In January, I wrote about our product roadmap for the AppSheet platform. The current set of articles is similar in spirit, but broader in scope – they describe our overall goals, why we come to work every day, what we see our customers doing, and how our customers are inspiring us and guiding us forward.
We started AppSheet with a simple vision – anyone should be able to create and use mobile apps.
How did we get here?
We didn't just wake up one day with this idea. We spent our first two years trying to build mobile apps for various business verticals. For more than a year, we focused on building apps for trade shows. At a trade show, packed with hundreds of exhibitors, we went to every exhibitor and asked if they could benefit from custom mobile apps. Interestingly, almost everyone said yes, no matter how big or small the business. Every scenario was different, yet they could all describe not only what they initially wanted but also a whole slew of additional features they'd like.
Yet nobody was really seriously thinking about doing it, because the costs were simply impractical. They'd have to hire developers, wait for months, and then the app might not work in the way they wanted. This would cost $50K to $100K. How many businesses have that kind of money sitting around to make apps for their truck drivers, warehouse managers, sales reps or field ops personnel?
What we realized is that every business has smart, motivated, and innovative people. They are all striving to make their businesses and their teams more efficient. They all see a number of ways that mobile apps can make this happen. If only they could convert these ideas into apps!
The a-ha moment
This is where our prior experience played a role. We are software engineers and computer scientists. In fact, most of us have a background in data platforms like SQLServer. This helped us see a common pattern across all of these different app ideas and requirements we heard. It seemed that the primary difference between these apps was captured in the structure of the data being used. But once we knew the structure of the data, the behavior of the apps seemed to follow a standard path based on the data.
Based on this intuition, we started the AppSheet journey at the start of 2014 with three main assertions:
- Technology Assertion: We can design a model to build a wide variety of rich mobile apps driven by structured data and without writing traditional code.
- Adoption Assertion: We can build a platform to do this and customers can use it to solve their real problems.
- Business Assertion: There will be enough value generated for customers (greater productivity, more efficiency, better scale, etc) to make this a viable platform business.
As it turns out, our original intuition and vision have stayed relatively unchanged in terms of these high level assertions. What has changed over the last few years, however, is our understanding of the details, of the requirements, of the problems, of the opportunities. And all of this understanding and learning have come from only one source – our customers.
How App Creators find us
Every month, 8,000 to 9,000 new app creators sign up to use AppSheet. They typically find us through add-ons, through search, and very importantly through word-of-mouth from other AppSheet users.
Some of these new users just play with the system for a few minutes, but those who explore AppSheet for more than 4 hours stay and become long-term users. More than 1,000 of new app creators become our long-term users every month. Many join our online Google+ community where we now have almost 8,000 members and many community moderators. It is one of the most vibrant and active communities on Google+.
The chart above shows how the number of new app creators per month has grown over the last 18 months.
Apps and their usage
Our platform is useful only if people build apps on AppSheet and also use them actively! So we pay close attention to how our customers use their apps. Here are 7-day moving averages showing the number of unique AppSheet apps used per day, and the number of unique users of those apps. For example, in March 2017, there were on 7,000 unique apps being used every day, with about 12,000 unique users using those apps.
Since these apps are almost exclusively business apps, we see much higher usage numbers on weekdays and lower numbers on weekends, which is why the 7-day average is a useful way to smooth out the curves.
Analysts have now coined the term "citizen developer" to describe this "new" class of app creators. On our website, we use a simpler yet broader description when we say AppSheet is "the app platform for everyone".
AppSheet's goal is to empower an army of a billion+ people to create and use their own custom apps within their teams, organizations, and companies. Our current customers are the vanguard of this army, the early innovators who are not just innovating by using AppSheet but really are transforming their teams and organizations by converting their ideas into mobile apps.
Our customers are changing the way their teams and companies run. Collectively, they are changing the world.
We have been software engineers for our entire careers. We love the creativity we feel when we come into work every day. If there is a problem, we have the ability to create software to address the problem. Our goal with AppSheet has been to share this same sense of empowerment with all our customers.
We realized right from the start that this journey was about our customers, not about us. AppSheet is a vehicle but our customers are the drivers steering us. This is why customer engagement has always been a top priority for us and why we do not have a traditional "customer support" team. Instead, every single person in the team takes turns to read and respond to customer feedback. We think it is important for the engineers building our platform to hear the customer questions, respond directly, and use the customer input as guidance as we move forward.
Every day, we see more than 100 messages from customers – support questions and comments in our Google+ user group community, direct messages and emails, posts on social media, survey feedback, etc. As CEO, I read almost every message and respond to many myself. It is the most important part of my job.
Our customers are pushing the envelope on what they can do, and pushing us on what we can do. Everyone of them has a compelling story – we've written a few of them down (Carl Mahler with Port Everglades Pilots Association, Kurt Beard with Cardinal Property Management, Antwain Jordan with apps to coordinate field sales teams, Tiffany Hester with Fort Hays State Univeristy) and hope to add many more stories soon. Each one of them has a vision for what they are doing, an ambition for what they can achieve, and a plan to get there. They ask for features that they want, appreciate the things that we get right and criticize things that we get wrong. They are our fans, our critics, our inspiration, and the reason we love what we do.
In part 2, we'll talk about our technology and how App Creators help us shape it