Interviews

How signing up Lloyds as its first big client paid off for Apptivation

8 min read

05 March 2015

Former editor

Mark Kanji, CEO of London-based Apptivation, has gone from an idea for an app development consultancy to a business turning over £12m inside two years. He shares his journey with us.

(1) What were you doing before setting up your business?

My passion has always been centred around digital technology. I previously consulted to large financial institutions and led the strategy and implementation of new digital channels and propositions.

(2) What was the motivation, what problem were you solving?

While working within large corporates I became increasingly frustrated with outdated delivery processes, practices and techniques. Consumers were going mobile and large corporations were struggling to understand the shift in customer behaviour and how to react, adapt and leverage this in a timely manner. More lean and agile companies were beginning to encroach rapidly upon established organisations market share. 

Apptivation was conceived to help large corporates become more agile and responsive to customer and technological changes in the market place and help deliver innovative, robust mobile solutions that provide real and immediate business value. 

(3) Why did you decide to position it in the financial space?

Partly this was influenced by my background. Having worked in the sector for over 14 years, I was acutely aware of the challenges financial institutions were facing and how I could solve these with the right capability and team around me. The financial services industry had also lagged behind other industries in relation to customer servicing so I sensed there would be a significant and growing appetite to embrace technology to better meet customer needs.

(4) What are businesses looking for from apps, and how do you give that to them?

Initially the focus was around customer engagement and brand awareness. As mobile becomes the dominate channel in which customers interact with organisations, it’s become increasingly important to convert this attention into sales. Mobile also provides brands with a richer insight into customer behaviour (location, context for example) and organisations are beginning to harness this data to improve how they deliver services and core products.

Overall, the value businesses are seeking from a proposition will vary for each individual client. Our knowledge of the client’s industry, technology developments and customer insight allows us to best advise clients on the how they can best meet their objectives through mobile solutions.

(5) What kind of skills are needed in app building?

The skill spectrum here is wide, from understanding fast evolving customer needs through to knowing how to best apply technological developments into meaningful business solutions. Successful app delivery requires extensive collaboration between a client and number of mobile professionals including analysts, designers, developers, testers and project managers so communication skills and teamwork is by far the most important skill set.

Read more about mobile apps:

(6) How have you gone out and found clients?

We’ve used a number of techniques to attract new clients, from traditional direct marketing and PR through to content marketing on social media and knowledge sharing at conferences. One-to-one networking at targeted events still yields our best quality leads. 

(7) What advice would you give on negotiating with big brands? 

Being honest when you are start-up is really important to big brands. Not over-stating where you are as a start-up will garner immediate respect and creditability. Having a champion within the client that also believes in the value your product or service can bring can also help you position more successfully before and during negotiations. Ensure negotiations include discussions on how your company can leverage the prominence and reach of the brand to promote your company – this often can be more valuable than the deal itself. Finally, keep re-emphasising the relative agility, flexibility and specialist knowledge you can offer as long term supplier or partner.

(8) How did you go about securing the deal with Lloyds, and what has it done for the business?

We were invited by representatives of the bank to take part in a formal and competitive procurement process that spanned nearly three months. As a startup we were up against established multi-national organisations so knew it was going to be a tall order to get through even the initial round. However, not having a historical setup and layers of management actually played to our advantage as we were able to mould not only our proposal but swiftly adapt the business around the specific needs of the prospective client, whilst also adhering to best practice.

We were also very determined to prove we could succeed and went beyond the requirements to demonstrate our capability. Ultimately our immense desire, focus, talent and flexibility resonated strongly with the selection panel and allowed us to win our first major client. Having such a prominent and reputable brand early on has helped us immensely and continues to provide our company with immediate legitimacy and trust in the market.

(9) How have you financed growth to date?

The company was originally bootstrapped by myself and we have been self-funded ever since. As a company we invest considerably in our own research and development, this is funded completely by our own retained earnings.

(10) What have the biggest hurdles been to date?

Managing cultural and technology differences between large corporates and startups has been a major challenge. As a relatively small business, you’re able to move much faster than your clients and this can often cause frustration on both sides. One solution we have adopted is to invite clients to base themselves in our central London offices during critical phases of the project. This approach has been very effective at allowing improved knowledge sharing, reducing delays and enabling better and timelier decisions.

Corporate procurement processes still take much longer than they need to (typically 6-12+ months). This can represent substantial costs and creates a barrier to small business to even compete. As part of our research and development team we are working on a tool to help accelerate corporate decision making around digital propositions – watch this space.