Jan Kamiński of Applover: “Do good and give back”

To create a successful app you need to know what is your business model and goal and think it through so the app serves its purpose. To do so, we always recommend our custom software development clients to have workshops with us. We have a proven track record of this workflow, and we see how […]

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To create a successful app you need to know what is your business model and goal and think it through so the app serves its purpose. To do so, we always recommend our custom software development clients to have workshops with us. We have a proven track record of this workflow, and we see how it helps clarify clients’ ideas for their business and digital products. Our workshops allow them to gain different insights and perspectives on their idea and we always come to conclusion on how to create the best possible product so their business needs are met but also users want to use it.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jan Kamiński.

Jan Kamiński, is the Co-Founder and Head of Sales at Applover, a full-stack digital agency. He is a Forbes 25 under 25 nominee and Startup enthusiast. He believes that building long-lasting business relationships is the key to success.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My experience is derived from products, I used to build sightseeing applications for tourists sold in the B2G model to the cities. We have served over 50 cities in Poland in our time. At some point, our business model started to fail and the company ceased to be profitable. It was 2015 and most of the companies around us were doing custom software, especially in Wrocław. Poland’s IT capital also grew at a tremendous pace. We decided that maybe we will try to develop an IT service company, supported by the experience of building our digital products. We knew what pains and gains were when creating an MVP, so we wanted to use it in founding a full-stack digital agency. In these few years, we have scaled up to almost 60 people, creating software for over 100 clients from all over the world. This is how Applover was founded and my journey as a Founder and Head of Sales began.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

My “Aha Moment” is also related to the history of an earlier startup. While expanding it, a client came to us and asked if we would like to create a similar application for him. Then we also realized how huge the (technological) market is and how big the demand is for reliable and professional developers. However, there was no “Aha Moment”, rather we naturally saw that this is a path that may prove to be sensible in terms of a pivot. Just by building an earlier company, we have developed a vision of a new entity that is much more profitable (of course on paper then) and has a greater potential for growth. Obviously, it was connected with a lot of changes, because running a product and service company is two different things.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Applover’s first and second years were difficult. It is said that it usually takes about 2 years for founders to stabilize a company, but in the software industry, I have the impression that it never happens.

The first 2 years we had notorious difficulties with cash flow, bailiffs on the head and a huge employee turnover. Honestly, I don’t know how we survived it. It took us 2 years to stabilize sales and finances in the company and to develop an effective project and personnel management process. Without huge founders’ motivation, we’d probably just throw it all to hell. In retrospect, the mistakes we made obviously gave us a lot of know-how, but I think we started running the company a bit too early (I was 22 at the time). Virtually no business experience (for instance, collected as an employee of a similar company, etc.) could be felt in the first years of operation. Now it seems to me that it was not the most sensible way. At the very beginning, we lacked a lot of competencies and the fact that we survived can only be attributed to people who trusted us and continued to work with us. Because how can you explain that despite the lack of cash flow and stability for 3 months, employees continued to trust us? Probably only that they believed in us and Applover’s success. And for that, I am eternally grateful. We had, and have an amazing team.

On the other hand, the 3rd year of Applover’s operation was a breakthrough. Suddenly we achieved profitability, we won more customers, we introduced appropriate processes using the trial and error method and we managed to get the ship out of the sandbank. We are currently growing at a rate of 100% y/y, so I hope we will not slow down and grow even more!

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Now Applover looks completely different. 2019 brought the first external recruitment (before we grew mainly by referrals). We started to attract people from the outside, mainly managers and team leaders. There was a problem here. Is it better to promote people from your own organization or to recruit from the outside of your company? The first option has the risk that the person may be a great laborer, but have no idea of ​​team management and will fail in that aspect. The second option is much more costly. Getting people with experience is usually very expensive. We chose hybrid solutions and it seems to be working pretty well for us. A company with such a structure must start introducing appropriate processes, without it it will not grow and will not be able to scale. We focused very much on it and it seems to me that we are going in the right direction. Just recently we were recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in the CEE by Deloitte (Fast50 Ranking, #24 spot). This makes you believe that you made the right choices and you are going in the right direction with your business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

As I mentioned, we made a lot of mistakes. But probably one of the funniest ones was when we went to a fairly large industry conference. And at that time at conferences, we did not avoid alcohol. On the day before the party, we took it easy and let the steam go off. The next day my partner had a panel speech at 8:30 am with the presidents of several large cities and the president of the largest hotel chain in the CEE. It was a big expert panel. As you can probably guess, he did not look his best, he also spoke and communicated his thoughts not too brilliantly. The moderator of the meeting, on the other hand, confused the questions and instead of asking him about technologies and startups, he wanted him to answer the questions that were supposed to be responded to by the absent Polish minister of tourism. Completely hungover, Piotr was asked about the road infrastructure in Poland and the legal conditions of the investment. You probably guess that he was not hailed as the best expert at the conference. We quickly ran down the panel so as not to meet anyone’s eyes. Luckily, at 8:30, it didn’t have much attendance in the room.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There is huge competition for employees in the IT industry. Our rotation is 5 times lower than the industry average. It seems to me that it is a matter of developing an organizational culture, a friendly atmosphere and a specific atmosphere in the company. The first 30 employees were people with referrals, so really friends. To this day, most people stay together outside working hours, because they know each other from high school, university. These early adopters also carried this culture further with their behavior. Thus, it seems to me that the atmosphere in our company is truly unique. In addition, there is also a fairly flat management structure. We have always wanted to build a company in which we could work ourselves, without stiff bosses and managers. It seems to me that we have achieved this.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

About a year ago I started to do more sports. Recently, I even ran a sprint distance triathlon and was preparing for the Olympic distance. It is a truism, of course, sport is beneficial at many levels, but it really cleans the head. It reduces the feeling of pressure and stress. At present, I cannot imagine not spending some of my free time on this kind of activity. After a while, it becomes addictive, in a positive way. As a Founder of any company, you need to take care of yourself, clear your mind, and not work all the time. When you are stressed out, feel the pressure, you often make silly decisions, which leads to more stress and more bad decisions. Don’t go there, rest. It is also a great example for your team — they cannot be stressed while working with you.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have very fond memories of the support of the initial mentors who we were able to meet at Acceleration for Young Companies in Gdańsk, Poland (Starter Rocket). Nowadays, this program does not exist anymore. But I believe, it was one of the best preparation for young entrepreneurs to go out into the wider waters of business. What is more, it gave us minimal capital to start our own company. Series of workshops, networking as well as these relationships were invaluable in the next steps of Applover’s development and growth. In retrospect, experienced entrepreneurs gave us a lot of attention and time at calls, meetings, workshops, while back then we were kind of kids playing business. It seems to me that these meetings were personally memorable and they were the foundation of my decisions that if I had achieved such success as they had, I would like to share it with younger and less experienced people than me. I truly believe that acceleration programs and startup incubators can help you a lot when they are well-organized by smart people. Especially, when you are new in business and have no professional experience.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Well in the B2B industry when it comes to software development you cannot estimate all of the users that are using products you helped developed. But our new tool — Bench by Applover has now a database of over 100 developers. It is a tool for recruiting developers in the subscription model — kind of like Netflix but for software services. Every tech expert is prescanned — we are doing soft skills mapping, we created with psychology specialists from the SWPS University. Thanks to it, you can work with developers who really match your project, your organization’s culture and have adequate experience to your needs. We are really proud of Bench, and we are now focusing on its development and extending the database. Our clients are really satisfied with this solution so far. It is still young but it already helped us — thanks to it we were recognized in Deloitte Fast50 ranking in the CEE.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We bill clients monthly for the number of hours that developers worked on their products. It is pretty simple — when the client subscribes to Bench and decides on hiring let’s say 2 developers, they know their hourly rates and how much work is needed for their project to become a reality. On this basis, they are billed monthly in the subscription model.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

To create a successful app you need to know what is your business model and goal and think it through so the app serves its purpose. To do so, we always recommend our custom software development clients to have workshops with us. We have a proven track record of this workflow, and we see how it helps clarify clients’ ideas for their business and digital products. Our workshops allow them to gain different insights and perspectives on their idea and we always come to conclusion on how to create the best possible product so their business needs are met but also users want to use it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I simply believe that if you are given something, try to give back. Do good and give back. If you are lucky enough to not struggle during the global pandemic, right now, try to help others. At Applover, we are always operating with this idea in mind. That was why we decided to join Tech to the Rescue initiative and support NGOs that help fight the Covid-19 pandemic, and helped a great organization that allows you to easily donate to charity while shopping. It is called Altruisto, you can look for their browser plugin, install it and help others while online shopping.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on LinkedIn. I try to share some updates from Applover’s life there. To be updated on what is happening at Applover, you can also follow us on social media and visit our blog.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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