From ‘headaches’ to ‘wow’ moments: Buzinga’s MD on growing a ‘cool’ mobile app developer


Front and centre: Graham McCorkill with Buzinga's management team

Named one of Australia’s ten coolest tech companies, two years running, Buzinga App Development was co-founded by Melburnians Graham McCorkill and Logan Merrick to build a mobile app that had failed to attract a technically capable developer.

While that particular app has yet to be realised five years on, the start-up’s success is anything but a pipedream – with an award-winning design portfolio that boasts several chart-topping apps for its clients, it has averaged 30% year-on-year growth.

McCorkill spoke to Dynamic Business about pushing the boundaries of technology to create ‘wow’ moments for the end user of Buzinga’s apps; his desire to work with clients who wants to change their customer’s lives; the importance of being transparent with staff; the rash decisions that have caused him headaches and why not having a mobile strategy puts businesses at a disadvantage.

DB: What is the core service Buzinga offers clients?

McCorkill: We pride ourselves on being Australia’s leading user engagement-focused app agency. Our specialty is designing and executing intuitive mobile experiences for businesses, big and small, looking to scale and create a standout presence for them. Our core service is end-to-end product design, development and ongoing optimisation. We begin by working with businesses or individuals to first refine strategy, then design a killer product to meet their objectives, followed by the build, launch and ongoing optimisation.

We take app analytics so seriously that we hired Joe Russell as our User Engagement Director. He’s worked with companies such as Coca Cola and New Mexico Tourism, designing cutting edge software and innovative solutions to improve customer engagement. We’ve also built a team who plan, implement and analyse analytics data to understand how to make ongoing improvements to apps.

DB: What led you and Merrick to co-found Buzinga?

McCorkill: I met Logan in late 2011 when I approached the app development company he was working for about an app idea I had. He worked on the idea with me and helped create a commercial product strategy with the potential to disrupt the market I was targeting. During this time, we realised we’d make great business partners. Unfortunately, I discovered the company itself was not technically capable of actually developing the app (their tech scope document for my app was complete nonsense), so I decided to go down a different path.

A few months later, however, Logan called to say he’d left that company and to ask how I was going with the app. After telling him that I was still looking for a solid app development company, we decided to partner and build it ourselves. Critically, when we decided to start Buzinga in 2012 it was because we saw a gap in the market for an app developer that offered early-stage start-ups great customer service, including consultancy, reporting and a truly collaborative partnership. We felt there were a lot of developers doing the wrong thing by their clients – and it’s still happening now.

From there, we began assembling a team of designers, developers and testers, many of whom are still working for Buzinga today! Once word got out that we knew how to build an app, we were inundated with other people asking us to build apps for them. Consequently, we became so busy growing the business that we never got around to creating the app we’d partnered on! I couldn’t tell you what it was, as I still plan on building it in the coming years!

DB: How does Buzinga today compare to Buzinga of 2012?

McCorkill: We’ve grown a lot as a business. We spent the first 18 months ‘incubating’ in my lounge-room in Prahran, Victoria. We now have 30 employees in our newly-refurbished Richmond office. Our business has continued to change, learning from the mistakes we’ve made and adjusting with the rapidly changing technology market. True to his nature as a serial entrepreneur, Logan stepped away from Buzinga early this year to pursue new business ventures. What excites me is what’s possible with apps today compared with when we first started Buzinga. We no longer ask, “Can we do it?” Now the question is “How can we do it?” We are seeing the integration of AR, VR and AI transforming experiences for people across numerous verticals.

DB: What strategic value do apps provide businesses?

McCorkill: A mobile strategy must be a part of a contemporary business strategy if your customer base is on mobile, which (fun fact) they are. By mid-2015, smartphone ownership in Australia was sitting at around 15.3 million. By not having an effective mobile strategy, businesses are limiting the channels through which they can interact with their user base, whatever their game is – marketing, sales, educational purposes, etc. Apps have been proven to help with everything from engaging customers, limiting employee churn and opening up entirely new revenue streams. My ideal client wants to add value to the lives of their customers through mobile apps whilst pushing the boundaries of what’s been done in their industry previously.

DB: How would you quantify Buzinga’s success to date?

McCorkill: Just as there are different metrics for app engagement, there are a number of ways I measure Buzinga’s success.

We’ve worked with over 250 clients and the reason why we have good days in the Buzinga office is that we’re making positive changes in their organisations and they’re seeing great results. Some of the businesses we’ve worked with include Brauz, a shopping app with over $1m in venture capital funding, and multinational steel producer Bluescope, which approached us to develop an app that would improve OHS procedures. As a result of our strong company mission to build apps that make a real and positive impact, we’ve averaged 30% year-on-year revenue growth.

A number of the products we’ve built have large user bases including FoodSwitch, which is used by one in ten Australians, with 99.9% uptime since launch. FoodSwitch is one of several Buzinga-built apps to hit #1 on the Appstore, with another being That Sugar App. As a result of trending on the Appstore, Ice Effex – a social good app – was even featured on US TV show ‘The Doctors’.

On the strength of our design portfolio, we’ve secured Gold wins at the Australian App Design Awards for three consecutive years. We’ve also been recognised by BRW as a Top 100 Australian Fast Starter (2015). Our other accolades include making it into Job Advisor’s Top 10 Coolest Tech Companies for the past two years.

DB: What does it mean to be labelled a cool company?

McCorkill: Being recognised by Job Advisor in this way was gratifying because having a great work culture where everyone strives to do the right thing by clients is something we prioritise and take great pride in. It means we attract and retain the best talent, and that staff remain highly motivated, which in turn means great results for our clients! I believe the secret to our culture is transparency. We are very open with the team about our financials and the challenges we are facing as a business, which motivates the team to work together to build the company. We focus on ensuring our team use the word ‘we’ and ‘our’ when referring to Buzinga.

DB: What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

McCorkill: Growth – if it isn’t managed properly, it can be both a difficult and scary experience, particularly for a service-based business such as Buzinga. When you’re a start-up, decisions have to be made quickly during the growth phase, particularly around hiring; however, making snap hiring decisions can result in a headache down the track. If I were to look back 18 months ago, I would have invested more time into nurturing a talent development pipeline to avoid making rash decisions.

DB: Has your team been affected by the visa reforms?

McCorkill: When news of the 457 visa changes first broke, it resulted in few stressful days at the office because we weren’t sure how it would affect our staff. Our Quality Assurance Manager, who is on a 457 visa, discovered his job was now on the non-sponsored list, meaning his plan to obtain permanent residency would be compromised. Fortunately, the backlash the Government faced following the reforms caused them to back-peddle on a few changes, meaning his job was safe.

We also have another employee who’d been working with us on a 457 visa prior to obtaining permanent residency over a year ago. He’d applied for his wife to come and live in Australia but was told, following the changes, there would now be a very significant delay. Under the old laws, he only had to wait a year on his permanent residency visa to bring her over. The changes, however, meant he not only needed to spend three years as permanent resident but wait an additional year before his wife could join him – that’s a total of four year! There was a concern he’d have to leave the country just to be with his wife. Fortunately, after speaking with the Department, they agreed to honour the application in its original form, which we’re happy about – he’s a great asset to the company.

DB: Have the visa reforms affected your hiring strategy?

McCorkill: Considering the number of tech related jobs on the non-sponsored list, it could potentially affect us. Our hiring strategy is mostly inbound, our company is well known for its great culture and we have resumes arriving on our desks daily. It would become an issue if the PERFECT hire was from overseas, but we are currently very happy with the local talent that Australia has been producing in the technology industry over the past year or so.

DB: Has there been a key moment that triggered growth?

McCorkill: One of the defining moments for the company was winning the FoodSwitch project with The George Institute for Global Health, which was sponsored by Bupa. The FoodSwitch app has had over two million downloads and has been rolled out in over six countries and in three different languages. The app allowed us to not just showcase, but really push, our technical capability. 

DB:  Looking to the year ahead, what’s the priority? 

McCorkill: We’ll be challenging our technical expertise by taking user engagement to a new level – Joe [Russel] was hired to help us with this pursuit. We’ll be pushing the boundaries of technology to build more ‘wow’ moments into our apps.