Stuart Hall’s business Appbot supports 35 per cent of the global top charting mobile app developers and boasts clients including Microsoft, BMW and Twitter. His business strategy of steady growth driven by iterative, customer-driven product design is the result of years of experience.
After graduating from Curtin, Hall began a career in software development and created his own agency focusing on web development.
However, his focus changed when Steve Jobs announced the original iPhone in 2007.
“I was really excited by the possibilities offered by the new mobile app development space, and I pivoted from web app development to mobile app development. I spent a lot of time experimenting with how to build a good app.”
His big breakthrough was in 2010 as the co-founder of Discovr, a music app that helped users discover new music and artists through an interactive interface. It was the number one app in 52 countries including the US, Japan and Australia, and was downloaded more than four million times. Discovr attracted $1.2 million in venture capital, and while the future seemed bright for the startup, they struggled to capitalise on the momentum. It was a lesson Hall would take into his future career.
“People love free stuff, especially apps, but if they’re not willing to pay for it maybe you’re not onto the right thing. I learnt it was important to have a monetisation strategy in place during development if you want to make money from an app.”
Hall continued to cause a stir when he blogged about his experience creating the app 7 Minute Workout. The app racked up 2.5 million downloads before it was acquired by company Wahoo Fitness, and was famously developed in only one night.
During this time, Hall quietly began work on his side project Appbot, which started as a personal tool to help analyse reviews on his apps. After selling 7 Minute Workout, he decided to focus on progressing Appbot as a business-to-business product. Appbot developed into a web application that aggregates and analyses customer feedback across mobile app reviews, support tickets and more. It gives developers insight into why customers like their apps and helps to identify areas for improvement.
Hall and his co-founder, now Chief Marketing Officer, Claire McGregor decided to grow their fledgling business using the company’s revenue rather than seeking venture capital. This was challenging, as they went without pay for two years while Appbot established itself.
Now, five years on from founding the company, the gamble has paid off. Hall credits their strategy of steadily growing customer revenue and hiring new staff gradually as key to their sustainable growth – bucking the trend of lightning-pace startups who exist just long enough to be acquired.
“A growth-at-all-costs model funded by venture capital wasn’t what Claire or I had in mind for the company. With a young family, I was looking for a sustainable, 9-to-5 job with good work life balance where I didn’t have to work out-of-control hours.”
Hall acknowledges that operating a Perth-based company with global customers has its challenges, but also some unique advantages.
“There’s a misconception that a business based in Perth will struggle to be successful. In startup capitals like Silicon Valley your business costs such as rent will be very high, and that’s less of an issue in Perth. In Perth we also have excellent access into Asian markets, which has historically been difficult for US-based companies.”
As CEO of Appbot, Hall takes a strategic view of the business, maintaining a big picture focus, but remaining hands-on with product development, finances and managing employees. He says the skills he developed while studying Computer Systems Engineering, like organisation and self-sufficiency, are just as useful when leading a company.
“Being a good engineer is all about problem-solving, and that’s useful in any sort of business. At Curtin, I learned how to break a big problem down in smaller achievable tasks, and this is still a skill I use everyday in my business.”
For budding entrepreneurs, Hall recommends students spend time working in a startup they’d be interested in starting themselves and test their ideas as soon as possible.
“Start small and get feedback as early as you can. Rather than spending a lot of time and money building something people don’t want, it’s a great idea to validate an idea early. It’s certainly served us well at Appbot.”
Name: Stuart Hall
Role: Co-founder and CEO of Appbot
Studied: Bachelor of Engineering (Computer Systems Engineering) (Honours) now Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) (Honours)