Startup Tech Stack is a regular segment where we sit down to chat with an up and coming startup to find out about their project, what technologies their using and what they’re excited about in technology at the moment.
This week we talk to Ignacio “Nacho” Martin, co-founder of Hong Kong based start-up Smartcasual who are looking to redefine networking by building an open-for-meeting professional networking application.
Thanks for taking the time to chat Nacho, let’s get straight in- tell us a bit about Smartcasual. Where did the idea come from and what does it do?
Thank you Sam. Smartcasual is the easiest and most convenient professional networking app. Our main focus is making connections offline. The way it works is very simple, users can make themselves available at a specific time and place, other users can then request to meet them there if it's convenient for them, this way we take all the hassle of arranging the meeting away.
Before working on Smartcasual, my partner and I worked on another project - a peer to peer currency exchange app called Swop (www.swopfx.com).
During the development of this product we realised how difficult it is to actually connect with the right people when you need help. Using LinkedIn you have to go through the painful process of sending the connection request, hope for the other person to approve, then write a cold email to them and if they reply, then write another 3 to 5 emails to arrange a meeting. After we stopped working on Swop we decided to solve this problem, and that's here Smartcasual began.
Where in the launch process are you now?
We released our first version for iOS on October 8th, and since then we have already launched 3 app updates. We have over 500 users at the moment and growing every day. We still consider the current app an MVP (minimum viable product), but we are trying to make it better and add value for users with every update.
An application like this relies pivotally on user acquisition and retention to be successful. What’s been your plan for picking up users?
We are aware of that "problem", and that is why we are focusing our marketing efforts in Hong Kong, where we currently have 80% of our users. Since we are a very small startup (only 2) and we are bootstrapping the project at the moment, our budget is extremely limited, so our strategy is inbound marketing. We are running campaigns on our social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, G+, Instagram and LinkedIn) as well as writing short articles on Medium and LinkedIn Pulse, all of these are designed to reach Hong Kong crowd for now.
We are also preparing some offline marketing campaigns. For example, one we are looking at right now consists of setting up a photo booth in the busy streets of Hong Kong where users can take a professional photo for for their social profiles, in exchange for downloading and sharing Smartcasual.. We’re also very active at networking events across the city, contacting the organisers and asking them to allow us to pitch the app to their attendees at the end of the event. We are following the recommendations of the article "Do things that don't scale" by Paul Graham.
You’ve chosen to launch initially on iOS only. Why is that? Can we expect Android or a web-app to follow?
The choice of iOS over Android is purely because with our skills we could bring the app to the market much faster on iOS than Android (the app was developed, from idea conception to MVP in 2 and a half months).
We studied both options and came to the conclusion that the iOS market was suitable to test the concept and see if users were interested.
We are taking this time to improve the app learning from the users' feedback so we can solve the problem in a way that really helps the final user. Releasing an Android version is at the very top of our priorities, we have already started working on the skeleton and we will give it a big push as soon as our feature set has suitably matured in iOS.
One are we’re not sure about yet is a web version. The experience on the web with location based apps is not yet as good as native apps, and we don't want to compromise on user experience, so for now we will focus on the iOS and Android ecosystems.
Let’s talk technology. What tech are you using for Smartcasual, front and back end?
On the front end we are using native code in ObjectiveC, with some components already on Swift, we are working on the transition to a fully Swift system. We are using cocoapods to manage our library dependencies too, which helps a lot, but can give you a few headaches as well messing up the IDE sometimes.
For the backend we chose to go with Parse.com, a Facebook BaaS (Backend as a Service) solution that makes development of small and medium apps extremely fast and easy.
Parse is an interesting choice. I’ve played with it myself and found the iOS integration to be very opinionated. Are you enjoying working with it? How well do you think it will scale as you continue to grow?
There are a lot of articles around the pros and cons of Parse for app development, so I won't go into much detail on that. It is true that there are some important limitations and we are a bit hesitant about how it will scale when we have a lot of users. However, we never really looked at Parse as a long term solution, the idea is to keep using Parse during our user validation stage and develop our own backend as we get bigger. I think Parse reduces the risk of startups for product validation because the development is so fast that you hardly need to invest anything, plus the free layer of the service is definitely enough to test your product's acceptance in the market.
When you don't have money you really need to maximise the resources you have. We know that at some point we will have to go through a migration process, but if things go well we will already have some help at that point. We think it's better to go through that pain then than not even having the chance to do it at all.
What are you excited about in technology at the moment? What technologies are you playing around with both in and out of work?
I am very interested in Google's Go language (golang.org), I read some very good things about it and I'm starting to play with it a little bit. It is one of the languages that I'm considering for the new backend of Smartcasual when we need to update it.
For Android development I’m exploring React Native, so far it looks like a good option, and I’m quite impressed with its performance.
At a personal level I am very interested about everything around IoT as well, although I haven't had a chance to play much with it.
If you could give one piece of advice to a developer who always wanted to do a startup but was too afraid to make the jump, what would it be?
Meet as many people working in startups as you can, network with them, buy them a coffee and spend some time listening to what their life is like in a startup. Get first hand feedback on what launching a startup is like - the good and the bad! Most startup founders, myself included, are driven by passion and that passion can be extremely inspiring for anyone who is thinking of taking that step too.
You can connect to a lot of startup founders using Smartcasual btw ;) We welcome your feedback!
Smartcasual is available in the app store now.