5Degrees, Inc. is in the business of building web- and iOS-based customer relationship management (CRM) software and apps. These are perfect for people who travel frequently and need access to powerful business tools at any time. 5Degrees believe that a contact management app must work seamlessly both at the office on your computer, and on-the-go from your mobile device.
In today’s Developing Minds Want to Know, we meet Jeb Ory, CEO and Co-founder of 5Degrees, Inc. With a background in mobile technology, Jeb discusses how he developed 5Degrees CRM, where he sees inspiration in the mobile sector, how he harnesses innovation and what the future holds.
Key Company Facts:
Name and Title: Jeb Ory, CEO and Co-founder
Company: 5Degrees, Inc.
Location: Chicago & Sacramento, CA
Size (Revenue and/or Employees): 7 employees (including 3 partners)
Primary Apps/Platforms: 5Degrees CRM for iOS and web
APPOLICIOUS: What inspired you to become an app creator?
JEB ORY: I attended Stanford University from 1999-2003 and I had a first-hand look at how the cloud/ internet revolution was changing everything. In 2009, I observed the gold rush in the iPhone app market from the outside and felt that it would be as big, if not bigger, than the dot.com boom. Mobile has the chance to rewire virtually every industry. I did not want to sit on the sidelines. The people that could figure out how to effectively use mobile technology to solve business problems would be at the center of redefining how industries work in the 21st century.
Here’s a video demo of the 5Degrees app:
APPO: How long have you been developing apps, and what is the most significant difference between now and when you began?
JO: I started developing mobile apps in 2009. In the early days of the app market, you could get lucky. These days, the odds of a breakthru app are virtually zero. The flipside of the competition is a smorgasbord of app-development tools designed to make development easier. Now, developers can take advantage of a wealth of tools and frameworks available for:
- Quick, cross-platform development (like Appcelerator's Titanium)
- Well-developed single-sign-on APIs to make it easy for your users to create new accounts using their Facebook credentials
- Lots of money flowing around to help successful apps scale
APPO: What apps (outside of those that you develop) inspire you the most and why?
JO: Besides 5Degrees CRM, which I use for all of my networking and account management, I basically use apps for broadcasting information, consuming information, or to help me when I am travelling.
- Broadcasting: Hootsuite, Facebook, Foursquare
- Consumption: Flipboard, Hootsuite, Facebook, Pandora, Yelp
- Traveling: United, Transit Stop, Uber, Occasionally Eventbrite
- Gorgeous apps I look to for inspiration: Clear, Path, Orchestra, Any.do
I also use the standard Apple native apps (Mail, Messages, Phone, etc).
APPO: Where do you see the most innovation in the app sector?
JO: I see a few trends:
Developers can mash up a half-dozen (or more) different APIs to create relevant, real-time productivity tools that fundamentally change how people can get things done.
Consumer apps are getting to the point of becoming full-blown software now. Many startup technology businesses are starting with a mobile app first, as the development is generally quicker than on the web and distribution is easier. By starting mobile-first, the resulting web applications are simpler and easier to learn how to use that software built prior to mobile. We are certainly an example of this trend.
APPO: How do you harness that innovation in your own titles?
JO: We’ve fused the best attributes of native mobile applications--speed, standard user interface, mashed-up APIs, and data that remains resident in the device even without a connection--into our mobile business software. All of our users' data syncs with our cloud, and they can access it on their web browser when they are back in the office. But they can also manage their contacts with our apps even if they don't have a live connection. Our approach saves them time and money because they don’t have to have expensive data plans to use our apps.
APPO: In such a crowded space, explain how you generate awareness and drive downloads to your applications.
JO: When we only had our mobile app available, we would experiment with the App Store metadata--that's the info you read about the app in an app store – as certain words and terms impact discoverability in the App Store. The most successful developers figure out how to make their apps more discoverable through the use of app names, tags, and content. We are experimenting with a variety of sales and awareness strategies right now. We are seeding the app among real estate agents and insurance sales professionals, and we give every user that signs up a welcome phone call where we offer to walk them through how to use the app.
APPO: What are the biggest technical constraints that exist today in the app sector?
JO: We see tremendous constraints for iPhone/iPad developers like us. Apple restricts access to some key features in the call log and contacts workflow, making it very hard to provide enough value to users to replace the need for them to use the native iOS Contacts application. We've seen a number of players try to displace the iPhone's Contacts List to varying degrees of success. These limitations are some of the reasons we have focused on solving mobile business challenges as opposed to positioning ourselves as a mass-consumer application.
Android developers do not have the same constraints, making it a more attractive platform for consumer-oriented contact solutions.
APPO: How do you (or will you) make money from your application?
JO: We charge a monthly fee for use. We have three plans, ranging from $9.99 – $24.99 per month per user, depending on premium features. We also offer a 14-day free trial. Our app is available for free but it requires an account to have been created online.
APPO: What advice do you have to those working on their first applications?
JO: Make sure you are solving a problem. Once you know you are solving a problem, be sure to speak with people before you start coding. Ask them if they will pay for your app. More generally, be sure to plan on supporting your app after you launch it. That's when the job actually begins. So budget time and money to keep it updated and fresh.
APPO: Where do you see the app sector one year from now? Five years from now?
JO: In one year: We will see a continued push towards the "consumerization of enterprise," as iPads become increasingly common in enterprise. Enterprise contracts can be incredibly lucrative for developers looking to bootstrap a business. Blackberry will also probably be effectively dead within the next year.
In five years: HTML5 and mobile-web based apps will become much more prevalent. Native apps will certainly still have a place on people's devices due to their speed and efficiency, but as our society becomes increasingly connected via Wi-Fi, web-based apps will become a much better investment for developers.