Ernest Hemmingway was a wise man. After all, it is he who is quoted: “The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience, while the error of age is to believe experience is a substitute for intelligence.”
Yet, were Hemmingway to have met Appster founders Josiah Humphrey and Mark McDonald, he might have seen cause to review his theory.
Humphrey and McDonald are 22 and 21 years old respectively, and after starting a digital marketing business together in their (early!) teens – barely out of high school two years ago, the pair were ready for their next business venture.
“Me and Mark owned a marketing agency a couple of years ago, and speaking to clients I suppose we got a bit of a look into the app industry, and both of us being quite entrepreneurial, we loved app development and the idea you could build an application and start a business that way,” Humphrey says.
From that seed of an idea, the friends decided they would try their hands at starting their own app development company. “Basically the inspiration is really where it started – looking around at other app development companies, we thought we’d try it,” McDonald says.
Most start-ups spend their early days in a garage or basement. Appster started in the most prestigious building in Melbourne. “Basically we started Appster when I was finishing high school. And we said what a crazy thing it would be to get an office in the Rialto Towers, because it would just be so crazy at such a young age – but that’s what we did and that’s really how it started. We got a new office in the Rialto Towers and started building the company,” McDonald says
The pair have a palpable chemistry, and it’s as though the interview is with a single individual – Humphrey chimes in, “It was good though because it got us out of our comfort zone and we thought, ‘oh crap – we’ve got to make the rent now!’”
Humphrey and McDonald both contributed a few thousand dollars each in start-up capital, and as yet haven’t taken on outside loans. With an aggressive growth strategy in mind – which involves conquering 42 countries over the next three to five years – they now have plans afoot to seek outside funding.
“The ambition is to grow it into a multi-million dollar technology company. We see where we’re at now, we’ve got a couple million dollars in revenue each year, and we can see forward to what we’re trying to create,” McDonald says.
With some high profile business under their belt, having created apps for big names such as Hamish and Andy, two years in their initial ‘fake it till you make it’ style strategy is starting to pay off. Their HQ office is in Melbourne, and combined with an office in India, and overseas contractors, Appster employees close to 100 staff and counting.
However they haven’t got there by thinking they can do it all. “On my side of things, one of the biggest challenges has been finding enough talent and training them, particularly in this industry. The IT industry is incredibly competitive, and particularly the app industry. Getting the right people and keeping them loyal has been a really big challenge,” McDonald says, adding that recruiting those with the right experience has been key to their people strategy.
“Between our office in India and our office in Melbourne, we’ve got some really experienced people who have wanted to jump on board – they’ve seen our vision as a company and what we’re trying to do. Managing staff, at just 22, I mean our chief technical officer is double my age – he’s literally been programming longer than I’ve been alive! So that’s sometimes a bit of a mind trick,” McDonald says.
Humphrey agrees emphatically, and says they remain heavily involved in their recruitment process. “For us, and more than anything else in the company, we really put people first – there’s obviously the big vision of what we want to achieve, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to the people who are actually involved. We’re really obsessed with making sure we find the right people and right now me and Mark are still heavily involved with the HR side of things.”
The long term vision for this entrepreneurial duo is to cultivate the greatest ideas and innovations in the world. “For us we think that if we can really position ourselves and become known for amazing execution of products, that’s when people will know to come to us and know that it’ll be done really well,” Humphrey says.
To get there, the pair are certainly willing to be patient.
“While we employ really senior employees, we’ve been very much about the delayed gratification rather than taking money out of the business. Josiah and me are literally the lowest paid people in the company!”
Photo: Melbourne Appster team. Josiah Humphrey (back row left); Mark McDonald (back row right)