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Moa Creative serves up apps la carte

Moa Creative serves up apps la carte
Up-and-comer Moa Creative, along with its second fledgling company App La Carte, is designing killer apps for some of the world's top brands.

The founders of Moa Creative / App La CarteMoa Creative, along with its second fledgling company App La Carte, is designing killer apps for some of the world's top brands.

For Moa Creative, it all started with their big break: designing the 3News iPhone app. Since then, the fledgling company has gone on to work with the likes of AA Tourism, Sky City, Bang & Olufsen and Wendy’s – all this in the space of just a couple of years.

That first break came about as Rohan deSouza – who founded the company in mid-2010 with Jay Moon, Charles Wang, and Moon Kim when they anticipated a huge pickup in demand for app development and decided to get in early – had an in at 3News already, where he previously worked. According to MediaWorks’ Peter Henning, Moa did a fantastic job of launching 3News onto the iPhone platform with an app whose popularity “continues to surprise and delight”. And it proved an excellent launching pad to even bigger opportunities.

The 3News app caught the eye of US agencies, which led to Moa pitching and securing a contract with a major New York agency over the Christmas period in 2010 – taking the business to a whole new level.

“If you think about the app game, the first apps that came out were the news apps,” explains Moa business development manager Andrew Malcolm.

While he can’t name that particular agency, he does say that it’s paved the way for Moa to build some “pretty world class apps” for large online retailers in the US and the UK.

Malcolm says the agency canvassed the globe for suitable developers, and liked Moa enough to sign them up for a year. Lots of Moa’s growth can be traced back to that deal, which accounts for about half of total revenue. It has expanded from five to 11 staff, and often brings on more contractors on major projects.

But Moa has its eye on an even bigger prize. It recently launched App La Carte, an app platform template that automates much of the development process, making it faster and more affordable. So while Moa designs apps for corporates and agencies, App La Carte – run as a separate company in tandem – makes apps more accessible to SMEs and is targeting customer numbers in the thousands by the end of the year. It’s aimed at the hospitality and retail sector, with around 50 clients on board to date, from fast food giant Wendy’s to hospitality groups including Barworks, Frenzi, and Showcase, through to family-owned restaurants such as Non Solo Pizza.

Malcolm says Moa is often approached with great ideas for apps that are just too expensive to execute. It costs brands a pretty penny to have their own app built, and as for most SMEs? Forget about it.

But turning away a client hurts, and hence many companies including Moa are starting to develop simpler methods they can offer smaller fry.

The most expensive part of development is build time, which is greatly reduced through App La Carte. Apps can run into the thousands or tens of thousands, while a very basic App La Carte design starts at $299 upfront for either an iPhone or Android app. App La Carte puts many of the decisions that go into the making of an app into a content management system, enabling customers to quickly choose colours, formats and layouts themselves.

Malcolm suspects they’re going to start seeing enquiries from clients who previously started off down the app development path but didn’t end up going the whole hog.

“A company that a year ago decided it wasn’t for them can have another look at it.” But they’re focusing efforts abroad, particularly Australia and North America, rather than pushing App La Carte locally.

“They’re a lot more receptive to technology like this – they’re ready for it.

“In New Zealand we’re a little bit behind. We’re more of a wait-and-see kind of market and it’s just such a small market in New Zealand – even if we captured a huge market share it’s not that much.”

In fact, they’ve had to deliberately turn away clients and absorb an initial revenue hit in order to develop App La Carte, which was done in their spare time.

“We always had the intention to make our own apps and app platform,” he says.

“People might say ‘Oh yeah, Moa Creative. It’s a successful company and it must be making money. But in reality it’s just a stepping stone for us. [App La Carte] is the company we wanted to start two years ago but didn’t have the time or money.”

Right now, most of their time and effort is being directed toward App La Carte. But Moa will always be around, Malcolm insists.

“We’ve got to look after the clients we’ve got, and we’re always going to offer services to those big clients willing to pay bigger dollars to get a really customised product. We’re not going to pack our bags and move to America, that’s for sure.”

These days, there’s an app for everything and Moa’s key strength is its specialisation. For specific customers, Malcolm says Moa might do a few other extras and project-manage. But as a rule, mobile apps – and apps only – are what they do.

“If someone came to us and said ‘Can you do a website, a mobile website and an app?’ we’d probably suggest they use someone else,” Malcolm says.

“You get a lot of companies and agencies that say they can develop apps, but they also do websites, TV campaigns, print media. Lots of people say they’re a jack of all trades. We’re the master of one. We really do have world-class developers in house and we don’t waste time with anything else.”