Project Management

Going Beyond Smartphone Revolution to Ensure App Longevity

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Nomtek started as a company back in 2009, when people were beginning to discover what to do with this new thing called a “smartphone.” This was around the time when Apple released the second version of the iPhone and introduced the concept of AppStore, which marked the so-called mobile mind-shift.

Why We Started Nomtek

Nomtek was founded because we wanted to join this mobile revolution, and the early years of our existence were filled with a great drive to be among the first ones to build the app ecosystem. Smartphone apps offered such immense new capabilities available right at people’s fingertips that we just had to be part of it. From day one, it was clear what makes us thrive: we love working with consumer-facing technologies that make a radical difference. Our focus in the early years was devoted to “sharpening our app sword” — we wanted to be the most reliable app developer with A-level engineering talent and predictable delivery cycles. The formula was simple: you come to us with the app concept, we break it down into releasable pieces of tech, and we inspect and adapt on our way to ship a top-quality app on time and on budget.

Reframing Our Approach

Around releasing our app number 150, we realized that our “honeymoon period” in the app business was over. We started to see a pattern that did not let us sleep at night. No matter how hard we tried, most apps we built failed. Our code was marked best in class by many external auditors and yet the apps we were so passionately building mostly ceased to exist. This was consistent both across startups that ran out of runway before shipping a viable product and large enterprises that decided to change their focus and stop financing certain apps.

We could have shut our eyes and pretended we didn't see it or started blaming our clients for their bad decisions, but it just didn’t feel right. We were always driven by deep care to see the apps we build flourish. It always made us so proud to see that people love the products we build and that there is a solid business model around them.

That is why we had to act and figure out how we could contribute to increasing the life rate of the products we work on. 

We started with the basics: let’s be honest about this situation with our clients. After some trial and error and a lot of upfront, sometimes difficult discussions with the people we worked with, we saw a way how we can help make sure our apps not only survive but thrive.

The core mental model was as follows:

  • Every product concept consists of two parts: the great part and the crummy part. It is pretty hard to tell which part is which at first glance.
  • The best way for a product to thrive is to keep learning which part of the initial vision is crummy and which is great. Each product iteration should bring new insights how to get rid of the crummy parts and double down on the great parts.
  • The optimal way for an app developer to contribute to an app’s success is not only by developing top-quality code but also by being immersed in the product context well enough to help define ways of implementing software to support the great part of the vision and make it more possible to get rid of the crummy part of the vision.

This marked what we call the honest development approach. Knowing too well how hard it is for a digital product to survive, we had to demand more from ourselves than passively receiving requirements from our clients and delivering them without much second thought. At the end of the day, the tech team makes hundreds of decisions each iteration, some of them of strategic importance. We better have enough shared understanding of what actually matters for the product’s success so that we don’t waste resources on building things nobody wants or building complex solutions when simplicity or a smart approach can get us further.

Embracing Honest Development

When trying to embrace what it means to be an honest developer, we realized that we had to “unlearn” some patterns that were comfortable for our business model, for example:

  • We should accept that by digging deeper and digging early we can find evidence that the product we build shouldn’t exist and can “cost” us a long-term contract with a client.
  • If we really want to have simplicity as a prerequisite to solving complex problems, we need to be open to keep challenging the toolkit we have. Development languages or coding and design paradigms may just prove to be obsolete, and we need to realize that the “good old ways” of doing things are not always sustainable. It may so happen that by using new paradigms, you can execute radically faster and better. Even if we could have a better financial gain with our clients using “old” technologies we value being truly helpful in the long term over being salesy in the short term. If the product is a success, sooner or later we and the client will both be better off.
  • If we really value honesty over painting the grass green, we need to treat our clients as human beings and not some items in the CRM. We need to have a great deal of empathy mixed with inner strength and competence to be able to step up and point to some skeletons in the closet but do so in a non-violent way, expressing care rather than the need to dominate and “win” the argument.

Taking all of that into account, we realized that in order to stay true to those beliefs, we needed to accept some shortcomings when it comes to our company’s growth strategy. Being honest in the tech business has its price because not every client is ready to embrace it, so essentially we’re limiting our opportunity space by making our values so clear.

After giving it some second thought, we realized this was exactly what we wanted. Instead of having a very large company that accepts every business opportunity out there, we want to keep nomtek as a mid-size boutique that optimizes for the quality of relationships with the clients and their product impact instead of a plain number of business leads converted.

Our second reflection was that by keeping nomtek mid-size, we can assure that we have exceptionally talented people on board. We can be much more picky and considerate when hiring when we are not forced to meet the strict hiring KPIs of an ever-growing company. This will always lead to some compromises here and there that accumulate over time. Instead, we want to invest in “nomtek’s shared brain,”ensuring that every new person that joins the nomtek club makes the club net stronger. Currently, nomtek’s shared brain encompasses most competencies needed to make a successful product:

  • Tech and design magic → high-tempo delivery
  • Product management and ongoing discovery → radical validation
  • Founder mindset and industry expertise → honest recommendations

We learned that the best way to put nomtek's shared brain in motion is when the client’s helicopter perspective about their product is met with nomtek’s insights from the trenches. This mixture of zoom-out and zoom-in combined with hard delivery work makes everyone in the team as close to seeing the path to product success as possible.

Staying True to Values

Ok, so where are we now? For the past couple of years, we see the consumer tech space accelerating at an ever faster pace. We are now trying to embrace the next paradigm shift brought about by spatial computing and the Metaverse. Again, we were among the first ones to build XR experiences for the headsets like Magic Leap, and we’re excited about the concept that your physical environment can be used as an interface. We also keep an eye open to ensure that we have the right development toolkit that embraces the new capabilities brought about by generative AI, no-code platforms, and cross-platform solutions. The world may keep changing, but we want to stay true to who we are no matter what.

And what about you? Does it sound like some parts of our journey or some decision we’ve made along our way resonate with what you stand for? If so, we would love to hear your story.

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