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Developing Minds Want to Know: Q&A with Quinton Alsbury of Roambi

by Brad Spirrison

Roambi provides polished business analytics tools and financial expertise to a wide range of companies. Through Roambi Analytics and Roambi Flow, their unparalleled services also available on iPhone and iPad, they make it a cinch for clients to monitor important business statistics.

Quinton Alsbury, co-founder and president of Product Innovation at Roambi, shared his thoughts on inspiration, innovation, and the misconception that apps are exclusively microware. He also provided a short history of his company, the services they offer, and dishes out advice for aspiring app developers.


Key Company Facts

Name and Title: Quinton Alsbury, co-founder and president of Product Innovation

Company: Roambi

Location: San Diego, CA

Size (Revenue and/or Employees): 150 Full-time employees

Primary Apps/Platforms: Roambi Analytics, Roambi Flow (both iOS Only)


APPOLICIOUS: What inspired you to become an app creator?

Quinton Alsbury: When the first iPhone came out it was obvious to us that a tectonic shift in computing and software was about to occur. With a completely different screen size, and interface paradigm, along with a huge leap in hardware specs from other "smart phones" on the market, we believed that traditional software would have to be completely rethought, redesigned, and reinvented. Having come from an enterprise software background, we decided to try and reinvent the category for the new world.

APPO: How long have you been developing apps, and what is the most significant difference between now and when you began?

QA: We formed our company in November 2007, five months before Apple announced the native SDK. We felt so strongly that the path forward would be to open the platform to true native software development that we took a huge gamble at the time and started hiring hackers to open up iOS so we could experiment with bringing some of our ideas to life. The biggest difference was the evolution of the platform, in contrast to those early days when it was purely experimental.

APPO: What apps (outside of those that you develop) inspire you the most and why? Where do you see the most innovation in the app sector?

QA: Since we are in the enterprise world, the biggest inspiration has been to look to the world of consumer applications as a model for how a mobile business app should look, feel, perform, and engage. One of the biggest shifts in application development from the traditional PC world to mobile is the counterintuitive concept (especially to enterprise software) of simplifying functionality. We are also focusing on building highly engaging user experiences that lead to recurring usage of business-related tools on the phone, instead of just waiting to get to a desk, hotel room, office, etc.

APPO: How do you harness that innovation in your own titles?

QA: We use all of the above from the ground up. We milk every ounce of functionality we can out of the hardware and software innovations coming out of Apple. These devices are far too powerful to be considered a dumb terminal to a server. They are becoming the primary device for millions and your product needs to respect that.

APPO: In such a crowded space, explain how you generate awareness and drive downloads to your applications.

QA: In many ways I like to equate the App Store to the iTunes music store. Marketing, PR, and promotional activities are an important component of any awareness strategy, but I believe at the end of the day, the quality of the experience is the critical success factor. The habit-forming usage of mobile devices breeds a highly viral environment where people that love an app will continuously use it, show and share it with peers, friends, and family. If you build something special, and get it into people’s hands, they become the best advocates for your app.

APPO: What are the biggest technical constraints that exist today in the app sector? How do you (or will you) make money from your application?

QA: As the hardware continues to increase in processing power and other hardware specs, we’re seeing that constraints are becoming abstracted. You truly are only limited by your imagination! If you approach mobile as a checkbox for an existing PC application, or a cheap marketing utility, you will never fully realize all opportunities it presents. Every couple of decades we see a huge leap in technology that forces the development world to change: the first was the PC, then the web, and now mobile. To fully take advantage you must embrace the nuances and the opportunity of the new technology.

We monetize our application by selling a backend server that is used by companies to extract data from their major data warehouses and business intelligence tools.

APPO: What advice do you have to those working on their first applications?

QA: Design your product. That means going beyond the UI, all the way to the architecture that in the end drives how your app looks, feels, moves, and performs. The margin for adoption in mobile is razor thin. Most people don't need mobile apps, but they download, buy, and use applications that give them an amazing experience and provide an invaluable service. They'll delete it from their phones, or abandon it to the back page and never open it again, literally within minutes of using it. Apps are like singles in music, they are the equivalent of the perfect three-minute song.

APPO: Where do you see the app sector one year from now? Five years from now?

QA: It will be interesting to see how the evolution of HTML5 begins to affect how people perceive apps both from the developer side and the consumer side. Will there be backlash against a unique app for every individual task, service, or destination? It looks to me like the app concept, instead of morphing back into the traditional PC model, is actually beginning to permeate back into PCs as OSX begins to look more and more like iOS, with the same being true for Windows 8. I can see a day where developing "apps" isn’t a term that’s specific to a small piece of a microware especially made for mobile devices.

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