Drew Johnson – Co-Founder & Co-CEO of App Partner

Trust the people you work with, empower them. The sooner you do that the sooner your life gets easier.”

Drew Johnson is Co-Founder & Co-CEO of App Partner, a Brooklyn-based app design & development firm that was born as a dorm room startup during the heart of the recession and grew into a leading agency for disruptive startups (goTenna) and global brands (Conair) alike.

Drew and the App Partner team have led and supported the launch of more than 200 unique applications generating tens of millions of downloads, hundreds of millions in revenue for its clients, and recognition for a 2015 Google Play App of the Year (B&H Photo).

Outside of app development Drew is also passionate about entrepreneurship, marketing, politics, and the NY Jets (unfortunately).

Where did the idea for App Partner come from?

Justin and I had been doing some original game development on the App Store back in 2009. What stood out to us then was how much faster the pace of change was in the mobile space compared to the web and traditional desktop applications. We knew that to keep up with this new pace teams would need to be more agile, more closely integrated, and more oriented around providing a long-term service rather than a completed piece of software.

So we came up with the idea of App Partner, a digital product agency that would use a local cross-discipline team, emphasize close collaboration with clients, and provide robust strategic guidance & technical support post-launch.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Every morning I come in, write down my 5-6 most important things that need to get done today, and then plan out my day at a micro level. That way I know from 8:00 – 8:30 I’m doing this, from 8:30 – 9:00 I’m doing that, etc. It’s an approach I picked up a few years ago that helps make sure I’m budgeting enough time to focus on what’s most important that day, and not prioritizing based on what I enjoy doing or what’s easiest to do.

How do you bring ideas to life?

A lot of hard work, organization, and consistency. You have to have people on your team that you can rely on to always be pushing the ball forward, even when the next steps might not be clear or delays and other challenges might be creating obstacles.

What’s one trend that excites you?

One exciting trend is the rise of platforms beyond mobile and web. These days, brands are always on the lookout for new ways to connect with their audience, be it wearables, AR, VR– you name it. The challenge is making these experiences all work together seamlessly– but that’s the part that’s incredibly exciting for us.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m big on measuring & optimizing. I try to translate information and processes into quantitative data whenever possible. I then look for the biggest opportunities for improvement and brainstorm with my team to come up with ideas for ways to improve. This kind of approach can be applied to virtually everything. I’ve even used it to optimize our spending on breakroom supplies!

What advice would you give your younger self?

If I had to say something I’d say don’t try to do it all yourself. Trust the people you work with, empower them. The sooner you do that the sooner your life gets easier.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

The New York Jets will someday win the super bowl. It’s important to have hope. Fool’s hope.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I always make it a point to speak with clients frequently. No matter how high you get I think it’s incredibly important to always stay in touch with your customer’s needs, what you’re doing well, and what you can do better.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We’ve always been willing to invest in ourselves and believe in ourselves. So early on we almost always did work on the cheap so we could build up our portfolio and get our name out there. Today we’ll still do that if it’s a project that would help raise our profile in a new space. Every time we’ve used discounting to help establish a new client relationship, it’s paid off in one way or another.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When we first started growing rapidly we were very focused on the top line. We were able to grow from two founders to a team of 12-15 in just a few months. Although it was exciting, we ultimately started chasing growth at the expense of discipline. We started having severe cash-flow issues. To get out of it we had to really get back to being disciplined managers of our overhead expenses and keeping staffing costs aligned with the billable work signed. We also shifted our focus away from top-line growth and started focusing on project success. Fortunately, we reacted quickly enough to save the company and return to growth.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

My friend and I have always talked about opening a bagels n’ bubbly restaurant in New York that only served bagel-centric dishes and champagne. If anyone runs with this idea let me know, I’ll be your first customer!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

My Google Home Mini. It’s awesome to just talk and have it turn on lights, play music, it’s not that expensive and it makes life way cooler.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I’d say Trello, it helps us keep everything organized across teams and it’s basic but Google Drive is also great.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

80/20 Sales And Marketing by Perry Marshall.

What is your favorite quote?

“There’s nothing wrong with staying small. You can do big things with a small team.” – Jason Fried

Key Learnings:

  • It’s important to always keep your priorities in check. Don’t focus on growth or revenue if it comes at the expense of your business. Slow and steady is always better.
  • Being organized and planning out your days to a micro-level makes you astronomically more efficient and will help you get more things done.
  • It’s important to always believe and invest in yourself and your team. Even if in the short term it doesn’t make sense, think long term.


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