Starting out as childhood friends from a small town in India, Intel® Black Belt Software Developers & Intel® Software Innovators George S. Christopher and Suresh Kumar Gunasekaran started their careers working for multinational corporations before stepping out to build their own company. Along the way they’ve learned a lot, won some major competitions, and grown their little app development business into a million dollar company in Chennai that continues to help other young people from small villages learn valuable skills in technology.
Tell us about your background.
We are the founders of MacAppStudio, but we began as two childhood friends from Trichy, a small town in India. After working in multinational corporations we started creating apps together and started winning app developer challenges. We were even the first in India to get the prestigious award of becoming Intel® Black Belt Software Developers. We also were awarded Intel’s Most Valuable Developer and won three Intel developer app challenges, and other developer challenges, with total cash prizes of more than $100K USD. George is a hardcore developer, and I, Suresh, am the creative product designer that takes care of business. While I am very aggressive, George is conventional so we balance in the middle and make our decisions in the best interest of our customer and always operate to our values and principles.
When we quit our high paying jobs, with H1 visa offers, to start our own company everyone around us thought we were crazy. My wife was expecting our second baby and George just had his first son. People said we were idiots and we lost the support of all but our closest family and friends. It was the toughest phase of our lives. But, we started creating quality apps and held true to our beliefs.
At the time, we believed that if we could create that one awesome app, that it would be life-changing for us. That it would give us enough cash to really take off. In reality, while our apps went on to hit the top charts in the MacAppStore the finances didn’t come in as expected.
But we didn’t let that get us down, we stayed strong and kept our focus on creating a great product rather than searching for an investor or doing social networking. We had passion and persistence and kept working hard at doing what we love. We knew that we were designing apps that were solving our client’s problems and that all of our hard work would pay off.
We have seen highs and lows, from the top of a mountain back down to rock bottom. We’ve had times when we were not able to pay our loans or even pay $5 USD doctor fees, but nevertheless, we never considered giving up and we just kept focusing on doing what we did best and building the apps that we loved. With God’s grace, a lot of hard work, and many sleepless nights we’ve now bootstrapped our way to a million dollar company.
Tell us about starting your company.
When we first started we worked for six months before moving into a small office that didn't even have a fan. It was hot in Chennai, we were sweating and the power would be cut for hours at a time; but the hotter it got, the harder we worked. We wanted to make sure that anything we bought for the office was bought using money generated by the company. After a few months we bought a fan, then a power inverter, and finally our first AC unit. Along with our time and energy, the only real investment we made to start our company was a loan to purchase two top end MacBook* Pros.
The first two years were quite tumultuous and we weren't comfortable bringing on any additional employees so we designed all of the products and did all of the development work ourselves. Working day and night, it was a crazy, hectic schedule, but not once did we regret our decision to take this on. It was all about two friends who happily meet up, have a coffee, design and code what we love for long hours.
In 2015 we felt confident that we could expand, so we hired two additional people to work with us. Then in early 2016 we grew even more to a staff of 40. We have built a culture where hardcore values and hard work is recognized and immediate rewards are given when earned rather than based on time with the company. Everyone gets an opportunity here. We start you off with an old laptop and when you successfully complete a project you get an iMac immediately. We’ve seen some of our staff get double promotions within just 3 weeks of joining following this process of hard work.
We personally mentor and train everyone. We take pride in taking care of them, giving them accommodations, food, and everything they need to make them comfortable. This frees them up so they only have one thing to focus on, which is to work hard. Most of the people we employ are from small villages and towns and could not even communicate well in English when they started. But they code like hell and we have shipped products to Silicon Valley Startups as well as Big Giants like Intel. We are one family, one team, with one vision.
With our larger staff we have moved into a new office, but we still keep the small, old office around as part of our value and sentiment. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and coming from a non-business family we are happy and humble that we have been able to bootstrap this far and this is just the first step of success. We have a long way to go and we are coming up with more and more great products every day.
Tell us about your business culture?
Culture is everything to us. When people come to work for us we never show them a fancy office full of game tables and bean bag chairs.
We don’t promise big salary appraisals or nice, shiny things. Instead we ask them where they come from; what their father does. 80% of our employees come from single parent homes, and they come from families that are farmers, tailors, electricians, and painters. We give them two rules to start: first that they must work hard, and second, that if they lie they will be fired immediately. We teach them that skills matter the most; tools just help them to do the job faster. Tools without skills are useless. If there is something we’ve learned along our journey it is to be truthful in what you do, don’t lie to yourself or others, and sharing your knowledge will come back in your favor.
How has your company grown over the years?
We started with MacAppStudio which focused on apps for Mac OSX originally. It is an app development company that enables startups and businesses by developing products for Mac, iOS, Android* and the web. We may charge 10x more than average companies but return on investment and make sure they turn into successful companies. It’s a true partnership and long-time relationship between us and our customers.
We also have our BlueInnovation team which focuses on Intel® RealSense™ technology, VR, AI, cutting edge technologies and Windows* software applications. And our RocketXLabs team focuses on IoT developments. We currently have two offices with another under construction that will be completed soon. All of our teams operate under one management.
We believe in having a quality team and would like to keep it as small as we can. We feel that one of our employees is equal to 10 in a normal MNC as our employees deliver world class work in rapid time. In the future, if demand requires that we grow, we would like to keep the team to a staff of less than 100.
You have quite the process down for app development. Very detailed and specific, and even offer a free version in 24 hrs and first basic version in 5 days. This seems to be working very well for you. Is this a different approach than your competitors take?
Most of our customers have burned through a lot of time and money with other developer companies before they come to us. So, in order to create that initial trust, instead of giving reference apps, we take the toughest feature of their app and do a quick prototype of it in 24-60 hours depending upon the complexity. It gives them a huge amount of confidence in working with us, and shows the customer that we understand their vision and are able to deliver in the timeline promised. This is how we have bagged projects up to $1 million USD without even meeting face-to-face. Our customers see our values, ethics, and delivery excellence and many of them continue the relationship with us as their technical partners. This is our unique style of giving confidence to customers rather than giving references; if they can see their own app and their vision in our work, why go with someone else.
How does being an Intel® Black Belt Software Developer set you apart?
Being an Intel® Black Belts Software Developer and our association with Intel, as well as awards like Most Valuable Developers sets us apart from the rest of the world. It has helped customers choose to work with us rather than others. Being technology experts, Black Belt recognition by Intel has been an awesome credibility to us. So far we have been lucky enough to choose our customers rather than the other way around. We see the value, and not the money, in each and every project. We have a relationship with our customers and it has to be a happy partnership. The Black Belt designation has always given our customers that trust to start our professional relationship with, then they see our work and continue as our customer.
What projects are you working on now?
Every day we get close to 4-5 project requests and we are choosy in which ones we decide to take on. We are currently working on 12 projects with customers in the pipeline waiting to work with us. Our quality deliverables and timeliness are our strengths. We see our customers as partners and it’s a journey both in tough and good times. We either develop a world class product which adds value to our customer or else we don’t take on the work. Building yet another crap app would never help anyone. We have even published a blog to help our potential customers identify good or bad developers to work with.
Tell us about a technology challenge you’ve had to overcome in a project.
Technology has always kept us burning the midnight oil. We have worked in cutting edge technologies to the development of OS and we learn things in every project we take on. Three things we've learned are: 1) we typically recommend native technology tools over hybrid, as 3rd party tools often need to wait to implement the new features in their SDK; 2) time is crucial in business and technology is always an enabler. It enables and amplifies the process. If the process is efficient it amplifies, the same applies to inefficient processes; but 3) the biggest challenge that we typically deal with has nothing to do with technology and rather is in the minds of the customer. Technology is quite black and white, but customer’s minds and opinions are not as clear and concise.
What trends do you see happening in technology in the near future?
I believe that over the next 5 years, mobile is going to be more productive and fun. Mobile in the hands has been a powerful device to reach people and it has been enabling many business on the go. We also see IoT growing, and AI as well, but it is further down the road, maybe 3-5 years before it is in a shape to reach the majority of people and business.
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