Expert Interview: Nicolas Alpi

Nicolas Alpi talks us through some industry insights and key points to consider when developing a new app

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Posted by Cat How, August 3, 2018

Nicolas Alpi is the CTO and co-founder of CookiesHQ, a Bristol-based software company that creates and maintains web, mobile, and voice apps for ambitious startups.  He chats to our Creative Director, Cat How, about running a business and not taking yourself too seriously.

What are the main pitfalls to avoid when developing an app?

The biggest pitfall that we’ve seen over the years is that people over-scope or over-feature the app and don’t think about their market enough. They start with an idea that’s very simple, then pile a ton of extra features on before it can be validated in the market.

Now, before even taking a penny from a founder or startup, we actively ensure there is a route to market before we commit to building an app.

How do you make an app scalable from the outset?

You don’t. That’s the true answer. The reality is, if you are a startup or a founder, you’re not going to get a million concurrent users straight away. First, you need to validate that there are at least 100 users who can use and pay for your product. You need to make sure people are there, and can use it.

As developers, our responsibility is to make sure your app works for however many users it has at that moment in time, and also to be able to spot when your app is not performing. From a developer’s perspective, whether an app is scalable is about whether the app will continue to perform with the number of users growing.

If we look at scalability in terms of revenue – the less time you spend writing an app, the more scalable it is in terms of growth and revenue. The more time you spend with potential customers and users, the more you can understand the problem you need to solve, and the better the chance you have of catering to that niche. There is a preconception among founders that they are going to build the next Facebook. But the right thing to do is to cater for your niche, and cater to it really well.

What makes a good app idea?

I think you have to ask certain questions. Who are your users? What problem are you trying to solve? Why would they buy your product over someone else’s? Nailing your core offering makes it much easier to explain what you do and why people should buy from you.

If you were starting your own business again what advice would you give yourself?

Firstly – not to try to clone myself. We’ve been going for almost 8 years now and around the 6 year mark we shrunk down, and then started to grow again. We had basically ended up with clones of me in the team that only could do development – no UX or copywriting for example. Nowadays we know the importance of hiring a more diverse team.

The other bit of advice would be not to take everything too seriously – have more fun. The business is just a name at the end of the day, and there are other things in life that are way more important than work. Work has never encroached on my personal life. I have always valued a good work-life balance. We don’t work overtime or crazy hours until midnight at CookiesHQ – we just take each project at a time. It’s important obviously to grow as a company and take some risks – but I think it’s important to not put too much pressure on it.

How do you go about recruiting great talent?

Our core technology is Ruby on Rails. That was the technology I chose to focus on ten years ago and we became quite well-known in the Ruby industry. We would write about Ruby on our blog and any problem that we encountered, we wrote about that too. So we had a voice and a presence in the scene.

Because of that, it was quite easy to recruit Ruby developers – any time we put an ad up we’d have around 20 good applications. When we wanted to hire a designer nobody really knew about us and it was a lot more difficult. We’ve been through that exercise now and we’ve recruited designers, copywriters and front-end developers since then. We are now extremely proactive in recruitment and keep a list of people that we see are doing good work so we can keep an eye on them. So we start looking out for people 6 to 12 months ahead of time.