At Inaugural Jersey City Tech Meetup, Jay Shapiro Gives Advice to Aspiring App Builders

Photo: Jay Shapiro talking to the crowd at the Jersey City Tech Meetup. Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Jay Shapiro talking to the crowd at the Jersey City Tech Meetup. | Esther Surden

The first Jersey City Tech Meetup took place on Monday, Oct. 24, with attendees completely filling the meeting space at Indiegrove, in Jersey City. Group members were there to network and listen to a talk by Jay Shapiro, cofounder and CEO of AppMakr (Glen Rock).

Shapiro is no stranger to Indiegrove. He had worked there for a year and a half while building his AppMakr business, according to Zahra Amanpour, founder of Indiegrove, who introduced him at the event. Appmakr is a DIY app-making platform that lets users build their own mobile apps quickly through a simple drag-and-drop interface.

When it comes to mobile apps, ideas are cheap, Shapiro said. AppMakr has three million apps on its platform and, “trust me, I’ve seen them all.” So any idea “you’ve had for an app, someone else has had or is about to think of it.” But there are key elements to success, he noted.

The first thing is to actually do something about your idea for an app. “Everyone has an idea for an app. Ninety-nine percent of the people don’t do anything about it.”

While ideas are cheap, execution is the key. You have to think, “How well can you actually turn it from an idea into a business?”

The second thing is to know where your “wave is.” Your business needs to catch the momentum of the industry’s trajectory while it’s on the way up and before it crests. Industries will crest and be disrupted several times, said Shapiro. To demonstrate his point, he referred to the answering machine, which has been replaced several times and now is in the cloud.

Another example is photo manipulation and storage, which Shapiro says has been disrupted by Google Photos, “where we are now using the supercomputing power of all the servers that Google has, big data and the ability to filter things instantly.”

Photo: The Jersey CIty Tech Meetup audience Photo Credit: Esther Surden
The Jersey CIty Tech Meetup audience | Esther Surden

In fact, the cloud is disrupting everything. Amazon Echo, for instance, gives you the full value of the cloud, controlled by voice, he said. It allows you to do all kinds of cool things. “I’ve got mine interfaced with my home automation system.”  People are now getting things done without ever downloading an app, he noted.

Shapiro then asked, Where do we go next?  “The trick is to be able to spot the wave of development through every industry and ride it.” You don’t want to be way out in front of the wave, investing in technology that nobody wants yet, because you’ll have no customers, he said.

Shapiro recalled that his first company, Faxnet, was one of those companies that was ahead of the curve. Faxnet saved large companies money by sending their faxes over the Internet, rather than by analog point-to-point telephone lines. Investors said to him, “Nobody will ever allow you to send commercial data through the Internet.”

But you don’t want to be behind the wave, either, or your technology will get lost. For example, there are more than 300,000 apps in the Apple App Store that have not been updated since 2013, he said.

Shapiro compared these days of developing apps to the gold rush days in the West. There were only three groups that made money in a gold rush, he noted.

  • The first group that struck it rich were the people who sold the picks and axes. In the app industry, the equivalents would be the app development platforms, the SDKs (software development kits) and the toolkits. “There are all of these amazing tool sets that you can add in,” said Shapiro. “Nobody today should be building an app” from scratch. “All they need to do is assemble your app from all of the toolkits.” AppMakr plays in this sector.
  • The second group that made money were the jewelers. They were the upcyclers. You brought them the nuggets and they would turn them into beautiful jewelry. They would sell it at a much higher price through retail outlets and distributors. “In the app space, these are the Amazon Echos; the Works with Smart Things, by Samsung; the bots for [Facebook] Messenger; the Google Assistant that is coming out with Google Home.” All of these platforms let developers build on top of them. If you leverage the SDKs of these tools, they will take you to millions of consumers, Shapiro said. 
  • The third group were the bankers, who financed the prospectors so they could buy the picks and axes. In the tech industry today, these are the angel investors, the app or bot incubators, the coworking spaces and the conference organizers, he said. They are making money off of growth with little risk, and they are “enabling and accelerating the entrepreneurs to be successful.”

If, after knowing all this, you still want to build an app, the first thing to do is pick your industry; then make sure you solve a specific problem, said Shapiro. “If you don’t know what that specific problem is, don’t start.”

Photo: Sherif Abouzied / Jersey City Summit;Dan Sullivan / NJ Tech Council and meetup organizer; Gabrielle Zuccaro /Sphere Technology Solutions and meetup organizer; and Akisia Grigsby /Open JC Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Sherif Abouzied / Jersey City Summit;Dan Sullivan / NJ Tech Council and meetup organizer; Gabrielle Zuccaro /Sphere Technology Solutions and meetup organizer; and Akisia Grigsby /Open JC | Esther Surden

Also, figure out “where in the stack” you are going to play. “Are you going to build something that’s an embedded app in hardware or connected sensors? Are you going to build hybrid mobile apps?” he asked. Desktop and Web apps are still huge parts of people’s daily lives, he told the group.

Remember that it will take at least two years to build and scale, he cautioned. “Don’t build a business for today. Build a business for where the app economy is going two years from now, because that’s when you’ll hit your stride.”

The Jersey City Tech Meetup organizers are Daniel Sullivan, Anna Lukasiak, Brittani Bunney and Gabrielle Zuccaro. The group is sponsored by The Jersey City Office of Innovation, Indiegrove, the NJ Tech Council and the Jersey City Summit.

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