Interview with Jay Shapiro, AppMakr Founder & CEO

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Jay ShapiroJay Shapiro has quite the list of accomplishments – he’s built and sold a global marketing agency, traveled the world extensively with his family and co-founded a non-profit Do Good As You Go with his wife, just to name a few. He also happens to be the guy behind AppMakr, one of our top picks for best mobile app builder. Jay is passionate about his virtual team and, as the founder and CEO of an app making company, uses a number of apps and tools to make his life productive. He has a fascinating story to tell and we are honored to get the chance to share it with you in our latest “People Who Rock the Web” interview.

Read our Review of AppMakr

Where do you get your Business ideas?

The BEST ideas have usually happened around 4 in the morning when I’m lying awake in bed. However, I’m convinced that, like most people, I get a constant flood of great ideas for inventions or new businesses – at least a couple a day. For most people though, these are fleeting “that’s neat” ideas that disappear as fast as they came to mind. I try to take those thoughts a step further by carrying a database of these ideas in my smartphone and am constantly adding and refining them. What makes someone an “entrepreneur” is having the determination, and the guts or insanity depending on your perspective to then act on the ideas that we all have.

For AppMakr specifically: Back in 1999, I founded a digital agency called BLUE. I watched the cost of businesses creating a website drop from hundreds of thousands of dollars, to essentially zero – through the invention of platforms like WordPress, Wix and SquareSpace. I sold BLUE in 2007, the same year the original iPhone came out. I could see at that time that the exact same curve was going to happen with mobile apps and so we set out to build a platform to create the long-tail of the mobile app economy. The result is our drag-and-drop mobile app builder that now empowers anyone to build their own app with zero coding, for as little as $1 a month, ad free.

It’s one of the best feelings an entrepreneur can have to watch an idea become a product in use by millions of customers in 100+ countries around the world.

WHy are You Such a big proponent of remote working?

Offices are so 20th century. We have 60+ staff in a dozen countries, and no office anywhere. Everyone creates their own space that works for them. Some choose to work in formal co-working spaces and some choose to work in their bunny slippers. Personally, I oscillate between the two.

Basing a company in the cloud does more than just give you access to better employees – it reduces operating costs across the board. We don’t need to invest in cubicles, servers, and often overpriced office space, we’re using those funds to subsidize our workers in local co-working spaces like Indiegrove and WeWork. It’s these kinds of waste reduction that enable us to be the only company in the market offering services in 15 languages with 24-hour local language live customer support. The various costs that come with renting office space in a major city like New York is a serious financial drain, so giving each individual employee the ability to work wherever she or he wants frees up enough capital to greatly improve vital aspects of our overall business model.

If you think that having all your employees (even the CEO) work remotely is impractical or unprofessional, these statistics might surprise you. According to research from The Harvard Business Review, remote workers are 50% happier than their cubicle-bound counterparts, and they’re also 13% more productive. What’s more, people who work from home are a full 76% more likely to put in extra hours on a project and tend to be more loyal to their companies. And 80% of them claim to have a better work/life balance.

To me, this new type of company has the ability to change the American landscape. Currently, 80% of Americans live in or near a major urban center. That’s because people move where the jobs are – for example in Detroit, the population boomed as the auto industry flourished, but then disappeared when those jobs began to dry up. But now that cloud-based technology has made close physical proximity unnecessary for productive, collaborative work in many industries, the economic consolidation around cities and the draw that they have for job seekers is going to decline.

In contrast to Detroit: Boulder, Colorado has the happiest population in the country. Their population is steadily growing, but it’s not growing because of new local jobs. Boulder offers exciting resources and events like the Colorado Music Festival, six co-working spaces and 70 square miles of public open space. People move to this burgeoning city for the lifestyle it offers, not the industries or office spaces located there. At the end of the day, I hope that cloud-based companies will be partially responsible for “reversing the tide of urbanization that has been happening for the past hundred years.”

Changing our cities with cloud-based companies

To emphasize just how successful Jay believes that working remotely will change society, he recently gave a TED Talk on the subject.

How does your team stay connected While working virtually?

We are truly a cloud based company. This is not about the company residing in a single office and a couple of people working from home, this is about the entire company residing in the cloud. With the help of cloud-based collaboration platforms like Trello, Google Hangouts, 15Five and UpWork (formerly oDesk) to organize and coordinate work done in multiple locations, we are able to hire the best people in the world, rather than just the best people who coincidentally live within a 50-mile radius of some arbitrary office. Our collaboration tools help us cross geographic boundaries and work with each other. Our 60+ staff work on six different continents, and that lean global team has been able to effectively serve over 2 million customers in 100 different countries.

What’s A day In the life of Jay Shapiro Like?

That would imply that I stop working at some point. Most successful entrepreneurs that I know are insomniacs. I start everyday by making a list of all the ideas and tasks I need to follow-up on that day. Then I spend the rest of my day crossing them off.

I want my day and the people I work with to have fun, be inclusive and definitely diverse – as a globally distributed organization it’s hard to build a corporate culture (there’s no water cooler or company picnics), but everyone is incredibly supportive of both the mission and everyone else. We all are very aware of the fact that we’re part of something very special here – not just the product but the very company structure itself.

I also spend a portion of my time feeding my sole. I co-founded (and continue to direct) The Muskoka Foundation (Do Good As You Go) – a network of 500 volunteers (entrepreneurs, teachers, IT professionals, etc.) who are on their own adventure travels around the world, and donate time to run our skills-transfer workshops with children in orphanages, schools and street-kid shelters on 4 continents.

Who is your business mentor and what have you learned from them?

Honestly, I’ve never had a dedicated “mentor”. I surround myself by people I have a ton or respect for, and I learn from all of them constantly. I am someone who is always asking questions and always listening to the answers I get. Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe that everyone has something to teach you – and I think that’s better than a single person who I have coffee with once a month.

How do you stay up to date on the latest in technology?

By surrounding myself with a network of highly connected sharers, I tend to see a lot of the new news bubble up on my social feeds before it hits the mainstream media. I also have shelves and shelves of “new” gadgets, technologies and projects that I’ve pre-ordered to try out, if only so I can form an opinion. I’m a compulsive tinkerer.

What blogs or websites do you frequent?

My #1 repeat blog is Jalopnik, (because I’m also a gearhead!) but I’m also a daily reader of ProductHunt, the CrunchBase Newsletter and I listen to the ThisWeekInGoogle Podcast every week.

What’s the one gadget you couldn’t live without and why?

That’s simple, my Samsung Note 4. I’ve outsourced my entire brain to it. Without it I could not run a global business no matter where I am on the globe. Through my smartphone I can access and run the entire business (and my personal life!), it’s a big part of why I so strongly believe that apps are going to change the world.

These are the resources I use to run my cloud based company

  • UpWork – The foundation of my global team
  • Jalopnik – Because fundamentally I’m a gearhead
  • Symbaloo – My homepage(s) – the fastest way I know to get to all my other daily sites
  • Google Apps – Google Business Apps & the supporting marketplace – just amazingly powerful for an entrepreneur
  • Wikipedia – It’s why my kids think I’m so smart

These are the mobile apps on my phone, always

  • ZenDesk – Gives me a convenient way to keep my customers delighted no matter where I am
  • gAnalytics – A fantastic Google Analytics app & homescreen widget for monitoring my sites’ daily performances
  • Amazon – The one-click purchase, combined with Prime unlimited delivery and “Amazon Remembers” shop by camera/barcode – are an amazingly powerful way to change the whole world of shopping, I buy EVERYTHING through this app
  • Evernote – There’s just no need to remember anything ever with Evernote around
  • Contacts CallApp – Connects your callerID and your contacts with a global database for social network connections (it’s what smartphones SHOULD be, and it’s incredible)

Where do you see the future of app making going?

In the next 2-3 years those small businesses, community groups, churches, philanthropic organizations, restaurants, etc. that do not have an app will be left behind this technology revolution. Apps are now how a majority of people and customers, members of organizations and people living in their own community receive information and those without one will simply be…left behind.

I think of it as similar to having a website for businesses 10 years ago. Everyone was slow to develop a web page and didn’t see the full benefits of being present on the world-wide web until they realized their competitors were attracting new customers and growing their business just by promoting their business on the Internet. Then they started actually moving their businesses on to the Internet, with more and more companies never physically meeting their customers. And finally, with the advent of Yelp social media and other review type sites businesses are now realizing the power of the crowd on the Internet, to impact their business for better or for worse (hint: it’s actually up to them!).

As mobile apps start connecting with other devices in the Internet of Things (IoT) then we’re going to see that power really take off. There are going to be literally billions of sensors and devices connected to the net, and apps will be a primary means of controlling them. My 10-year-old has already started playing with them, and I can’t wait to see what this next generation uses them for.

What advice do you have for others?

Read this Book: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries – Practical, Instructional, incredibly helpful.

My Advice: Never take too long to act on a decision. There are thousands of tough choices and tasks an entrepreneur has to do. Often we’re too scared, timid, optimistic to pull the trigger. However I’ve found that delaying a decision is usually worse and harder to repair, even than taking a quick decisive but wrong action. There are very few mistakes that can’t be fixed, inaction is one of them.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Being an entrepreneur is seen as extremely sexy at the moment. As a result, there is a whole new class of “wantrepreneurs” who believe all they need is a good idea and they can become a WhatsApp or AngryBird overnight success. There’s no such thing. I truly believe that being an entrepreneur is one of the toughest jobs out there. But…there’s no better way to create value, expand the economy and potentially change the world. So, I absolutely encourage people to do it, but go into it with your eyes wide open, and an expectation that any true success, will take at least 5 years (failure is much faster, but equally instructive!).

Big thanks again to Jay for taking the time to share his words of wisdom and story with us. What advice did you find most useful?

About The Author:

Sadie has over 15 years of experience in digital marketing, graphic and web design, social media strategy, email marketing and more. She is a 4th generation small business owner and has worked with a wide range of brands from fortune 500 companies to startups and entrepreneurs.

Sadie is a self-proclaimed Apple/Mac guru and keeps up with all the latest tech trends at conferences including South by Southwest. Sadie has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Texas at Austin's Moody School of Communications and a concentration in Business from the Red McCombs School of Business.

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