GEEK ON A MIS­SION

BEWEB CEO MIKE NEL­SON HAS BUILT UP AN IM­PRES­SIVE CLIENT LIST OVER 16 YEARS IN THE WEB­SITE BUSI­NESS. HE TALKS TO NZBUSI­NESS ABOUT HIS SPEAK­ING EMAIL APP THAT’S CAUGHT THE EYE OF ONE OF THE WORLD’S BIG­GEST BRANDS.

NZ Business - - CON­TENTS -

Beweb’s Mike Nel­son has built up an im­pres­sive client list over 16 years in the web­site busi­ness.

NZB: What is your back­ground prior to es­tab­lish­ing beweb?

MIKE: As a grad­u­ate I wanted to work in the up and com­ing ‘mul­ti­me­dia’ space, be­cause in those days it sounded cool. So I picked Ter­abyte, the leader in the space, and went to the Com­put­er­world con­fer­ence in Welling­ton where they were pre­sent­ing.

Turns out they were look­ing for peo­ple, so they brought me to Auck­land for an in­ter­view and I got a job.

Af­ter a cou­ple of years I left for my OE. In Lon­don my visa only al­lowed tem­po­rary work, which meant con­tract­ing and get­ting paid three times as much.

Many ex-Ter­abyters went on to other jobs within the in­dus­try, which meant I had con­tacts and was able to start free­lanc­ing when I re­turned. Most good free­lancers are hard to book, but I was al­ways ready to fit things in and soon had enough work to take on an­other per­son.

I asked for­mer Ter­abyte col­league Jeremy Ni­cholls to join me. That's how beweb started.

NZB: What have been the main con­tribut­ing fac­tors to your busi­ness’s suc­cess?

MIKE: I enjoy get­ting an un­der­stand­ing of where a client is com­ing from, what they want and why, and how we can help their busi­ness. We've built a cul­ture that val­ues tech­ni­cal ex­cel­lence, the shar­ing of code and help­ing each other, but not at

the ex­pense of cus­tomer ser­vice. Pro­vid­ing what cus­tomers want and need is kind of in­grained.

NZB: What have been the most sig­nif­i­cant changes in the web de­vel­op­ment mar­ket­place since you started? MIKE:

It seems like tech­nol­ogy moves so fast that it’s im­pos­si­ble to keep up. But, in fact, the fun­da­men­tals of the web don't change much, and hav­ing a long-term view helps us fo­cus on which new tech­nolo­gies are valu­able for in­cor­po­rat­ing into our process.

User ex­pec­ta­tions have changed sig­nif­i­cantly – now peo­ple ex­pect a lot of func­tion­al­ity to be built-in and want even com­plex re­quire­ments to be sim­ple. User ex­pe­ri­ence de­sign is crit­i­cal, and un­der­stand­ing what makes good user ex­pe­ri­ence is one of those fun­da­men­tals.

We are no longer do­ing sim­ple web­sites, as th­ese can be done us­ing DIY tools. But there are still many more com­plex re­quire­ments that need our skills and ex­pe­ri­ence.

How­ever, the prob­lem with ser­vices busi­nesses is they don't tend to be very scal­able. So in­stead of keep­ing on adding bod­ies, we’re cre­at­ing a prod­uct with global po­ten­tial in the form of Speak­ing Email. Many say in­cu­bat­ing a prod­uct de­vel­op­ment within a ser­vices com­pany is a for­mula for suc­cess, as it avoids the prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with taking on out­side in­vest­ment.

NZB: How did the Speak­ing Email app come about? And what’s the story be­hind the Bosch deal? MIKE:

I wanted an app that would read out my email to me while driv­ing to work. It seemed like a good way to make pro­duc­tive use of com­mut­ing time.

I tried ev­ery app avail­able, in­clud­ing Siri, but wasn’t sat­is­fied – so I thought maybe this is a gap wait­ing to be filled.

We made Speak­ing Email work with all email plat­forms, and pub­lished iPhone and An­droid ver­sions on the app stores.

Af­ter a year re­fin­ing and im­prov­ing it, I re­ceived an email out of the blue from Bosch. They were look­ing for apps to in­te­grate with their con­nected car sys­tem.

The Bosch part­ner­ship is a huge deal for us. It means our app may be in­stalled in up to a mil­lion cars a year. We have to go through a few more ap­proval stages yet but we are on track.

NZB: What is the global po­ten­tial for Speak­ing Email? And what are your plans for it? MIKE:

Our mar­ket is both small and big. Ev­ery­one has email. A lot of peo­ple drive, or can't see very well or pre­fer to have things read to them. So the mar­ket could be bil­lions.

On the other hand, this mar­ket is tiny as it has very small mind­share – peo­ple aren't think­ing about it, don't re­alise it ex­ists or don't re­alise it would be use­ful. It's not an es­tab­lished mar­ket, so es­ti­mates of its po­ten­tial are pretty use­less.

I was in LA for the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show (CES). Bosch had Speak­ing Email run­ning on a BMW mo­tor­bike. The car man­u­fac­tur­ers were all show­ing off their tech­nol­ogy and I chat­ted to them about third party apps. They’re scram­bling to get their plat­forms right for the con­nected car of the fu­ture.

Right now there’s no con­sis­tency in the ap­proach to third party apps – what re­stric­tions they have in driv­ing mode, where they are in­stalled (phone or car), or what op­er­at­ing sys­tem they run off – let alone stan­dards for how an app in­ter­acts within the car en­vi­ron­ment. But all this will come even­tu­ally. Like the PC and mo­bile phone, the apps will be­come a key plat­form.

NZB: What in­spi­ra­tion can other young web de­vel­op­ers take from your ex­am­ple? Do you have any ad­vice? MIKE:

You have to enjoy what you do and see the value in it. Build­ing a busi­ness also takes time and re­quires stick­a­bil­ity.

I've heard peo­ple say start-ups are hard. This is true. You need a very good idea that you want to stick with for sev­eral years. If you enjoy build­ing the prod­uct and can see the po­ten­tial, then you’re off to a good start.

Build­ing Speak­ing Email within our ex­ist­ing busi­ness has made it a lot eas­ier to sus­tain, but also harder in some ways with the two very dif­fer­ent busi­ness mod­els.

I’m proud of hav­ing boot­strapped beweb with­out any fi­nanc­ing. Rais­ing funds can sap a lot of en­ergy from a start-up. Fund­ing is not the end goal, but some peo­ple seem to treat it as such.

NZB: What’s next for Beweb? How do you main­tain that pas­sion and en­thu­si­asm? MIKE:

We plan to con­tinue our ser­vices busi­ness along­side Speak­ing Email and see where it takes us. We’re fo­cus­ing our growth on the app and taking op­por­tu­ni­ties as they come.

One of the things I like most about pro­gram­ming is see­ing how old tech­nol­ogy still works and is con­tin­u­ally built on. Speak­ing Email is an email client that con­nects with al­most ev­ery mail server, which has meant learn­ing about all kinds of email tech­nolo­gies. It's a bit like ar­chae­ol­ogy, por­ing over his­toric sys­tems doc­u­men­ta­tion, and then in­te­grat­ing it with some of the new­est fea­tures in mo­bile op­er­at­ing sys­tems, and cars.

Vis­it­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley was ex­cit­ing. As a geek from way back I love all that com­puter his­tory.

I get a kick out of see­ing what our team has built, whether it is an app, web­site or a busi­ness sys­tem. It's al­ways ex­cit­ing to see peo­ple enjoy us­ing some­thing you've helped build. SPEAK­ING EMAIL CAN BE DOWN­LOADED FREE FROM THE APP STORE OR GOOGLE PLAY AND WORKS WITH ALL EMAIL PLAT­FORMS. TO DOWN­LOAD VISIT WWW.SPEAK­ING.EMAIL

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