Tina Nielsen from Director Magazine on partnerships and the Mubaloo story…
A blend of marketing expertise and technical knowhow put Mubaloo on the right track when the app developer launched two years ago. And the two founders are bullish about prospects.
Ben Trewhella I have been interested in computers since I was five years old. I did computer science at university and went straight into PwC as an engineer, building huge mainframe systems. I went through various roles from project manager to IT consultant, and I worked on some big ventures. That took me more into the business world, although I understood the techie stuff.
Mark Mason After university I worked with a marketing company and then saw an opportunity to set up an agency that specialised in working with technology companies. I set it up with a friend and we grew it to about 40 people in 2001 when the dotcom bubble burst. We shrank the company to about 10 people, I bought my partner out, and I then grew the company until 2007. When I got it to about £6m turnover and [employing] 60 people, I sold.
BT When I came back to the UK after time in Australia I didn’t want to work for anybody else. I began to develop mobile applications—I had seen computers get smaller and what I saw with the iPhone and the Android was a platform that would disrupt the Web and print media in all sectors. I set up a small company and put out applications that became top 10 hits.
MM I asked a recruitment agency if they knew anybody who knew about this stuff. The first person they introduced me to was Ben and we hit it off straight away. He had a good background and had done a few apps, so I was the money, he was the brain, and we kicked it off.
BT I had put a few CVs out when I came back from Australia and I mentioned that I had developed a number of apps and they had done well. Six months later Mark went to an agency and asked if they had anyone with these skills. They only had me on the books and I didn’t want a job, but we met and decided to start the company in April 2009.
MM I trust my instincts on people—Ben and I got on from the start. He’d worked in business and understood that world. I saw myself in him when I was that age, wanting to go for it and grow something.
BT I had a good feeling about Mark. The alternative at that time was to keep going by myself and look for funding through other routes. Mark saw the potential. He had the marketing background, he had the funding, and he wanted to do it.
MM For the first nine months it was relatively quiet. We were doing little bits of business but then in January 2010 the iPhone became available on Vodafone and T-Mobile as well as on O2—we saw a complete change in the market. We have grown the business quickly; we employ 43 people and have five offices. It is going incredibly well.
BT We focus on applications for businesses and we provide bespoke tailoring. We have engineers who build to spec or people who come in to help.
MM In the future, companies might have 20 or so apps that will run the entire business, from financial dashboards to employee benefits and holiday booking. We are just on that cusp now and we are starting to see those apps come through into the market.
BT I am the techie; he is the one with vision to grow the company. We have both learnt a lot from each other. Mark has taught me how to run a business. Whatever happens with Mubaloo, I’ll feel comfortable doing this again; putting people together into a team, knowing when to hire, when to feel confident, when to outlay investment and when to batten the hatches.
MM Ben found it challenging to go from being a small company with a few of us in a tiny office to a bigger business. When you are smaller you all do lots of different things, but when the company grows, roles have to be more defined. I know those growing pains. For Ben, there were times when he thought, what is my role now?
BT We don’t feel there is a limit on where we can take it. The industry is growing, every month we do more sales, there is more appetite. We are well placed in the market and we have one of the best teams. We feel very bullish.
MM We don’t have an exit strategy, but we are always looking at it. It will definitely happen one day, but at the moment we are focusing on the business.