How To Grow A Company Exclusively From The Cloud

Jay Shapiro is founder and CEO of AppMakr, a drag and drop mobile-app building platform for iPhone and Android. An active player in the mobile revolution, they have helped customers develop 2.1 millions apps and counting.

AppMakr provides a vital and affordable service for small business owners who require a mobile presence to stay competitive, but don’t have the skills or budget to develop an app from scratch.

They are also one of the few companies operating exclusively in the cloud. We don’t mean that they use cloud-based apps (which they do). We mean that they service over 1 million customers with a distributed workforce of 60 people, where every single person works remotely.

We really admire Jay and his AppMakr team. Fortunately he was more than happy to share some of the methods to his app-madness.


The cloud-based company

If you want to be the best at what you do, you must hire the best people. AppMakr hires the most qualified people from around the world, without being limited by a candidate’s proximity to some arbitrarily placed office. If the best illustrator lives in Bulgaria or the best developer is in Madrid, that’s who they’ll hire.

This also allows AppMakr to be nimble, scaling up and down as needed. Those needs are based on both customer demand and individual tasks and projects. For example, they may need a developer for a specific technology for only two weeks. When the project is done, so is the engagement. Other positions like customer support agents, may last for years.

The other advantage is the ability to work around the clock by engaging people on 6 different continents. That level of efficiency would be otherwise impossible. And by hiring staff that is close to customers (support agents in Brazil, Egypt, Thailand, Mexico, Canada and India), they can offer support in native languages, in the local time-zone, by people with a real understanding of unique cultural needs.

The cloud-based model allows AppMakr to take an international approach regarding talent and customers. 70% of their customers are international and receive excellent customer support in 15 languages. AppMakr is 50% larger than the next competitor, who remains focused mainly on the US market.

From Cloud A to Cloud B

Running a business where everyone is remote means that communication and collaboration must all be managed remotely. Jay freely admits that starting your own business is one of the toughest experiences out there. It’s 24/7 non-stop stress until you hit profitability, followed by more nonstop stress.

There was no “How To” blog that told him which tools to use years ago, he stumbled upon them as he went along. Jay believes that today, running a successful startup is all about assembling a great portfolio of tools like these:

Canvanizer — For early stage companies, Jay recommends starting with a lean canvas. Create a one-page business plan on this platform following the principles of Eric Ries’ lean startup model.

Trello — This tool streamlines collaboration between all stakeholders and keeps priorities and tasks on-track. Boards are created for different initiatives, and cards are created for individual tasks. The cards are moved from being placeholders to “in-progress” to “complete”, and everyone can see how initiatives are progressing.

Google Hangouts — Bringing people face to face is one of those things that creates connection and builds culture internally and also forges strong relationships with others outside the organization. With messaging, video, and voice calls from any device, Hangouts keeps the conversation alive.

Upwork (formerly ODesk) — They are a huge part of AppMakr’s business, and a must-have for others supporting the freelancer revolution. Recruiting, time-management, payroll, and tracking are all handled here.

Zendesk — Jay supercharges his support efforts with Zendesk’s inbound ticketing system and other tools that help build relationships. Zendesk’s recent acquisition, Zopim, provides live chat software that allows AppMakr support to fully take advantage of round the clock availability.

Creating random collisions

No fancy apps are required to find talent. Recruiting people is easy enough with online resources like LinkedIn. The hard part is the transparency and communication that comes with managing people all over the world. One of the tools that solves this problem is 15Five (what Jay calls his “virtual water cooler”).

The virtual model eliminates the possibility of random collisions, people who interact by simply running into each other in the hallway. 15Five creates the channel for important conversations that otherwise wouldn’t happen.

Every week, each employ answers important qualitative questions like, “how are you feeling? What challenges are you facing? What ideas do you have about how we can do things better?” Each manager reviews their team’s 15Fives, offering support for problems and challenges and acknowledging wins. Relationships get stronger, goals can be clearly defined, and employee responses inform a weekly Google-Hangout meeting between Jay and each manager.

How apps change the world

For the most part, the AppMakr culture is about fun (just read their company myth), but they are also making a difference for staff, customers, and the world.

The cloud-based model is creating economic fortitude in areas where that doesn’t currently exist. Jay employs staff in the Philippines who make tens of thousands of US dollars in salary that they could never have otherwise had access to locally. Without the internet and access to Upwork, those people would have no access to the global job market.

As for customers, AppMakr allows them to be more entrepreneurial. For example, there are taxi-drivers in Pakistan making apps to emulate Uber. They may not have a $50 Billion valuation like Uber, but they are beating the competition and making money doing mobile booking in a way that wouldn’t be possible without AppMakr.

AppMakr has also committed to donate 10% of the company profits to charity, and any charitable organization can access any of their paid plans for free. For example, a crisis helpline recently built an app where people share stories with each other and receive support from trained agents. With limited budget and access to technology, they would not have been able to create an app that saves lives every day.

100% cloud-based businesses may not be for everyone, but nearly every company can benefit from at least some remote work options. Jay’s model is truly a vision for a better world and as technology continues to advance, we look forward to seeing that vision become a reality.

Image Credit: OiMax


Originally published at blog.15five.com on June 3, 2015.