Define your business model first and your technology model second. — We’ve had a number of clients come to us with a software product that isn’t making money. The problem is often that the business model doesn’t make sense for the value the app offers its users, and instead was built to the limitations of the technology strategy. A premium app download may be easier to develop, but if your users have drastically different levels of engagement with your app, that paid download may be over-charging lightweight users while under-charging users who could make you profitable. Don’t let a shortcut in development prevent you from getting paid fairly. It’s more costly to fix it later.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Taylor Peake.
Taylor Peake launched MotionMobs, a custom software consulting and development firm, at age 19 while completing her Information Systems degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Taylor has a strong vision for putting the right teams of people together, equipping them to make an impact, and strategically growing companies. Over the last few years, Taylor has participated in the revitalization of downtown Birmingham by purchasing and eventually selling a century-old warehouse building for MotionMobs’ headquarters. She now owns a 60,000 square foot commercial office building to provide space for Birmingham’s growing list of tech companies. In 2017, she testified before the US House of Representatives Small Business Committee on tax reform. She currently sits on boards for The Crisis Center, Alabama Central Six Development Council, and BBVA. She is a past board member for REV Birmingham and a current member of Kiwanis Club of Birmingham, Birmingham Venture Club, and TechBirmingham.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in rural Alabama in a town where the economy centered around coal mines, car dealerships, and large churches. I graduated high school early with dual-enrollment credit from a local community college. I completed college at the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a Bachelor of Science at age 19. After working throughout college at a local agency, I started my own company, MotionMobs, in my last semester of college.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The App Store first launched in summer of 2009. My co-founder, Josh, and I saw the opportunity in the new market for mobile technology and knew that companies, especially in the South, were going to need help adapting to a new platform. We quit our day jobs and launched MotionMobs in the fall of 2010 out of a stereotypical basement apartment.
Our first client was a large, San Francisco based startup that was growing rapidly. They were looking for a company to build out their first mobile app and mobile strategy. We quoted way too little and spent the next several weeks building the MVP we proposed. My co-founder fell in love with the city and their team. After helping me find the perfect CTO in Birmingham, Josh relocated to San Francisco, and I returned to Birmingham to run MotionMobs with Matt’s help. Matt is still our CTO to this day.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Being an entrepreneur is hard. Being a young, female entrepreneur is really hard. Waking up in the middle of the night, sweating, and worrying about paying the bills is a common story, but it is a very real and relatable story for most entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is rarely the consistent, steep, climbing arrow to the right most PE and VC firms look to find. Figuring out how to manage the bumps and bruises of the rollercoaster is what makes or breaks a leader. For me, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have great partners, mentors, and my fair share of bumps and bruises to withstand the demands of entrepreneurship.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
2020 brought a lot of lessons for all leaders. Despite all of the challenges and hardships, it also taught me the importance of having a team that is nimble, can turn quickly, and stands prepared to help companies navigate the demand of fast-moving technology.
Grit and resilience are requirements for any entrepreneur. Ten years of running a tech company teaches you a lot of things. I have found that the relationships you have and the efforts you make to nurture those have a large impact on your success. My team and mentors over the years have helped shape the business and our success into what it is today.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Early on, I made several very public pitches. One in particular was at a large, out-of-state conference. I felt prepared to pitch, more prepared than I should have. Our Marketing Director had mastered this pitch. I had watched her deliver it flawlessly many times. For this particular event, though, she was double booked, and the responsibility fell to me.
When I walked onto the stage, the bright lights flashed in my eyes, and I instantly forgot the entire speech. A voice from the judging panel said, “Taylor?” After the third time my name was called, I managed to string part of the pitch together in front of several hundred people. Ironically, this event had been intended as a celebration for the company, and my pitch fell short, way short. I managed to recover some dignity in the Q&A, but it was certainly an opportunity to learn about humility.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Companies are driven by growth, and innovation through technology plans a key role. Our team has found that there is often a disconnect between the technology roadmap and the business roadmap, because both are changing frequently. We focus on modeling our technical advice around the growth plan. We feel the technical strategy should always follow the growth strategy. We do not want to force businesses to conform to technical requirements that interfere with growth opportunities, but rather for the technology to fuel growth.
Our process and services all center around finding opportunities to implement technology to catalyze growth. It is uncommon for a firm to offer analysts and experts to perform technical audits alongside a team that can also implement the proposed technical opportunities, but we’ve built out our team to include software developers and business consultants, including backgrounds in private equity. Our commitment to understanding how revenue flows through and around software wins deals.
2020 was a great example: investors saw their portfolios changing rapidly. We helped on both the buy and sell side of transactions to identify opportunities where technology can fuel the next transaction or next step in the company’s growth strategy. With businesses operating largely from home, it provided an opportunity for technology to play a role in necessary changes to grow, change, and shape companies during an unprecedented time.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Stand up for yourself and your team. Be reasonable, and say ‘no’ when it is warranted. No client or customer is worth losing your sanity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have had many great mentors and friends that have and continue to help me along the way, but the team and particularly my parents have helped build the company into what it is today. I’ve had two difficult pregnancies while running MotionMobs, and there is nothing better than knowing I have the right team and partners to help keep things running smoothly when I am unavailable.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
As a technical consulting and development agency, we build software for our clients. In the past decade, we’ve had over 100 clients with an exceptionally wide variety of applications. It’s important to recognize that the success of an application is vastly more complex than the number of downloads. A small market of highly valuable users can sometimes be far more lucrative than a massive number of free or low-paying users. One of our most financially successful apps ever has under 100 users, based on their specific vertical.
The first step toward success is clearly defining goals and how you’ll measure progress toward them. Every application we build, whether it’s for mobile or for web, is planned and developed to meet specific milestones to help the client improve their annual earnings. A number of projects we’ve worked on have been for client internal use by their own employees, so success is sometimes measured in efficiency or revenue gains, such as decreasing human error or increasing customer value. In these situations, the software we build is designed to produce a positive return on investment for our clients in a maximum of two years.
We also have clients who have consumer-facing and public applications. One client application has been on the store for over five years and has nearly 500,000 downloads. Another client application was downloaded over 100,000 times in the first three months after launch.
To achieve dramatic scale in your user base, marketing and advertising plays an even bigger role than the app itself. With millions of apps available across iOS and Android, standing out from the noise and making a compelling case for why your app is worth the time is the most crucial step. A lousy app can get massive adoption by making a lot of noise through promotion, and an incredible app can get lost in silence.
At the end of the day, every successful app has to be better than the competitors in one specific way. Understanding what makes your unique users tick and why they would choose your app over someone else’s app drives your technical strategy to create loyal users who continue to spend money with you.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
The most common monetization ideas we hear are a paid application, an in-app purchase or subscription, or advertising revenue. These are not always how you make a profitable application. These models force an overwhelming reliance on advertising to continue converting users typically worth less than $10 each. It’s rarely sustainable.
We work directly with our client’s founder or C-suite, such as their CFO or CRO, to clearly define the financial value the application offers both the end user and the client’s company. Based on the value proposition and business model of the company itself, we help the client plan a monetization strategy for their technology that makes sense.
For many B2B clients, the application may be lead generation for other products or services. While each app user still has a monetary value in this scenario, they may not transact through the app at all. The app may also offer business efficiencies, either to the client or their own customers, which can lead to a SaaS model paid by user, features, or volume.
For some B2C clients, the app may provide value to the end user in exchange for their consent to offer data, which is then monetized via API to third-parties who have a strong interest in the data insights. We also have non-profit clients who measure impact, not dollars, and they “monetize” in improving the quality of life for their users and, in some cases, literally saving lives.
Look broadly in defining your monetization strategy. Understand your company’s value proposition, and then build your technology to support your revenue model, not vice versa.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Define your business model first and your technology model second. — We’ve had a number of clients come to us with a software product that isn’t making money. The problem is often that the business model doesn’t make sense for the value the app offers its users, and instead was built to the limitations of the technology strategy. A premium app download may be easier to develop, but if your users have drastically different levels of engagement with your app, that paid download may be over-charging lightweight users while under-charging users who could make you profitable. Don’t let a shortcut in development prevent you from getting paid fairly. It’s more costly to fix it later.
2. Even the best technology will fail if you don’t have the right team for your company. — Technology doesn’t run itself. You need team members who care about the company’s success to think critically about their roles and contributions. Find employees who aren’t afraid to have a unique idea. Teams that work in silos and fail to see the impact of their role on the larger company can cripple even the most promising software product. My team is what I’m most proud of at MotionMobs because they develop things together I could never create alone.
3. Ideas have minimal value; it’s the execution that actually produces something of value. — I’ve been pitched the same app ideas by many people, each of whom believes their mere idea has monetary value. The truth is, an idea simply validates that a real problem exists and a viable solution is possible. The most profitable ideas are those that are shared by markets large enough to be willing to pay for it. Value comes in execution, as is the case in any industry. Don’t try to raise capital in the idea stage. You’ll get terrible deal terms.
4. A founder’s job is always sales, because if you can’t sell it, no one can. — As a founder, you are constantly looking for opportunities to get a new customer. In the beginning at MotionMobs, I was the entire sales effort. Whether or not we made any money rested completely on my shoulders. Over the past decade, we’ve had sales executives come and go, but I still constantly network and inquire about friends’ businesses in search of the next deal. If you can’t stomach being in sales, don’t be an entrepreneur, especially one in the software industry.
5. There are no overnight successes. — For every new software company that appears to have exploded overnight, there are two to three unseen years of operating at a loss, fighting for the first paying customer, and refining market fit over and over again. You’re at an advantage if you already have a company with a good reputation and an existing user base to sell to. Most new SaaS products aren’t that lucky. It takes grit and resilience to get the attention of people who have no idea who you are and then keep it long enough to convince them to buy. Don’t get into an app-based business unless you’re willing to commit to several years.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
At MotionMobs, we want to work with companies who have a social good mission for their company. If we’re able to help with an initiative that helps grow a company, create jobs, and gives back to the community, everyone is proud to go the extra mile to make it happen.
Personally, I am proud of the work Bryan Steveson has done in Alabama and nationally with the Equal Justice Initiative. His movement is one that I hope continues to grow and gain more support.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!