Paul: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is the show where we go around the world, talking to the most inspirational people we can find in the app world, and if you are into app entrepreneurism or if you just love the journeys of app developers, app startup founders, anyone that's loving this world of apps then this is the show for you; it is called The App Guy Podcast, after all. Now let me introduce to you today's guest; we have a different guest every day, and his name is Jake Ward. Jake Ward is the co-founder and CEO of the Application Developers Alliance, which is a completely appropriate to our show. Jake, it's a very warm welcome to The App Guy Podcast.
Jake: Thank you, Paul, I appreciate it. I'm happy to be here.
Paul: Tell us about the Application Developers Alliance, what is it you guys have got going on there?
Jake: The Application Developers Alliance is a non-profit membership organization for developers and the companies that care about them. Like many of your listeners today, I share the common trait that we are still very much a startup, that we've been around for nearly four years and have grown to several hundred companies and nearly 60,000 individual developers in our network. There are days when it feels like we're still working out of a very cramped space on cardboard boxes for tables.
Paul: Actually it's funny you should say that... I think that cardboard boxes just come out as a standing desk, and they seem pretty clever. Anyway, four years... Who would be your ideal member?
Jake: That's an interesting question, Paul. Let me back up... From the beginning, the Alliance focused on many consumer mobile app companies and the developers who were building into this new and exciting marketplace. We did so in a number of ways, helping with business education, hosting events, creating resources and materials that would help developers build better products and better businesses, help them understand what metrics of success look like, how to monetize, how to solve the discoverability challenge. It was always our goal, and to some degree I hope we have already achieved it, but it continues to be our goal that we would support the larger developer ecosystem, which is to say we believe that software engineers at all levels, on all verticals and all skill sets are the manufacturing class of the digital age. They're an essential workforce, they build everything that we encounter in this increasingly digital world. So our prototypical or ideal member can range from a 2-person startup just entering into the consumer app space, to General Electric, and everybody in-between.
Paul: I would love to know about you, Jake, what inspired you to start? You are the co-founder, what inspired you to start this Alliance?
Jake: I'd love to be able to say it was a lightning bolt moment, but like most ideas it is a slow matriculation, a process of refining and iterating... My co-founder, Jon Potter and I worked on this idea, this concept of a non-profit membership trade association for developers for nearly two years before we launched in 2012, and the cause behind it was really the vacuum that was being created around individual coders with the launch of the AppStore, with the ubiquity of mobile technologies and the increasing sexiness of mobile apps. It became clearer that there was a real need for a collective voice on policy issues, for a resource content organization that could act in the best interest of the workforce and do so in an unbiased, objective way.
Paul: So was it really born out of also a frustration that you were having and anything that you were getting out to at the time? Because a lot of the guests tend to talk about solving their own frustrations; were you experiencing anything that lead you to develop this?
Jake: Yes, I think that that's an accurate way to describe it actually, Paul. I was working at a digital marketing firm and I was doing a number of campaigns that focused either directly on, or sort of around developer engagement, including the launch of some pretty significant TV SDKs. I don't want to get into brand-specific information, but the idea was to release these SDKs in a way that attracted developers to build killer apps for TVs. Now this was six and a half years ago, this was not...
Paul: Kind of timely, you know? It has taken this long for Apple to come up with this...
Jake: ... and for Amazon to be right on their heels, and for Samsung, Vizio and other to integrate it right into the hardware. We were way ahead of schedule. It was pretty clear, early on in that campaign, that nobody knew who our developers were, and everybody sort of pointed to the Valley and to California and said, "That's where people who write code that make apps are", but there was largely a misunderstanding of what they did, who they are, how do you engage them and what do they want to work on. I've heard it described pretty recently as being analogous to medicine in the 1900s. If you were a doctor in 1901, you were very important and did an incredibly important work, but that profession doesn't even resemble what it means to be a doctor now, and being a developer today of five years from now is rooted in the science and the technology that it was 10 years ago, but the profession is not going to be anywhere near the same. Coming at that ecosystem from a non-technical perspective - I'm not a coder, I am not somebody who's able to sit down and manufacture digital experiences out of lines of code - I thought of it from an organizational standpoint: how do I solve this problem? How do I give people access to developers? How do I give developers access to each other and to people, and do so in a non-profit, unbiased, objective way?
Paul: It's so great to come across you because I do feel like a lot of listeners listening to this do feel like they're on their own. Let's talk about the networking effect then within your organization. If anyone listening were to become a member, what sort of networking opportunities to you offer, and what online tools as well do you have to achieve those networking challenges?
Jake: Sure, so I would urge all of your listeners to go to AppAlliance.org and sign up as an individual member, with a couple of short questions answered about the type of work that you do and how we can help you. You'll be on-boarded, given a password and user login; that gives you access to our member portal. Inside that member center you'll find hundreds of videos, of white papers of research, articles, things that have been generated from and in partnership with our members over the past few years, that answer a number of very important questions that developers who, as you said, feel as though they're on their own need answers to: how do I make money? How do I know the difference between this monetization option versus that monetization option? What is the lifetime user value equation that I should plug into my app? How should I consider the expenditure of marketing dollars per user acquisition? Those are all important questions that sit at the heart of building a business around an app, and we can help answer that question.
Paul: I was going to say, if anyone is thinking, "Oh, I can go and maybe find that stuff online", tell us why it's more important to source that from inside your Alliance, and from your members than perhaps just doing a Google search?
Jake: Well you can find it online, I don't think there's any question about that; you can find some of it online. What you are not going to find is unguarded, unvarnished, directly-sourced materials online. We hold a number of events each year called App Strategy Workshops; we have one series that is called App Strategy Workshop Fundamentals that focuses on exactly the kinds of startups and business decisions of early-stage companies that you are referencing, and we ask the top ad networks and the early-stage ad tech companies to give us unvarnished, non-pitch content that developers can then use to make decisions. We go right to researchers and look at numbers, market penetration opportunities, and trends so that we can deliver that information without a sales pitch associated to it.
Paul: I love this because like my whole show - you're episode 383, but throughout the whole series over the several years I've been doing this, I'm always trying to get the genuine viewpoint across, without... Because in a way I hear a lot of my audience, they come into it thinking that they'll be an instant app millionaire because of all the press, and they maybe get the wrong viewpoint. Do you see a lot of that as well, the misguided news about instant app millionaires?
Jake: No question, it is often the case that building the app is the easy part. The user experience is hard, no question, the code is complicated, though not nearly as complicated as, say, any number of enterprise applications, but that the business side is very, very complicated, and is often pre-determined by some luck, by partnership opportunities and just by the market; what is out there at the time and are you able to catch lighting in a bottle. There are a number of companies, big and small, that are doing truly innovative work from a business standpoint; from a monetization, user-acquisition, standpoint. And there are others that are doing tremendous developmental work, or even user experience work. It's pretty rare that those two combine. When they do, it's Angry Birds; it's Uber; it's something sleek and perfect, that reaches millions and millions of people and generates money in a continuous, virtuous loop.
Paul: Jake, you're really exciting me because I'm thinking back on all the big themes I've had from the show, and one of the successes that most of the guests seem to point to is a network. How important do you think that networking effect is for app entrepreneurs?
Jake: I think it's incredibly important. The Alliance recently published our first Annual Developer Insights Report, which is ostensibly a census of the workforce. We asked more than 1,000 developers across verticals and 47 countries about the work they do, on the technologies they work with, etc. One of the questions that we asked - and will continue to ask in every piece that we do - is where are you getting help? Where are you finding resources and answers to questions that you face on a daily basis as a developer, as a producer of these things? And more than two-thirds said their primary ask, the place they go for answers is a personal community.
Paul: That is wonderful. It's like it takes it full circle back to the... I remember doing this, where you spend days and days searching minefields of forums and Google searching, and it would have taken maybe one minute to ask an expert.
Jake: That's right. And increases, whether it's stack exchange or whether it's a personal e-mail distribution or just doing a Google that takes you into a forum, the proliferation of expertise has increased significantly the expectation of answers, the expectation of support has gone up tremendously. Now much of that is technologically-based, right? I need a workaround for this challenge, or I need to find a way to deliver and render in this specific way. What we found and how we've shaped our particular offerings for both our network of individual developers as well as our corporate membership is to answer business questions, is to find ways to almost crowdsource, whether it be among individuals or the companies who are providing those services, answers to business-specific questions, and workforce-specific questions, right? Not, "How do I solve this problem through code?" but "What problems am I going to face when writing on this platform and how do I make money out of it? How do I ensure the integrity of my product? How do I get to market?"
Paul: Jake, I've actually had an e-mail today from a listener, and he is kind of fairly despondent about getting into apps, and I've wondered... You've got this beautiful, wonderful access to all this network, and a lot of different app entrepreneurs; if you could think about those app entrepreneurs that are on the smaller end of your spectrum, would you say it's worth it, getting into the app business?
Jake: I'd say it depends on what your metric of "worth it" is, Paul.
Paul: Okay... Good answer.
Jake: I think a lot of people - certainly in the last decade - have romanticized, and I don't even mean that in the pejorative, but have romanticized the idea of working in startups, and of being an entrepreneur. Here in the United States I know that for nearly three years running the number one profession chosen as an aspiration among high-school juniors is 'entrepreneur'. That's never happened before, it may never happen again, but it happened three years in a row among high-school juniors in the United States. That is a trendline; I like to call it "the Mark Zuckerberg effect." But it's the idea that you can learn a skill, build a business and live a happy, fruitful, profitable life with no boss. Who wouldn't want to do that? But if you can prioritize those things, is it more important to you to make your own hours and to work and be a creator, to make things? Then yes, it's worth it. That's the job, right? It's like being an artist. Is it more important to you to make money? You might want to think about developing for somebody else then, because we know the numbers, and there's no question the proliferation of profitability across the app ecosystem is becoming, let's say more democratized; more people are able to make sort of a living wage, but the space isn't getting any less crowded. Consumer-facing mobile apps are really, really hard. The good news, or potential good news I suppose you could say is that the number of platforms, the technologies and the frameworks for consumer-facing apps and apps, in general is growing at an exponential rate, and the number of connected devices and the requirement of software to guide those devices is going to grow exponentially in the next five years. So if your game didn't take off, or your startup is stuck, without being able to raise funds, it may be the case that your business would have succeeded if there were an audience, but that your skills can be applied in a way to build a different business, where the market hasn't yet been created.
Paul: I love that, yes. Actually building a skill from all the things that you're doing, with the view that it's only going to become more in demand, as the whole market grows.
Paul: There are actually two more things we do before we say goodbye, Jake. One is that I would love to get... We tend to try and find out ideas on this show, ideas for building apps. Now, maybe it's more appropriate for you to answer this, which is what are the big pain points in what you're doing right now with App Alliance? What are the big frustrations, pain points, things causing you a bit of a headache, and then maybe we can flesh out an idea for a potential app to solve that?
Jake: I'd say the number one pain point that we face hasn't changed much in the last three years, and I don't imagine it will change much in the next three years, but it will continue to be the thing that drives us, which is the engagement, the education and ultimately the celebration of developers as an essential workforce, and that the number of companies, traditional tech and non-traditional tech who are increasingly thinking of themselves as software companies coming online makes it easier for us as the organization that represents developers to speak intelligently and passionately about the importance of developers. But the hard part is speaking to the developers themselves. How do you create, whether it be curriculum, or certification, or content or resources, or even research - how do you create that silver bullet solution that can be a rising tide for a workforce of 23 million plus that is generally unorganized, that is mercurial by nature, but more importantly, they're artists, they're craftsmen, and the work that they do is often in small teams - the best work certainly is - and increasingly individualized? How do you reach that audience with credibility and authenticity, every day? That's our challenge.
Paul: I have to say I really resonate with what you're saying. I actually changed career... I've talked about this before, in different episodes; I actually came out of a City job in London, in finance and I remember thinking the tech guys were kind of the back-office, we were the front-office, and there was definitely a divide. Now, having spent years and years in the app business, I'm all for trying to celebrate the achievements...
Jake: You mentioned that you worked in finance... FinTech - financial technologies - are one of the fastest-growing, software-powered verticals in the world today. The number of companies, from American Express and MasterCard who are both members of the Application Developers Alliance and sit on my U.S. and European board of directors respectively, to Barclays and Capital One and Deutsche Bank - all of these companies, these almost ageless institutions that have been around for 100+ years have woken up to a world where transactions are invisible, and the idea is to make the seamless exchange of goods and services and money even more seamless, and to put it in each consumer's hands. That's a very real challenge, particularly on the highly regulated industry that moves at the speed of light and is contingent upon customer satisfaction.
Paul: Yes, I can definitely see a lot of disruption. Jake, the final thing then is this is a show about apps; we wouldn't be right without asking you for maybe an app or two on your phone, to give us a recommendation. Maybe an app that you feel that we haven't come across before, so one or two apps that you recommend.
Jake: You know, Paul, I'm a pretty basic app user when it comes to... I take advantage of a number of utility apps, whether they be banking apps or payment... Obviously, I have the normal Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn stuff, but Hotels Tonight is probably the app that saves my life on more than a monthly basis certainly, when I find myself having to get on a plane, and six hours later I'll be in a city that I did not have time to book a hotel for; I might as well take advantage of a very cheap, open-sourced solution that often delivers really good accommodations.
Paul: I love that, I love Hotels Tonight and, in fact, you reminded me that about a year and a half ago I was actually in the Google Pit, at the Google I/O with Hotels Tonight, and The App Guy was on a podcast that happened to be for one of the other apps, PlayerFM, that was being showcased; so they did amazingly well over the years. Jake, this has been a wonderful chat. I'm going to put all the show notes in Episode 383, so for anyone listening, just go to TheAppGuy.co and search for Episode 383, for Jake Ward. In the meantime, Jake, what's the best way of getting in touch with you, or reaching out and connecting?
Jake: Yes Paul, this has been a lot of fun, I have to do it again soon. I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone wants to drop me an e-mail, also follow @jacobmward on Twitter. So give me a shout, I'm happy to answer any and all questions, and for developers out there looking for information on building a better business, better apps, education opportunities and really just how to get involved in the community, go to appalliance.org and sign up for membership.
Paul: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Jake, for coming on.
Jake: Thank you, Paul, I appreciate it.