Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Phil Scarfi and I’m the founder of Pioneer Mobile Applications.
Pioneer is a mobile application development agency that specializes in providing rapid and affordable software development. In particular, we develop mobile apps for both iOS and Android platforms alongside the web backend that helps make them run smoothly and scale efficiently. We are based out of Long Island, New York however many of our clients are located throughout the United States.
Pioneer works with a wide variety of clients ranging from startups ($10k-$50k budgets) to larger enterprise organizations ($100k+ budgets). Over the past year and a half, Pioneer has nearly tripled the amount of clients and inbound leads we have gotten, we’ll discuss how we did that a little later!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
While I was in high school, I started getting interested in software and coding. I took a few fundamental coding classes and fell in love with it. Come my senior year, I decided to follow this interest and study Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst). This is where all the magic began to happen.
For those of you that don’t know, UMass Amherst has the top dining in the nation. Because of this, myself and other students would spend hours on end per day in the dining commons.
You might be asking, Why on earth am I talking about food right now right?
Well, imagine going to get food at a place where they’re not serving something you're a fan of for lunch or dinner and you only find out once you get there. This happened to me a few times and frustrated me, especially when there was a blizzard and you could have just had food delivered. This is when I found the menus to the dining halls online so I could see what they were serving before leaving my dorm.
This was great, I figured out how to stop running into a problem, however I quickly learned it wasn’t too efficient. The problem with the dining system at the time was that there were menus for different dining locations and different meals (lunch, dinner, late night, etc) located in different places.
One menu might be on the dining website, the other might be on their Facebook page. So, freshman year Phil decided to take on this inefficiency and build an app that put all of the menus in one place and allowed people to view them while on the go.
Other students quickly began hearing about this app, and eventually, even the head of dining services at the university had set up a meeting to meet with me. Without expecting it, I ended up selling the app to the university! I thought this was the coolest thing. As more and more people caught wind that I could develop apps, they began coming to me with their app ideas and began to ask me to turn their ideas into reality for them.
At this point in time, I began to see the true potential in this area. The following semester I was accepted into the Isenberg School of Business and began taking business classes alongside my computer science ones to help learn everything there is to know about starting and maintaining a business. I finally formed Pioneer Mobile Applications and throughout my college career, people would hire me to develop their app ideas. Junior and Senior year of college, I even had the opportunity to work with BuzzFeed to help their team with the BuzzFeed app, BuzzFeed News app, and other internal tool applications. At the end of the day, I was working on paying off my college loans on my own, and this is the one way that helped get that done.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and shipping apps.
When learning about creating businesses, my mentor spoke to me about the Lean Startup Methodology and how startups are using a somewhat scientific method approach to starting a business.
Maintaining a close relationship with our customers has helped us not only retain clients, but attract new ones.
I saw how successful this process worked and I realized I could take a similar process and use it for creating successful applications.
There are six main steps Pioneer takes to ensure successful development and launch of an application.
Pioneer stress tests every idea that comes through our doors. We will take everything that we know about mobile and merge it with your idea in order to find a general direction. This step will save hours, days, and weeks in design and development later on!
Having an app is pretty cool, but having an app that people will use is even cooler. Pioneer will help validate your idea through our "Lean App Methodology" and make sure that there is a market waiting for you once we're ready to launch.
Having a recognizable app is what gets an app traction, acquires users, and gets your app featured in the App Store. Our team of designers will sit down with you and create that first impression everyone will be talking about.
At Pioneer, we don't like to just hop right into things, we like to create a plan and then execute it. When it comes to the coding, we first create an architecture and choose the best technology for your app. By doing this we help save you future costs and make it easy to grow.
Throughout the development process, we want to make sure that we are all on the same page and that everything is working as expected. To do this we have an "Alpha & Beta Testing Cycle" that will ensure everything makes sense to users.
This is the time we have all been waiting for. However, once we reach this stage we're not done yet. It's time to get the word out and get users on the app. The Pioneer team will help you submit your app, market it, and get publicity!
Describe the process of launching the business.
When it came time to officially launch the business, having an online presence was a priority. I personally was not much of a web developer or graphic designer, so it made making a website a bit difficult.
After buying a domain, I found a few free website templates and customized them to match Pioneer’s brand. I then posted them online, sent them out to about a hundred people both friends and family and asked their opinion on them. After making some adjustments from feedback, I finally launched a final version.
Growing our online presence
Okay, so having a website was cool and everything, but what’s the point of having one if nobody goes to it?
This is where SEO began to play a big role. What Pioneer needed was to show up on Google when people would search for things like “affordable app developer”.
Through creating blog posts and some trial and error, we were able to start getting ranked high on Google. Within days, we began to get phone calls and emails inquiring about our services!
When it comes to creating an good SEO strategy, you must first figure out what you want to get out of SEO. Obviously, you want to show up in search engine results, but you have to figure out what your site should be showing up under. For example, if I am a baker targeting people in Denver, Colorado, I am going to want write blog posts or specific websites tailored to that location and any other specific keywords such as “baking, cookies, brownies, custom cakes, bakeries, etc). This will allow your site to come up when someone searches something like “custom cake bakery in Denver”. Once this is complete, you should make sure to sign up with Google’s Webmaster Tools, and have Google crawl your website.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since launch, maintaining a close relationship with our customers has helped us not only retain clients, but attract new ones.
Throughout the entire process of developing a client’s application, there is constant communication and transparency of what is going on. Through weekly meetings, phone calls, and daily communication amongst our team and our clients through Slack.com, this allows the client do get a full and true understanding of what is going on behind the scenes.
We also let our clients see the same things that our project managers see via Asana.com, giving them a full overview of the progress of the project and how things are moving along.
Don’t be afraid to say no if you can’t handle the work. It is often more beneficial to limit the amount of work you have on your hands so you can ensure quality.
Since a lot of our clients are startups, they normally have tight budgets. With that being said, it is critical that we help provide our clients with the most affordable costs around. Through the numerous apps and platforms we have worked on, we have been able to standardize the general development process and in turn saving time and money.
One of the biggest things we have standardized has been our project setup. By working with numerous types of clients, we were able to find what libraries, frameworks, and project structures all of them had in common. From this, we have developed our own frameworks that will automatically be in any project once it is created. With the process and software we have created internally, we have an extreme advantage compared to our competitors.
Through being transparent, providing quality work, and not breaking our client's bank, they are very satisfied at the end of the day. It is because of this that not only do they come back to us with additional work, but also refer us to their friends and family.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, Pioneer is doing better than ever. We are profitable and learning every day how to become more efficient and save money for both the customer and Pioneer. One thing we have learned is that referrals are worth so much more than anything else. People are 20x more likely to go with a developer that was referred to them, than a developer that found from a google search. This is why it is critical to provide a successful and pleasant experience.
Through SEO and social media marketing, we have increased the amount of visitors to our site ten fold. Every month we have over 10,000 visitors to our site. We have tried using Google and Facebook ads, but unfortunately, they didn’t provide a very good conversion for a service like Pioneer.
We currently have a team of seven individuals working with Pioneer both full time and part time, ranging from designers, account managers and developers (android, iOS, and Web). It is our goal to double the amount of clients we currently have per month and cut in half the amount of development time for each client by the end of the year.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One thing I have learned in particular is to be cautious with hiring. I once heard that you should hire slowly and fire quickly.
Unfortunately, I heard this after the fact, and did the complete opposite. There was a brief time in 2018 when we had a huge influx in clients and we didn’t have enough developers to take on the new projects. The last thing I wanted to do was turn away these potential clients, so I decided to hire developers.
I had hired about 4 developers in a span of a month based on the experience that they had told me they had. As they began working on projects, I had realized the quality of their work was not very good and I had to keep jumping in to correct issues that they did not take care of. I decided not to fire them right away because it may be beneficial to just teach them, and hopefully they would become better.
Time went on and the same problems with the quality of the code being produced was not satisfactory and I ended up spending more time fixing code, than just doing it myself. At this point in time a few month had past and I had spent over $100k on these developers which ended up being a complete loss. I decided to let these developers go and limit the amount of clients we worked with at a time.
Make sure you really vet people out before hiring them. Also, don’t be afraid to say no if you can’t handle the work. It is often more beneficial to limit the amount of work you have on your hands so you can ensure quality. Clients will value this a lot more than providing a poor product. In our case, we ended up just having a waitlist, which worked out even better because it allowed our clients to get the funds and resources needed to really get going with their endeavor.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- GitHub - for a shared code repository, collaboration, and code review
- Slack - For constant, on the go communication, especially for our remote developers
- Asana - For project management
- Xcode & Android Studio, and Atom for all of our coding environments
- Google Suite for shared resources between our team and our client
- Google Analytics - Tracking our SEO efforts and website visitors
- Fabric & Crashlytics - Allows us to recognize issues, bugs, and crashes in code almost immediately
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for talented developers and designers! Whether you specialize in iOS, Android, web, or design, you could be an asset!
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: www.PioneerApplications.com
- Facebook: Faccebook.com/pioneerapps
- Twitter: Twitter.com/pioneerapps
- Email: [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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