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No monkeying around

Venkatesh Ganesh
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Jay Shapiro, Co-founder of Infinite Monkeys, describes the startup’s work as
democratisation of apps.
Jay Shapiro, Co-founder of Infinite Monkeys, describes the startup’s work as democratisation of apps.

Infinite Monkeys is a mobile app development company. So, what is different about this company considering every second startup works to app develop apps? It just seems a bit too familiar to the dot com companies in the late nineties.

The concept

The Bangalore-based company believes that just like the Internet can be used by almost everyone, developing apps need not be confined to stereotypical geeks. The startup provides a drag-and-drop platform that enables anyone to make their own mobile app for the Apple iPhones, Android and HTML5-based smartphones - with zero coding and comes with no costs.

This, in essence, saves a person thousands of dollars in software coding fees and the need to learn a programming language. Co-founder Jay Shapiro calls it the democratisation of apps. “Back in 1999, I watched the cost of businesses creating a traditional Web site drop from half-a-million dollars to essentially zero through platforms such as WordPress, Tumblr and SquareSpace. I could see that the exact same curve was going to happen in mobile ecosystem,” says Shapiro.

In line with that thought, he along with David Hoare, CTO and co-founder of Infinite Monkeys - who also happens to be his childhood best friend - set out to build a platform that would help small businesses all around the world create apps. This, they hope, in turn will build a mobile app economy.

A major bulk of what Shapiro and Hoare believe in stems from the fact that being close buddies, they share similar ideologies. And in this case, it happens to be “open source”. Hoare was the founder and architect of ClassRunners - an open source online education system, as well as the composer of Mythos - a new vampire rock opera. He’s toured with the Phantom of the Opera and taught robotics to troubled youth in Ontario prisons, thereby not confining conventional wisdom to a corporate career.

“We’re creating the long tail of the mobile app economy by publishing millions of niche apps,” he proudly says. Shaprio’s enthusiasm is supported by developments on the ground as smartphone sales are on the rise across the world.

Apps are typically developed and sold on online stores, similar to how a garment maker sells clothes through retailers are seeing an increase in sales. According to research firm Ovum, these stores are gaining ground in the emerging markets of Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, South and Central America and Africa as smartphone penetration increases and users seek a richer experience on their mobile devices.

India, especially, already has very high mobile penetration and it is estimated that there are over 27 million smartphone users in urban India. “Clearly, there is a big opportunity for these businesses to capture the undivided attention of their customers through their own individual mobile apps,” avers Shapiro.

To serve this purpose, Infinite Monkeys has developed a drag-and-drop platform that enables anyone to make their own mobile . The result – around 1,000 customers in India currently use their services. Shapiro lists customers that include Indian Railways, University of Kashmir and India Against Corruption.

Growth story

Founded in 2011, the company has in excess of 10,000 publishers in 60 countries. Shapiro says the satisfaction is in the fact that the company has managed to create an industry that was negligible when Infinite Monkeys started out and is now thriving with thousands of app makers. He cites cloud computing technology as a key element for growth of companies like his. “This would not have been possible 36 months ago,” he says. With this successful venture he has a few words of advice for budding entrepreneurs. He insists that startups need to make decisions and act on it immediately. “Perfection is the enemy of completion,” he advices. Also, he believes that startups should be open to quantitative and qualitative feedback to be able to determine if step one was a mistake. If it was, fix it and move on. “It’s a bit like sailing, if you’re not testing the wind on either side of you every once in a while then you’ll never be the first to the finish line,” he says.

Big leaps

Also, unlike most startups, Infinite Monkey has not been hesitant in making acquisitions to fuel growth. Recently, it acquired Appmakr, which makes them the the largest mobile app publishing platform in the world. “By combining the customer bases of Infinite Monkeys and Appmakr, we now serve over half a million publishers around the world,” he says. So far, Shapiro seed funded the venture with proceeds from the sale of his last business, but he says that he plans to raise a Series A investment round in the future.

When asked about future plans, Shapiro, with a glint in his eye, says that the app industry is growing rapidly and points to the fact that currently there are 8 lakh apps available online. “There are millions of niche Web sites and if you add increasing number of devices like phones, tablets and laptops it is an infinite possibility, without sounding clichéd,” he says.

The app economy, which is in its infancy stages, mirrors the Web site world in the late 90s. Even after a decade and a half of existence, thousands of Web sites are mushrooming everyday. Companies such as Infinite Monkeys hope that the same trend will play out with app development as well.

venkatesh.ganesh@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 3, 2013)
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