We Created An $840K/Year No-Code Tool To Make Apps [Finland]
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Kaius Meskanen and I'm the founder of Choicely mobile app builder.
Choicely is built for companies where content, community, sales, and engagement is top priorities. We offer a simple, fast and affordable platform to build & maintain high-quality mobile apps. As opposed to difficult app building and maintenance that costs 100s of thousands of dollars. Choicely offers a high-quality no-code SaaS solution that can be launched at a fraction of the price.
Choicely.com provides a browser-based app CMS tool called Choicely Studio, that enables our customers to build and manage their mobile apps. The drag & drop builder comes with professional design tools and extensive features that you can use to build the basis of your mobile app. The only real limitation is in the imagination of the person building a mobile app.
You can also integrate any external features using web views, SDK:s (software development kits), and API:s (application programming interfaces). Building a high-quality mobile app may take 2-5 days with the builder, after which you can publish the iOS app in App Store and Android app in Google Play.
Once your app is live, you can promote it on your web, email & social media channels to let your customers know about your new native mobile app service. Mobile apps come with major business benefits and people will spend over 4 hours a day in mobile apps in 2022, making apps the most effective channel for engagement and sales. This is why we are focusing on enabling the fast building of high-quality mobile apps for all companies.
Our monthly revenue is now $70,000 and our 2021 revenue is 4 times the revenue of 2020. Choicely app platform is already used by leaders in media, sports & entertainment, such as ITV Studios (Love Island TV Show apps), Banijay, International Judo Federation & IMG (Miss Universe app with over 3 million downloads).
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Choicely is my 3rd company and the first that was built to scale globally. I started my first company in 2008, an architecture studio during my studies at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. I grew the business in the Nordics and had an extraordinary pool of customers for luxury villas in Angola, in West Africa. I was able to get customers quickly from the very beginning by simply calling prospects and introducing them to my professional design service with cool case studies and positive energy.
My a long story short before starting my first company: from a very young age, I always enjoyed learning new things, competing in sports, and exploring how the world really works. I enjoyed my studies and finished with top grades, got selected in army special forces, learned 9 languages, and traveled 73 countries for fun and some for business. I played piano, cello, and guitar as a kid, and won a major singing competition in Sydney Opera, Australia house in 1996. Through all these experiences, I found it easy to sell products and services, after a short lifetime of performing, traveling, and dealing with people all around the world.
Adapt to the market, don’t chase your original idea blindly, rather work on finding a product-market fit daily. Small changes can change the game.
I launched my second company in 2014 - a web portal called Real Estate Attorneys that offered content, useful documents, and advice for real estate law. The portal offered a phone number for the users to call for advice in real-estate related law cases, and 20% of the calls converted into customers for an attorney company, which eventually bought half of the shares 8 months after the launch of the SEO optimized web portal.
After selling that company I knew what I wanted to do next. I wanted to create a global platform that helps entrepreneurs build their own businesses. I founded Choicely in 2015 with the initial focus of creating fan engagement tools that help businesses to increase their engagement and sales. The idea came when I was playing around with SMS & voice call voting during some tv show, and I figured the engagement should be far more user-friendly. I invested my own funds with 2 other founders, pitched potential clients with pitch decks to make sure the market was there, raised more funds from investors, and slowly built a development team of superstars. We started with a team of 3 developers, and we used our CTO and co-founder Tommy Eklund’s place as our office.
In 2018 while demonstrating the tools for the world’s largest TV production companies in London, they communicated to us that Choicely’s voting & fan engagement tools were far more advanced than anything they’ve seen, but what they really needed was mobile apps with the fan engagement tools as part of the apps.
This was the moment we really figured out what Choicely needs to become. We sat down and decided the time was right to build a mobile app builder that includes Choicely’s fan engagement features already loved by our customers while offering mobile apps with a far wider range of features to offer true value to businesses. This was the decisive moment for Choicely and our team to find our true focus - enable an easy, fast and affordable way to build mobile apps that help businesses to better engage with their customers and grow their sales.
One year and a few cups of coffee later in August 2019, we launched our first mobile app - Love Island Finland. We built the backend with Python in Google Cloud, the Choicely Studio browser-based app CMS tool using React, and the framework apps using iOS (Swift) and Android (Java) & Android code. The app builder now enables building full-scale iOS & Android mobile apps with market-leading voting & fan engagement tools that have a major role in media, sports & entertainment apps. We designed Choicely app builder to use a flexible framework that enables freedom of design, look & feel, menu hierarchy, a combination of features, articles, content feeds, activation tools, push messages, and team-building tools to facilitate building apps for almost any industry.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We knew it was going to be hard to build a mobile app builder that is easy to use and enables non-technical people to build apps. Our team had all the knowledge and experience in demanding mobile app building, yet most people in the industry didn’t believe this was something that could be done. We had app deals ready and waiting for us. We decided to go for it.
I have to highlight that Choicely’s visionary and experienced tech team did the magic at this point. Choicely’s CTO & co-founder Tommy Eklund played the key role in designing the entire Choicely app development platform. In the early days, Kristian Pulkkinen (backend) and Jari Warpenius (Head of the web) also had to work long days and increase their professional skills down the road to get the platform flying.
We laid out around 50 desktop screen designs in Sketch to understand the layouts and flows needed for the app-building process. We broke down everything into modular components, such as apps, screens, feeds, articles built of modular blocks, contests, surveys, while building tools for brand page management, team management, and for sending push messages.
Hundreds of details and everything needed to work perfectly in the Choicely Studio web browser tool, backend, Google Cloud, and the framework apps for iOS and Android. Because of the nature of our clients, we also needed the user-facing apps to be able to handle millions of simultaneous users, which brings yet another layer of complexity. To be honest, the task felt hard and the level of complexity was very high. This didn’t stop us from giving it a try, as we already felt it was doable after spending months with the designs and initial prototypes.
We kept building, testing, and iterating the builder and test apps months after months, giving half-ready prototypes for the clients for testing to get their feedback. Eventually, we got it right and the builder was ready for mass production of high-quality mobile apps.
Describe the process of launching the business.
A cool early story: Heikki Rotko, an experienced entrepreneur and ex-CEO of Finland’s largest broadcaster, joined Choicely as an investor and executive chairman in the early days. He was working with me in building an effective sales & marketing strategy together. We teamed up to get product details right for the media, sports & entertainment segments and started the sales.
We launched the first app, then the second and the third, and then the Corona pandemic hit us. We were working in the media, sports & entertainment sectors, and suddenly tv productions were canceled due to physical restrictions, sports venues were emptied and a series of unpleasant events brought chaos in the industries. The timing was a hard hit for Choicely, with many app deals canceled and new projects put on hold due to the diminishing budgets. We kept developing the platform at full speed and raised more funds to deal with the new reality.
One essential learning for every leader is to continuously evaluate your business from an eagle-eye perspective, practical operations perspective, and to make sure your team is working effectively.
With the physical restrictions in place, the role of digital was now far more important than ever. The time spent on mobile phones has risen to nearly 5 hours/day, from which 90% is spent in native mobile apps, as they became the most mobile-friendly interface for people to interact with anything. Eventually, these facts became more common knowledge, and an increasing number of entrepreneurs and business decision-makers decided to start launching their own apps to boost their business. In 2020 publishers like Forbes also started to include no-code app building as one of the TOP10 mega trend of the 2020s.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We had big plans for 2020 but Covid hit us really hard. In September 2020 we finally managed to start closing app deals and learned how the sales process really works. Our 2021 revenue was 4 times the revenue of 2020. Not a single customer has left Choicely, and our customers recommend Choicely to their friends and business networks.
We also built virality directly inside Choicely platform, building social mentions, links, stories, posts, backlinks, and more to help new customers to find www.choicely.com.
Iconic brands like IMG / Miss Universe, ITV Studios / Love Island TV Show apps, International Judo Federation, and others were now building the leading media, sports & entertainment apps using Choicely platform.
At this stage most of our business was outbound sales, deals from inbound leads and we built the first reseller partnerships with strategic partners.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
In January 2022 we came close to breaking even every month. However, we started a new fundraise to grow our biz dev team and eventually strengthen our team of developers to enhance our platform with features that make our offering even more appealing for our customer segments. By this time we had realized the market potential and a path to become a unicorn.
We had also figured out the sales funnels and our tech team was now automating the final 10% of the app-building process. Reaching the full automation level will eventually enable us to provide the app builder for any sized companies and even individuals by launching lower pricing tiers.
Until now, there’s no churn with Choicely app clients, they’re satisfied with the price vs value they’re getting. We expect the average lifetime of an app client to be 3-5 years, lifetime value strongly depending on the pricing tier, customer acquisition cost now going down gradually from $2000 to a new unknown as we finish the automation.
We now serve customers on 6 continents and have a clear growth plan for our sales funnel, combining inbound and outbound sales, SEO, growth hacking, building a network of reseller partnerships, and soon to launch the fully automated sales funnel.
We are building content and statistics of an increasing number of success stories of the mobile apps of our clients that had success one after another, and showing agreed-on stats in the success stories as part of our marketing to encourage more entrepreneurs to use Choicely as their mobile app platform. These articles, stories, and social posts have been convincing new prospects and started many conversations leading to new companies using Choicely for building their mobile apps.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Tell me about it. I’ve learned a lot through starting my businesses and I could create a long (probably boring) list of tips of things that worked for me, my failures, my peak moments, etc. Something super useful I’ve learned through working with more experienced salespeople than me has been a realistic evaluation of potential sales deals.
Earlier on, I definitely was too much of a “dreamer” and had unrealistic expectations on the probability of closing sales deals, as for a long time I was unable to separate my good faith in people from their actual willingness to buy a service/product from me.
It’s mostly because I’m a very social person and I really enjoy meeting new people and interacting with people in general. For me, it was hard to distinguish the great conversations and enthusiasm both ways from the fact that people all around the world make their business decisions through a different logic. People can be analytical, emotional, and many things on many levels, and you can build great connections with people as a person, but when suggesting business with sums that are significant to them, your personality may or may not play the final role in business, especially when several people are involved in a business decision, people that you never meet.
There are many lessons learned in my own path. One essential learning for every leader is to continuously evaluate your business from an eagle-eye perspective, practical operations perspective, and to make sure your team is working effectively. Just keep checking that everything you do makes sense and prioritize your time on important things (like effective online sales & marketing) to avoid micromanagement when your focus is needed elsewhere.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The main tools we use for Choicely tech & sales:
- Cloud solutions Google Cloud
- Inbound marketing & sales Hubspot
- Building mobile apps Choicely
- App designs Sketch
- Visuals Adobe Creative Cloud
- Freelance projects Fiverr
- Team communication Slack
Our team has chosen to use these tools for several reasons, focusing on quality, productivity, price, and previous experience. We of course use a much wider set of micro services for different functions on top of these. I personally like them all, of course for another business a different set of main tools may be more suitable.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’ve read tons of books in my areas of interest, including leadership, business, personal development, and how to build online business & virality. I’ve also been in many courses, accelerators, and mentorship programs around those subjects and have always been interested in building my personal capacity in these areas. As a kid, I used to perform on stages playing piano, cello, guitar, and singing, and during my studies of architecture, I was teaching drawing skills in art courses. Through these experiences I’ve built my own skills in business and communication, boosting up to my professional career.
I don’t really have a list of books and podcasts to recommend for business skills. I do recommend reading a lot of books to expand your knowledge and understanding. My favorite book is The Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber - because the holistic approach to everything described in the book helped me broaden my perspective on general thinking.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I’ve been an entrepreneur since my days in university, and I believe that professional work adds value to people’s lives. I also believe that great entrepreneurs are resilient and can deal with ups and downs when growing a new business from zero to hero. I’m not the top example of an entrepreneur with unicorn exits and all that, I’m more of a self-made hard working individual and I believe in my own capacity of building great products, representing my own brand with style, and finding superstars to build successful teams with.
My top tips for entrepreneurs when launching their new businesses:
- Think big and beat your competition already with your idea and angle
- Build a realistic plan to achieve profitability
- If you need funding, build a killer pitch and a list of prospects for funding
- Build a killer team of people with capacities exceeding yours in their areas of expertise
- Remember that great ideas are cool but making your business fly takes years of hard work
- Adapt to the market, don’t chase your original idea blindly, rather work on finding a product-market fit daily. Small changes can change the game.
- Be proud of your business, it will reflect on everyone around you
Don’t go blindly towards the unknown with a great business idea - like a flying car for example. Build a realistic roadmap and timeline to the point where you’re selling your product to tons of customers and evaluate your idea and business at all stages with smart people and potential customers.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for entrepreneurs who want to build apps or partnerships in our reseller program.
More info here.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
Get our 5-minute email newsletter packed with business ideas and money-making opportunities, backed by real-life case studies.