Episode 20 – AppLabb

TheAppLabb, founded in Toronto in 2007, is a striking example of how digital services agencies need to stay on top of constantly accelerating technological innovation to not only remain relevant but grow.  In this session we sit down with its founder, Kundan Joshi.

*Learn more about Kundan’s company here: https://theapplabb.com/

[expand title=”Podcast Transcript”]

Qasim Virjee 0:15
All right back once again, for this time 20th edition of The Star Wars Podcast. I’m Qasim Virjee. The CEO and founder of start well here on King Street in our lovely, infamous or famous depends on who you know, studio. And this time around, I am sitting with my friend kundun, who is the founder of the App Lab. You might know the App Lab for being one of Toronto’s Premier, mobile app development firms, they do a lot more, I think we’re gonna dig into that in a second. It’s not just about mobile phones anymore. They do a lot more than just the apps that maybe when you founded the company, people were using. So welcome to the studio credit. It’s a pleasure to have you here.

Kundan Joshi 0:59
Well, thanks for having me. It’s very excited to be part of two part of your podcast.

Qasim Virjee 1:03
Yeah. So let’s jump in. Tell us a little bit about the App Lab. Let our listeners know what you guys do. And maybe we could start from the beginning. The company was founded back in

Kundan Joshi 1:13
2007. So 11 years now. Okay. Yeah, almost 12 years, actually.

Qasim Virjee 1:19
And the early days, what was it founded to do?

Kundan Joshi 1:22
Early days, it was a digital agency. So as founded to do to build websites to build software, to do social media marketing, so a bunch of different things. And then the iPhone came up, and we realized, hey, we need to be in the app business. So our claim to fame is that we’ve in the last 12 years to build more than 500 apps. That’s our bread and butter. That’s a lot. That’s a lot. Yeah, totally. For a wide range of clients. So you have the fortune 500. Like the Unilever’s and the Samsung’s and the Dells of the world, you have the mature like the Technion, and the park and flies and the depths of the world. And then we work with startups and scale up so you guys

Qasim Virjee 2:03
built this up? Read it. Yes, it’s the Toronto Film Festival for our listeners, Toronto International Film

Kundan Joshi 2:08
International Film Festival. So So yeah, so the whole range, where yeah, we will build apps. And that’s what we’ve been doing. But as you said, we’ve been, we’ve been evolving as the nature of the businesses. I mean, we didn’t start our company as an app development company, we started our company as enablers of better human experiences, through technology through cutting edge technology in a way that we can obviously create great businesses or successful businesses. So app was the a great format to enable that apps, successful apps must have great experiences. And as a result, they do have an impact on creating better experiences. But there’s a lot more than that. So. So today, we’ll be creating great experiences through apps, we’ll be creating great experiences through chatbots, we’ll be creating great experiences through augmented reality and virtual reality and Internet of Things, and so on and so forth. But our primary models are building custom apps for our clients, and using our platforms or app accelerators to help them build apps faster. So those are primary models.

Qasim Virjee 3:19
I remember years ago, you’re telling me about the concept of in the beginning, it felt like it was kind of like a white label. precursor to the end customer facing app, right thing that you’re getting maybe as a development firm, you guys are getting a lot of leads for a particular type of app. So you built something that almost anyone could use to speed up your development time, right? And then from there, it’s become something more of a platform layer for your offering.

Kundan Joshi 3:48
Exactly, exactly. So it’s I mean, it’s pretty much that it’s still a white labeled offering. In essence, however, the main room in the market that we see is you have SAS and you have custom apps, we play in the middle space, because we realize that in order to create a great experience for your venture, you can really go with a SAS option. Any SAS option, especially for mobile, that you will see will have a limited amount of customization. Whereas regardless of whether we build a custom app, or we build using one of our white label products, we always ensure we go through the entire UX process, understanding the customer understanding the right experience to build for them. And as a result of that the UI or the design of the app will likely change. So to do it in a SAS way where it’s cookie cutter is becomes very difficult. But we’ve created a model where we can reuse as much as possible of the backend services have also the front end we built it in a very modular way. But at the same time allow for that customization either in phase one or definitely in the future phases.

Qasim Virjee 4:54
It’s funny because a lot of like hardcore programmers as like up turn their nose at me. Uh huh. I’ve said this in the past, but I used to do a lot of work, as you know, with open source content management systems. And specifically, I got deep with Drupal, around 2006 until 2011 12. And I used to say, Drupal is not a content management system, because it thinks that anything is content, and it makes it anything as an entity that’s relatable. So for me, I always used it, not to build kind of customer facing websites only, but really as web applications. So all the little subsets of features that Drupal could plug in, you know, I think, you know, in WordPress, people call those plugins. In Drupal, there are modules, all those modules, how they work together and independent of each other. I saw as kind of like, you know, sub routines to the larger program. They’re really these kind of functional elements of whatever application you’re building. And it was a web application framework to me. And it seems like this kind of like white label approach to doing development gives you that library of functionality to draw from so that’s the platform.

Kundan Joshi 6:02
Certainly, certainly, that’s cool.

Qasim Virjee 6:04
Because you don’t hear too many app development firms that invest in their own approach and their own technology,

Kundan Joshi 6:11
right. I mean, our focus is still b2b. So we are still helping our clients build their apps as opposed to releasing our own apps. But how can we help them? Again, our focus, I mean, how do we make sure that we are creating the best experience and creating successful businesses. So in certain cases, I mean, for every business, though, the milestones are different the first stage are till which they have the amount of runway they have to that stage is variable. Now, based on the budget, and the timelines associated, a customer may not always work. So this approach just allows us to do that, but still in a scalable way, instead of building an MVP, which we’ll have to throw after that milestone is achieved, we are, we are able to build an MVP much faster and much in much more cost effective way. But still keep it scalable. So you can still reuse as much of that possible as you keep growing your company. So

Qasim Virjee 7:05
let’s talk about how this I don’t know if it’s directly this approach that’s led to the firm working with startups. But being able to rapidly prototype stuff, because you’ve got the leg up on the platform. Was that an inroad into working with startups or helping co create startups?

Kundan Joshi 7:23
Not necessarily, I actually our platform is utilized a lot more for mature middle mid market and enterprise than startups, a lot of startups use our platforms as well. But the main motivation to work with startups is always being tapped in to innovation always been tapped into doing things differently and doing new things. And when we were working with enterprises and mature, not every project is as innovative as we would want it to be. So So having that having a good balance of clientele allows us to, to breed a team that gets that has that diverse experience that allows us to be best in what we do for us to be innovators truly so that for every project, we can tap into that experience to truly create great experiences. So so when we, at some point, in the few years back in our lifecycle, we we did decide not to work with startups anymore. Because we were doing a lot of work in enterprise. And we just wanted to continue doing that. But we sort of came back around to it for that. For that yearning, that Halo, we still need to make sure that we are creating an impact, we can visualize that impact on a much more tangible basis. And that yearning for that impact, I would say is probably the biggest reason why we still continue to work with startups and find ways to work with them. So that we are creating again, we are we are enabling successful businesses out of them.

Qasim Virjee 8:55
And tell me a little bit about the makeup of the team in terms of numbers and distribution. Where is the App Lab located? I know you guys have some global offices. Yeah, certainly.

Kundan Joshi 9:04
So our our head office is downtown Toronto University and Dundas. That’s where our core team works from so are our product managers, our sales and marketing teams, our design team, are our developmental leads our architects, our QA team, they all work from there. We have three offices in us. That’s where most our consulting teams that work with our US clients work from. We have sales teams there as well. We have an office in India Puna, India, where a lot of our junior staff works from some developers, some testers we have and then we have a few other satellite offices, one in Australia and in Hong Kong, and so on, but, but a core of the team is between Canada, US and India.

Qasim Virjee 9:58
How if there any aspiring or not aspiring active? You know, startup founders or thinking about business startup, maybe you’ve gone beyond that. But we’re even service companies that work with remote teams. Do you have any tips off the top of your head? For people trying to keep track of things when they have a globally dispersed team? Any tools that you use? Let’s start there?

Kundan Joshi 10:20
Certainly. So I mean, it starts with a very defined process, everyone understanding exactly what role they’re playing as a part of the overall team, not just as a part of a US team or an India team, or so on what role to the players as part of the whole team, making sure that everyone’s engaged as a part of the company culture, as opposed to having subcultures by having common stories, common victories, common successes, and so so that’s sort of obviously is useful. Let’s look

Qasim Virjee 10:51
at an example of that. Sure, I know that you’ve had some accolades and less than the last awards. Some of them might have been even awards to you personally. But it seems like when I’ve seen the response on social media to it, the whole App Lab celebrates these wins for themselves. So I think that’s a really positive thing, suddenly, how do you how do you affect that kind of a culture?

Kundan Joshi 11:13
Yeah, so I mean, it’s a one of the biggest ones is about stories, right? I mean, for us, it’s every project or every word, like every piece of work we do is about the impact that we create. And the impact basically results in a great story of how we are helping the end clients how we are creating a better experience through this app. So we build an app for to connect mental health patients with therapist now how does that what is the what are the kind of stories coming out of it be associated with the patient’s having a back leading a better life through what they’ve gained from the platform. So so so that is a victory for the every for every person who worked on that. So making sure that we are celebrating those stories associated with the impact, and not just about Apple apps, financial success, or a new project and so on, becomes quite critical in ensuring that, again, we are seeing common stories, we have that common. Again, common victory about doing good things together, and, and being aligned towards again, making that impact together.

Qasim Virjee 12:23
It’s funny because like in the traditional kind of marketing, or advertising, just cutting to the chase agencies that have become marketing companies that become digital agencies, the Ypp s are for WPP type people, big agencies, this has been a real cultural problem, I think, for a long time is looking at project work, I guess the whole thing is being run as a factory, an agency being run as a factory where processes become points to hand things off, right, and clients are kept kind of in the dark until they’re handed something and the person who worked on it never gets to meet the client. That’s a horrible scenario. So so it’s quite cool to hear that you guys are running things kind of in the opposite method,

Kundan Joshi 13:05
definitely. And ensuring that the clients are open with us. And we are, they look at us as partners and part of their success, ensuring that we are collectively defining if not providing recommendations or providing influence towards what the business KPI should look like what that human experience KPI should look like, which is something that we define on every on a for every project, and making sure that we have that CO ownership on that also ensures that we have visibility of that. And hence we can contribute towards the overall success, as well as be a part of it.

Qasim Virjee 13:36
I know a while ago, when, when I was dropping by your previous office a couple years ago, before start, well was born, right? Um, you had allocated a space or a couple spaces in the office from what I remember to experimental technologies, right. And I liked that idea of kind of keeping some tech there for people to play with in the office, and then experimenting on or using those technologies into client projects, whether it makes it into the end project, or it’s just a way to expand your mind in thinking of solutions. How do you guys embrace new technology? And are there particular ones that you’re working with right now that your team likes and that your customers have connected with?

Kundan Joshi 14:15
Yeah, certainly. So. So that has been a big part of the process to ensure that every project we look at, we have a product roadmap in mind, which has interface with cutting edge technology. Now, in a lot of cases, it could mean that the cutting edge technology does come in, come into picture in phase one, or at least we make sure we are set up for success to use that technology in the next phase AI being obviously the most overused, but at the same time, the most impactful technology like those Yeah, it’s used as a phrase now. But for every project that we work on data strategy towards enabling machine learning is has become critical. How do we ensure that the app that we’re creating is an intelligent app or will be an intelligent app. And the next phase is extremely important. So having that mindset means that each not just the developers in our in our AI Lab, but also our designers, our UX researchers, our business analysts, and product managers, all of them have enough exposure with the technology. So they can constantly be thinking about how we are, again, taking this product to the next level, how we are how we are making sure that technology will also serve as a strong differentiation for your product or whether or not it’s meant to do that at the outset. So Exactly, exactly. And, and also, giving, having, enabling the same with the clients with our partners becomes important as well. So they can start visualizing it, we can start will will do small proof of concepts, we have a playground where we’ll constantly be playing with some technologies will showcase that to them, we’ll implement a small prototype for them. That way, they can sort of start getting engaged, we’ve sort of incorporate that as a part of our sales process, where we’ll say, hey, you know what, this is what you asked us to pitch on. But here are some cool things, cool ideas, and yours, maybe a video of how that could work. So that’ll always, like always add that value of front of hey, you know, what we are, we are thinking of the future. And we want to continue doing that throughout the entire process. So So again, the key ones are obviously machine learning, which is predictive analytics, recommendations, engines, and so on. In the AI world. We’re doing a lot of work in augmented reality, in mixed reality with smart glasses and so on. And also with Internet of Things. So yeah,

Qasim Virjee 16:37
wow. Well, you know, once a month we do this, we host a group called the augmented world expo night, Toronto, it’s a chapter in Toronto largest chapter. I think in the world of AWS, he sort of a 9000 plus people on the mailing list, and about 200 people come every couple months, to the meetup at start well, and then every second month, there’s like an industry kind of private meetup for a few people that work in this space. So we’ll have to involve you in that, of course, and, and I’d love to showcase what you guys are working on at one of those events, certainly sitting cool. We got to wrap quickly, unfortunately for this session, because studios booked for another group. But you know, I would love to hear your tips from all the project work that you guys are doing and all the global interfacing that you do on the day to day, where do you see or what predictions Do you have? For technology, the culture of technology, emerging technologies, anything in the space? Let’s say in the next three to five years? What are the big trends that you’re betting on?

Kundan Joshi 17:41
Totally. So the one that I’m betting on and I’m working on it, at the same time is definitely in the area of AI. But for us, it’s the area of how does AI and machine learning impact customer experience. So that’s the area where we’ve been putting a lot of work and a lot of research. And we’re doing a lot of projects in that. And that is a combination of using AI for hyper personalization of an experience on an app, using AI for hyper personalization of whether it’s a training experience, a learning experience, whether it’s a retail experience, whether it’s a manufacturing experience of the people who are working on a floor, and how does that impact from taking from RPA to predictive analytics to providing the right, the right experience to the employees so that they can do their job at most optimum level of personalization so that every person on the retail platform is only seeing products that are most aligned to them, whether it’s in app experience or a chatbot experience, in a training experience, how do we make sure that that, that the trainers are getting content that’s based on their skills gap? Or their Lord, the learning format of that content is based on their personality? And how do they learn that content? And so and their career path and their aspirations, and so on and so forth? When it comes to health care, how do we ensure that we are able to create the right path towards treatment, whether it’s pre diagnosis, whether it’s collecting the right data, that associate that helps us provide pre diagnosis, whether it’s making sure we are connecting them with the right, with the right caregivers, and so on. So So those are some of the areas that we are focused on because we to truly see that things are going to change in a big way. It’s so

Qasim Virjee 19:41
interesting, because I think, you know, we when we started this conversation, one of the things you said that App Lab was founded on was the principles of improving user interface with technology. And in some ways, the nature of interfaces changing or the needs for interface are changing so much. I think where AI is introducing these subtle layers of interface where you don’t need interaction with the end user in the same way as five years 10 years ago. So it’s almost like the robot in the background is interfacing with its own technology to improve the the end the end note with the customer. And that’s a that’s super fascinating to me. Because it means that each interface that you create is so much more powerful in the backend. And the output of people’s interactions with computers is greater than they’ve ever experienced before. Certainly. Very cool. Okay, well, it was a pleasure. I’m sorry, we have to keep this one short to all our listeners who want to, you know, hear more from Condon. And check out what the applet is up to throw us some URLs and your contact.

Kundan Joshi 20:46
Yeah, certainly. So our our website is www dot the AP lab. So th e a, Peter, Peter, Larry, alpha, Bob, Bob. I’m having a bit of a cold so I want to make sure I pronounce that was clear.

Qasim Virjee 21:01
Peter, Peter. There you go. Peter. Peter. Yeah, l a

Kundan Joshi 21:04
bb.com.com. Indeed. And you can, you can reach out to me on LinkedIn, it’s gonna Joshi or follow us on Twitter,

Qasim Virjee 21:13
totally. And we’ll have links of course in the Show page. For everyone listening on iTunes. The Show page details are now being pushed through the information or the Description field that you’ll see on your device. And for everyone else. If it’s not in the Description field, be sure to log on to our website at start with.co/communityand You’ll see the Show page for this and all of our past podcast episodes there where you can dig in, click on the links and listen back to more episodes.