If you're a music artist or band, and you want to create your own fan app for the iPhone, Android, or iPad, you're looking at hiring an app development firm, spending six months, and $100,000--right? Actually, no---thanks to Santa Monica-based Mobile Roadie. Mobile Roadie, headed by Michael Schneider, develops tools that make easy for non-programmers to create their own mobile apps. As Michael tells us, it's now as simple as running the firm's app creation tools, and releasing your app to the world. Mobile Roadie's mobile app tools power mobile apps from Madonna, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beatles LOVE, and the Los Angeles Kings--and the firm's investors include Ashton Kutcher, among others. We sat down with Michael to hear more about his company.
Describe what Mobile Roadie does?
Michael Schneider: The high level is that we're taking something that is normally very expensive and time consuming, and making it simple and cost effective. Our software lets non-technical folks make an app in about an hour. You can do the work once, and it can go to iPhone, Android, and a few other devices shortly.
How did this all come about?
Michael Schneider: I was running a design agency, Fluid Design, in Santa Monica, which I started in high school. I ran it for almost a decade. In 2008, I was getting lots of requests from people wanting iPhone applications, but no one wanted to spend the $50,000 to $100,000 needed to build something from scratch, or spend the six months it would take. Most apps are about socialization of content, and displaying different media in those apps, and sending out some push notifications, so it really didn't make sense to make that all from scratch. Our idea was making that expensive, time consuming process into something that was simple, and costs less than $1000 a year. You can have the app live in a week, and you can do the work yourself.
You've got lots of high profile brands using your apps, how did you manage to sign up so many high profile clients?
Michael Schneider: It's a combination of luck and timing, and great investors, really. The luck was Taylor Swift signing up organically in late 2009, which was our first major artist. Taylor actually came in through the front door, and just signed up on our web site. Then, Guy Oseary, Madonna's manager, and Ashton Kutcher invested in late 2009, which added Madonna and Ashton's connections, getting us into the right circles in the celebrity arena to get on their radar. That gave us a leg up in terms of product visibility, and we were able to go into major record labels and major sports teams, and were on the radar well before other people talked to them.
Can you talk a bit about how your app development tools work?
Michael Schneider: People develop the apps themselves, and it's incredibly flexible. If you look at the Katy Perry app, and compare it to Madonna's app, they're nothing alike. However, they're all built using our system, and were built by a non-technical person. Artists don't want to do this from scratch, and they don't want to get ripped off and pay for something they don't need. It's all about socialization of content, display of content, and community. Our apps do that extremely well. We now have 3,000 apps and 18 million downloads, and we have a really good vantage point of what is working, and what is not, and we're constantly evolving and improving. We also handle if Apple or Google come out with new software, instead of having to call a developer asking them what it will cost to support those changes, we've already handled all of that. We handle all of the technology for them, and let them focus on content and community.
Having powered so many apps, do you have a feel for what makes a particular app successful?
Michael Schneider: It's a couple of things. A lot of it is getting it out there and downloaded, and getting people to come back. For getting it out there, there are a wide variety of marketing tools, and lots of sharing happening, so that when people log into Facebook or Twitter they can see that happening, so that they'll also want to participate in the community. Sharing to others on Facebook or Twitter draws more people into the app. There are lots of tools for an app to market itself. To get people to come back, there are some critical things we do. If you post on something, and someone comments back on that post, you get a push notification, akin to Facebook telling you someone posted on your wall. That brings people back in. We also have clients keeping their content up to date, and keeping the app fresh, so that people come back. The best apps are very good at all of that. On the high end, people like Taylor Swift and Madonna are good at collecting email addresses and tracking CRM data, seeing what people are watching and sharing, and what they care about. They can get all of that information through our dashboard.
You mentioned a few investors--who else is backing the firm?
Michael Schneider: The high profile ones in LA are Mike Jones, at Science Inc. and MySpace, Ashton Kutcher, Guy Oseary, who is Madonna's manger, and Rodger Berman.
Finally, what's the next big thing for you?
Michael Schneider: We just launched an iPad app for Madonna. We've also got lots of things to come with the iPad, and some tricks up our sleeve around making our app and content available on more smartphones, aside from iPhone and Android. One of the other harder problems we're tackling is how you sell physical goods on a mobile device. There are some people doing that really well, but most people haven't solved that problem. We have at least 3 more iterations this year, with lots more in the pipeline.
Thanks for the time!