Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is BusinessMakers USA brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. We’re in Ft. Lauderdale today and I’m very pleased to have as my guest Chris Stegner of Mad Dev. Chris welcome to the show.
Chris: Thank you for having me.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about Mad Dev.
Chris: Mad Dev is what we call a digital products agency which means – I usually like to sum it up as in we build cool things with technology. So we can draw the line of if you need a standard website we’re probably not the right guys but we can refer you to some really great people, but anytime you need something that really pushes the bar on what’s possible that’s where we come in.
So we’re one of the first people to do completely web-based virtual reality for companies like HBO where instead of having to download an app you can literally just type in a URL, hit go and you’re in full virtual reality experience right from your mobile phone. It’s pretty cool stuff from chat bots to artificial intelligence to augmented reality. Right now we’re working on our own web-based augmented reality framework that we’re going to open-source to the community. So kind of anything that really pushes that bar of what’s possible and here in South Florida especially I think we own the market on doing really innovative things for clients.
Russ: Well I think that’s why you have a pretty impressive client list. You mentioned HBO but there are some other biggies there too.
Chris: Yeah, we’ve been fortunate. Like I was telling you a minute ago we started basically this kind of version 2 of Mad Dev about a year and half ago when I joined as a partner and since that time we’ve brought on about 45 different clients with over 50 projects. These clients started here in south Florida and we’ve kept things with this mindset of all you have to do is build great products and the rest will take care of itself – which has changed a little bit over time – but that allowed us to grow. So we have clients in Boston, in Tel Aviv, in New York, in Chicago, in Philadelphia, in Texas and on and on and on.
Russ: Impressive. I did some research and you have quite an entrepreneurial background as well and so I wonder how is it fitting? I mean you essentially joined an ongoing operation, is that okay with you?
Chris: That’s a great question. Directly before I joined on board with Mad Dev I actually was working at a venture capital firm and my position in there was if we invested in a tech startup then I would jump in and help that tech startup kind of avoid some of the landmines that traditional tech startups make the first two or three times. And the whole reason I agreed to that job – because before I was working from home and I had this sweet deal, I had a newborn baby so I was able to just really able to enjoy that life – but I joined on board with them for that idea of every 3 months I go start a new company.
I have to go through all the problems and all the tricky stuff and get everything to basically where it was rolling smooth, which is usually where about the point I get bored, and then I have to hope onto another one and jump into all the problems. But that said this has really become mine and my two partners’ baby and I don’t know, the passion hasn’t left yet. I’m a year and a half in and for our vision of where things are going we still have a long ways to go and lots of problems and all kinds of things to deal with.
Russ: Okay. Well I found sort of the company personality quite interesting too. If you go to the website and it’s we make amazing products and that sort of thing and then if you look at them you agree but man, that’s kind of really putting it out there which means you have to perform and execute right?
Chris: Yeah and you know I’m actually usually a very modest person but truth be told we just create really great stuff. The team we have is a team that I’ve been working with for 6+ years; they’re all top of the game. We don’t believe in really hiring junior developers, mid level or even really senior level, we kind of expect – we like that expert to architect level developers and other than interns and so forth, people who are trying to help in the community bring up, so through doing that we really are only trying to do amazing stuff.
Russ: Okay. Most people that I know, which aren’t many that sort of are in that space as well, use this design process a lot of times to really make products, meaning that they’ll listen to a customer that has hey, we have this mobile app idea, can you guys build it and yeah we can do that, but you always want to go back in to the beginning of the idea. Is that what you guys do?
Chris: Oh definitely, definitely. We work with two different types of clients; we have our large Fortune 500 type clients where usually they come in and they have a pretty thought out spec that’s gone out 12 levels of business and that’s not changing for anybody or anything. But then we have the other half of ours which is startups, and startups it’s largely that. It’s hey that sounds like a great idea and I’m going to give you – this is literally every client we have in the startup field: That’s a great idea; let’s step it back, let’s see what you were originally trying to do and then in the startup world minimum viable products – basically the simplest version of your idea that you can put to market to start testing. We push that very hard with our clients so rather than building out this huge product to begin with we really pull them back to that core idea and something we can put out there, we can test; get people’s thoughts on it and then from there keep just adding in the features that their customers really want.
Russ: Share with us two or three of your product ideas, they’re probably some of the most recent, that you really like being involved in.
Chris: The hard part there is which ones we can talk about.
Russ: Right, don’t say any names.
Chris: Yeah. I’ll definitely dive into like I mentioned this wasn’t our forte doing the web-based virtual reality, however our forte is Java script and Java script is the language that powers everything now. We realized that virtual reality is blowing up and to do it web-based you don’t need to be a virtual reality expert, you need to be a Java script expert. So we basically just said let’s dive in, let’s see what’s possible, and started building out really the first framework for doing web-based virtual reality so it was pretty cool. Like I said you literally type in a URL on your phone – and we were doing this a year and a half ago before other people started doing it – and you put your phone up in a headset just from a URL and now you’re able to turn, look up, look down, full 3D, etcetera, etcetera. That was a pretty cool project.
Other than that we’re working with chat bots, doing a lot of artificial intelligence; things for Slack and Facebook Messenger for some really large companies that I can’t mention. And then even ecommerce but like I said, that’s kind of right on the cusp for us to take an ecommerce project; it has to be something really cool, so we’re bringing in a lot of artificial intelligence and so forth to figure out how to properly display products and which orders to put them on the page to match a profile.
Russ: Do you use multiple artificial intelligence platforms depending upon what the application or are you pretty much committed to one?
Chris: There’s basically two ways we go, we either go with Amazon services which has a lot of kind of pre-built artificial intelligence where you basically fill in the world of information and put in the rules that you want the artificial intelligence to follow, and then there’s the custom route. So for 90% of things Amazon can take care of it and then for 10% we’ll custom do it.
Russ: We find it a fascinating category that’s getting involved in everything. We’ve done several Watson shows along the way too – IBM Watson – to get into that.
Chris: Oh yeah, it’s very similar.
Russ: So what do you think the company is going to look like 3 or 4 years from now?
Chris: For the last year and a half we’ve been doing 300% growth every year and that’s kind of our goal. I mentioned earlier that we started with this mindset of all you have to do is make a great product and everything else will take care of itself – we’ve changed that to a 3 prong approach now to where it’s make a great product, that’s step one. The second one is make sure the client’s experience is the best in the entire world. A lot of agencies stop at just making a great product and they’re like we’re programmers and they say I’ve done my job. We took a note from Air BnB which is what does an experience look like when it’s not a 4 star or 5 star but an 8 star, 9 star, 10 star, 12 star – what do those experiences look like and then how do we get there?
So we put a huge focus in we already knew how to make great software but now how do we make that customer’s experience just amazing from day 1 the whole way through to where at the end they say I have to tell all of my friends about this company because this is the best experience I’ve ever had with something that’s traditionally not a great experience; a lot of dev projects end up with people pulling their hair out. And then now the third prong is just getting out there and letting people know that we’re doing the first and the second prong, which is why I’m here right now.
Russ: Well you better be careful. If you keep doing that you’re going to become an acquisition target big time.
Chris: We’ve actually had a few people kind of already start nibbling at that but we’ve got some ideas of where we want to get before we start having those talks.
Russ: Cool. Well I really appreciate you sharing your story with us, we want to keep watching Mad Dev to see what evolves.
Chris: Awesome, awesome.
Russ: Maybe come back and get you on the show again sometime.
Chris: Perfect, thank you so much for having me.
Russ: You bet, thank you. And that wraps up my discussion with Chris Stegner with Mad Dev and this is BusinessMakers USA.
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