Clutch interviewed Michael Romilly, Marketing Director at app development company Waracle.
Widely recognized as one of Europe’s and UK’s leading app developers, Waracle designs, develops, markets and optimizes mobile technology for the world’s biggest brands across diverse industry sectors including finance, commercial property, healthcare and oil and gas.
In the last year the company has grown turnover by 300% and doubled the size of the team to 55 staff working from offices in Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, London and North America. Waracle combines a data driven approach with mobile development practices founded in agile, enabling Waracle to ship prototypes for customers quickly and get the app into the market.
Please describe your organization.
Waracle designs, develops and optimizes mobile apps for enterprise clients. We founded the company in 2007 and now employ 40+ people full time. My role is Marketing Director and Waracle is now one of the largest and fastest growing mobile app development companies in the UK.
We tend to work best with big companies and our clients include Virgin Atlantic, Jones Lang LaSalle, Imperial College London and The Ryder Cup.
Right now we’re doing some really exciting things. We are working with some of the major banks to work on consumer facing apps. Unfortunately, we can’t talk about those projects just now.
We are also getting a reputation in the health industry doing some really interesting things with a global pharmaceutical company. Again, right now, we can’t really talk about the project but it’s something we’re all very excited about. We see financial technology and mHealth as being two key areas where mobile can have a seriously disruptive influence.
Talk about the mobile market in the UK and what you’ve seen in the past few years.
The world of mobile is set to change dramatically. Mobile apps are already on their way to attaining $70 billion in annual revenue by 2017. Right now, a large part of this is through games but that is all about to change. Digi-Capital recently suggested that non-game apps could double their percentage share of total app revenue from 26% to 51% by 2017. This shows that big companies are now starting to get serious about mobile, not just in the UK but all over the world. In the UK, we’re seeing a massive increase in demand for enterprise mobility services.
Five years ago it was unusual for big companies to have a digital transformation strategy, let alone a mobile initiative. I think the demand at the enterprise level has just started and will only increase over the next five years. Big companies are only now starting to get into mobile, and app developers who are positioned in the enterprise segment of the market will do very well.
The biggest problem that these enterprises face is how to make a digital transformation strategy deliver. Hiring staff, mobilizing traditional IT thinkers, legacy systems are big issues they are struggling with, but the biggest one is the war on talent. This will drive very large enterprises to hire external mobile experts, like Waracle, to drive their mobile projects. This trend is much like the transition to browser based systems a decade or two ago.
There have also been other huge changes in terms of infrastructure. We didn’t have a super-fast mobile networks, and 4G and the iPad didn’t even exist. So the mobile landscape has changed dramatically in the past five years.
How has your business changed? Are you getting different types of projects and different types of clients now than you did a few years ago?
Absolutely. We’ve completely shifted our focus to enterprise mobility. It’s where we can have the biggest impact in terms of doing great work for our customers and large companies are now seeing incredible ROI on their mobile initiatives. We estimate that a typical enterprise mobility project will generate a 150%, which is unparalleled when compared to other industries. It’s very difficult for big companies to ignore what’s happening in the world of mobile because the numbers speak for themselves.
We are also 100% focused on data driven development. This sits at the core of every mobile app project we deliver, which is different from a lot of mobile app developers out there. Here at Waracle, developing an app is really just the first element of a much wider process. Launching your app is only just the beginning.
We’ve been able to prove time and time again that mobile is all about optimization and what you do to the app after it’s been launched. It’s about using data and real world user feedback to optimize an app and nurture it to success and this is something that many of our competitors just don’t appreciate. Mobile is about agility and our approach to development and optimization is something that our customers and staff absolutely love. We depend on our customer’s success so it’s essential we get the optimization piece nailed.
We adopt a ‘lean start-up’ methodology whereby we first create a minimum viable product (MVP). We then focus on the features that actually cause users to interact with the technology. This continual loop of analyzing the data, building an insight into what’s happening within the app and making incremental improvements to the MVP, based on real customer use, is how to build a highly engaged mobile app experience.
This also helps to minimize technical waste and the costly development of unnecessary features. It enables us to focus on doing the things that really matter in order to get to market fast. We want to test the app in the real world, get real world feedback from users and use that feedback to optimize the app and nurture it to success based on the data.
We have found that we can add the most value for big companies when they are expanding an existing desktop experience or using mobile to make internal processes more efficient or creating a sales enablement toolkit. In many instances, we find we don't work well with app entrepreneurs. They think a bit different from us, and this can cause issues. We don't see that playing to our strengths, so we’ll leave the app entrepreneurs to app developers that better fits with their business model.
When you’re speaking with companies now about projects, how do you describe the value of going mobile? Please talk about one or two specific projects that you worked on that were really successful.
We work for a global real estate company called Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), which is a really good example of what I’m talking about in terms of replacing or enhancing an existing process. The assignment was to create an app that their sales people could use to demo their multi-million dollar retail property portfolio. This helped transform their sales process, bringing to life their portfolio, giving the sales teams a highly valuable interactive tool to really show the strength of the properties they were marketing. It also helped differentiate them from the other commercial property companies that they compete with to secure contracts from the large high street retailers.
This company is essentially a professional services and investment management operation that specializes in commercial real estate. They’ve got offices all over the world, and they were basically looking for a mobile app development company not only to design the app but also to develop and maintain it—to provide on-going support for the app.
So that was a global interactive retail mobile app that enabled their sales people to go out and focus on the best attributes of shopping centres around the world. We were able to develop a 3D interactive sales tool that effectively showcased their property assets in a way that was more engaging than the way they had worked in the past.
Talk about the app market in UK and where you see it moving to in the next 5 or 10 years. What is your prediction?
Five or ten years ago, nobody could have predicted the way in which mobile has transformed our business lives. I think it’s safe to say that mobile has changed the world. It has changed the way we work. It has changed the way we consume products and services. It has changed the way we communicate. In the very near future big businesses are going to be waking up to the enormous possibilities associated with mobile. For enterprise, mobile is no longer something they might like to have; it’s a must have.
Five years ago big companies were cautious of mobile because they didn’t understand it’s value. Now the companies that are getting into mobile are seeing an incredible return on their mobile investment. We estimate that a typical enterprise app will deliver a 150% return on investment. This is absolutely an unprecedented ROI for big companies that are looking for new sources of growth and innovation.
When you look at the numbers it’s very hard for a company to question whether or not to get into mobile—it’s a question of can you afford not to get into mobile. It’s not so much a question of cost but of value. As I said, a few years ago big companies were apprehensive about making a six or seven figure investment in a mobile initiative. Nowadays the ROI speaks for itself and demand for mobile expertise has never been higher. There’s so much demand we have to be very selective about which companies we work with. The hard part is finding skilled engineers to deliver mobile projects but that’s something we’re good at. Mobile expertise and thinking is in extremely high demand and very short supply.
For big companies that don’t already have a mobile product up and running, now is the time to seriously start thinking about mobilization. By 2020 it’s estimated there will be 20 billion devices connected to the web. This is being driven by the Internet of Things (IoT) and home automation and self driving cars are likely to play a huge role in this transformation. The IoT is going to drive the next wave of innovation in mobile. It’s estimated that by 2020 eight out of ten adults will own a smartphone, which simply means that the demand for mobile app development is going to continue to grow.
But right now there’s a huge bottleneck in mobile app development expertise, and it’s very, very challenging to find well-qualified mobile app developers and reputable agencies. Mobile app development services are in extremely high demand, they’re in very short supply and most large companies cannot develop apps quickly enough.
I think it was Business Insider magazine that said the vast majority of enterprises will soon have something like a dozen apps backlogged in their product road-map that they just do not have the resources to develop. And this is a trend that’s going only to increase rather than slow down. I think that we’ll see a huge spike in demand for mobile app development services in the next 5 years. It remains to be seen whether there’s enough supply in terms of good developers who can actually manage the work.
What advice would you give companies in the UK who are looking to hire a developer for their first application?
It’s important that people start with the end in mind. Enterprise mobility is about a shift in work habits. Mobile app technology allows employees to do things remote that before were much more difficult to achieve on the move. They’re opting to use mobile devices and cloud services to perform business tasks. This means that as an employer, you need to think about how mobile can be used to facilitate this shift to increase productivity and the satisfaction of your workforce. If they want to use mobile to become more productive that’s a really powerful thing that you should actively embrace within the enterprise.
I think mobile has the potential to offer new products and services to an existing customer base, but mobile also can provide significant opportunities for growing that base by enhancing sales and marketing efforts. Where mobile could potentially have the biggest impact is in improving an existing business process.
Are there any big changes in the UK market currently or any big trends that you’ve seen with the top companies that you might want to comment on?
There are some huge changes occurring right now in and around how enterprises are choosing to engage mobile app developers. They know they need a mobile product but don’t know how to get something in place quickly.
We have something we call “build operate transfer.” We believe we provide a unique experience when it comes to mobile development. And the way that idea works is pretty simple, and we’ve done it numerous times with some really big well-known companies.
We know how to build a mobile team and understand exactly what it takes to manage technical and commercial risk when it comes to each and every app project.
We make the BOT process simple. Firstly, we find exactly the right mobile talent. Then we train the talent. As an enterprise, you observe what happens and when you’re happy we transfer the team into your organization.
We refer to this process as “positive contamination” because we inject mobile capability directly into your organization having assembled the right blend of expertise, thinking and talent.
Waracle enshrines mobile-first thinking and expertise into your company and this is something that our customers absolutely love. It helps you get to market quickly and create a mobile team that can develop the right technology to deliver against your underpinning business requirements
“Build operate transfer” is a really good way for big companies to get up and running in mobile because it actually allows the organization to gradually infuse mobile knowledge and expertise into their organization. And by having a team of developers and an agency help with that cultural change, mobile first thinking can be instilled in these big companies organically over time.
Mobile is lightning paced. It’s all about agile. Things happen very quickly in mobile and often with bigger companies this requires a completely different style of doing things. We have found that “build operate transfer” helps companies make this cultural shift.