MEA Mobile's rise to the top

MEA Mobile is doing its bit to prove that serious tech can come out of the Tron.

rod macfarlane mea mobileMEA Mobile is doing its bit to prove that serious tech can come out of the Tron.

The digital era has brought about huge workplace change. Some new habits – such as ‘cyber-loafing’ – were born, while other ideals, such as the paperless office, have fizzled. Will buzzwords such as the ‘borderless office’ or the ‘virtual workforce’ fall out of favour when businesses realise that, like paper, offices can’t function without human contact?

MEA Mobile may not be a business made up of loners working from home, but it’s definitely an example of a Kiwi tech company working seamlessly across time zones and borders – and hitting its straps in the smartphone app market.That’s according to Rod Macfarlane, co-founder of the app developer MEA Mobile.

“The tyranny of distance is gone,” he says. “People have been talking about it for a long time, but for MEA Mobile it’s a reality. Our [Connecticut, US] office will give us work, we do it overnight and then the next morning it’s ready to be delivered to clients.”

Macfarlane believes the ICT sector was always best suited to exploit the advantages offered by the digital era – think Skype, social media marketing and e-commerce.

“Even beyond inter-office communication and data sharing, it’s huge. For digital products, the iTunes and Google Play stores are open 24/7 around the world. It’s a whole new distribution channel open to us, in a click – no longer do we have to court retail relationships in different markets.”

As the parody T-shirts have long prophesied, Hamilton really is the ‘city of the future’ – at least for MEA Mobile, anyway.

Over half of their 20-strong team is based in the Waikato, most of them the developers behind their hugely successful apps such as the retro-film filter iSupr8.

“Hamilton is a great base for us,” Macfarlane says. “We’ve been able to bring on some great local talent – both veterans and top graduates from the University of Waikato and WinTec. It’s a reflection of how we can do business now, in this industry. We have full-time employees who live in Hawaii, Singapore and Dunedin.”

mea mobile isupr8At its peak, the iSupr8 app was downloaded by nearly 33 new users per minute – basically a new hipster putting their film in sepia tones every two seconds. Other MEA Mobile stablemates such as iLapse, Part and Speed Machine gained enough downloads to secure the number one, two, four and six slots simultaneously for photo and video apps in the French App store and top 10 places in the American store. “You don’t see that from an
independent development company, it’s more the territory of EA Sports and other large players.”

The ascent to the top of the charts was fuelled predominantly by a PR stunt to celebrate MEA Mobile’s second birthday, when they made all their apps free for 48 hours. They were rewarded with records, name recognition and success stories for their portfolio. The co-founder saw it as a necessary part of the game, where the app market is saturated and even developers with the most enviable ideas have to differentiate themselves.

“We broke records with that. It’s so important when you’re competing with these huge brands and companies with unlimited marketing budgets.”

Having Connecticut-based Bruce Seymour managing client relationships and Sir Stephen Tindall’s K1W1 fund taking an interest have helped MEA’s success along the way.

The company’s revenue streams include developing their own apps, as well as contract work, such as the successful Jason’s Maps app and also the customisation for brands of MEA’s well-established apps.

Recent successes of this customisation include partnering with Levi’s and Rip Curl to offer customers unique content, which meshes the brand message with the app features seamlessly.

“The Rip Curl partnership produced an iSupr8 limited edition, which was perfect for shooting film at the beach, by offering high contrasts, saturated colours and washout blues,” he explains. And so the company gets a multinational surf brand promoting its app and sponsoring it as a free download. Win-win.

Macfarlane credits his “incredibly hardworking” development team as the code-cracking cogs of the MEA machine who have created nearly 70 apps for the market in a little over two years. The high output aligns with Macfarlane’s technology philosophy, which promotes timeliness over refinement.

“Our strategy has always been to microfinance a lot of different projects. Instead of spending a whole year on one app, we limit features and get something to market quickly.”

MEA then takes its signals from the fickle app market to ascertain whether a basic idea just needs a little polishing.

“The best type of review is ‘I love this app, but ...’ – that means we have a good idea at the core and it just needs some refining. Twitter, in its early stages, was pretty ugly upfront, but has been revised into a successful ecosystem.”

PHOTOS: Tony Nyberg