This year we celebrate the 4th birthday of Applover. We have decided to give you a little bit of insight into our story. How did it all start? What are our plans for the future? And what tips do we have for those who are thinking about starting their IT career? Applover’s CEO, Radek Bułat, in a short birthday interview, talked about where the idea for a full-stack digital agency came from and what the company’s plans for the future are.
Do you remember the day you decided to open a digital agency?
Before working as a Full-Stack Digital Agency/Software House, we were building a startup – Loca. It was a loyalty program as a mobile application – working entirely without user interaction. For just being in restaurants/pubs/clubs, users collected points that they could eventually exchange for rewards. It seemed like an innovative product in 2015. Unfortunately, we had a problem with monetizing this innovation. At that time, mobile was not as strong as it is in 2020. As we had a reliable technical team – we decided to do projects for others, not only for ourselves. It is how Applover was created – out of love for mobile, that’s the genesis of the name, a few geeks flirting with applications.
How do you know each other with the founders?
Together with the guys, we built our startup products, such as Footsteps, Artion, and the mentioned above Loca. We know each other very well, e.g., Piotr Sobusiak and I spent our summer holidays after high school painting houses in Norway. A few years later, in 2016, we all decided to get together as Applover. The guys joined the company (a few months after the historic start). To this day, our relations are not only business but also outside the office, giving a lot of support through our rainy days and helping us stick to our goals in the better moments.
With what attitude and goals did you start your adventure with Applover?
Initially, with the rest of the co-founders, we wanted to build exciting mobile projects with the possibility of monetization. The mobile market grew strongly in 2016, more and more interesting projects like Uber, Tinder, Facebook Messenger, etc. appeared in users’ minds. We were mainly driven by a passion for making startups succeed and helping other companies build tools to change the world. At the same time, this motivation was joined by the desire to create a workplace with a relaxed atmosphere for young people with passion. Financial matters are not essential for us, although we have a plan to make Applover appear on the stock exchange in a few years.
We keep our fingers crossed! Tell us what has changed since 2016 that makes you closer to your goal?
Practically everything has changed except one thing – the passion for building digital products. Working at a Full-stack Digital Agency can’t get boring, each of our employees get into new digital projects at least several times a year, projects that change our environment and the way we live.
Many of our employees have been with us since the beginning of the adventure; most of them were not people from open recruitments, but colleagues. In the beginning, it allowed us to build a very open organizational culture.
Indeed, since 2016 the office has changed three times. Applover started in a 20m² room, and now we have a building with over 600m² and are planning further expansion. New talents are joining us, bringing freshness and energy to the organization. We build new processes, and we dynamically adapt to the changing conditions. We have also returned to making our own products. Generally, a lot is going on, and I can proudly say that the company is evolving every year.
Indeed, we can say that you are growing dynamically. And what makes Applover stand out from the competition?
The software development market is very competitive. Only in our country, there are over 1000 such companies. Indeed, we stand out quite strongly against their background, which was confirmed by the Deloitte award won in 2019 (Rising Star in the CEE). Last year, my partners – Piotr Sędzik and Janek Kamiński – were on the “Forbes 25 under 25 list”. These types of awards are part of our shared success and are an honor for all of us who work together at Applover.
We are not an organization focused on short-term profit. We care about building long-term relations with business partners and achieving business goals together. In 2019 we also decided to put a strong emphasis on our products, which allows us to continually learn and go out to customers with both strong theoretical and practical knowledge. Most of the competition on the market has never brought its own product to market. We are strongly distinguished by the fact that we are practitioners and real app-lovers.
You’ve mentioned your passionate employees. What do you pay attention to when employing new people? You’ve already built a team of almost 50 of them. It must be quite a challenge?
For some time now, we have focused on recruiting only people with rich experience and skills. It allows us to develop as a company and the individuals themselves. Of course, knowledge and experience are one thing. Another important aspect is to match our atmosphere and culture. We stand out on the market due to our flat structure, directness, loose atmosphere, and at the same time, high motivation in the professional challenges themselves.
Looking back at the past four years – what are you most proud of in terms of projects?
We are very proud of each project. I don’t want to point out a specific one. The final version depends on many factors, and we put as much heart and work into each one. Nowadays, we are most proud of the products we create in-house. We learn a lot from them, and we have the opportunity to learn and test new assumptions and technologies. I’m thinking about projects such as Bench or Footsteps. In our portfolio, we also have applications of well-known and currently growing startups. Unfortunately, while I’d love to, I cannot name the most impressive ones here.
Do you want to find out more about Applover's development?Talk to our team!
Now that we know what you’re proud of, tell us something about your biggest failure, a mistake you wouldn’t make now.
Building an organization is, in fact, a string of failures from which you learn lessons – if you learn fast enough, they make up a string of successes. It’s hard for me to choose any particular one, but surely how we build new processes, learn new technologies, and recruit new people comes from the sum of experiences and small failures over the years. Projects to which we had to pay out of pocket, recruitments ending in failure or unsuccessful investments. Learning from small and big failures alike is crucial for each of us at the company.
Ok, so what mistakes would you warn against based on your experience? What advice would you give to young people who want to enter your industry? Where to start?
When it comes to software development, there will be a shortage of about 500,000 programmers in the EU market by the end of 2025. Before COVID-19, you could see a phenomenon called the employee’s market. It means a low supply of programmers in relation to job offers, which increased the amounts offered, etc. The IT market seems to be the right career path because of its earnings, although it requires a lot of work, sacrifices, and time spent. Currently, on the market, there are a lot of online courses and schools to start with. Taking such classes does not make you a programmer yet.
In my opinion, the institution of a mentor is fundamental here. Such a person can not only help but also share knowledge or improve your code. If I were to choose the most crucial thing in educating a young programmer, apart from the appetite for knowledge, it is mentoring by a more experienced developer who will not allow learning bad patterns and behaviors.
Thank you for the advice! Tell us, how do you make sure that you keep developing, so that the company does not stand still?
Currently, most of my knowledge comes from the experience of other, larger companies. The digital market in Poland is open to cooperation. Managers of larger companies are willing to share their know-how, and those are very good lessons. Since 2019, our partner has been the Czysta3.vc Fund, supported by a team of experienced managers from whom I draw my knowledge of company management. In the past, they have brought companies to the stock market, and I hope that their experience will allow us to follow this path in the future as well. I try and further my knowledge by reading business books and listening to podcasts (you can see them on my GoodReads).
What are the plans for the future? What is your goal for 2020, and what is your main goal to achieve in general?
In 2020 we focus on further personal, financial, and expertise growth. We are polishing our processes, professionalizing our activities, and extending our offered services in order to be ready for growth in the next years to come. The launch of our Bench by Applover Product in Q3 2020 will be significant for me. It is a product that will allow us to make the company independent in the future and will optimize processes in the whole digital industry.
We keep our fingers crossed! But let’s get back to the current world situation for a moment – how did your day-to-day change in the coronavirus pandemic context, how did you cope with the changes?
We managed to switch to #fullremote mode very quickly. We functioned like this for two months, entirely without access to the office. Now we are back to the new normality, although there is already considerable pressure to work remotely. However, we need to implement this as an open organization where employees influence the structure itself – I think the remote mode will stay in our DNA for longer.
When it comes to projects, we haven’t seen a decrease in the number of projects. Our long-term clients stayed with us, and April even turned out to be the month with the highest revenue in the company’s history.
How do you imagine Applover’s 10th birthday?
I hope that on Applover’s 10th birthday, we will be an organization listed on the stock exchange, where each employee will have a share in the company. And then we will celebrate with a meeting of our stockholders, deciding on the distribution of our new record-high income.