For those old enough to remember, the website was once a novelty, a nebulous idea that companies knew they had to have, but nobody was really sure how or why. These days, it's kind of the same thing with smartphone apps, speculates Amy Burkhardt, a first-time businesswoman who recently co-founded the app development company NeoAppism -- the name is a play on the word neologism, a newly coined word or phrase. We caught up with Burkhardt to talk about starting a business, working with her brother and ex-boyfriend and, of course, apps.
Westword: The company is basically you and your brother, right? Amy Burkhardt: Yeah, he's the programmer, and then I'm also working with my ex-boyfriend. He does all the graphic design work, and my brother does all the coding, and I do the business management and facilitation.
WW: That's got to be an interesting company dynamic. AB: Oh, it's ridiculous. But, I mean, we're good at communication, because my ex-boyfriend is my ex-boyfriend, so we're good at yelling at each other. Like, if I set unrealistic expectations, he'll tell me. And then my brother's my brother, so there's no weird formalities that we have to respect. So we actually work out pretty well.
WW: So you're the facilitator? What does that mean? AB: I communicate. So when we're doing a bid for proposal for a company, I'm the one in charge of writing that and getting business, and then once we start a project, making sure that everybody's working and all the pieces are moving together properly, and that we have the graphics that we need when we need them, and that we have the functionality that we need. Overseeing everything.
WW: Tell me about the kind of apps you have in development right now. AB: Well, we're always working on our own creative portfolio, and then we also do branded apps for companies that pay us money.
WW: What does "branded apps" mean? AB: Branded apps means that a company has a brand and their brand wants an app. The way I view it is, companies are realizing in the way that they needed a website five or ten years ago, that urgency how they all got websites? They're realizing that there's that same urgency for smartphone applications. So it's just kind of a general term for a company to have an application the same way they have a website for consumers. So all of our focus right now is on one app for a company based out of Chicago; it's a local search engine company where, in the past, they've been profitable just off of SEO (search-engine optimization) searches and bots hitting their site, but they want to become more consumer-friendly. So we're making a local search app, kind of like Yelp or Foursquare, but it's more consumer-oriented. The main feature is a local database where you can "fave" [does air-quotes] all your favorite local businesses, and then we're going going to do some neat geofencing stuff.
WW: Geofencing? AB: Geofencing is like the new hot term. So if you walk by one of your businesses that you've "faved" -- Fave is the name of the company -- so if you walk by one of these businesses you've faved or you're close in proximity to it, the company can push out a coupon or an advertisement or a deal that you can go in and take advantage of.
WW: Is that interesting to work on? AB: It is. We're still learning what apps can do, so it's interesting. The whole concept of like a little local database within an application on your iPhone blew my mind at first -- I'm obviously not the coder, so it's okay that it blew my mind and not his mind. But it's fun to find out what's possible and what's feasible, and obviously there's already local search apps out there, but to see what hasn't been touched yet and try to do that is fun.
WW: Why do you think there is such an urgency to developing apps? How can they serve businesses? AB: I think in a way they're more interactive than a website, or more accessible. Like, the company that we're working with right now, nobody visits their website. Only bots do -- like, it's just not consumer based. So this app, it takes data from a website and does something interesting with it.
WW: What's the most interesting thing you're working on right now? AB: The concept of this company. We're so small right now that we're just focused on that one app. But we have the potential for doing a lot more.
WW: What would you say is the most interesting part of your work? AB: Learning the business of starting a small business. Surrounding myself with people who know what they're doing and learning from them, and doing it in an out-of-classroom context of just doing it and learning and acknowledging that I have no idea what I'm doing, and then figuring it out step by step.
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WW: What's the most mind-blowing thing you've learned from this experience? Like, what's the biggest realization that you've had? AB: Well, besides little tiny databases within apps [laughs], the idea that something that you're interested in can effortlessly turn into revenue. We started as just a hobby of making fun apps, and that just effortlessly collided with the idea that companies need apps being made. So it could be the only time in my life where interests intersect with money. Which is exciting, obviously.
WW: When you get rich, what are you going to buy? AB: I'll buy a house with good windows, so I'm not losing a fortune on heat.
WW: That's a very practical answer. AB: Money is more a metric of success for me than something I can actually utilize. I guess I would travel. I don't want to make my potential children's lives too comfortable, so I don't want to give them too much money.