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Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024

Buttoning Up

When Lawrence Vavra needed someone to build an iPhone application for his Beverly Hills-based DJ management business, he scouted around for app developers. He quickly found they would charge him thousands of dollars and would need at least several months.

Then Vavra discovered Mobile Roadie LLC. The small Santa Monica startup promised not only to build him a high-quality app for a few hundred dollars, but also said it could do it in days.

Vavra was so impressed with the results that he now asks many of his DJs to have Mobile Roadie build apps for them. He’s even recommended the company to people who aren’t his clients.

“I had some developers tell me it would take three months to build an app, and Mobile Roadie did it in five days,” said Vavra, president of Deckstar. “If you’re an artist, why spend the time and money building your own app when you can use these guys?”

Having a personalized iPhone application has become a must-have for ambitious authors or budding bands that need a way to connect with on-the-go fans. But they face a problem similar to Vavra’s: It’s difficult to find experienced developers who can build quality apps quickly, and they can charge tens of thousands of dollars to do it.

That’s where Mobile Roadie comes in. The company uses customizable templates to build professional-grade iPhone apps. Customers choose from a set of options and features listed on Mobile Roadie’s Web site, and Mobile Roadie’s team of seven employees builds the app and gets it approved by Apple Inc. for distribution through Apple’s online store. The company will soon branch out to other smart phone brands.

One of the company’s main selling points is its price: Mobile Roadie charges clients a $500 one-time setup fee and a monthly $30 maintenance fee. A team of professional programmers, in contrast, can charge $30,000 to $50,000.

“The whole point of this is you don’t need a developer or a programmer,” said Michael Schneider, Mobile Roadie’s founder and chief executive. “You can just make the app yourself.”

While Schneider touts Mobile Roadie’s product as low cost, it doesn’t skimp on features. A band, for instance, can design an app that allows users to hear its music, buy concert tickets or merchandise, browse through photos and videos, and swap messages with band members.

Mobile Roadie is trying to bite off a chunk of what analysts described as a growth market. In 2009, people worldwide spent $4.2 billion to download more than 2.5 billion apps for smart phones, according to a study by Stamford, Conn., research firm Gartner Inc. By 2013, those numbers are projected to grow to $29.5 billion and 21.6 billion downloads.

The surge in interest around apps should mean more business for developer companies such as Mobile Roadie, said Carolina Milanesi, Gartner’s U.K.-based research director for mobile devices. The company’s challenge will be to make its products stand out from the masses.

“It is becoming a very crowded market, and you get to a point where, when there are over 40,000 apps for the iPhone alone, the question is can I actually find what I’m looking for?” said Milanesi.

Schneider acknowledged that the marketplace has been flooded with apps in the past couple of years.

“But there’s a lot of junk out there,” he said. “When you remove that, there are very few high-quality, low-cost app providers like Mobile Roadie.”

Striking chord

When Mobile Roadie launched in December 2008, it was targeted mostly at musicians. And it’s had success with the music industry. When Mobile Roadie debuted, it enlisted Orchard, a leading indie music label, as a launch partner. Schneider is in talks with leading musicians and artists for Mobile Roadie to build their apps.

But the company has also struck a chord in other industries. Conferences and concert promoters, including Beverly Hills-based Live Nation Inc., have used Mobile Roadie to build apps for their events. Authors such as Sophie Kinsella, whose “Confessions of a Shopaholic” was a recent film, have also turned to the startup.

The attention has helped boost Mobile Roadie’s business. Schneider declined to disclose revenues, but said he expected the company to be profitable within the next three months. To date, the company has built more than 200 apps, and Schneider said that number should double in the next two months.

This month, the company also plans to unveil an app for smart phones powered by Google’s Android operating system. Schneider said Mobile Roadie also plans to build apps for Apple’s new handheld device, the iPad.

Mobile Roadie is the second startup run by Schneider, a 29-year-old USC graduate who has been starting businesses since he was 15. Mobile Roadie evolved from his previous company, Fluidesign, a Web design firm.

“We were creating iPhone apps for clients, and we realized it was a big process to do,” Schneider said. “And we started to see this niche of customers that needed a really high-quality app, but also wanted to be able to control it and manage content themselves and didn’t want to spend $10,000 or $20,000.”

Schneider shut down Fluidesign in 2008 when he launched Mobile Roadie, and now devotes all his attention to his new company. His office – on the 11th floor of a Santa Monica buildings a couple of blocks from the beach – is part workspace, part storage, with boxes from Fluidesign still stacked in a corner.

Of late, Schneider’s been wracking up the frequent flier miles, jetting off to the East Coast and Europe to speak at conferences, meet with potential customers and showoff Mobile Roadie’s product.

“It’s entrepreneur hours, but I don’t care,” Schneider said. “This company’s my baby.”

Mobile Roadie LLC

HEADQUARTERS: Santa Monica

FOUNDED: 2008

CORE BUSINESS: Building custom applications for smart phones

EMPLOYEES: 7 (up from 2 in 2009)

GOAL: To create thousands of apps across multiple platforms by the end of this year

THE NUMBERS: The number of people downloading its apps has increased 20 percent month over month

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