“The key is to force yourself to determine what’s most important to your business and your life, and then laser focus on activities that drive you toward accomplishing these things.”
Andy is the CEO and Co-Founder of SnapMobile, a Chicago-based startup that specializes in building apps for those who are constrained by tight budgets – such as bootstrapped entrepreneurs or the heads of innovation teams for large companies – within 4 weeks for an affordable, flat rate. Previously he was the head of business development and sales at Vokal, a mobile app development agency in Chicago. He was one of the first employees and helped it grow from under 4 employees to nearly 70. Prior to this, Andy was heavily involved in the trade show space.
Lauren is a Partner and the Head of Growth at SnapMobile. Previously, Lauren was the Director of Product at Vokal and was the Director of Digital Audience at Sun-Times Media before that. After graduating from Ohio State with her JD/MBA, she spent time in SAP’s strategy rotational program and then moved on to lead growth at an SAP ecosystem partner in the mobile app space.
Where did the idea for SnapMobile come from?
A number of us come from mobile dev shops or agency backgrounds. After many years of building custom products for clients, we started to see a pattern: Despite the fact that the feature set and functionality for most mobile apps is very similar, each one is typically built custom, from scratch.
Our ‘ah ha’ moment occurred when we decided to compare similarities across all the mobile products we had built, consolidate the best practices we learned over the years and use this to build a backend-as-a-service platform. By developing from this platform, or ‘engine,’ we can build mobile products in a fraction of the time it would take to build them custom.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Let’s start with how we make it productive: Trello. We have two main Trello boards that house all growth, sales, marketing, PR, contracts, finance and other related tasks. Each day we go into Trello, prioritize the tasks we must accomplish that day, and make sure that, at a bare minimum, we accomplish those tasks.
A typical day consists of oscillating between generating new digital and in-person leads, responding to media requests, building our website and content, posting on social media, following up with existing leads to hone in on their concepts or finalize contracts, and reviewing our financial model and build schedule (to name a few activities). We try to balance our focus between activities that will generate the most revenue right now, and activities that will help us achieve exponential growth in the future.
How do you bring ideas to life?
This is, by definition, what we do each day for our clients and partners. We work with entrepreneurs and other innovators to distil their mobile app concepts to a minimum viable feature set, build and launch their concepts within a month, then continually iterate upon their live products with user feedback and market data.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The trend that excites us the most is the one we staked our livelihoods on – namely that companies, both large and small, are insistent on finding ways to build and launch their mobile products faster and more affordably. Whereas companies used to believe it was so important to build a custom product that they were willing to accept four to six-month development timelines and costs of $100,000 or more just to launch MVPs, they are starting to see the folly in this line of reasoning. Companies are now looking to platform providers and other less custom development partners that can build and launch their MVPs quickly and cheaply. This ensures they don’t miss the market window for their concepts, and also enables them to set aside most of their budgets for marketing activities, and future iterations for their products.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
The newest habit that the entire company is excited about is staying active and healthy. We recently began providing gym memberships for all employees and encouraging everyone to workout whenever they feel like it during the day. After a couple of weeks of this, we all agreed that we feel better, more productive and that the company is doing better overall because of this.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Lauren – I don’t have any jobs that stand out as particularly terrible. The most difficult job I had was Director of Digital Audience at Sun-Times Media because it was a turnaround job for a newspaper. The main lesson I took away from it was not to follow orders from those above you blindly, or without speaking directly to the group in charge of final decisions. At a minimum, voicing your opinions and asking questions protects you if things go wrong; at best, it can help the organization course correct if you bring to light an idea no one has thought of yet.
Andy – I used to mow lawns during Cicada season when all the insect shells would land on the ground. We worked in Elmhurst, Illinois, which had some of the oldest and biggest trees in the area. I’m sure you can picture how disgusting this was… The main lesson I learned was about responsibility. Despite how gross this job was, and the fact that we were underpaid for the work, people counted on us to complete the work, and we needed the money. So… We mowed many lawns covered in Cicada shells.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
We would focus more on promoting and showcasing the quality of our work, and less on continually lowering prices. Initially, we made the assumption that drastically reducing the price of our offering would equate to immediate customers and traction. However, it turned out that affordability only means something to customers after you’ve built a reputation for delivering quality work.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
List out your main goals, both personal and professional, for the day (week, month, year), and the tasks you must complete in order to achieve these goals. The key is to force yourself to determine what’s most important to your business and your life, and then laser focus on activities that drive you toward accomplishing these things.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
One thing that has helped us tremendously is pushing customer referrals and leaning on partners to grow into new industries or markets. Especially as an early stage company, this is one of the best, cheapest and most effective growth strategies you can pursue. Incentivize your customers to refer you to their network, friends and co-workers; and focus on a few key partners that have a foothold in numerous industries or markets that you want to enter, and lean on them to help you break in.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
As stated previously, we initially believed that our main selling point would be low prices, and focused lots of time and energy on how we could continuously reduce our cost. Instead, we should have held prices steady and focused on showcasing the quality of our work, because our work is very high quality (along with being affordable). When we realized our mistake, we shifted focus to promoting and ensuring that our work is high quality, and that clients can trust us to build their business and products. Pairing this message with the fact that we still are both very fast and affordable has given us a strong differentiator that resonates well in the market.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
One trend that we find intriguing is the concept of micropayments. As an example, we’ve heard there’s software that allows Reddit users to make small bitcoin payments to other users whose comments they like. It would be interesting to explore building an app based on a similar concept.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Lauren – The best $100 I’ve spent recently was on annual fees for Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit cards because now I have enough points to receive a buddy pass, which means my domestic flight prices are cut in half.
Andy – The best $100 I’ve spent recently is my membership to Scribd. It’s only $8.99 per month, and I have unlimited mobile access to books.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We will focus on Ionic because it’s probably the least known out of the services and software products listed above. Ionic is a great new hybrid framework. We love it because it allows us to build iOS and Android apps at the same time very, very quickly. It’s constantly innovating and creating new tools that make it easier and faster to use. Unlike many of the hybrid frameworks before it, Ionic also looks and feels quite native, which is a huge benefit for our design team and our clients.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Lauren – Rework by Basecamp (formerly known as 37 Signals). Truthfully, I don’t read a lot of business books. After 26 years in school (I did college then JD/MBA), I’m so over school and business books that anytime someone recommends one to me I have to focus on not instinctively rolling my eyes. However, a short way into Rework, I realized it was different. My goal in reading it was to learn more about product management and the startup world. I never expected to get much from it beyond a few ‘key product management learnings.’ What I found is that this book is full of counterintuitive ideas and straightforward advice that unapologetically flies in the face of what is taught in school and most similar books. This advice is from real experience (not analyst research or journalist sources) and delivered in small, bite-sized chunks, which is perfect for those like me who want writers to get to the point then move on. I would recommend it to anyone interested in startups, the technology space, and/or products.
Andy – The Power of Habit. One of the key tenets of this book is that everything we do throughout the day is a habit. The book teaches you how to emphasize the good and get rid of the bad.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Although there are numerous well-known people who have influenced our thinking, the person who has influenced, affected and inspired us the most is our main investor. Our main suggestion would be to look less to famous individuals who you can’t or won’t get to know on a personal level, and to instead develop personal relationships with people who you respect, admire, and who will tell you what you need to hear, as opposed to what you want to hear.