Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

DM: So Nick, Mippin has been around about as long as we have so the company is pretty well known, but perhaps for the wrong thing. The last time we spoke, I gave you my take on what Mippin was, a platform for mobilising web content on the fly, and you very kindly put me right and explained how that perception was a couple of years out of date, so what’s the true story of what Mippin is and does today?

NB: That’s exactly right. I often tell people we are the biggest apps company no one has ever heard of. If you look at our history, we did apps before apps really existed back in 2005. Then in 2007 we stopped doing apps, just before the iPhone came along and created a consumer-facing content portal and a platform for creating a branded mobile site on the fly.

DM: So how did you make money at that time?

NB: Through advertising. We tried to acquire an audience by buying search terms and then monetise that through advertising. The CPMs were actually a lot healthier than they were now, but there was nothing like the volume there is today and it was pretty tough to make money. I came on board in 2007, and we changed our approach. We got back into apps and looked for a way to use apps to support handset makers and telcos. The result of this was the Mippin App Factory, which is a simple, zero-code platform that enables anyone to build a native app in less than 10 minutes for any device at a cost of around £3,000 – £6,000 as a managed service, or less if you do it yourself.

DM: So given that there are lots of out there charging many times that for doing an app, what’s the catch?

NB: The catch is that the apps are designed to do one simple thing. They are great for publishers, where it’s all about content distribution, as opposed to a bespoke app. We take a very focused approach to this. When we are looking at a new platform, it will take us three months and £30-£50,000 of development resource to build the first one. Once we’ve built it, we submit it, optimise it, improve it, and then strip out the content, the colours and the branding, and we are and left with a  wireframe shell, and it’s this that we can repurpose for any other publisher, so that £30-£50,000 development cost is amortises 100 times.

DM: And you’re solely focused on the publishing sector?

NB: To date, yes, everything from huge publishers like Northern & Shell down to niche bloggers. We’ve seen 50,000 apps built on the platform, which we think makes us the largest app developer or publisher in the world. Or put another way, the biggest app developer no one’s heard of.

Clearly, there are a lot more publishers we can work with, and a lot more we can do. A lot of them are spending £30-£50,000 on a bespoke app, and the quality is no better than what our platform can produce. OK magazine is a point in case. The app has 14m page views on iOS alone last month, and the Windows Phone 7 version will feature in the Nokia Lumia TV commercial; it’s a top quality app.

DM: But presumably you meet resistance on the grounds that something that cheap, in the low-cost sense of the word, can’t be that good?

NB: Indeed, there is a strong argument for putting the price up. But we are more focused on looking at other verticals, where we are taking what we are calling a “refreshingly simple” approach, using HTML5 to create web apps that have a distinctly native look and feel.

DM: So where are you targeting these?

NB: Property is one area. Most estate agents have a fully functional app that replicates the website and enables you to search for properties in a given area at a given price point, but what if you had an app for each property, a digital brochure for that property that you could download by scanning a QR code and easily install as an icon on one of your homescreens. We think we could create these apps on our platform and sell them for maybe £50 per property to the larger agents, who will spend more than that on the photography or the floorplan for the property.

DM: Any other sectors?

NB: Yes, restaurants. And also, businesses that rely on repeat calls, such as taxi services. Download the app by scanning a QR code on a taxi or a poster, load the icon on the homescreen, then when you click on it is initiates a call to the taxi firm. We think this could work well for all sorts of local businesses, electricians, plumbers, and using HTML5, you get something that avoids the app store submission approach, and with a – done a template did one native one with a few minor tweaks, works across all platforms.

DM: And globally, where do you do most of your business. How much is outside the UK?

NB: The App Factory is white-labelled and sold to handset makers and mobile operators so they can use it to generate app content for their own app stores. We work with three of the top five handset makers globally, so in total, I would say less than 25 per cent of the apps built on our platform hail from the UK.

DM: And what about headcount?

NB: 14, with a strong bent towards engineers/developers. They account for 11 out of the 14 people, and we’re looking for more.

DM: And what if someone knocked on your door and said look, we’re not a publisher or any other type of business that you typically work with, but we like what you do, we want a bespoke, £30,000 app building from scratch. Would you turn that down? It’s not a bad day’s work after all.

NB: If we could scale it up as we do with the App Factory apps maybe, but otherwise, probably not. You never say never, but our thinking at the moment is that we like models that are replicable, so that’s our focus.