Pietro Saccomani
On Building a SaaS Turning Websites Into Mobile Apps
product
MobiLoud
from London
started December 2011
1
Founders
10
Employees
63.9K
alexa rank
5.36K
followers
186
subs
email
customer service
productivity
podcast

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hi, I’m Pietro and I run MobiLoud - we’re a mobile app development service focused on converting websites and web apps into mobile apps, based on our platforms.

We started in 2013, working with media companies, digital news publications, newspapers and blogs to help them turn their content into their own native mobile apps.

We’ve now published close to 1,000 apps and continue growing, serving larger publishers. Since 2016 we have been working with startups and web apps too, with a second product called Slide.

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What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

I was always very interested in startups and entrepreneurship. In my first job I worked with a tech entrepreneur and investor. I met lots of smart people building cool startups, right in the middle of the Web 2.0 wave. It was a dream first job!

After that I wanted to see how a large enterprise worked. I found a job at Apple in London and spent close to three years there, working on different teams and interesting projects like rolling out iTunes U in Europe.

We’ve now published close to 1,000 apps and continue growing, serving larger publishers and improving our service.

Apple was cool but I craved doing my own thing. I wanted the autonomy, I wanted to build something. I met an old friend who also wanted to start something and decided to begin with a custom software development business.

While working on consulting projects on the side, we started developing our own products.

One of our first projects was MobiLoud, a solution for news publishers and professional blogs to build mobile apps with their content, automatically syncronized with their site.

We also built an app beta-testing community, a file sharing service for the education market, a service for building SMB websites (too competitive) and a file transfer app for agencies (we didn’t really give it the time it deserved).

We’ve made all the typical mistakes, from failing to validate a customer need, to jumping into building before worrying about marketing and sales.

It was hard, it was stressful - especially as we had consulting projects to deliver - but it was a lot of fun.

I fell in love with the independence, the freedom to manage my time, the ability to quickly see the impact of what I was doing.

Ultimately, MobiLoud found traction faster than anything else and became our focus.

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Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

I was familiar with WordPress from running a personal blog. My business partner had built the first version of an iOS app for a popular news site.

We knew there was a market and this could have scaled. How many blogs and news sites on WordPress will want to give their readers a better experience on mobile? It was 2012 and apps were in high demand!

Resist the temptation of thinking your customer thinks and acts like you do. It’s a very inaccurate assumption (and particularly bad for a scrappy founder) that lead us to setting prices too low and going after the wrong market.

We designed the app as a customizable platform and built a backend with an easy interface to create your own app.

We launched in 2013, initially with iOS support only. We released Android later that year.

We hired our first intern, Ben, and started working with well known blogs, focusing on content and outreach to generate leads.

It took us a few months more to have a solid product, with a complete WordPress integration, iOS and Android versions and a web interface for customizing the apps.

Fast forward to 2014 and I was running the company as a solo founder. It was tough to adjust. Going from having a cofounder to running the business on my own meant missing the energy and support that is typical when working with a partner.

I eventually met other entrepreneurs running bootstrapped SaaS businesses and we setup an office together in London. It was a great time!

By the end of 2015 MobiLoud was at $15k MRR. We were growing slowly but it was enough to keep going.

In 2016 we had talked to enough potential customers to know there was a market for a solution that helped other types of site owners turn their sites into apps. We decided to build a more flexible solution that would become Slide, our second product (we recently renamed it).

Slide is a solution to turn any web app into a native app. We add all the elements that a web app is missing - app icon, native navigation, animations, push notifications a message center - and help our customers get mobile apps published without having to manage a separate codebase.

They can focus on building a great web app, and their mobile apps are taken care of, updating automatically with any site change, built and managed by our team.

Today we have two products, solving a very similar problem but in different ways. MobiLoud is a native app platform for news publishers, while Slide is a hybrid app solution for startups, web apps, community sites and more.

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Native or hybrid is not the point anyways. It’s about having a well designed, functional app providing all the benefits that only apps give - App Store presence, homescreen icon, push notifications. It’s with these elements that our customers see higher engagement, better retention and ultimately traffic and revenue in their apps compared to their websites. That’s what we offer.

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How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today, in 2019, our core market is still news publishers and large blogs. We think we have found a good niche to focus on. We love the space and enjoy helping our customers with the challenges they face in building a sustainable media business.

We have 10 people working on the business, remotely, spread between Europe, Asia and North America.

Hiring Vitor, our Product Manager, has been the biggest step forward for myself as a founder and for the whole company. This year we’ve doubled down on our focus on the digital media space: we built a new version of our platform for news apps, started a podcast and a newsletter and produce content weekly to help entrepreneurs in digital media. Content is the main way we promote the business and it’s become much better since Thomas Goss joined the team this year, he’s an excellent writer!

We’ve recently published a new app for Foreign Policy Magazine we’re very proud of. It’s a good example of what the platform can do today, with more options for customization and integrations for subscriptions.

All large publishers these days have mobile apps - NYTimes, HuffPost, TechCrunch, Buzzfeed, Vice etc. - but building and maintaining your own app is still very complex and expensive, requiring a development team and skills that most publishers don’t have.

With our app platform and service, custom native apps are available to publishers of all sizes, at affordable rates. For simpler apps, we go from signup to a live app in 2-3 weeks.

We still see a lot of opportunities in the media space. There’s a lot of talk of crisis in the industry, and it’s real for the most part.

But there’s so many incredible stories of fast growing media brands that started with few resources, as newsletters or blogs - and have grown into large media businesses. Think of The Hustle, Finimize, Morning Brew, Popsugar, Business Insider, HuffPo and many smaller but profitable businesses.

New business models are emerging, along with trends that make us hopeful there’s a future for news and content delivered on channels the publisher owns - as opposed to social media.

With their mobile apps, our most successful customers see a significant increase in pageviews per session (Hill Reporter saw a 4x increase) and find that app users come back to their content more often and spend more time than web visitors do.

Perhaps not in every market, not for every news site, but content apps can work really well.

When there’s a passionate audience, hungry for new content, apps make a lot of sense by offering the immediacy, speed and improved experience readers want on the devices they use all the time to access content - their smartphones.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

First was learning to choose our customers. We started with the idea of building a SaaS and software platform and as such we thought we had to work with everyone. Adding more service into our model showed us the advantage of being able to choose exactly who to work with, to really focus where we really are a great fit. This has helped us reduce costs, improve customer satisfaction, raise prices and reduce churn.

Over time and many mistakes, I’ve learnt to remind myself to build the simplest solutions possible, or not build at all when feasible.

Over the years I’ve learnt to resist the temptation of thinking my customer would think and act like I would. It’s a very inaccurate assumption (and particularly bad for a scrappy founder) that lead us to setting prices too low and going after the wrong market.

Finally, recognizing the danger of falling in love with one’s own idea and vision. It doesn’t sound that bad, but it’s something I still struggle with. The antidote? Talking to customers. Learning about their problems. Building only what they’d buy.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use Intercom for customer support and chat, Drip for email marketing, Transistor.fm for our podcast, Slack for team communication, Zoom for video calls, Airtable for our databases and of course WordPress and awesome plugins like Gravity forms. Zapier helps us automate a lot of processes.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The first startup book I’ve read and a great inspiration was Getting real by the people at Basecamp, it’s still a favourite, and so are some of their more recent books like Rework.

Lately I’ve enjoyed reading biographies, like Shoedog, and found books like Traction and This is marketing useful to organize our team and think about our marketing and positioning.

I love podcasts, some of my favourites are Bootstrapped Web, Startups for the rest of us, How I built this, Indie Hackers, The Knowledge Project and State of Digital Publishing.

I’m also really into newsletters, I read Finimize, Quartz Obsession, Stratechery, Farnham Street, The Idea, Splice Media and Dealbook.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Over time and many mistakes, I’ve learnt to remind myself to build the simplest solutions possible, or not build at all when feasible.

I’m always tempted to create tools and systems that automate and streamline processes. Sometimes we want to anticipate a future need and build a new feature or solution. Again, listening to customers and their problems helps.

There’s a lot of value in staying lean, focusing on the core customer experience where the value is really generated, leaving the rest to the many tools and solutions one can use off the shelf or a good enough solution that does the job.

Piecing together web forms and tools with Zapier is totally ok, actually it’s great - people build entire no-code applications these days with tools like this!

Where can we go to learn more?

Our website, blog, podcast and newsletter are the best place to start. I also post regularly on Twitter and Linkedin.

-  
Pietro Saccomani,   Founder of MobiLoud

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