, and just to ensure, for those who are listening whilst driving - you can go to it's episode #513, with Andrew and Robert, and you'll see links to that site. I'm also wondering... You've seen a lot of app developers - appreneurs, as I like to say - start business, who have their apps, and I wondered what you feel like the most important metrics that they should be looking at are, in terms of what you've learned over the years.

Robert Kwok: When you're developing an app, it's great to monitor how your app is doing over time. One of the most critical moments is really around when you first release an app - tracking the first 72 hours after your release. The metrics there that you really want to track are: how many people are adopting that version, how many people are upgrading, and then being able to understand why they are or aren't adopting it.

One of the metrics a lot of our customers track is the crash rate of their app, which is basically the number of sessions that end in a crash. That's often a very good indicator; it's highly correlated with app store ratings, which help drive downloads, so it's kind of a feedback cycle there.

The other metric a lot of companies are tracking today are app start time. Just thinking about it, if you're using an app and it takes ten seconds to load, you're probably going to give up at some point and stop using that app and maybe use a competitor's app. Those are two metrics that a lot of companies closely track, especially when they're releasing new versions.

Andrew Levy: And just to pile on top of that, those performance metrics impact your business, and I think what many first-time app publishers make mistake of is they focus on conversion rates in certain flows in the app. Those are obviously important, but they'd really need be focused on engagement and retention first and foremost, before they ramp up marketing campaigns... As well as those performance metrics that Rob mentioned, because what's going to end up happening is you're going to spend a ton of money to get users, they're going to have a poor user experience and you're going to have a leaky bucket. You're going to lose a ton of them, your acquisition cost will go up, and it just won't be a happy ending. You definitely need to make sure you optimize those metrics.

Paul Kemp: This is great, because it's really compounding a lot of the information we've got from the past amazing founders, and certainly I've had a first-time experience of what you mentioned as being the leaky bucket, where you've got tens of thousands of users downloading the app for the first time, but maybe the conversion is not right... In terms of a conversion rate, what do you think is a good conversion rate? From landing on the app store page to then clicking the Download button.

Andrew Levy: It's tough to say... It can be very vertical-specific. Frankly, our metrics don't focus on the attribution piece. There's tracking of once they open the app, but then there's also "How do you connect? Where are the users coming from?" and those conversion rates. We focus mostly on, you know, once the app is opened what are the metrics that you should look at. 

There's some data out there - if you're interested in this topic, I would look up mobile app attribution of Google.

Paul Kemp: Yes. And as we draw to a close, I'm wondering what exciting stuff you're working on now, in terms of future updates or anything that's coming out going forward.

Andrew Levy: Yes, we continue to add new types of data science capabilities into our platform. We're really driving towards this idea of being able to say, "Hey, if you fix these three issues, then your churn will decrease by this amount, or your engagement will increase, or your revenue will increase." So being able to proactively recommend areas that teams should focus in on is a key area for us. 

We also continue to add other performance metrics. We just launched UI hangs - or you can call it app hangs and out-of-memory analysis - into our product. We're also adding some custom reporting for enterprise clients... So a lot of new dashboards that teams can play around with.

Robert Kwok: We're helping companies understand the wider user experience of the app. So not just knowing when the app crashes, but when the user gets frustrated by the app, or when it's draining battery or killing your data plan.

Paul Kemp: It's really exciting, because I can imagine that you're also looking at artificial intelligence or machine learning or something, to understand where in the code the crashes are happening, and perhaps give developers more insights into the parts of the code that are crashing. Are you looking into that stuff?

Andrew Levy: Yes, we've done some of that already. We launched a product called Smart Crash Search, where we identify similar root causes across errors. One of the common problems that people have is there's a lot of noise generated from these apps, so you need to understand where should your team be investing their time and what are the related problems. So we actually give a probability score in this new product to help you understand how similar is this issue, compared to all these other issues. It's a really interesting and unique capability of ours.

Robert Kwok: We also launched something recently called the 3rd Party SDK Analysis. One of the common problems when you're developing a mobile app is to figure out which SDKs you should integrate. Often times those will cause performance issues like crashes or slowdowns. We launched a product a couple months ago that allows you to recognize if a crash is actually caused by a third-party SDK.

Paul Kemp: Fascinating. Sadly, we've got to draw to a close now... But I'm wondering, do you feel like we've touched on everything in regards to what you wanted to talk about Apteligent? Is there anything else you want to add for those who are thinking about using you?

Andrew Levy: One thing I'd say is we have a free tier as well; we do work with some of the largest app publishers across the globe, but we also work with folks in a garage somewhere, looking to build the next big app. So we have a free tier, we also have a middle tier called JumpStart for small businesses, and our enterprise tier. I'd encourage anyone that's interested to check us out. It's very easy and quick to get started, at

Paul Kemp: Wonderful. Andrew, Robert, thank you both for coming on The App Guy Podcast and sharing your story about Apteligent and what you can achieve with the software. I highly recommend the appster tribe go and check you out. How best can people reach out and connect with you both? What is the best way of getting in touch?

Andrew Levy: If you e-mail info [at], it will be sent out to us. Or you can just contact us directly - Andrew [at] and Rob [at]

Paul Kemp: Great.


How To Engage And Retain App Users Like The Big Players (Facebook, Snapchat)


Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy podcast. I'm your host, it's Paul Kemp. I do go around the world - this is a pure global show, and we help everybody in the world who is an aspiring app entrepreneur, app developer, indie developer, small developer, maybe working on side projects... This is the podcast for you, do stay tuned. We try to bring you the best content that we can possibly get from the people that know what they're talking about.

I've got someone who really knows what they're talking about today, because he is the co-founder of Pyze, and we're going to talk about the current state of the App Store, we're going to talk about maybe obstacles that you're facing as a developer - I think that will be relevant - maybe how to create apps, get traction, the role of automation, and a bit more about Pyze.
Let me introduce Prabhjot Singh - he is the co-founder of Pyze and he's here on The App Guy Podcast. Welcome to the show, Prabhjot.

Prabhjot Singh: Thanks, Paul. Glad to be here, and excited for the opportunity to talk to you.

Paul Kemp: Wonderful to have you on. Let's just start with Pyze, an elevator pitch. How would you sum up what you do at Pyze?

Prabhjot Singh: Our mission is pretty simple at Pyze. We solve the biggest problem that any app developer faces - people download a lot of apps, because there's a lot of apps on the App Store, but people use very few applications, so we solved the challenge of retaining users by automating analysis, engagement and personalization for mobile apps, so that anyone can have the same sophisticated tools that big companies like Facebook, LinkedIn or Zynga use to make their app sticky. Whether you're a Fortune 1000 or you're two guys in a garage, we can give those same capabilities to you.

Paul Kemp: It's really interesting you mention that, because Facebook is definitely the dominant player on the App Store, they always are top of the charts. Do you think there's room for indie developers to get traction and have success with their particular apps on the App Store?

Prabhjot Singh: The deck is definitely stacked against the indie developer today. If you go back years ago to the beginning of the App Store - I'm talking 2006, 2007, 2008 - you actually saw a lot of indie apps being successful and topping the charts. Unfortunately, over the last few years, we've seen what I like to call the corporatization of the App Store, where you've got these big players that are completely dominating the space, so it's very hard for the indie developer to break in.

One of the big issues is data. The big companies can build these big data platforms, they're collecting all kinds of information about you and me, and they know exactly what kinds of ads to show us, they know exactly what  content to show us, they know how to personalize the experience for me, so that it's an enjoyable experience. 

Unfortunately, indie developers just don't have those same capabilities. They're just focused on trying to get a product out the door, probably trying to achieve product market fit, but they don't have to data scientists, they don't have access to these intelligence platforms that are using machine learning, and all these other fancy technologies to really individualize each person's experience. Without that, it becomes really hard to compete, and you compete for screentime, really.

Paul Kemp: Yes, that's a good segue to talk about the current state of the App Store. The Apple App Store, the Android App Store - how do you see it right now in terms of how it's looking?

Prabhjot Singh: It's still a wide-open market in the sense that -- we often like to talk about the app stores as the Wild Wild West. As it sort of matured, there is more predictability in terms of the type of revenue that you can generate, and app stores are still the best way to get distribution for a product easily in the history of software. Because you can immediately get access to billions of devices by uploading your app in just a couple of places. We've never had that  capability before as developers, as innovators, as entrepreneurs. 

If you think about, how many apps are being downloaded, 2016 was a record high; how much time is being spent in apps? 2016 was a record high. But also, how many apps are being uploaded to the app stores? 2016 was a record high. So not only is the opportunity the hottest that it's ever been, the competition is also the hottest. As with anything, everyone wants a piece and you have a lot of people with great ideas that are executing, but I think the app stores still present a great opportunity to get services out there, a great opportunity to generate revenue.

Paul Kemp: In terms of the obstacles that maybe you see developers facing - certainly small developers, indie developers that tend to listen to The App Guy Podcast - what are those obstacles as you can see it?

Prabhjot Singh: There are two or three things that we hear again and again when we talk to smaller app publishers, teams of maybe 1-5 people, or 10  people even. One is understanding who their users are because you can't really optimize your application or get a product market fit without really knowing who your users are. Unfortunately, the app stores  create this firewall between the publisher and the user, where they know everything about the user, but the publisher actually knows very little. 

You might use some analytics solution that will tell you where they click into the app, but that's about it. So that's one of the big challenges that all publishers face: who are my users, what is their behavior? Once you know that, the next big challenge is "How do I engage with those users in a meaningful way?" Through push, through in-app messaging, through e-mail, through SMS/MMS...

These are all challenges for small app publishers because the services that enable this generally cost thousands of dollars. I've built apps in the past and I've had apps with millions of users, and I still wouldn't be able to afford paying a few thousand dollars a month to send out push and in-app messaging and those types of capabilities.

This really gave genesis to the idea of Pyze. I had a problem myself, not understanding my users, not being able to communicate with my users, so the idea of Pyze was really to level the playing field and give those capabilities to everyone. Then we've added a bunch more features to enable personalization, so that you can really start to personalize the experience of each user.

Paul Kemp: It's so interesting to hear you speak about more focus on engagement than downloads. We've had over 500 episodes of The App Guy Podcast, and in the early days it was all about downloads. But the way I see it, a download is just one person downloading at one point in time; they may never come back, so I love to hear about engagement.

I would love to know now how can we create apps that do actually get traction? Any tips for us?

Prabhjot Singh: That's a really good question, you hit the nail on the head. Installs is a vanity metric. Unfortunately, a lot of the metrics that we measure in the industry are vanity metrics. Even a metric like daily active users, which was  considered the standard in the market - it's even used in earning calls for these public app companies, and so forth - I think is a fairly unimpressive metric. 

Let's say there's an application, you download it, I download it; you use it three times a day for 20 minutes each session, and I used it for one second. We're actually both counted as the daily active user number or the monthly active user number. 

When you get a download -- and you can buy downloads all day long. If you've got enough of a budget, you can pay Facebook, you can pay Google and you can generate as many downloads as you want. 

The real metrics to care about are engagement and retention, and the way you drive retention is by focusing on it at the design time. "How do I want to create cycles of engagement within the application, so that I keep users coming back?" Facebook's great at doing that. My friend Ted just uploaded a photo; well, I want to see what it is.  I might get an e-mail, or someone might share his photo and I'll get a notification... It's a great way to get me re-engaged. When I'm there, next thing I know, I've lost an hour looking at Ted's entire wedding album. [laughter]

So how do you create that for your application? That's important to think through in the beginning, but as you get users, there's a lot of cool things that we can do to ensure that users stay sticky.
For instance, we know that a third of the people who download any app will ever only use it once. You've literally got 5-10 seconds of that first app experience to make it count. You should automate an onboarding campaign to give that person a relevant message that tells them something about the application, something that's relevant to them, so that they get hooked and they want to come back.

Similarly, when you start to have a whole slew of users, it's important to start categorizing those users into different groups. You might have loyal users, you might have dormant users; you might have users that are at risk of attrition; ticketing app might have VIP ticket holders or discount ticket buyers... You essentially start grouping these users into meaningful categories and then there's different business objectives for each user. You have to define different user journeys for each of them, so that you can push those users towards that objective.

Someone who is really loyal but has never bought something - I might group them as an under-monetized user. Then you can institute a push in-app MMS campaign to drive them towards purchasing something. Similarly, someone who's a dormant user, I might send him a push notification to remind him why they downloaded the app in the first place.

That's the stuff we do with Pyze - we'll automatically segment the user base and give you the ability to start interacting with each group of users in a meaningful way.

Paul Kemp: I so love what you said there about under-monetized users, and I'm sure that many people listening to this now have many under-monetized users, including me. I launched an app that almost reached a million users, and I think every single one of them was under-monetized. 

We're all very busy... You mentioned earlier that there's a lot that the big boys do that we can't do ourselves, because we're smaller teams, but I wondered what we could do in terms of automation. What's the role of automation and how can it help us with getting traction, and all these other things?

Prabhjot Singh: I live by the rule of "Automate Everything", whatever you can, and that's important. Let's take your app, for example - you had an app with a million users. The rest of us, when we have access to basic analytics tools like Google Analytics or Flurry, or any of these types of solutions, we have to do a lot of manual analysis ourselves to create segments of users, and then analyze those segments for things that we care about - engagement, monetization, or whatever.

Now, when you've got a million users, how do you even come up with the right segments and groupings of users to analyze? It's impossible, and that's all you'd be doing, if you in earnest started focusing on that. So it's important to have a solution that can automate segmentation, so you can easily understand what makes your users different. You have some loyal users and you have some dormant users, right? What's the difference between those users? What makes a dormant user dormant, what makes a loyal user loyal? Because I want to go out and get more loyal users, obviously.

In a game you might have a group of people who are spending a lot of money and people who are not spending any money. Kind of like Facebook has these look-alike audiences, we can then start to engage users that fit a particular mold. That's automating analysis. Now you've got a grouping of users that meet different criteria that we understand, and we can see what aspects of the app each type of user is using. Maybe I need to make some changes in my application to move those users along.

Paul Kemp: Actually, it's fascinating you're talking about segmenting each group, because I can imagine that you do get lots of different users who can fit into many different categories, some of which you already mentioned. But are there any other ways to automate, other than maybe putting the users into different categories? Any other suggestions about automation?

Prabhjot Singh: Yes, absolutely. So once you've put users in different categories, you can then start to automate engagement with those users. There are going to be different engagement paths for someone who's a loyal user, or a seasoned ticket holder, or a discount ticket buyer for, let's say a ticketing app. Once you have that understanding of "Okay, these are the different groups of users", you can then start to automate... Almost think of it like a drip campaign for mobile, where you're sending out push messages or in-app messages to drive users to a particular objective, whether it's a purchase for under-monetized users, or getting them re-engaged for users at risk of attrition.

That's also another type of automation that can be done, and it's important to do that, because to do analysis against users, especially if you've got a million, two million users on a monthly basis, it's almost impossible to figure out what  push messaging you should send to who, and when you should send it.

Paul Kemp: That seems like a good chance, Prabhjot, to talk about Pyze. You are a growth platform, you help developers grow, get traction, segment... But maybe we could go into more analysis about what it is you do for developers and how people can use your platform. 

Prabhjot Singh: Sure. As I mentioned, we essentially automate segmentation - the analysis piece - and then we enable automation of engagement, and then personalization. Those are the three key things that we do. 

We spoke about the analysis earlier, in terms of being able to identify what are the trends and patterns at a macro level, across the entire user base - what aspects of the app are being used and not being used. Once you have that understanding and you can start to spot, "Okay, these are the trends" and "Oh, here's an anomaly. What does this anomaly mean?" Once you have that understanding, you can then  have the segmentation of users and then you can start to engage with those users in a meaningful way. 

We do a lot of the heavy lifting, like if you've got a million users, we know the best time to reach every single user of the application, so that they'll be most receptive. If you and I are using an app, you're using it at two in the morning, I use it at two in the afternoon, and I wanna send a push notification, it will automatically send it at the right time to both of us.

Those types of intelligence capabilities are built in. Then you can set up campaigns to trigger on events; if you've got an eCommerce app and someone's adding an item to a cart and then they abandon that cart, maybe we should send him a coupon for that item, so that we get them re-engaged and convert that user.

You can set up those types of automated actions with Pyze. You can do analysis to say, "Okay, show me all the users that have high engagement in my application, but they haven't spent a dime with me." Now I can take that group of users and I can say, "Okay, let me reach out to those users right now." We enable that  analysis in real time, across millions of users if you've got them.

And finally, personalization. You can  say, "Okay, I'm going to start personalizing the experience of these different user groups. Maybe my loyal users will see a different interface than my not-so-loyal users", or "My seasoned ticket holders will see a different UI, so they can pick their VIP seats, versus people who buy discount tickets." 

You can easily start to morph the application to be very centered around each individual, so that it becomes a personalized experience for everyone.

Paul Kemp: I love it. It's a shame this didn't exist years ago, because it just seems like what we were talking about at the start - the big companies have the big resources, and they have these departments almost that are doing this stuff that you're now enabling the smaller companies, the indie app developers, and everyone really, who can now use your platform to do all this big data analysis and automate it, I'm guessing at a fraction of the budget that it would cost. That's really fascinating.

Prabhjot Singh: That's right. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention in many regards. For myself and the co-founders, this was a pain point that we had, and we thought it didn't make sense to solve it for one application because it wasn't cost-effective; we could build a platform. Pyze is free to get started with, and our lowest tier actually is free for up to a million monthly active users. We want to help everyone be successful, and if you're successful, we know we'll be successful as a business.

Paul Kemp: That is fantastic. So how can people go and sign up to Pyze? Where's the best place to go?

Prabhjot Singh: - P-Y-Z-E. You can just click on the Get Pyze button and get going.

Paul Kemp: And for all those English out there, in my native tongue it's P-Y-Z(zed)-E. [laughs]

Prabhjot Singh: That's right.

Paul Kemp: Prabhjot, it would be wonderful to know how to reach out to you personally as well, because you're so inspirational as a founder, and I'm sure that you've inspired a lot of people. How can people reach out and connect with you?

Prabhjot Singh: Absolutely. You can reach out to me on Twitter @psinghSF, or you can shoot me an e-mail at

Paul Kemp: Wonderful. Thank you so much for coming on The App Guy Podcast and sharing hugely valuable content. We look forward to using the platform and seeing all the success stories from people who have come out and it's changed their business. Thank you very much!

Prabhjot Singh: Absolutely. The pleasure is all mine, and yes, certainly an open invitation to all your listeners - feel free to reach out to me. I often give advice on app concepts. Also, product market fit discussions is something I can weigh in on. Always happy to help in any way I can.

Leading Without Coding : A How-To Guide For Non-Technical Co-Founders

Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is the show where I help those entrepreneurs, startup founders, even if you're working and you are basically involved in a side project - you're the person who's relevant for this show. Many people have gone on to do amazing things. I've just spoken with a fan of the show who has even started up his own company and is flying to Silicon Valley to raise a ton of money.

It's wonderful that we have an appster tribe that is passionate about app-preneurship, as I like to call it. In this endeavor, there's many of you who are listening who will perhaps not be technical. In fact, I confess that I don't come from a technical background; I used to be a banker. So I love meeting people that can help us non-technical people start technical companies. In this endeavor, I have been introduced with a wonderful podcaster, the host of the Scott Barstow show. He's a fellow podcaster, he's going to help us with finding out how we can set up companies if we're non-technical.

Scott, it's a real pleasure to welcome you on The App Guy Podcast.

Scott Barstow: Paul, thank you so much for me asking to be on. It's a pleasure to be here.

Paul Kemp: Scott, you're a fellow podcaster, you've got a great setup there... Tell us first about your podcast, because I feel like we could learn a lot and it may be something we want to listen to.

Scott Barstow: Absolutely. I started a podcast about nine or ten months ago, talking with primarily founders of technology companies and exploring not only the back-story of the company, but also going in-depth on the struggles and the challenges that they had building out the actual product, whether that was dealing with trying to find a technical co-founder, or making mistakes in building too much product, or not enough, or whatever the myriad number of mistakes that everybody makes. My show is primarily focused on just exploring that topic with technology product founders.

Paul Kemp: Scott, one of the biggest challenges I do feel that are faced by those listening is finding a technical co-founder, and I have many examples of people coming to me and saying, "Look, I don't want to pay for a developer. I'd rather have someone who can become a co-founder and is passionate about the project as I am and will be my technical co-founder, and he/she can deal with the technical side." Is that a big challenge that you find when speaking with your audience?

Scott Barstow: It is, and I'd like to divide this particular question up. A non-technical founder - and I hesitate to use that, because I think if you're building a technology product company you are a technologist, whether you want to be or not... But it's useful for the distinction that we're talking about. I think there are two ways to approach finding somebody to help you build out your product.

One, as you mentioned, is to find a true co-founder. In my experience, the mistake that a lot of people make is that they take the mode of speed dating. They show up at a bunch of meetups, they pitch their company and they hope to find somebody interesting, that cares about it the way they do. They sort of rush to get married, and then inevitably it ends poorly.
The way that I think about the technical co-founder role, in particular, is that generally, I think you need to know that person before you've started thinking about the idea, or at the very least they're involved extremely early in the process with you. 

That's a true co-founder - somebody that's there with you at the beginning, that is strapped to the mast with you, believes in it the way you do. In my experience, you don't just typically find those people walking around on the street. It's a relationship process that you start six, nine months ahead of when you might actually start building the product. It's getting to know somebody, getting to know their family, getting to know what makes them tick... All the things that are going to matter when you're in the middle of the blizzard and you need somebody there with you that cares about it the way you do. 

It's cliché, but I think you need to think of co-founders like a marriage and treat it that way. There's a potentially different path to take as the founder of a company if you've got your idea a bit more further along and you really just need somebody to step in and run the engineering of the product. I would encourage people to think of that as you're hiring really your lead engineer, or you're hiring your chief technology officer, but you're not necessarily trying to find a co-founder.

The difference is that when you frame the discussion as "Hey, I'm looking for a co-founder", that drags with it a certain expectation on how much equity that person will receive, and how much influence they'll have in the direction of the company, whereas if you're hiring a lead engineer or a CTO, that carries with it a different set of expectations in terms of how much of the company you're going to have to give up, what the compensation package might look like and all of those things.

If you want somebody to be a true co-founder, just know that that means giving up a lot of the company and that means getting married, as opposed to perhaps looking for a lead technologist and making it more of just a true hire, if that makes any sense.

Paul Kemp: It does, and I'd love to give people some real actionable advice. We do have a ton of people listening who are at that stage where they have an idea and they want to build upon the idea, but they sadly go out to the market, they realize it's going to cost them a hundred thousand dollars or whatever it may be to hire an agency or to hire a developer it's going to cost them X... We're talking tens of thousands of dollars, at least. Do you have an example of a company that maybe you've worked with recently, a  founder who has had that challenge and has successfully managed to get married to a co-founder who they found, and it's worked out really well? Are you able to walk us through a case study maybe or some example of someone doing this recently?

Scott Barstow: That's a great question. I'm wracking my brain to think of a concrete example... I live in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina and there's a company called EmployUs, and the founder of the company is a guy named Ryan O'Donnell. He went through the typical that I'm sure a lot of your audience goes through, which is - he had an idea, he tried to work with a contracting shop, that went poorly and he kind of threw up his hands and was like, "I don't know where to go next." 

He and I talked extensively about "How do you go find the right person to come alongside you?" He had enough funding that he could afford to hire somebody, and I think that's an important step. I don't think a co-founder expects to be compensated; they work for free the way that you are, at the beginning of the company. But when I had the conversation with Ryan, I really encouraged him to find somebody that thought about the future the way that he did, and was willing to take less now in return for more later.

The conversation that he ended up having with the guy who is now the equivalent of his technical co-founder - there were a lot of tests, a lot of gates that they went through at the beginning of the process, and it looked a lot like an audition, honestly. So what I encourage people to do is work alongside the person that you are contemplating giving this incredibly important role in your company; ask them to work alongside you for a meaningful period of time with no commitment either way. They're going to invest time, you're going to invest time, and you're going to figure out if you can work together in that process. 

In Ryan's case, he went through probably five or six people before eventually settling on a guy who's working alongside him today. The relationship side worked, the work ethic was the same, and he was able to figure all of these things out through just working alongside. I think he eventually compensated him a bit for some of that audition work, but the expectation was, "Look, there are going to be hard times ahead. I need to know that when things are hard, that we can work through the difficult times together, rather than getting contentious and blowing the whole thing apart.

So I just encouraged him to set up some scenarios that would tease as much of that out as possible - inducing false pressure, inducing deadlines that were unrealistic, which everybody has in this process. Those are some of the things that come to mind immediately.

Paul Kemp: Scott, that is genius. I love that piece of advice and it's the first I've heard of that in terms of auditioning the potential technical co-founder. Would you actually be in a position to tell them it's an audition, or do you go more under the radar and pretend...?

Scott Barstow: In my experience, it's best to be right up front. The kinds of people that you want working alongside you are people who can appreciate the fact that you're taking this seriously. If you have the conversation and frame it in such a way as to say, "Look, I'm trying to understand if we can work together, and I would think you would want to do the same. Before we get married, let's go on a few dates and let's spend some time together, and let's have a fight or two, and let's get into an argument, and let's act like we're going to act and work like we're going to work, and let's see how that works. If we get to the end of this and it turns out that it doesn't work out, then let's agree what it looks like to part ways. I pay you well below market rate for the work that you've done, I own the work product... But the goal here, both of our intents is to get to a working relationship and one that we can understand that we can go forward with, rather than let's all pile in and hope that it works, and then six months later we have to part company, and all the divestiture of ownership and all of the mess that that drags with it."

Paul Kemp: What I'm thinking of is a previous company that I've worked for, and I gave not ownership but directorship to one or two employees. The feel-good factor lasted maybe a few months, and then it started to decline; you know, that kind of wanting more... So I'm wondering how long a term do you think this audition can last for, for it to be a genuine assessment?

Scott Barstow: I think most people want to get to some sort of decision within a few weeks, so what typically happens... Assuming the person you're trying to bring on as a co-founder has another job, or has other commitments that they have during the regular week, a lot of times what I encourage people to do is work two or three Saturdays together and have very concrete things that you're trying to get done. "At the end of today, we want to deliver this feature. That means we have to go through a design process, we have to go through requirements, we have to think of how the user's going to interact with it, we have to sketch some wireframes, we have to argue about what makes sense. But at the end of the day today we want to have the strawman of this feature built out, so that somebody could click through and maybe use it a bit. We can put it in front of a user and see what they think."

I find that having concrete deliverables at each point tends to induce conflict naturally. When you're working on something and deadlines are tight and you're trying to get something done, that's when people's true nature tends to come out; whether or not you understand that you're auditioning for the position or not, at some point in that process you will be who you are, and I feel like that's what you're trying to expose. You're trying to show them who you are, and you're trying to figure out who they are.

Paul Kemp: [unintelligible 00:15:34.09] really interesting is I'd love to know how you find about getting the ideal contract in place for that arrangement, because clearly you're asking somebody to make a big commitment, and I'm guessing it could even be just as a side project, working in the evening if they have a full-time role, or working at weekends. Do you have any advice on where to find a good contract, say, to agree on this arrangement?

Scott Barstow: That's a great question. I'm not an attorney and I don't profess to understand all of it, but what I typically have in place, and I think if you're starting a technology company there are a few things that you have to have in place, regardless of how you go forward. One of them is intellectual property assignment, and the other is just the fact that the company owns all of the work product, whether that's your work product or my work product - the agreement is that all the work we're doing the company owns.

I think one of the fundamentals that a leader has to do probably right after the company formation is have some very basic intellectual property agreements and maybe a contractor agreement in place that they can just use to manage this engagement. There are myriad examples; you can go to LegalZoom, and there are a number of other places online where you can download sample agreements. Of course, every jurisdiction is different, and you have just the mess that is the legal system, so I always recommend that people have whoever their corporate counsel is - even if you get something from LegalZoom, have them review it and make sure there are no gaps, just as a way of ensuring that you're covered off.

Paul Kemp: Let's try to help those who perhaps want to go along this road but don't know where to go to meet these ideal people. Do you have any good tips for us on where to go online or events that would really help us meet the right potential technical co-founders?

Scott Barstow: My general recommendation when people ask that question is you need to be where these people are hanging out, and generally that looks like -- if you're in a reasonably active tech area, almost every technologist is going to one or two meetups in the area. I typically recommend, go to the meetups of "hot languages" and that would be something like a Ruby meetup, a NodeJS meetup. That's one area that's obvious.

I think the other is showing up at mixers and whatever's going on in the entrepreneurial community in your area. In our area, we have a meet once a month, and it's usually at a pub somewhere. It's a great mix of founders, technologists... It's really a cool mix of people. Showing up at those kinds of events and just having honest conversations about what you're up to, and not necessarily trying to pitch the company or hire that person on the spot, but just talk about what you're doing and see who's interested, who's ears perk up when you talk about the idea. Then, if you run into somebody and you have a good conversation with them, I think the next thing is you send them a note and you have lunch, or you have early morning coffee, and you have maybe a bit more in-depth conversation.

If you still like the conversation, then I think you start talking about the fact that, "You know, I'm kind of in the market for somebody to run my technology product. I don't know if you'd be interested in something like that, but if you are, here's how I'm thinking about it. If you're not interested, do you know anybody who is?"

I think generally showing up at events that are more entrepreneurial in nature, there are more developers who are willing to "take the leap" at those events, rather than big corporate events or things like that.

Paul Kemp: I was really wondering, as well... In your experience, have you met anyone who has perhaps made the mistake of not offering a co-founder position to someone that's more technical to balance out the equation? Because I can imagine a scenario like, "Hey, I want the whole company to myself, or maybe give some away for the funding, to the investors, but I don't really want to give away a big chunk to a technical co-founder, so I'm going to go alone." Have you met any companies that have perhaps done that and then ultimately regretted their decision?

Scott Barstow: I've probably met too many companies that count on both sides of that question. Certainly, there are a lot of founders who don't think they need somebody else alongside them. I remember I was sitting at a meeting - this was probably seven or eight years ago - with somebody from Google Ventures. Somebody asked the question, "What do you look for in a founding team?" and the guy said without hesitation, "The best companies have founding teams of at least two, no more than three." 

I think that's the way you need to think about it. I've tried to do my own thing and I happen to be able to build software, but I'm not great at being able to run a marketing campaign or go sell the product. I think you have to be self-aware enough to know that you can't do it all, especially if you achieve any measure of success. You need somebody else alongside you that's complementary to what you do because there's no way you can make it alone.

So my counsel to those who want to "keep it all", I think at some point... The quote is, "One can go fast, but two can go far", and the question is "Do you want to go fast, or do you want to go far?" 

Paul Kemp: Yes, and I'm thinking back to the over 500 episodes I've recorded with founders now on The App Guy Podcast, and I can safely say that the success stories are usually as a result of a team of two or three. A lot of founders do praise their co-founder, who's been along and helped build the company together. And actually, they've said that it's not just for monetary reasons, the great revenue, but also the fact that you've gone along the journey with someone else as well, who can share the ups and downs. As you say, it's a marriage, and you've got someone to share that journey with, is that right?

Scott Barstow: Yes, I absolutely agree with that. As I said, I've tried to build companies on my own, and I just feel like it's so hard and there are days that are so dark, where you feel like you don't even want to get out of bed because nothing is going well, and you need that other person to call your phone that day and say, "Why aren't you at work? Let's get moving. We're not going to have a pity party, let's get rolling! We've got work to do today." 

You're going to be that person on some days, and your partner is going to be that person on other days, and it's invaluable. I don't believe that you can build a successful company... People have done it, but by and large, the best companies are built with partnerships.

Paul Kemp: Scott, before we say goodbye then, one more question. This is more kind of switching gears and finding out about you... I would love to know -- someone who is a podcaster, into technology, running a successful business, I wanted to know what your day is like. Could you describe to us a typical day? We'd love to know and get inside what it must feel like to have one of your days and how different it must be to the kind of guys in corporate, who have got their typical nine to five. What's a day like for Scott Barstow?

Scott Barstow: A day for me... I've got a few things that I work on. One is my content offering, which is the podcast, and I've got a blog that I write about this topic of building technology products as a non-technical founder - that's a certain portion of my day.

I'm a part-time venture partner in a venture capital firm out in California, so I do a bit of deal work and technical diligence on deals that the firm is looking at. One of the great things about that is that you get to - just like you do on your show here - talk with amazing founders all the time about what they're working on, and I'm constantly amazed at the ideas that people come up with and the problems that they're solving that I just never think about in a given day. It doesn't occur in my life, so I don't really think about it.

So I have the venture work, I've got this content platform that I'm slowly building, and the third thing is that I do a lot of what I call fractional CTO work. So I will step into startups that are either in trouble, or they've got a fire burning in some part of the business. That could be they've got a team that's not working well, the product is not coming together the way it should, they have to hire their next team member and they're not sure who they should be looking for... So I will step into the middle of technology startups and just get them through whatever they're going through.

Typically, those engagements can be anywhere from two weeks, and I've been on some as long as six to nine months - embedded inside the company, working alongside them as a C-level technology executive. So those are the things that generally make up my day.

Paul Kemp: Scott, I can't help but squeeze one more in... I would love to know currently what are your biggest challenges, in terms of all the stuff you're doing? What are you really focusing on and what's causing you headaches at night?

Scott Barstow: There's a lot of those... [laughter] One of the things that I really struggle with is how to - and I know you've done a great job with this - create awareness for this project that I'm on, this quest that I'm on to help non-technical founders not set all of their money on fire in the first six months they're trying to build their company. It's something I feel strongly about; there are paths through that problem that don't require you to burn all of your savings that you saved the last five years for, trying to get ready for this moment where you take your shot, and then six months later, because you made a bad mistake, you made a bad decision, all that money is gone and you're going back to work at some corporate job.

The thing I lay awake at night trying to figure out is how to reach as many of those people as possible and get the word out and really help as many of them as possible. I care deeply about people chasing their dream and having a shot at it, and my small part to play in that is the fact that I've been in this industry long enough to see the mistakes that people make - and generally, they are the same... There are eight to ten things that people do all day, every day, that cause the most problems. So the thing that I try to figure out is how to get out and get in front of as many of those people as possible.

Paul Kemp: Scott, you've mentioned eight things - we might have to post that somewhere that people can find, maybe in our show notes. We can't finish the podcast teasing people about eight things they do wrong.

Scott Barstow: It's probably more than eight. It's probably 25. Eight is probably a simplification. But yes, I'm happy to share some links with the most common things that I see over and over again. I'm happy to do that with you and your listeners.

Paul Kemp: Wonderful, great. Well, I'll put that on the show notes. It's episode 511, which can be found at and just look for Scott Barstow - you can search for that, or it should be at the top of the website. Scott, how can people best reach out and connect with you? What's the best way of getting in touch?

Scott Barstow: I am on every major social media platform, @ScottBarstow. I've managed to squat on all of those over the years, I think. So you can find me on Twitter, Instagram - any of those, certainly. I'm active on Twitter, so that's usually the best place to get a hold of me. Then you can find all my content work at You can find my show, The Scott Barstow Show on iTunes or Stitcher or wherever your favorite podcasts are found.

Paul Kemp: Scott, it's lovely chatting with you. This has been one of the topics I've been meaning to cover with the thousands that listen to this. Thank you so much for being part of what we do and sharing your great content, and all the best for what you're doing in the future.

Scott Barstow: Thank you very much, Paul. It's been a pleasure being on.

Paul Kemp: Okay, bye for now.

Avoid Becoming A Corporate Lab Rat

corporate careers.jpg

Stuck In The 9-5 Rut?

Living a life without purpose or meaning

Hey everyone,

I’ve often felt like working for someone else is empty and lacks any purpose in life other than to give you (and your family) a inadequate lifestyle. Never have I heard it summed up so beautifully until I listened to a podcast with this devoted entrepreneur who talks about his entrepreneurial experience

A lot of us who live the corporate life become  a lab rat

Here is an extract from the podcast:

The App Guy Podcast is a show that is to inspire app entrepreneurs. Now, you’ve made a successful switch:

  1. from a high-profile corporate job
  2. to an entrepreneurial lifestyle

I wondered if you can take us back to that point where you did make that decision and give us some helpful tips on things that you learned that you would perhaps change in the way you did the switch from corporate to entrepreneurial lifestyle.

Christian Rouffaert, Founder Of Teragence

Christian Rouffaert: I don’t know if I’m in a position to give tips, but I can share my experience. I think a lot of us who live the corporate life will have a level of dissatisfaction that we have with the lives that we live. The politics of the workplace, the bureaucracy, we get squeezed into a corner and that frustrates us. The flipside of that, and this is really important to understand, is you do have a regular income.

What happens when you live in that situation is that you become — as somebody described it to me — a lab rat.

It’s a negative image, so let’s call it a lab hamster. Basically, the lab hamster goes to a machine, pushes it, and a pellet is produced. That hamster very quickly understands the relationship between pushing the lever and getting the pellet. He might not like the lever, and he might not like the fact that he has to push the lever, but he gets very quickly conditioned that if he does that, a pellet will be produced.

Meanwhile, the hamster has all these ideas of how the world will be better and what he could do, and he might have done an MBA where he’s learned the tricks of the trade, and he’s spoken to other people, so one day the hamster breaks out from his cage with pellets and the machine, and he comes out in the wide world.

What you will do as a corporate hamster is you will look for a new lever to push, which might be:

“Well, I learned that to run a business I need to do A, B and C. I will do A, B and C, therefore a pellet will be produced.”

The shock to the system comes that actually nothing is produced, because your idea might not be right, you might not have been pushing the right buttons… Nothing happens. There is no feedback on what you do.

What you realize is that as an entrepreneur there is a significant period where you have to work and try things and do things without actually any feedback — no feedback in terms of salary, no feedback in terms of money, and no feedback in terms of people saying that’s actually interesting or good, because most people in that conception stage will look at you and say:

“It sounds kind of interesting” 

 they will politely say that’s interesting, but actually not do very much.

So you are in this world where you had the certainty… At the end of the month, I will push the lever, a food pellet will be produced; and yes, life was a bit tough, but there will be food on the table at the end of the month…

To a world where this is not the reality for a long time.

You have to improvise, hustle and work through that without any pellets being produced.

If you’re lucky and if you’re good and if you do that long enough, slowly things will change. You can find your product and people will start to engage with you, will start to pay you money, but it’s a process of continuous change and understanding how you should do things, and adjusting.

In the hamster analogy, from pushing a lever and getting a pellet, you now have to forage for your food, and you sometimes have to forage in corners and places that you never suspected existed, or you could never imagine that you would go.

That’s quite a big, transformative thing, because up until that time you did a good job, you got a reward in some shape or form.

In entrepreneurial life….

you might be doing a good job for a long time and nothing might happen.

Then slowly you kind of grip into the market, you get traction, you get your funding, you get your first revenue, and then things slowly change. But the process, the mentality and the emotional resilience that is required for that is quite something that’s fundamentally different.

I’ve gained a very much newfound respect for people who have been able to do that, and of course I respect myself because I have gone through this journey…

But it is a fundamental change in mentality that is not to be underestimated. Running a business is not running a recipe book and expecting the cake to come out perfect. It’s doing everything right in the recipe book and the cake might come out wrong five times, and only the sixth time, with your last flour and your last eggs will something come out that somebody will pay money for. That’s the experience…

Which is good, and also quite disturbing. But if you do it right, you come out on the end and it’s a great kick, and you’ll never look back.

Thanks for reading! The full episode and transcript are on The App Guy Podcast website (episode 510) or search Paul Kemp in your favourite podcasting app

Why Are People Still Putting Ads In Their Apps?

Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, this is Paul Kemp. Today I’ve got a fascinating chat with a founder who is reinventing the way that we can monetize our apps. It’s unbelievable what we can do with regards to data. We’re going to be investigating alternatives to putting those frustrating ads on our apps and getting little monetization; we’ve got an alternative to go through. It’s going to be a wonderful talk, please do stay tuned.

Let me introduce today’s guest — today I’m speaking with Christian Rouffaert. He is the founder and CEO of Teragence. They are providing alternatives to us putting ads on our apps, and we’re going to find out more. Christian, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.

Christian Rouffaert: Thank you, Paul. Glad to be here.

Paul Kemp: Let’s just go straight in. The big challenge that many of my audience appster tribe find is that they just can’t monetize their ads that they’re putting on their apps. You’ve got an alternative — right? Give us the elevator pitch on what it is you’re offering.

Christian Rouffaert: Yes, so what we do is we have created an SDK — in that sense, we’re not very different from traditional ad models… An SDK that we embed in existing apps and the SDK basically sits in the background and takes network measurements of the mobile network (3G or 4G network, whatever it is) at regular time intervals and collects that data and sends it back to us. We monetize that information with the mobile operators.

The key value proposition for our app partners is to embed a very simple to deploy SDK that, contrary to traditional mobile advertising, does not interfere with the user experience, does not drain your battery and your bandwidth, but does generate revenue for you.

Paul Kemp: So let’s flesh this out in more detail then, because it’s a fascinating idea. First of all, why do you think that the traditional ad networks are not working for apps?

Christian Rouffaert: Well, I think there’s a number of significant hurdles that you have to overcome when you work with an ad network. First of all, it’s the SDK and its integration — integrating an ad SDK into your app is quite a long-winded and complicated process. That’s the first resource drain that it imposes.

Then secondly, what we see is that to understand the economics of that SDK deployment, there’s actually a vast amount of spreadsheets and modeling that you have to do in terms of number of exposures, numbers of click-throughs and all that. So the economics of it under normal circumstances is actually quite projective and uncertain. Add to that that the ability for the ad network then to get the adverts that work for you is sometimes limited. We’ve all seen people coming with big promises and low deliveries, so that’s the next disappointment.

And finally, adblockers — today more than 30% of traffic gets blocked and actually doesn’t generate any revenue. Then the final point is when the ad gets through, it often creates the distraction and the customer disengagement that you do not want.

There are all kinds of issues around mobile advertising that basically make it a very uncertain and not so nice value proposition, and that’s why we looked at some alternatives.

Paul Kemp: Yes! It’s the ad networks that control whether you get paid or not. We’ve seen as big as YouTube, for example, with its creators just changing the rules continuously, and changing how much they pay out, and actually just then deciding not to pay because you’ve broken some new rule that’s been put in place.

Christian Rouffaert: Yes. Well, I wasn’t actually aware of that, but I can absolutely imagine it. With the traditional ad networks, if you are a medium to small-sized app or content provider, you basically have to take what you are given by the big boys, and if they choose not to give anything, then that’s your loss.

Because we don’t pretend to be big and huge, but we are honest brokers, we can guarantee those payments much easier than the big boys are, and it’s not in our interest to change the rules halfway or down the line.

Paul Kemp: Yes, and on the flipside of that, we know that there’s these click farms that exist in Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere, where the advertisers are getting ripped off as well because they’re not getting genuine clicks. So both sides of the ad network there are challenges to the whole existing model.

Christian Rouffaert: Yes, exactly.

Paul Kemp: Let’s try and understand a bit more then because it’s the first time I’ve heard of such an interesting way to monetize your app. You had a really good point in why we should think about our devices different from perhaps a traditional TV — it’s still a screen, we still consume content through the screen, but why do we need to consume typical ads? You had a really good explanation of what we’re actually carrying around with us and why we can find these alternative ways of monetizing.

Christian Rouffaert: Yes, so the first thing to think about is that actually, I don’t come from the world of content, my background is in telecoms… But when we started to think about this, about our business model, it dawned on me that the model of mobile advertising today is actually still only a strange evolution of mutation of something that started in the ’50s. Let me explain what I mean by that.

In the ’40s and ’50s, televisions became a semi-ubiquitous consumer device. Every room had a television, and that television was essentially a screen that was able to produce audio-visual content that people wanted to consume. At the same time, people didn’t really want to pay for that audio-visual content, so people found other ways to monetize that content, which was to insert other content, which were called adverts.

So you had the typical American televisions phenomenon of the soap operas, and every 15–20 minutes two or three ads were inserted, and that paid for your consumption of your content free of charge. And it struck me that what we’re seeing now is that people are seeing smartphones and are saying, “Hey, a smartphone is a device with a screen, ergo the traditional screen monetization of advertising should work on the phone. So if people want to consume content on a phone which has a screen and therefore is like a television, we will do ads like we do on the television. We will position them differently — not on the entire screen; we’ll put them on corners or sidebars, but essentially it’s the same idea. This is an audio-visual device, people want to consume audio-visual content, therefore I’m going to insert other audio-visual content to pay for that”, which is actually just the evolution of the 1950s TV advertising model.

But the phone is not a TV. A phone is a super computer that happens to have a screen. It’s a super computer that’s charged with every kind of sensor imaginable. You could launch an Apollo 16 rocket off your smartphone.

The monetization techniques of the ’50s of TV advertising is just that — it’s an old relic. There’s actually all kinds of other things that we can do with that phone that pays for people’s audio-visual consumption, and that’s essentially what we do. What we say is we use the phone as a measurement device for network connectivity, and that enables the app guys to make money, and that enables the consumers to consume the audio-visual content free of charge or at a lower charge.

That’s a true evolution of the business model, leveraging the new capabilities of a phone, not just at an audio-visual screen, but as a super-computer charged with sensors that can be monetized in all kinds of ways that are actually not customer-intrusive.

Paul Kemp: Yes, let me just take this opportunity to summarize the way I understand it, because it is so revolutionary. What you’re suggesting is that because we carry around these super computers in our pocket, they have the ability to collect data — initially you were doing telecoms, and they can maybe judge the strength of the signal and all this other data that’s wonderful for the telecoms… You can aggregate that data up and present it and sell it to the telecoms who want to pay for that data, and then you’re rewarding the app developers by giving them a percentage of the return that you make for displaying…

That’s so wonderful, and I’m almost surprised it hasn’t been done before… It’s certainly the first time I’ve heard of it. Why did you only choose telcos? Is that the only thing you focus on right now?

Christian Rouffaert: No… As with all startup businesses, you start with the area that you more or less know. I have lived my life before becoming an entrepreneur as a corporate warrior in the telco sector, so that’s where I saw the business opportunity. But as we think about this, we believe that there are other domains where we can apply the same logic of background measurement that is at scale, but at the same time also privacy-respecting.

Areas that we are currently exploring are things like weather and weather prediction. For example, your phone has a very sensitive barometer in there, so we could track the movement of a low or a high-pressure system almost on a meter-by-meter basis if we have enough measurement points in our phones.

So weather is one that we’re looking at… We think that in the near future things like pollution and air quality will become possible, and another use case that we’re looking at is quite a niche, but quite interesting — it’s around potholes. A phone has very sensitive movement sensors, and if enough people go by a certain location and their phone makes a sudden jittery movement, you know there’s a pothole in that street, and somebody has an interest in knowing where the potholes are so they can keep the public happy.

So those are some of the other use cases that we’re looking at: road conditions, weather, pollution.

Paul Kemp: The reason I’m loving this is that I recently read a book by the founder of Wired, Kevin Kelly, and it’s called The Inevitable. A fascinating read, but the big theme that he’s talking about the evolution of devices and the fact that they have more sensors being attached to them, and it’s the ability to extract the data from these ever-growing devices and ever-growing sensors, and then presenting that as viable data to those authorities or companies that are desperately wanting that type of data.

Christian Rouffaert: Yes, and I would add to that… The technical capabilities are well known and we can create sensors for pretty much anything. The problem that you still have with sensors is that you need to distribute them, you need to get them to a wide enough blanket of measurement points, and you can do that the traditional way by sticking them into whatever device that you’re selling — fridges or microwaves or cars, but all these things have very, very long replacement cycles.

If you wanna deploy a network of sensors in fridges or microwaves, that’s a ten-year deployment cycle. Handsets have a 12 to 18 months refresh cycles. Within 12–18 months, you can deploy any new generation sensor to a very wide footprint, and then if you deploy our mechanism of collecting that information in a way that is large scale and privacy-respecting, and then extract the valuable information on there, you’re entering into a whole new world of how you understand the world.

Paul Kemp: Yes, and this is why I love my show, The App Guy Podcast, because we can almost foresee the future. What I’ve just gleaned from you in having this chat is that in the old world, in government, local authorities and state government in the U.S., they would have to get data by almost paying typically students who would go out and monitor traffic, look for potholes, look for various things and report back.

That would be a survey that the governments would pay for. But now, they have the potential of just buying the data from yourselves, and the data has been then taken from the population of smartphone users.

Christian Rouffaert: Yes, exactly. I would also stress that it’s not only the governments and the big corporate entities that have an interest in this… For example, one of the use cases that we are investigating at the moment is around we can now detect network outages in mobile operators. So not only can we grade the mobile operators in function of the quality of their coverage and the quality of their connectivity once you are in coverage, we can also say “In this given area there were 15 outages and they lasted 20 minutes in total”, which is an information piece that the big corporates have always tried to hold onto, because it was their big, dirty secret. We bust that open and give that to the consumer to enable them both to have a better choice and a better-informed decision on their purchasing, but also to make the information available and to go to their big service providers and saying “What you’re delivering to us is not fit for our purpose. Here are the data points.”

So it is both creating data to enable big businesses, but also to hold big business and big organizations to account by busting open information that they have very jealously guarded before.

Paul Kemp: Yes, in fact in my past episode we were talking about artificial intelligence, episode 500, with the co-founder of Skype. With the evolution of artificial intelligence is the need for data. What I’m also learning from you is the fact that you’ve just found a way of making data valuable to each individual who then carries around a device, and app that perhaps has your SDK, because at the end of the day they’re getting content for free, and they then are extracting a value for the data that they’re collecting through their device. It’s just remarkable.

Christian Rouffaert: It’s exactly that: you provide a service in the background, without any effort, from your phone, that is monetizable for society and for business, and in exchange you get the services that you need, i.e. your content consumption. It’s exactly that.

I think as we go further on, we will see a number of changes and mutations in that business model, and it is truly very interesting. For example, if we start to apply artificial intelligence, whereas now we can retrospectively see how many outages there were and how long they lasted and which locations they impacted, we will very shortly be able to predict where the outages will occur and how long they are likely to last, because that’s just pattern recognition in the data that we collect.

Paul Kemp: Yes, and I guess one of the big challenges that you have right now is getting onto these apps and getting the collection of data going. Maybe we can talk through that and the sorts of app developers that you’re looking to reach out for, who you’d like to help out with and out this SDK into their apps.

Christian Rouffaert: Yes, so our sweet spots are essentially app developers that have a good Android estate; iOS is part of our roadmap, but is not in our offering today. So first of all, you need to have a good Android estate. The second parameter is that we look for small to mid-range apps. We look for a few ten thousand to a few hundred thousand users or installs in a country like the U.K. We do not look for people who have millions. We look for mid-range apps.

Thirdly, it’s very helpful if the app already has a location-tracking component in there. So outdoor activity apps, geosocial networking, navigation, location-based games are really our sweet spot. And in that area — not the big boys, but the mid-range boys is what we look for.

Paul Kemp: That’s music to my ears, especially because that’s the part of the app store ecosystem that’s getting most squeezed with the domination of the big companies, like Facebook just dominating the top of the app charts, and Google and Apple with its own apps. It’s nice to know that the mid-sized apps do have this alternative mechanism.

Two final things before we say goodbye to you, Christian… It’s kind of switching gears, slightly — this is also a show that is to inspire app entrepreneurs, and you’ve made a successful switch from a high-profile corporate job to life as an entrepreneur. I wondered if you can take us back to that point where you did make that decision and give us some helpful tips on things that you learned that you would perhaps change in the way you did the switch from corporate to entrepreneurial lifestyle.

Christian Rouffaert: I don’t know if I’m in a position to give tips, but I can share my experience. I think a lot of us who live the corporate life will have a level of dissatisfaction that we have with the lives that we live. The politics of the workplace, the bureaucracy, we get squeezed into a corner and that frustrates us. The flipside of that, and this is really important to understand, is you do have a regular income.

What happens when you live in that situation is that you become — as somebody described it to me — a lab rat. It’s a negative image, so let’s call it a lab hamster. Basically, the lab hamster goes to a machine, pushes it, and a pellet is produced. That hamster very quickly understands the relationship between pushing the lever and getting the pellet. He might not like the lever, and he might not like the fact that he has to push the lever, but he gets very quickly conditioned that if he does that, a pellet will be produced.

Meanwhile, the hamster has all these ideas of how the world will be better and what he could do, and he might have done an MBA where he’s learned the tricks of the trade, and he’s spoken to other people, so one day the hamster breaks out from his cage with pellets and the machine, and he comes out in the wide world.

What you will do as a corporate hamster is you will look for a new lever to push, which might be, “Well, I learned that to run a business I need to do A, B and C. I will do A, B and C, therefore a pellet will be produced.” The shock to the system comes that actually nothing is produced, because your idea might not be right, you might not have been pushing the right buttons… Nothing happens. There is no feedback on what you do.

What you realize is that as an entrepreneur there is a significant period where you have to work and try things and do things without actually any feedback — no feedback in terms of salary, no feedback in terms of money, and no feedback in terms of people saying that’s actually interesting or good, because most people in that conception stage will look at you and say, “It sounds kind of interesting” — they will politely say that’s interesting, but actually not do very much.

So you are in this world where you had the certainty… At the end of the month, I will push the lever, a food pellet will be produced; and yes, life was a bit tough, but there will be food on the table at the end of the month… To a world where this is not the reality for a long time. You have to improvise, hustle and work through that without any pellets being produced. If you’re lucky and if you’re good and if you do that long enough, slowly things will change. You can find your product and people will start to engage with you, will start to pay you money, but it’s a process of continuous change and understanding how you should do things, and adjusting. In the hamster analogy, from pushing a lever and getting a pellet, you now have to forage for your food, and you sometimes have to forage in corners and places that you never suspected existed, or you could never imagine that you would go.

That’s quite a big, transformative thing, because up until that time you did a good job, you got a reward in some shape or form. In entrepreneurial life, you might be doing a good job for a long time and nothing might happen. Then slowly you kind of grip into the market, you get traction, you get your funding, you get your first revenue, and then things slowly change. But the process, the mentality and the emotional resilience that is required for that is quite something that’s fundamentally different.

I’ve gained a very much newfound respect for people who have been able to do that, and of course I respect myself because I have gone through this journey… But it is a fundamental change in mentality that is not to be underestimated. Running a business is not running a recipe book and expecting the cake to come out perfect. It’s doing everything right in the recipe book and the cake might come out wrong five times, and only the sixth time, with your last flour and your last eggs will something come out that somebody will pay money for. That’s the experience… Which is good, and also quite disturbing. But if you do it right, you come out on the end and it’s a great kick, and you’ll never look back.

Paul Kemp: Christian, I have to genuinely say that in the over 500 startup founder interviews, that is one of the wisest stories about the transition that I’ve ever heard. And it’s true in my transition… It’s almost given me a lot to think about in terms of the journey that I’ve been through, and the analogy just absolutely is perfect. You’ve just framed for many of us what we go through and helped us understand that we’re not alone.

Christian, finally then, how do people best get in touch with you, reach out and also get connected with the SDK, to start installing it in their apps?

Christian Rouffaert: Okay, so the easiest way for us — I’m slightly old-school, so e-mail is still something I use quite a bit, so is a way of getting in touch. We are also on LinkedIn and on Twitter, so any reach out via those channels… On Twitter look for Teragence or @InfoTeragence; on LinkedIn look for my name Christian Rouffaert, or look for our company, Teragence. All those channels — you reach out to us, we will respond very quickly.

Paul Kemp: Yes, and just to spell that, that’s Teragence. I’ll have full show notes on episode 510 of The App Guy Podcast, so you could also go to and search for Christian Rouffaert and Teragence, and you’ll see the links to LinkedIn, Twitter and to the e-mail.

I highly recommend people actually do implement your SDK. Thanks for such an inspiring episode and making a big change in the world, and all the best to the future. We’d love to see how you progress and have you back on the show after a while to see how it’s gone.

Christian Rouffaert: Fantastic, thank you very much, Paul. It’s been a pleasure.

If you like what you've read, you can subscribe [for free] to access over 500 app founder stories courtesy of The App Guy Podcast. Just visit your favourite podcast app and search for Paul Kemp.

Subscribe On Apple's Podcasting App

Alex Austin : Scaling From Nothing To 4 Billion Requests Per Day Has Been A Monumental Task

Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is the show where we get founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, we deconstruct their app journey to help us in our own app journey. It's an inspirational show, we've had many people listening who have gone on to do great things and start their own companies, leave a corporate environment and just maybe go traveling.

It's a wonderful show, very relevant if you're into app entrepreneurship. Now, before I introduce my guest today, I do want to thank the sponsors of the show.



Paul Kemp: Let me introduce today's guest... His name is Alex Austin and he's here to talk about, which is extremely relevant for us, for indie app developers. Let's find out about - Alex, welcome to The App Guy Podcast!

Alex Austin: Thanks for having me, I'm excited to share my story.

Paul Kemp: Yeah, we'd love to hear your story. Let's start from the start - how did you found the company? Let's go back to the beginning... Just before you set up you had the idea - take us back to that part of the journey, as you were setting it up.

Alex Austin: Looking back now, Branch is over a hundred employees. We've grown so dramatically, we're in tens of thousands of apps, and I'll explain a little bit more about what we do later. It's honestly the most successful thing that I've ever been a part of, but the road has been paved with a lot of failures, and I don't think we'd be who we are or working on what we are today if we hadn't gone through a lot of those pains.

Just a quick background and I can share a little bit more of the story... I'm an engineer by trade. I started actually a very different path than software engineering, not involved in mobile at all. I was actually a device physicist, focused on semiconductors, designing the type of material that would go into the chips that would power a phone was more my expertise.

I spent most of the early part of my working career doing material science, rather than programming. But programming was always a hobby of mine. I was always enthralled with this concept that I could identify a problem that people have in their daily life through just repetitive tasks that they have to regularly do, or sort of boring things that just require a lot of manual labor, that I could automate completely with software. And the idea of being able to just turn human functions into software programs was always a really captivating concept and I was really proud of the things that I would create.

When I saw the iPhone and Android phones start to take off - something about it just drew me towards it. I think it was more the fact that you could write a piece of code, write some software, build an app and deploy it overnight to a platform that accesses billions of people was something that I couldn't stop thinking about. I had to be involved in it.

The last company I was in - a startup - failed, and I had the opportunity to really make a career change, so I decided I'm just gonna dive head first into app development. I'd never written an app, I had no idea about Android Studio or Xcode, I had no idea what I was doing, but I convinced my parents to let me live rent-free in my old room until I would just figure all this stuff out. So it was just a crash course in self-taught app development, to start getting familiar with the whole ecosystem - how to build products, what do customers want, all that kind of stuff over I think about three years.

Ultimately, what happened with Branch is I built this tool to help us market our app that we were working on before, and the tool actually started growing faster than the app. So we decided to actually sell off the app that we were working on at the time and focus on the tool. That was about almost three years ago now, and Branch has just been exploding.

Paul Kemp: Alex, this is so inspirational. The reason is that there's a lot of app developers, startup founders, entrepreneurs that listen to this show, and are getting quite disappointed, in a way, with maybe the success, and it's just lovely to hear that you came into the whole game, and this tool - three years, a hundred employees... It's incredible.
Talk about the pivot, because pivoting is a very big theme on this show, and you've obviously pivoted from the app to the tool. How can we learn from you in terms of the success of that pivot and the decisions you had to make during the pivot?

Alex Austin: Probably most everybody who goes down this path has some technical background, probably an engineer... I want to write a blog post about this because I think this is a really interesting subject that people haven't covered. I'm convinced that the mobile app ecosystem and mobile development have the largest percentage of non-classically trained software developers of any other platform, just because it's so accessible to, you know, have an idea and start building something right away, with all the documentation and the tooling and everything to help you get started.

The evolution that I think is incredibly important for you, who might approach building a product the same way that I did, from my perspective I was "What's an interesting problem that hasn't yet been solved, that I think I can solve?" Looking for a combination of uniqueness plus something like a technical issue or user issue, or something like that, that I thought would then, just based on those two facts alone, become a really successful product.

Over time, over the three years of me just building app after app, product after product, I started to realize that there's actually so much more to it, and it's very nuanced, and you don't really understand it if you are just classically trained as like an engineer. If you think about as like "Problem - I have a solution. It should be a big product" - that doesn't work. It's more nuanced about how does that person who has that problem, how do they want to solve it? What are they doing today to try to solve it, and what can you build to fit into their daily workflow to actually solve it, while not being too much of an inconvenience compared to what they're doing already.

There's a lot more nuance actually about how you adapt the product idea that you have to the particular customer. I'll give some examples.

The first product that I built I think is the perfect definition of an engineer approaching building a product. I hated CityNet lights; you're driving to work or whatever, and - I'm a super impatient person, and there were a couple lights on my path where if you hit them right when they turned red, you ended up sitting for like eight minutes. And I was so angry sitting at a light for eight minutes... I was like, "I've gotta figure out when I can leave my house so that I always hit the greens." I had this idea that if I could build an app that would be running on everybody's phone, I could basically crowdsource all this data about when the lights were green and red, and then map exactly the timings of when you should leave your home to get to your destination hitting as many greens as possible, so like an optimization problem.

I'm like, "This is gonna be a massive, a huge product. Everybody's gonna do it. It solves a huge pain point that everybody has, I have the solution...", so I built this thing - I called it OpenRoad - and launched the app, and of course, nobody used it, therefore I didn't have any data. It was basically just me driving arbitrary routes, trying to crowdsource my own platforms data with nobody else. Basically, the product didn't work.

It sounds really silly the way I describe it, of course, but I think it's a tendency for more engineering-minded folks to approach problems in the same way, of like "I have a solution, let's just build this thing and address that problem that I'm trying to solve, and then it will just work." But I made a mistake - I didn't accurately take into account what does it require for somebody to join the platform? How am I gonna actually get them to open it up every single time they get in their car and start driving, so that they crowdsource the data? How do fix this - like the car before the horse? I don't have the data, so there's no value in the product.

All these little details are essential to actually building a successful business, but coming from like a zero product background and a purely engineering background, I didn't think about it.

Paul Kemp: This is fascinating, Alex, because in a way you're touching a lot of the pain points that I think many of us in the appster tribe feel. What I'm learning from you is that problem-solving is incredibly important - it's another huge theme from all the founders I've had (500+ founders on this show), but you've got to almost interject some level of demand or marketing or traction... I guess you didn't get the traction on that particular idea. Maybe it would have been quicker to just quickly test that, figure out whether people were using it and do an MVP before throwing everything into that particular problem.

Alex Austin: Yeah, it's really the customer aspect of it. That original idea was premised on the fact that I could get a bunch of random people to open up the app every day and crowdsource this data. I had an idea to solve the original problem of lights, but to make it a business, then the problem shifts to "How do you get customers to adopt it?"

I didn't adequately take that into account while building out that early version of the product. I'd say the three years of building - I think I built probably over ten different apps - I just slowly and brutally, through continued failure, just realized the error of my ways by not properly recognizing what does it require a customer to do to actually start using this product? I like to put myself in their shoes and really understand their pain points.

In that particular case it's somebody that woke up late, they've slept through their alarm, they got an angry e-mail from their boss, they're sweating, they didn't get to eat any food, they're running out to their car as fast as they possibly can, and now they're supposed to open up the app - that's never gonna happen.

Paul Kemp: [laughs] Well, it does for Waze, they figured it out... But let's deconstruct your journey, because this is an absolutely fascinating discussion. I'm loving hearing the things that you've learned along the way.  Obviously, you've migrated from building apps to having tools to help developers, and it's almost like the Gold Rush - the people that made all the money were the ones that made the shovel and spades, instead of the actual gold hunters.

Alex Austin: Well, we didn't make any money, but yeah...

Paul Kemp: But you basically switched to helping those who are developing apps.

Alex Austin: Yeah.

Paul Kemp: Deconstruct that part of it. How did that switch happen, and what's the tool? What happened after that?

Alex Austin: Yeah, so again, I worked on ten different apps. The most successful thing that we built was actually a Photobook making app. You could use photos on your phone, design a Photobook, order it and then we would handle all the logistics of printing and shipping, to deliver it to your house.

That was the core product, and we had a bigger team working on it. We raised a little bit of money, and then we were actually making some money... Not enough to make us wealthy, but enough to pay rent. What happened with that - and this lead to the transition to what Branch is. We were doing so much to try to grow it, we were working our butts off, doing the most ridiculous things, trying to get more people to download and engage with our product.

At one point, one of us was actually standing on the street, just poking people, asking them to install. We were just so desperate for growth, and one of the tools that we felt like we were always lacking - and we built kind of like a hack - was really just like a linking tool. It was a tool where if we were doing a social campaign, if we built a viral feature or a referral program, or send an e-mail out - everything about all those promotions had one thing in common: they all had links. The links were meant to, when clicked, open up the app if it was installed, or if it wasn't installed, go back to the App Store or the Play Store.

There was all these different, technical implementations of how-to do that redirection properly, depending if it was clicked from Facebook, or Twitter, or e-mail or whatever, and we ended up spending a ton of time just building all these link situations to give users a good experience.

Then we also focused very heavily on the user experience. For example, one of the things that I was just obsessed with creating was a Dropbox-style referral program for our Photobook app. In Dropbox, if you guys are familiar, you get a referral link and you send it to a friend, and that friend clicks on it, then goes to Dropbox, and you guys both get free space. I wanted that same thing for Photobooks; you'd get a discount... The referrer would get a discount, and the referee would get a discount. But I didn't want referral codes; I hated the concept that you had to memorize a referral code that was like a random string of characters, and then type it in once you install the app. I wanted the user to get that link, click on it, install the app, and have the referral codes automatically applied.

We had to figure out how  to pass that referring information from that link, through the App Store and Play Store, to properly do that automatic attribution and all that kind of stuff. So we built this really complex linking system, and we were the users of it. We had all these different APIs, easy ways to create links, classes to handle all that personalization when the user showed up for the first time - all this stuff to just support our own use cases. From our perspective, we were the best customer.

Then what happened is we entered in this incubator after we had graduated - long story, but we did some grad school stuff; I'll skip over that.

Paul Kemp: What was the incubator?

Alex Austin: It's an incubator called StartX. It's in Palo Alto, California. There were a bunch of other apps in our batch - the Periscope app was in our batch, and there were a number of other ones.

They saw us using this tool, and they wanted to use it, too. From our perspective... We had already built this thing for ourselves, so hearkening back to the light timing app, where I was building for a customer that I had never interacted with, I was trying to build it for myself, but it wasn't me alone that could make it successful. We had built a product for ourselves where it was like very valuable to us.

As other developers started to onboard, we knew exactly the problems they were facing, we knew exactly how they were gonna create links, what types of user experiences they wanted to create, so it was very easy to design the product for that  person. I think it was a huge difference from where I was three years prior, where I had no idea what this customer needed to start using this product, versus "I am the customer of this product, therefore I know exactly what's required."

Honestly, that's the only reason that I attribute to the success - that small difference. We were the best customers, and we were able to build it for ourselves, and use it and get a lot of value, so we knew everybody else would. So it's that customer understanding...

Paul Kemp: What a wonderful story. What I've learned from that, and I guess what the appster tribe are picking up is just keep showing up and building stuff, and follow the success. It sounds like the difference between success and failure there was quite small, but because you kept on and on, trying to save the problems, ultimately it succeeded.

Alex Austin: I think that's the biggest, most important point - just keep building, is what I always say.

Paul Kemp: Keep building.

Alex Austin: Yeah, just don't give up. You will find something. It's gonna take time. It took me ten different products, ten failures in a row, but... And I can't say that Branch is massively successful, but it's so far the most successful thing I've been a part of, and hopefully it continues to be so.

Paul Kemp: Well, just the fact that you've got so many people employed... It has been extremely successful. Now, we're going to deconstruct that part as well, some of the challenges you have to face when you are just exploding and having to grow.


Paul Kemp: Alex, in the last 5-10 minutes that we have together, I would love to know -- you hit this successful streak, and then I'm assuming it was a fairly smallish startup at the time, but then you had to start hiring people... What were the biggest pain points you felt as you then started to grow to ultimately the size you are now?

Alex Austin: Oh, man... [laughter] Personally, I think there's been a number. The top two for me first was hiring; the first one was hiring. Hiring people is a really hard process. Probably most folks out there that are thinking of building products or building apps... I'm an introvert and don't particularly like spending a lot of time talking to people, and hiring can be a very painful process for people like us. At one point I had about 20 different recruiting agencies scheduling time automatically on my calendar to have 30-minute phone screens with candidates, and there were times where I had back-to-back 14 to 15 phone screens with new, different people for different roles that we were hiring for. If you've never tried to just do back-to-back, tell the exact same story of the company for 15 times in a row to 15 different people all day, every day, for five months straight, [laughter] and you don't actually particularly like socializing too much, it's a very, very emotionally draining experience.

We're very fortunate that those days are over and now we get a lot of inbound and it's not as hard as it was when you're five people, trying to convince some high-quality candidates that you're worth taking a bet on, but... That was definitely an extremely challenging experience.

Paul Kemp: What was the other one? You mentioned two...

Alex Austin: The second one was around scaling. The way that our service works, it requires a very in-depth integration with apps. Every time the app opens up, we get pinged for a request, and then every time it closes we get pinged, and every time links get clicked we get pinged. We now deal with about four billion requests per day across our APIs, and when we first built it, it was... You know, the first SDKs were a couple classes that I had written for our app that had no documentation. The API and the link service were baked into our existing product, they weren't separate things. Scaling from that to four billion requests a day has been a monumental task. A lot of very late nights, no weekends, just a lot of 3 AM pages when traffic ticks up and suddenly one of the services crashes and you've gotta get up and restart it, and do all the things that are required to scale from your small MVP product to a really high-volume enterprise service.

Fortunately, we're now at another point... We onboarded Tinder a couple months ago, which is surprisingly a very, very popular app still. We didn't even bat an eye, it was a very easy thing, whereas before we'd add even a smallish app and we would be scrambling like crazy, there was fire alarm for the first couple weeks, trying to just keep the systems up. I can talk at length about the details of that, but that was a hard one.

Paul Kemp: It's interesting hearing the sort of challenges you have, and I guess it's the challenges that actually a lot of the founders and the app entrepreneurs listening would love. You know, also the one thing I was surprised you didn't mention is funding, because you had obviously funding to recruit and expand and scale. Was that a fairly easy path for you, or was that pretty challenging?

Alex Austin: This is another thing I like to say... I am so happy that we have these problems; it sounds like I'm complaining about them, but contrast that with our Photobook app before. I think I realized right before we saw Branch start to take off that it wasn't gonna be the big business that we had hoped. I had actually pitched about 50 different investors on the Photobook app and got no's from every single one. At that point, we had been working on the app for close to about a year, and, honestly, I did all the customer support, I knew a lot of our customers by name... It was a very emotional experience for me to come to terms that this product wouldn't be all that I thought it would, and I would eventually have to let down all these people that depended on us.

There was a point where I had trouble getting out of bed. I was so depressed that it wasn't gonna work, and just through what feels like sheer luck more than anything, we got these really positive signs from the market that Branch was a real thing that people wanted to use. Contrast that failed fundraising where I pitched 50 different investors... I went out to fundraise for the series seed - basically right when we were about people; we only had a couple apps onboarded, but there was a lot of excitement around the company, a lot of promises to integrate soon, all that kind of stuff. There seemed to be a good trajectory, and I went from start a fundraise to term sheet in three days. There was so much excitement about the product...

For me, knowing what hard fundraising is like, to go through that continued no's and start to doubt whether you're doing the right thing because other people aren't seeing it... I can't claim to say that we've ever had a hard time, because I know what it really is like when it's hard.

We've been very fortunate that they story, the product, the adoption numbers, everything that we have supports an easy fundraising process. But I am going out for the series C relatively soon, and the market is definitely a lot more conservative than it was a couple years ago, so maybe ask me that same question in about three months and then I might have a completely different answer for you.

Paul Kemp: It's so inspiring listening to you, Alex, and sadly we're gonna wrap it up... I just wondered, for those listening, who are the best people then to be visiting Branch? What sort/type of customers are you looking for?

Alex Austin: The way we've thought about Branch is really a developer tool. We have a whole set of enterprise products that we sell into large companies like an Amazon or a Target or Wal-Mart, or those types of companies, and they pay a lot of money for it. But fundamentally, in our roots, we're the developer who just launched, working from the bedroom, maybe it's a side project... We're trying to build a successful business, that's where we started. So we give away all of our basic products for free.

You can use the SDKs, create links, get full attribution - everything for free. Once you start making a lot of money, you use the product successfully in growing your app, then you can start paying us the money, paying back your debt. But in the meantime, access it for free.

The way I describe it is it's kind of like AWS for links. If there are links pointing back to your app, if you're doing viral sharing or referrals, if you're doing app install ads, or you're trying to build a community via Facebook or Twitter, you're putting links in all those messages, those should be Branch links and they should be deep links that point back to pages in your app. I think the more technical product manager or engineer who's thinking about building out cool user experiences on top of deep linking - definitely a candidate.

If you're a marketer who wants to measure and attribute your campaigns to see how effective they are at driving growth, you can do that as well. Honestly, Airbnb uses us and there are 47 people at that company that uses us on a regular basis,  from marketing to engineering to product.

Really, there's value for everybody. It's had to describe one particular use case, but if it's links, it should be Branch - that's my general summary.

Paul Kemp: Alex, I love the way you said that it's AWS for links, and I feel like a lot of us need to have these kind of straplines, taglines to explain what we do. You get it instantly.

Alex, it's been so inspiring... How best can people reach out and connect with you? What is the best way of getting in touch?

Alex Austin: Yeah, sure... Just shoot me a note at I'm happy to help if you're thinking about fundraising, if you're working on a product and you want some feedback... I'm stupidly busy, but I really have a soft spot in my heart for entrepreneurs wanting to build big businesses, and I do want to make as much time as I can to help. Feel free to send me an e-mail,

Paul Kemp: Alex, thank you so much for sharing your awesome journey. All the best with Branch in the next level of growth, and we'll definitely get you back on to talk about your fundraising and how it's gone. Thanks for coming on!

Alex Austin: Yeah, thank you.

Up Yours University And Corporate Life Because I'm My Own Boss

Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is the show where I go around the world and figure out who can help us with their journeys, especially in the space of apps and mobiles and technology.

This is a show for inspired founders, anyone who's maybe working at a corporate job and is thinking of quitting to get into startups, get into doing their own thing. I have literally an amazing guest; the reason is that he has taken a different path in his app journey. He is someone who, firstly, is calling in from Singapore, and he has never worked for anyone else before, he's never had a boss... In fact, he's never even been to university; he's followed a very different path.

So, my guest is Benjamin Yee. He is the founder of EMERGE App, and we're going to find out about his journey. Benjamin, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.

Benjamin Yee: Thank you, Paul, thanks for having me.

Paul Kemp: Okay, so in terms of EMERGE App - let's, first of all, explore the app, and then we can talk about your journey afterward. What is EMERGE App?

Benjamin Yee: EMERGE App is basically a web app that helps any merchant, whether you are selling any products or you are selling services, through a distribution, a wholesale or eCommerce model. You are able to just head to my website, get an account, put your products up, customers up, suppliers up, and start using the app to run your entire business from sales all the way to accounts. That's the view of the entire app itself.

Paul Kemp: It seems like a huge undertaking. So you're actually taking the problem that people have with -- talk about the problem you're trying to solve here, Ben.

Benjamin Yee: Basically, in my domain, SAP and ORACLE come to mind - big enterprise resource planning, CRM software... We are not serving those big companies, those huge multinational companies. We are going way small, to startups, small companies where you have five employees or less, where you really need productivity. Wholesale trading and distribution go way back to the stone ages where people traded stuff, things that they had, in exchange for something else.

Trading and distribution haven't changed. What has changed is how can we help each individual employee in your company become more productive, whether you are a salesperson, whether you are managing an inventory, whether you are doing purchasing, whether you are doing accounts. The entire system links the entire business together. Rather than using spreadsheets to manage your inventory, the quotations, and you're calling your customers and managing your customers' contacts - all over the place.

We are very focused to help small companies make sure that they run their operations much better, more effectively. At the end of the day, what bosses or employers are looking at is basically making much more profit, so once we are able to be more effective, each of your staff is able to be more productive, at the end you will have more profits in your bottom line.

Paul Kemp: What I love, Ben, already is that you're solving a problem for small companies, those 1-5 employees, for example, and yet you have never had a boss yourself. It's interesting that you've targeted the small companies... There's money in that part of the market. It's obviously nice you're not competing with the big powerhouses, but is there money to be made in that very small segment?

Benjamin Yee: Okay, just simply look at it like this - imagine you're going to spend two or three grand even to hire a sales person, or administration person, operation or even an accountant. What is spending 30 dollars more for just one single account? Yes, you may be asking me whether there's enough money to be made if a company only spends a hundred to two hundred dollars per month, but think about it... The trading and distribution business, the eCommerce business is one of the easiest businesses to start. You don't really need a lot of capital if you are doing trading; you can go straight to your suppliers, get a commitment and start selling. Once you sell your product, you can just buy from your supplier and fulfill the others.

Looking at it, the ease of getting into such a business, means we have tons of them. Just look at the World Trade Organization recorded statistics for businesses in this domain; you have at least 15 million such businesses. Of course, not all 15 million will actually adopt a system like mine, but say we're looking at 0,01% - it's a lot more than we could provide with just a small team like us.

Paul Kemp: Yes, I'm going to try to understand a little bit more about the product as well because I'm not quite understanding what it is... For example, if I wanted to sell something - let's just take SquareSpace for example. That's a website that does mobile optimized pages, and also enables you to set up an account and get paid... Is it something similar to that but more from an app?

Benjamin Yee: Okay, so SquareSpace, Shopify - such platforms allow merchants to actually put their product up online, to be able to sell it, like a frontend platform. EMERGE is more like a backend, behind the scenes application. Let me give you a scenario - a new guy comes up from the corporate world; he has been, say, in the machine industry for over 20 years, and he found a couple of suppliers and decided to get into the distribution business of XYZ machine parts.

First, you need to negotiate with the supplier; once he gets the products that he's going to sell, an an agreement with the suppliers, the next step for him would be having a product database. Once you sign up for EMERGE, what you can do is get all these products inside EMERGE to first manage your inventory, manage your orders and so on and so forth. With the app itself, you can actually go out there, so it's more like a B2B. One motto is B2B, business-to-business. You go out to machine owners and you start selling to them. If they require you to issue a quotation to them, you can use the app itself to generate a quotation and send it to them via the app.

Once the quotation is confirmed, they can convert it into a sales order in the system itself, which records all the sales figures and how well the business is doing in terms of sales, profit margin, cost price that you're talking about for each order... Once that happens, once the order is being confirmed, they can use the system to generate a purchase order from their supplier.

Imagine if he's not using EMERGE, he would first have to use Excel sheets to set up his whole entire business, from having quotations in Excel sheets, purchase orders in Excel sheets... When you fulfill your goods, you have shipment orders, your delivery orders... All these have to conform with general business workflow - documents like delivery order, invoices, quotation have to include certain things that are required to do business in the States, or anywhere else in the world.

That part of EMERGE - the documentation, the linking from sales and suppliers and purchases - helps new entrepreneurs or small businesses in basically digitizing all their business processes. They don't have to actually create all these documents in Excel sheets anymore.

Another problem with Excel sheets is once you get too many of them, you save them all over the place; especially when you're busy running a bar and customers are calling you, you don't really archive them well in different folders, and if customers and suppliers comes back to you again to look for certain things, you actually waste quite a little bit of time to search for all these files that you need to dig out, to actually send them to your suppliers or customers again.

Using EMERGE app, everything is digitized. If a customer comes back and says, "Hey, can you send that quotation to me again that you sent a month ago?", you just have to search (like Google) for that quotation and literally send it out from the app itself. You don't really have to PDF if and then put it in your mailbox and send it out. Most of the time, e-mails don't really reach the users (your customers or your suppliers) and that kind of slows down the whole process of the supply chain. We wanted to make it more effective from a global perspective. For us, once we are able to help these small businesses do their business much more efficiently, the whole supply chain could benefit from it as well.

EMERGE is not a platform that helps you advertise or list your product on the website, it's more like a backend solution for you to manage your entire business flow.

Paul Kemp: Ben, what I want to say as well is that I think that the audience, the appster tribe listening to this can really benefit from what we're learning from you, and it's that you look for an industry that is heavily reliant on Excel spreadsheets, which is something that is from historic ages, the stone age, and actually then build something that solves a problem, which is the overcomplicated use of Excel spreadsheets.

I remember talking on a podcast episode a while back where we were being encouraged to find industries, find niches where you can just do away with Excel spreadsheets and use an app to make the whole flow a lot better, which is what you've done with EMERGE app.

Benjamin Yee: Yes, but keep in mind that EMERGE is not something that is not in the market for a really long time. SAP Oracle has been doing such software for 30 years, but the target for them is really focusing on really huge businesses, for MMCs that can afford tens of millions of dollars to deploy a system within their business operations. But what about small guys, right? For myself, I started my first business selling T-shirts when I was 17 - still in school - so that was my problem... I kind of wanted to get software, software was too expensive, so "Screw it, I'm just going to build a software for myself. At least I have one client." So luckily, if I myself am facing this problem, I'm sure millions of entrepreneurs worldwide would be facing the same issue as well.

Paul Kemp: And Ben, I want to add you to the list of young entrepreneurs that have been on this show. I remember a past episode - and if anyone wants to remind me, they can e-mail me to get the episode - where an entrepreneur started at the age of 14, selling domain names, and here you are, at 17, selling T-shirts.

So I wanna carry on and dig deeper into your journey because I think we can learn a lot from especially those people who are either leaving school, university or perhaps sitting there in a corporate job and wondering what it's like to work for yourself or be your own boss. Just before I do, I do want to just take a minute to re-thank my sponsor, Gummicube... Tell me, have you heard of Gummicube?

Benjamin Yee: No, unfortunately not.

Paul Kemp: Okay, well here you go then. Gummicube, they've been sponsoring my show now for years and they really were spearheading the whole of the app store optimization trend. They help increase downloads by helping find your audience within the app store; they will help you determine the best keywords to focus on, and then get those keywords to be the ones where anyone typing in on the Apple app store will see your app. And you know how important it is when someone types in a word, say, like "productivity", if EMERGE App pops up when you type in that keyword.

App store discoverability is really hard, it's really one of the big challenges for developers now and anyone with an app. What Gummicube is doing that's slightly different to others is that they do actually pull the data from the app store, so all the data they have is not being scraped off the web, but is app store data, which makes a big difference. is where you go, and if you are listening to this and you're interested, I can also introduce to the founder, Dave Bell, if you want to get into the inner circle of people that work there. So that's Thanks, Gummicube, for supporting the show.

Ben, the fact that you've never worked for anyone else I'm very envious of... You don't know what it's like to work for an awful boss. You've never been to university as well, which is a really different course. How have you learned your trade then, if you haven't gone to an establishment like a university? Where do you learn from?

Benjamin Yee: I guess in a nutshell it's just to make mistakes. You make mistakes, but not lose too much money making mistakes... I guess that is kind of like the most important part about not having somebody or having a mentor around you that can actually help guide you through. But it's kind of good as well because if you haven't really started off in a corporate career, you can kind of like write your own playbook; you do not need to conform to a certain way of doing things.

If you are in a big company for a really long time, you tend to feel that you have to do things in a certain way. I'm not saying all this to downplay people from big corporations and that are trying to become entrepreneurs, but what you have to realize is once you're an entrepreneur, it's your own playbook, it's your own rules. You don't have to listen, you don't have to have your past way of dealing with your business... You can just do everything at your own pace, your own rules.

That is the huge benefit for me - I don't have a standard, I don't have a baseline to start with. Everything else is you make mistakes, you learn from them and you grow from there.

Paul Kemp: Ben, one of the things I was thinking, as you are living in a very expensive city, there are others around the world who equally are living in expensive cities, and I could imagine it was really tough when you decided that you were going to go down the root of starting your own thing. Have you got any advice for us on what it's like to start up in actually quite an expensive place to live?

Benjamin Yee: Okay, if I may, I should say that Singapore -- okay, I would like to beg to differ for this case... Many reports say that Singapore is one of the most expensive cities to live in, right? I do agree, to a certain extent, because for a Singaporean (born and bred in Singapore), most of us have a house - our families, our parents... Singapore induces home ownership, so our government housing is actually heavily subsidized.

Most of us grew up with a home, so basically we do not need to worry about paying for rent, or stuff like that. And food is really cheap. The reports that came out actually took more restaurant prices, so that's food at a much higher scale, but most Singaporeans do not really frequent restaurants that much. We have things like hawker centers, food courts where you can even get a decent meal for 2,50 Sing Dollars, so that is about 2 U.S. Dollars.

Paul Kemp: Wow.

Benjamin Yee: Yeah, so in fact, Singapore is kind of like a great place for locals to start their business. It's just that in Asia we don't have a good ecosystem for starting businesses... Parents always tell us to study hard and go to a big university and get a big corporate job when you grow up; don't take on the risky, entrepreneur route.

So my advice for entrepreneurs that are starting up in expensive cities, I guess find a way to have extra streams of income. When I've started off, early on, luckily, I was still being kind of fed by my parents, because I was still in school. I started off early, so that was a bonus, but for the rest that starts later on, I guess the advice is to find other streams of income, things that you may do on the side - maybe becoming an Uber driver for 3-4 hours a day, or maybe even selling domain names, or writing blogs to earn some advertising dollars from there.

Find a second income, if possible, to subsidize everything else, so you can continue to basically work on your dream. That's my advice.

Paul Kemp: I'm sure that many people listening are having these same worries... What was it like when you first told your parents - I'm assuming you were living with your mom and dad at the time - how difficult was it...? Because I can imagine it's quite a challenging conversation when parents and the older generation expect us to do certain things - they expect us to go to university, and they want us to get a career, and become a doctor, or some established profession. And actually, looking at the future, we know that a lot of those professions are going to fade and they may be taken over by AI, robots... Who knows? So to start a startup and know how to develop your own streams is very important. But how did you overcome that? It must have been a challenging conversation with your parents, to tell them that this is what you really wanted to do.

Benjamin Yee: The majority of my friends and people around me had that problem when they were at the start of doing their own entrepreneurship, but for myself, I was lucky that both my parents were doing business when I was young, so the resistance was not that much. If my parents are doing business, they'll kind of encourage me to do business as well, so coming to another point, I guess your environment, especially your parents, do play a huge role in whether you take risk or not, but it's not necessarily true for everyone. I could speak on behalf of my friends and family around... It's really tough.

Paul Kemp: Actually, Ben, can I just jump in? Because I remember... One of the themes I think I've had from all these 500+ episodes over the years is the theme that entrepreneurs do come from entrepreneurial families, and it seems more often than not that that's the case. So I would encourage anyone who's got maybe an entrepreneurial family  - mother, father, uncle, auntie or whomever it may be - to maybe stay close to them and try and learn from them, because maybe that's what's driving you. What do you think?

Benjamin Yee: That's definitely true, and also it really depends... If you are so buy-in into entrepreneurship, you could even find support groups, you can find entrepreneurship groups. Every city in the world has them; you can just do a Google search, join those groups and find like-minded people that share entrepreneurship dreams with you. We are who we mix with, right? If you spend most of your time with people that are encouraging, people who are already doing business, the chances for us to become a successful entrepreneur, or even start becoming an entrepreneur are much higher.

If you're going to be mixing around with friends and people around you who are in big corporations and focus their life on stability, then it could be a lot tougher for you to actually make the leap into entrepreneurship.

Paul Kemp: Yes. So Ben, just before we say goodbye to you then, the final thing is that people listening and reading our transcript - I wanted to know what type of person is ultimately going to download and use your app... If you can just re-explain the sorts of people that should actually be going and downloading the app now.

Benjamin Yee: Sure. So if you're a merchant, you are already an entrepreneur, if you're selling a product, say T-shirts, coin pouches, soft toys - any physical product that you are buying from a supplier or manufacturing yourself, that you are selling on an eCommerce platform, selling business-to-business to retail stores, business-to-business to any industrial business, industrial domain, get it now. Download it and check it out. It's free for the first user, so we make it really simple, really easy for entrepreneurs that really use apps before, haven't really tested apps before this, to kind of test the system and find out to what extent it could help your business.

For us, we've helped hundreds of businesses around the world increase their productivity, and the next one could be you.

Paul Kemp: Yes, and I'm guessing as well that it's not just the founders or the entrepreneurs running those companies, but anyone in the company who is putting in data into a spreadsheet that's got supplier or customer information or purchase orders or anything, then they should be using EMERGE app.

Benjamin Yee: That is absolutely right... Not just for small businesses - even for larger businesses as well.

Paul Kemp: Yes. Ben, you've been so inspiring to talk to... I've loved walking through your journey, and I would like to know, if people are inspired by your story, how best can they get in touch with you? What is the best way of connecting with you?

Benjamin Yee: The best way is to look for me on Facebook or drop me an e-mail at I will reply to your e-mail within 24 hours.

Paul Kemp: Wonderful! Ben, ever so nice talking with you, and all the best for the future of EMERGE app.

Benjamin Yee: Thank you very much, Paul, for having me.



Paul Kemp is a podcaster and app founder. He's appeared in multiple publications, such as and he's behind the launch a #2 chart topping recipe app, and a #1 music app on Apple’s App Store. Paul's latest video app is endorsed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. He’s probably best known for hosting “‘The App Guy Podcast” which is in its forth year and has over 500 episodes with founders and app entrepreneur guests from around the world. Subscribe at (for free) if you are interested in the app startup scene. You can also subscribe to receive new episodes using these links:


Live A Life Full Of Purpose



Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. I love where this show takes me - around the world. It introduces me to so many inspiring founders and entrepreneurs, digging into great app stories.

Today's episode, it's with the founder of DonorSee ; he's got a wonderful app, he's got an inspiring story about making a change in the world. Gret Glyer, the founder of DonorSee, welcome to The App Guy Podcast!

Gret Glyer: Thank you, Paul. It's a pleasure to be here!

Paul Kemp: Thanks for coming on. Let's find out about DonorSee then... "Donor" being "donation", I guess. Tell us about the app and what you're doing to change the world.

Gret Glyer: Alright, so basically the idea behind DonorSee is to provide donors a way where they can see where their money is going. This is only on a massive scale, where some people are calling it the Uber for charity. On a transactional level, this is what your experience will be like:

….let's say you go on the app and you find a little girl in Malawi who needs hearing aids. She's never heard anything before, and she needs an 180-dollar bone conduction hearing aid; this is something that we have on our app all the time. So you go onto the app, you donate $180 and a week later you'll get a video of that girl hearing for the first time.

That's the same type of experience that you would have with almost anything. Let's say you donate towards a house - then you would get to see that person's house being built. Or you donate towards a little kid who needs a school uniform - you get to not only see the school uniform, but them going to school, getting their books, all that stuff.

Paul Kemp: What I love about this -- in the U.K. there's been a lot of controversy around some of the bigger charities, the way they use quite strong tactics to get their donations. And often, there's these huge charities, a lot of money goes through them, and it's a black box. We kind of never see what happens directly with our money. What difference does it make when you actually get to see physically what a difference your money is making?

Gret Glyer: On a statistical level, I can't share exactly... [unintelligible 00:13:24.17] just because we're not allowed to share that, but I'll tell you, the number of people who make repeat donations on our app is astronomically high for our industry.

For example, when someone comes to the app, they make a donation, they get to see feedback - a week later, feedback comes on their phone, they swipe it, they see this video of this girl hearing for the first time, and then all of a sudden it's like this light bulb goes off and they're like, "Oh my gosh, I gotta keep doing this! This is way better than anything I've done before." Because you're right, usually when you give to charity you get a thank-you e-mail, or you get some donor relations person saying, "We promise that your gift went to the right place", but you never get to actually see where it's going. We've had a hugely positive response in the two months that we've been launched so far.

Paul Kemp: That's why I love this industry. The amount of money in the mainstream charities, let's say - they could have easily done this with technology. But it takes someone with passion like yourself, who I assume is not extremely well-funded, but you're coming in and you're just disrupting the whole giving mechanism through technology and through apps. What's driving you to do this, Gret? I wondered about you, what's giving you the impetus to do this?

Gret Glyer: Sure. So I grew up in Northern Virginia, which is right outside of Washington DC - very wealthy area. I went to a private school for both high-school and college, and I was just always privileged. I always had the best life. I graduated from college with no debt, my parents paid for it, and I got a good job right away, and I was off to the races. I was working at this customer-service-oriented company, and they were telling me, "We're gonna fast track you, you're doing very well." It wasn't very satisfying to me, and eventually, after a year of working at this company, doing very well, making plenty of money, I said, "You know what, I can't do this anymore."

I left, and I went to Malawi, Africa. So I went from one of the richest areas in the entire world to one of the poorest areas in the entire world. In fact, in 2014 Malawi literally was the poorest country on the planet. That was shocking. When you see the level of poverty that is going on in the world, it's impossible -- I tell this to people all the time... If you live in the U.K. in London, or if you live in the U.S., you have no idea what extreme poverty looks like. It's just like a completely different planet.

I think seeing that and experiencing it for the very first time really gave me a lot of meaning and purpose that I hadn't had in my life for so long. Being able to see how small amounts of money can completely change someone's life or even change someone's life gave me a lot of motivation to say, "Okay, what can I do about this?" Because there's a lot of charities out there, but they're not doing good work. There's some that are doing good work, but on the whole, they're not transparent, and people are giving them money and they don't care where the money's going, and they don't get to see where it's going, so what can I do to change that?
When I came up with the idea for DonorSee, and ever since then, I've had a passion to turn the app into something that’ll make a real impact. An app that not only provides funding to people in need living overseas, but also changes how people in the first world see how they are making an impact.

Paul Kemp: That's what I love about his show as well - it can inspire anyone to make a difference. I've actually been to a lot of places with extreme poverty; in India's pockets of poverty, in North Africa... I've been to a lot of places. It is quite life-changing, isn't it? And a lot of us are digital nomads. Are you going to some of these places and seeing people actually working there, Westerners who are deciding to use those locations to work and then try and use their time to help out the local people?

Gret Glyer: Yeah, there's these aid workers living all over the planet. I lived in Malawi for three years and I'm back in the U.S. at the moment, and one of the things that you realize when you get over there... It's kind of this funny thing - I, Gret Glyer went over to Malawi, and it was a big decision in my life. It was life changing, I didn't know a single person over there. And I got over there, and there were actually lots of other Americans and lots of other Europeans. It was interesting to talk to each and every one of them because they were all there, they all have their own story where they decided to go overseas, and they're all very interesting people. I'm sure you met plenty of them when you were traveling to these places like India and North Africa. So there are lots of these people abroad, and they're all there for different reasons - sometimes it Peace Corps work, aid relief, all kinds of stuff.

Paul Kemp: Yeah, and actually some of it feels quite dangerous as well, in some pockets of those places. This is a show about apps and we have a lot of app entrepreneurs listening to this, people working for corporate jobs that tend to want to do side projects, or maybe actually work on their app full-time... I'd love to know the process that you took to get this off the ground, because it's one thing having an idea... In 2014 you had this idea - great, but how did you actually physically get the app built, how did you fund it? Did you do it yourself? Talk us through that story of how you got DonorSee off the ground.

Gret Glyer: Gotcha. Like I said, I lived in Malawi for three years and I was living off of about $600/month, so I was by no means living a lavish lifestyle. I had a house, electricity, Wi-Fi, that kind of stuff, but I wasn't rich - $600/month. I came up with the idea for the app actually this past January, and I spent a couple months really working on it and talking to different people who I respected in the tech industry. I had never done anything technical before, I'd never written a line of code before, but I really believed in this idea; it came into my mind, "the Uber for charities", and then I realized, "Okay, what is this? How is it gonna look? What's important about it? What's gonna make it tick?" and by March I had a really good idea and a really good plan for how I wanted to have this thing sustain itself, and also how I wanted it to look... I worked with designers and all that stuff.

First what I did was I went to UpWork and I hired a guy from Ukraine to build a very rudimentary version of the app using some streams that I had designed. That cost $7,000. UpWork is a website where you can go online and hire freelancers all over the world.

It wasn't a great version of the app, it was extremely buggy and glitchy, and you couldn't even use a credit card to make a donation, you had to have a Paypal account... All sorts of stuff were wrong with it, but what I was able to do is get a handful of people to start playing around with it, and then I showed it to some investors. These venture capitalists in Raleigh, North Carolina - I showed it to them and I asked them for a certain amount of money in exchange for equity. They offered me some money in exchange for some equity but it wasn't a very good deal, so I went to one of my mentors and I told him, "Hey, what should I do? These guys are offering me money and I think it's enough to help me get off the ground, but they want a lot of equity. What's your recommendation at this point?" He said I should take it. He said, "Gret, you're 26 years old and you have an idea that hasn't made a single dollar yet. These guys are offering you a lot of money for someone in your position. I would just take it."

I spent the night thinking about it and the next morning I was gonna call them up and say, "Thank you for the offer, I accept", but before I had the chance to do that, that mentor called me and he said, "Hey Gret, I was thinking about last night and I wanna give you the funding that you need for the deal that you want." So what he did was he and a bunch of his friends who are multi-millionaires, they're business partners and they're entrepreneurs on their own - what they did was they each chipped in about ten or twenty thousand dollars in exchange for a certain amount of equity and we raised about $150,000 altogether. I was able to use that money to hire some programmers to help us get the thing off the ground. That's the version you see in the App Store today; it was professionally developed by some people in Raleigh and a few other places.

Paul Kemp: How inspiring is that? On the day you were about to take the investment, your mentor comes through...? The two things I've learned from that is the importance of getting in front of investors and having a good pitch, but also the importance of having an excellent mentor.

Gret Glyer: Oh, yeah.

Paul Kemp: How did you keep the costs under control? Because even though you had a wonderful seed, an injection of cash, I'm guessing with the idea that you had, the app can run away from you in terms of costs, with all the features that you wanted to include. How did you manage the cost side of it?

Gret Glyer: Yeah, I've told this to several people... I probably saved tens of thousands of dollars on that side thanks to a friend of mine and also a mentor - his name is Scott Barstow, and he's got a podcast and a blog that you can check out. His whole thing is basically how do you not light your money on fire when you're building a tech startup. It's designed for people who are non-technical to give them enough background so they don't do that stuff. He really helped a lot out in that, and he gave me a lot of personal advice. The basic idea there was I had the really important stuff built stateside - the server and all of the background stuff was built state-side, and then we went overseas to build the frontend stuff.

Also, honestly, my app DonorSee is designed to help people and it has one of those missions that lots of people wanna get behind, so there were a lot of people who decided they wanted to help us for less than market value just because they felt that it was something where they could contribute to a meaningful cause using some of their talents. So that was another thing that helped our situation specifically.

Paul Kemp: What I'm learning from you there is don't be scared to ask, as well. If you have a real cause with your app, then just ask the people that are building it to really help out as well. It sounds great, it really does!

So you got to launch the app then, and often it is quite hard to get... Discovery - one of the biggest challenges the appster tribe have here is with app discovery. Were there any big things that has happened to get your app noticed, get it out there? Because I noticed there's a lot of people putting money through, donating and stuff like that... Were there any big breakouts that you've had?

Gret Glyer: There is a number of things... Some of it was just a stroke of luck and some of it was making my own luck... A week after we launched there was this random friend of mine on Twitter who reached out to a guy named Tom Woods who has a really big podcast in the states, and he's like "Hey, Tom, you should check out this app" and Tom was like, "Yeah, sure. Let's interview him on Monday." So I interviewed a week after the app was launched, and immediately we got a thousand users right off the bat, just from that, and just had this huge spike in traffic a week after our launch. That was a pretty exciting thing, and that's lead to other podcasts and stuff like that that's happened.

Another thing that happened - you're probably familiar with hurricane Matthew which hit Haiti and really devastated a lot of the areas in that part of the world. When that happened, I immediately bought a ticket and took a flight down to Haiti, and I used my influence - I have a sizeable donor base of people who are interested in donating to whatever projects I'm working on, because they've been following me in Malawi for a long time... So I immediately bought a ticket, went down to Haiti and I said, "I'm going down to Haiti, I'm taking nothing but my phone with the DonorSee app and that's it."

I went down to Haiti for like three days and what we did is we raised enough money to provide several hundred emergency disaster relief kits to the victims of hurricane Matthew. There's all this controversy about, you know, "Is the Red Cross spending my money correctly? Is the Clinton Foundation spending my money correctly?" Well, with DonorSee you don't have to guess. Everyone who donated - there were hundreds of people who donated - got notifications on their phone of videos of us passing out the disaster relief kits in real time. That was a great testimony, and we actually got written up in U.S.A. Today because of that.
There was a whole bunch of good that came from that as well. So yeah, we've had a few big breaks so far, thankfully, in the only two months that we've been launched.

Paul Kemp: Gret, it's fantastic. I love the fact that you had a big breakout. One of the first times that people have said it's podcasts, which is wonderful...

Gret Glyer: [laughs] Yeah.

Paul Kemp: ...given that you're now on a podcast.

Gret Glyer: Oh yeah, I love podcasts. It's one of those amazing things where you get 30 minutes to just passionately talk about this thing that you've built and you're excited about and you have this vision for... It really does help get people excited.

Paul Kemp: Yeah, and also once you are on one, the ball starts rolling and you can show credibility and that opens up other doors.

Gret Glyer: Exactly.

Paul Kemp: Before we carry on now, there are definitely some other things I wanna talk to you about... One is how anyone who's interested in going to live in Africa, maybe you could give some tips for that. But before we carry on, let me just return to those two sponsors. I'm not sure if you've heard of these guys... Have you heard of Toptal before?

Gret Glyer: Oh yeah, I almost used them, if that guy Scott Barstow hadn't gotten involved.

Paul Kemp: There you go, there's an endorsement as well.

Break: [00:28:07.12] to [00:30:52.10]

Paul Kemp: Gret, what I was really fascinated with is that we do have founders who start their own companies, and they're living in London, San Francisco, New York; rents - sky high. I love the fact that you lived on $600 a month. Do you have any tips for anyone who may want to start their startup but perhaps could consider doing it maybe abroad, in a low-cost location?

Gret Glyer: Yeah, for me it was just coincidence. I happened to be overseas and then I had the idea for the app. If I had been in a different location, I would have probably found a different way to make it work. But I will say that the benefits of spending a year overseas are enormous. I tell people, if you spend a year overseas it's kind of the equivalent of a Ph.D. level education. You just get opened up to this brand new level of experience and culture that is impossible to really appreciate unless you spend a significant amount of time in some other location, where you're a sore thumb, you look different than everyone else and you talk differently than everyone else, and your cultures and customs don't work in this location. There's a lot of educational benefit to that.

I think there's certainly a lot of monetary benefit in terms of it being a low-cost place. That's something that people can look into as well. I would say if you want tips on going overseas, that's always the tricky thing - how do you get over there? I personally went to go teach at an international school in Malawi, and that was a really great setup for me because they paid for me to go over there; they gave me my monthly paycheck and I was able to get my feet on the ground out there. A lot of times people choose to use teaching as a way to get overseas, and English as a second language is a big way to do that.

I wasn't making a ton, but there are a lot of places where you can actually make pretty decent money being a teacher overseas. That's definitely something to look into.

Paul Kemp: Yeah, and I'm guessing they help you as well with the visa processing...

Gret Glyer: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's one of those things where it depends on where you are. The particular establishment I was with, it was one of those things where you show up at the airport and they kind of like fast-track you through customs. They really have good relationships with everyone, and they've been there for 20 years... Lots of different stuff like that is also really helpful.

Paul Kemp: Wonderful. And the Wi-Fi speed in Malawi, was it decent?

Gret Glyer: It was horrible. [laughter] I was there for three years; when I first got there, I couldn't even watch a YouTube video. By the end of it, you could kind of watch one if you put on the lowest setting and not too many other people were using the internet. It was tough... That was a big reason for why I came back. I really felt passionate and I wanted DonorSee to be a big success; I felt like it's gonna help lots of people on both sides of the world, and I felt like I'm gonna have a better shot at doing this in America where I have good internet and I'm able to Skype with people and interact with people a lot faster than I can in Malawi.

Paul Kemp: Finally, before we say goodbye to you, I'd like to just ask you... For those people that have listened to you and are actually in that corporate job, doing something they perhaps realize that maybe they regret and they wish they'd made a different decision - do you have any suggestions on how you make this huge leap? Because you were on a certain path, and you made such a drastic decision that I'm guessing a lot of people around you were probably questioning what your thought process was at that time. Do you have any practical tips on advising anyone who's in that same part of their life but actually going down the path that they are starting to realize is the wrong path? How can they make the change?

Gret Glyer: I would encourage the listeners to really think about opportunity cost, because I think a lot of people are worried, like "I'm gonna be away from my friends for a year, I'm gonna have a blip in my resume for a year...", they're worried about what it's gonna cost them to spend that time overseas, leave their corporate job and all this other stuff. They're worried about a whole ton of stuff and it's probably harder for them to imagine, but I will go ahead and confirm for them - when you spend a year overseas, you become a lot more solid in who you are; you can't hang on to any part of your identity that isn't your true identity until you spend a significant amount of time where your only frame of reference is things that are totally foreign to you.

I also thing that you can kind of spin your resume however you want; if you spend a year overseas, a lot of employers are thrilled about that. That's a really great thing that you can talk about in interviews, and it's something that will set you apart for future employment. Then I also think - if I'm being honest, that all your friends are gonna be jealous that you're going overseas and you're spending a year overseas, and when you come back they're gonna wanna know where you were and they're gonna wanna hear about this experience, and they will be the ones who are gonna be questioning, "Oh man, I wish I had done something like that." That's always the case.

I guess I'll leave it at this one thing - you hear people all the time saying, "I wish I had traveled when I was younger." You hear that all the time. You never hear anyone say, "I regret traveling when I was younger", because no one does. It's a big, big benefit that can really transform your life, so I would just say go do it.

Paul Kemp: Let's try and direct people then to how best they can help and get involved. What can we do to connect with you and DonorSee? What's the best thing we could do right now?

Gret Glyer: Anyone can reach out to me on Twitter, I'm pretty active on there. That's @gretglyer. I'm happy to also just take e-mails from people. That would be You can follow me on DonorSee; if you sign up for DonorSee, you can follow me and anytime I post a new project, you'll get to see that. Feel free to reach out, I'm pretty available.

Paul Kemp: In terms of actually saying that, it's DonorSee, D-O-N-O-R-S-E-E. I'm guessing that it's a unique name; if you search that on the App Store, you should find the correct one. That's great. Use the app, or use the website to donate.

Wonderful, Gret. It's been, honestly, so inspiring... It's one of the reasons why I do this show - to meet people like you, and realize that not everyone is cut from the same cloth, that we all go and do some different things, and thank god we have people like yourself doing the stuff that you're doing, so thank you so much for being such an inspiration to the world, and coming on the show.

Gret Glyer: Paul, it was my pleasure, thank you so much for having me.

Paul Kemp: All the best! Bye for now.

How To Get Free Press For Your App Startup

An insightful interview with Dmitry Dragilev

Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it’s Paul Kemp. As you know, I go around and I get all nationalities, everyone from around the world that can help us with our app journeys. Today I love my guest. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve met, wonderful at building up relationships with influencers and he’ definitely got something to talk to us about.

This founder is responsible for building up — get this — 40 million pageviews for his startup, which actually ended up being sold to Google. It’s a dream come true for many of the founders and the startup entrepreneurs that listen to this show.

He is the founder of JustReachOut, he’s got a product; I’ve been going through it, I love it, it’s just great content. Let me introduce Dmitry Dragilev. Dmitry, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.

Dmitry Dragilev: Thanks, good to be here!

Paul Kemp: Dmitry, you do a lot of stuff in the web space but it’s very applicable to apps because you have this product called JustReachOut, which I want to uncover with you going forward… But first, we must touch on Polar — your experience of building up this 40-million view site and selling it to Google. Would you be able to give us a run through of actually the story behind Polar?

Dmitry Dragilev: Well, actually it used to be an app when we started. It was primarily a mobile-first app, because the founder of Polar, Luke Wroblewski was the guy behind mobile-first development, the idea, and all the books, and he’s kind of a thought leader in the space (@lukew is his Twitter name). When he founded the company he said,

“Hey Dmitry, come work with me and this couple other people that I wanna recruit.”

It was primarily just a mobile app and it was a very simple app; it was just a beautiful way to create a poll on any given topic or question you have, and ask your friends to participate in your poll. It could be anything — Starbucks vs. Dunkin’ Donuts or Xbox vs PS4…

When we first launched to the app store, we really didn’t have a lot of time to try to find customers. We were funded by Jerry Yang of Yahoo!, so we had some money to play with, and we tried a lot of different things. We tried App Store optimization, we also tried a lot of different tactics such as partnerships, we also did ads, and all that did drive a good amount of users to our app to download and use it, but it was just not having impact of millions. We were burning through some of the cash and we were just not seeing huge hockey stick growth.

We tried a lot of things and a lot of them worked, but there wasn’t that sporadic, huge growth that was sustainable. We had to spend more money to get more users, and this app was free. We couldn’t keep spending more money on acquiring users and just hoping we’ll turn into the next Twitter. We needed to make this a business where we were not spending more money to get new customers.

What I was looking at at the time was breaking tech news, and one of my experiments — I like to call them PR experiments or SEO experiments — was just to find a way to gain a whole big influx of users with a cool little experiment or a trick, and see how sustainable that is, and if we can keep repeating it.

iOS 7 was coming out, so what we did is Luke being a design mind, with a design thinking, mobile-first, and really well-known in the design community, having a lot of connections, basically we compared 1-to-1 all the icons and all the functionality of iOS 7 with iOS 6. And at the time there was a little bit of uproar; people were not that excited about the new iOS 7. They were actually comparing that to the Windows phone operating system and saying that it might not look great and that there’s inspiration from Windows that came over to it… So we did a poll, Luke promoted it, and we got a thousand votes on each icon. It was icon-to-icon: iOS 6 versus iOS 7.

We ended up running that over our poll, and again, some votes on it. This was all on the iOS app. And what we did is we took that and pitched the results of it to press and media, to who was talking about this topic a lot — because the iOS 7 update was coming up — saying that people actually prefer iOS 7.

People loved it. They cited our name, they said

“This cool new app called Polar that allows you to poll did this study and this is what they found….”

…except there was nowhere to link to because it was an iOS app, so they just linked to our homepage, which was okay. People came to our homepage, some of them downloaded the app, some of the didn’t, but there was no immediate action or engagement on it. So we did a few other ones like that that were very newsworthy at the time: Xbox vs. PS4… Game consoles, games, all the different aspects of those, and compared them against each other.

Little by little, we just started going to, TechCrunch… Just trying to figure out what are the hottest topics that are happening right now and what polls should we create.

We understood that journalists love these free studies, these free data that we’re giving them, and it was time to ask them to create these polls on their own, but also embed them in their own articles. That is where we pivoted away from the iOS app, which was kind of funny, because of Luke Wroblewski — his whole thing was mobile-first, and mobile-first became such a huge idea… It’s a worldwide phenomenon, everybody was talking about it; all he did is he flew around, giving talks about mobile-first development. So for us to pivot away from it and go to a web version was kind of a big deal, but we had to, because journalists would create these polls only on the web and add them to their sites through the web.

We built a whole web version, and that really kicked things into overdrive after we launched the web version. NPR, MLB, NBA, NHL, Gizmondo, all the sites out there, everybody started using it, and we would help them keep people on site longer by embedding these polls. Instead of just leaving a comment, a person might vote on ten polls, and then all sorts of ads would improve, ad performance would improve and so forth. That’s how we really grew.

The app was still kicking around, people were using it; it’s just the main growth kind of pivoted away from the app world into the desktop world a little bit, helping each other. The process was very similar to YouTube — you’d embed a poll, people would take it, they would click on the logo to come to our site, our site would show them this poll, it would all show them to sign up and create their own poll, and improve time on the site for themselves. It was like a circle… People would always go back and create more polls for their website.

Paul Kemp: Dmitry, I love this because… You know I’ve done 500 episode of this show, and you’ve just hit on two of the massive themes that come out of all of my chats with all these different successful founders. The first is the theme of solving a real problem, and it sounds to me like your journey was about solving a real problem especially for the journalists. The second one is pivot when you need to and follow the success, even if it’s against what you initially thought. You must have listened to all the other episodes to figure that out.

Dmitry Dragilev: Yeah, I mean, I listened to quite a bit of your episodes. But I wanted to make sure people get some takeaways from this kind of stuff. It’s always hard to talk about success; everybody talks about success, and then people kind of get sad listening to it a lot of times, but…

Paul Kemp: Let’s talk about how we can help the appster tribe listening to this, because you have obviously had a huge amount of success. You were eventually bought up by Google, but what you learned throughout that whole process you are now giving back through JustReachOut. What is JustReachOut? Tell us about how you’re helping others pitch to the press.

Dmitry Dragilev: Yeah, through that process I learned that all the people in my spot where I was were struggling exactly the same way. They wanted publicity and exposure for their apps and they couldn’t get it through traditional means. They had to either the big PR firm or hire this huge agency to represent them and pay them $5,000, $10,000. We only raised a million, a million and a half, so it wasn’t that much to keep a team going for a year, a year and a half and also afford a PR agency. We just couldn’t afford one. I found that a lot of people were in that same boat, they just needed to figure out how to talk to the press and get some exposure for their apps.

JustReachOut was born out of that need for the smaller entrepreneurs, app developers who are just on their own, one or two-person teams, to be able to e-mail a journalist and pitch them something relevant to what they liked to write about. We built sort of a matching algorithm that looks at journalists and their needs. Say, a journalist is writing about Bitcoin, and they’ve been writing about Bitcoin for the last five years and they’re probably the best expert in the Bitcoin field, and there’s somebody out there developing a Bitcoin app. Well, they probably should talk to each other at some point and they will have a lot of mutual interest. That mutual interest is a great conversation starter.

Our software just kind of makes that easy to find, finding that match. It will try and find the best journalist best on what they’ve written, or what they’re writing about right now. There are journalists out there that actually put out queries, believe it or not, saying

“I’m writing an article on Bitcoins and I need a quote from a Bitcoin expert. Or it could be an entrepreneur, an app developer. I need to interview them for this next issue.”

They’re just looking for somebody to talk to in their space. We aggregate that data and we also help you match with them, and then you can contact them through our platform. We make sure that your page gets to them, gets open, we correct any kind of e-mail addresses that are not correct, so we guarantee 100%