Editor’s Note: Many companies drop the ball after they launch their mobile apps, including failing to keep them interesting and current. Adam Fingerman, founder and CEO of AppGlu, talks about their mobile platform that allows a company to manage an app’s content after launch and keep it relevant. He discusses the biggest mistake startups make in their first year and offers advice for entrepreneurs thinking about developing a product.
SandHill.com: What is involved in managing a mobile app after launch and who is responsible for it?
Adam Fingerman: When we refer to the management aspect, we are specifically thinking about managing the app’s content and making sure that it remains relevant and engaging for the app’s users after launch. An app typically goes through a few phases in its life cycle: a development phase, which is typically measured in weeks; a launch phase, which could be just a few days or hours depending on how you’re distributing your app; and the management phase, after launch, which can be several months to years, depending on the type of app.
We built AppGlu so there could be a real division of labor when it comes to building an app. After the app launches, control shifts from the developers to the line-of-business person. They are able to actively manage the app, handle the curation of the content, understand what content is actually working best with users and tweak it to optimize that experience. Then, when there is new content, they can proactively reach out to users in a personalized way to notify them that there is new content that matters to them.
SandHill.com: Why do companies need AppGlu? Why aren’t companies doing these post-launch activities themselves?
Adam Fingerman: Companies need AppGlu to help make their apps successful. You can’t just build the app and launch it — you have to actively manage it to keep it relevant and engaging. If not, users won’t find it interesting or useful.
There are ways for companies to update their app’s content today without AppGlu, but it requires them to re-engage with their app developers who update the content in the app. Then they have to resubmit it to the app store and users then have to redownload the app. AppGlu allows the business person to directly update the app’s content, without needing involvement from the app developer and without having to go back through the app store.
SandHill.com: What experience did you have that led you to launch AppGlu?
Adam Fingerman: I co-founded ArcTouch, an app development studio in San Francisco. We built AppGlu and spun it out from ArcTouch after finding again and again that companies put a lot of thought and planning into the development of an app but didn’t have any good solution for the “what happens after launch” piece.
SandHill.com: Please give an example of how AppGlu helps a customer after an app launch.
One of our ArcTouch customers is Honeywell. Previously, their field sales people would carry around thick printed sales catalogs, which weren’t very interesting or economical. ArcTouch built Honeywell a sales catalog-style iPad app and the content was embedded inside the app. When a new data sheet was created or a product description changed, they would reengage with ArcTouch to crack the app back open and update the content, and then it would have to be retested and redistributed out to every user.
With the development of AppGlu, the responsibility of content update process shifted to the line-of-business person at Honeywell. They make the content edits directly through the AppGlu Control Center and instantly publish them to the app’s users. There is no retesting or redownloading of the app because functionally the app is not changing, just the in-app content.
SandHill.com: Would you describe your product as a CMS for mobile apps?
Adam Fingerman: Yes. There are three “tent poles” of AppGlu. We refer to the first one as “fresh content,” and that would be the CMS piece. We see lots of parallels in mobile apps to where the Web was 15 years ago. When companies first wanted a website they hired a web developer to create it, and needed the web developer to update it. Then Web Content Management Systems (CMS) came along and made it possible for line-of-business people to directly manage and maintain the site without the developers. AppGlu brings that same ability to mobile apps.
SandHill.com: What are the other tent poles?
Adam Fingerman: The second tent pole is “new insights.” This is analytics that provides information about what content is most engaging to people. You can do things like A/B tests and test out different descriptions of products and see specifically what is resonating better with users. In the Web world, this would be the equivalent of Google Analytics.
The third tent pole is “engaged users.” This is the ability to send specific content to specific users based on the content insights and user behaviors. In the Web world this is most equivalent to segmented email marketing, like Constant Contact or MailChimp; but in this case it is segmented and personalized push notifications.
SandHill.com: How does AppGlu enable engagement of users?
Adam Fingerman: CBS has an app on AppGlu called the Star Trek PADD. It’s like a multimedia encyclopedia of all things related to the Star Trek television series. CBS created a new article in the PADD app about an episode of the Big Bang Theory where the cast became Star Trek characters. They published it out to all the users who had the app and sent out a push notification letting them know that it was going to be airing that evening.
A new version of the app didn’t have to be created – just the new content. It was a specific message to a very targeted fan base. They also could have just sent it to anyone who cared about the Next Generation series of Star Trek and not the Voyager series, or people who viewed an article about Picard and not about Kirk.
The AppGlu Control Center shows how many messages were sent, how many people launched the app as a result of receiving the message, and how many of them viewed the article about this episode.
SandHill.com: Please share an example of a way AppGlu provides value to a client.
Adam Fingerman: CBS recently had a re-release of some Star Trek series on Blu-ray Disc and a one-night only event in the movie theaters showing a couple of episodes back-to-back. They added an article into the PADD app to promote that and sent out another push notification. The article links users to the ticket sales website for this one-night-event.
This in-app engagement is a very effective and measurable way for CBS to have a real dialog with their customers.
SandHill.com: What is the function of AppGlu’s Content Sync Engine?
Adam Fingerman: The AppGlu Content Sync Engine allows developers to continue using the same tools they use today to build apps, but it synchronizes the app’s local data stored on the users’ devices to a managed back-end in the cloud that AppGlu runs, where the app’s content can be updated and maintained.
SandHill.com: You started planning your company is 2012 and launched in early 2013. How did you get funding for AppGlu?
Adam Fingerman: All the funding has come from ArcTouch.
SandHill.com: Did your first customers come from ArcTouch?
Adam Fingerman: Yes. Part of our sales strategy is to find other app development companies of the same caliber and client base as ArcTouch and encourage them to start using AppGlu in their app projects.
SandHill.com: What has been AppGlu’s toughest moment?
Adam Fingerman: Time to market is very important — you could be too early or you could be late. We were getting nervous because other products coming on the market had aspects of what we were doing. They were more developer-oriented solutions, though. We quickly decided that the problem isn’t making a better developer tool. There are already very good tools to develop apps, but the problem isn’t development. The problem is how to improve the business process of app management after development, without burdening developers to learn new tools. I think we’ve achieved that.
SandHill.com: Did you switch directions along the way or make any tradeoffs that had an effect on your time to market?
Adam Fingerman: Startups are always making tradeoffs. There is limited time, limited money and limited actual customer feedback. We had some understanding of what customers wanted. However, until apps were actually developed using AppGlu, and until the end customers signed in to the management dashboard, we didn’t really know. We made it an important objective to get something out early, at least in a private release, so we could start getting real feedback to validate some of our assumptions.
SandHill.com: Did you find that your assumptions were correct?
Adam Fingerman: More often than not, but we did change things along the way. We were planning some features that we thought would be relevant, but they weren’t something that people said they needed at this point so we deprioritized them. They are still on our distant road map, but we wanted to really focus in on the core things.
SandHill.com: What important lesson did you learn when launching your company?
Adam Fingerman: It would have been good to test more of our marketing materials prior to launch. Some colleagues, friends and family saw it in advance, but I would have preferred to be able to preview a little bit more of the marketing with potential customers.
After being around something repeatedly for months there is a tendency to lose the fresh-look perspective. What might seem clear in what you write or put on your website might not be as clear to someone who is looking at it for the very first time and might not make the best first impression.
SandHill.com: What do the next 12 months likely hold for your company?
Adam Fingerman: We’ve aggressively shifted a lot of our resources onto sales and marketing. We want to make businesses aware that managing their app after launch is an important consideration, and that internal developers or other development studios can get their apps built faster by integrating in AppGlu.
On the channel side, our goal is to aggressively sign up development partners and get apps deployed on the AppGlu platform.
SandHill.com: Are you using any social media to help market your company?
Adam Fingerman: We have presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and we contribute to a blog.
We’re using a branded hashtag #ControlYourApp in all our tweets and posts on the other social channels. Since we allow business people to take control of their app after launch, we call AppGlu “Mission Control for Mobile Apps.” We hope that #ControlYourApp becomes synonymous and ubiquitous for what our product does.
SandHill.com: What is your top advice for startups and entrepreneurs?
Adam Fingerman: Pick a few things and really deliver on them perfectly – really narrow the scope. It makes it easier to communicate to external constituents what your company is doing, and it’s also important that the development team knows the three things that your company is going to do better than anyone else. And potential investors want to know what makes your company or product special. It’s a rallying cry for everybody internally and externally to focus on a small number of things.
SandHill.com: What has been your observation of the biggest mistake startups make in their first year?
Adam Fingerman: Startups need to have a clear plan on how they are going to acquire customers, starting with how they will make people aware of their offering, how to get people to try it and how to convert them into paying customers. People often underestimate that or don’t think about it until the last minute.
SandHill.com: Is there a software executive that you really admire?
Adam Fingerman: I recently read a very nice commencement speech that Jeff Bezos gave at Princeton. I think Amazon has all the right pieces in place to be as dominant as Apple is in the whole device and storefront and software ecosystem. I think that what they’ve assembled at Amazon is very impressive.
SandHill.com: Startup CEOs often encounter the problem at some point where they must consider whether or not they have all the management skills needed to grow a company. Has that happened to you?
Adam Fingerman: Someone told me there are three types of CEOs: the jungle CEO, the dirt path CEO and the paved highway CEO. Depending on where your company is in its growth, you need different management. Every company starts out in the jungle. The CEO will wear every hat and cut through the underbrush with the machete to get you to the dirt road. Then the dirt road CEO helps navigate the company through its growth until it gets to the highway. Sometimes, at that point, it’s a different stage of growth and you need to hand over the reins.
I believe I can handle certainly the jungle and the dirt road, but when you reach the highway, you are talking about a much larger, different type of company. I’ve never run something that big, so we will have to see when we get there.
Adam Fingerman is CEO and founder of AppGlu. He has more than 20 years’ experience conceiving, creating and introducing award-winning products and services for businesses and consumers. Adam is responsible for day-to-day management of AppGlu’s business, as well as marketing and sales. Prior to AppGlu, Adam founded ArcTouch, the leading mobile app studio in San Francisco, where he led product strategy, design and implementation for over 150 apps for the Fortune 500 and leading brands.
Di Freeze is editor at SandHill.com.