Business Rx: Some ‘Appropos’ advice for getting a start-up off the ground

The Entrepreneur

Like many entrepreneurs, Edward White, Dan Crump and Ben Pyser had dreams of creating a blockbuster app to revolutionize the mobile experience. One problem — they weren’t quite sure what that app might be. They had the expertise to create an app — with Pyser as a programming whiz — but just not the idea for the “next big thing.” But the team knew a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs and existing small businesses had the opposite problem: lots of app ideas and no way to create them. Their idea morphed into a business to help other entrepreneurs develop new apps.

The pitch

White

“Our business is called Appropos. We offer low-price, high quality software development for small businesses and entrepreneurs who want to create mobile applications. Our advantage comes from using students as developers. We can offer a price advantage to our customers and the students get development experience for their portfolios.

“We are a very young start-up — we just finished creating an app for our first customer. One challenge is finding customers. For now, we are relying on word-of-mouth referrals. We’re doing our best to network with small businesses and entrepreneurs for additional jobs.

“Our other challenge is finding and retaining talented programmers. For us, this can be a challenge because of the contract-based nature of the work, and the fact that we’re working with students. We are currently students ourselves, so tapping our own networks does help fill our talent pipeline. In terms of quality control, we operate by having a professional developer in charge of each team of student developers. With our business model, our developers change often. What advice do you have for maintaining a consistent level of quality?”

The advice

Harry Geller, entrepreneur-in-residence, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“You have correctly positioned Appropos for success by providing quality student programming services at a fair and understandable price. The entrepreneurs-in-residence at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship hear dozens of app ideas every week, but almost all have a need for programming services. Rather than prospecting for gold, you are providing the miners with the picks and shovels.

“Now you need to leverage your first success to get more business in the door. Adapt a guerrilla marketing strategy that focuses on low-cost tactics such as flyers, on-campus promotions and networking through various campus groups.

“In reference to your challenge of finding and retaining programmers, continue your strategy of hiring student programmers, as that is the a part of your business model and price advantage. Focus your recruiting efforts at the computer science school and the various technology clubs to line up enough prospects. Then tout your ‘college student’ brand that has been so successful in other models — such as College Hunks Hauling Junk, Collegiate Painters and College Mover. You should have enough work to keep your developers busy while they are students.

“To provide the most consistent quality while dealing with contract employees, have team leaders who take ownership of specific projects and take responsibility for meeting quality standards and deadlines. For you, having these team leaders manage their developer teams while allowing the programmers to work on their own time and equipment would yield the best results.”

The reaction

White

“We’ve already begun to do some marketing to various computer science clubs, but we want to convert that into a more organized, sustained campaign. Further, on the customer side, we believe the time has come to investigate and organize a marketing strategy.”

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