Snapping From Building An App To Creating A Platform

Snapping From Building An App To Creating A Platform
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Sometimes, great ideas come from the simplest places. Snap, Send, Solve was one of the first apps developed by Danny Gorog and his partners when they started their app development business, Outware Mobile. The genesis was the confluence of a Victorian government competition calling on developers to find innovative uses for publicly available data and a chance trip to a playground. From that, Gorog has gone on to build Snap Send Solve into a platform that is being exported to other countries.

“At the time I had a young son. We went for a walk to the playground and he loved the swing. When we got there, the swing was broken. ‘How the hell do I report this? Who do I even report this to?”. That’s the genesis of the idea,” said Gorog.

He took the idea back to his partners at the newly established Outware Mobile and they started to build a platform. The idea was that you could launch the app, no matter where you were in Australia and it used the device’s GPS to work out where you are. From that, it determined which council or municipality you’re in and let you create an incident report that would land in the right council department’s inbox.

“We put it out there at the time and it got a little bit of publicity and people started using it and it rolled on,” he said.

As Outware Mobile grew, Gorog and his team continued to make small modifications and updates to the app, adding an Android version to the original iOS release and, more recently, a web app. Over time, it’s grown to become a popular platform for local governments who can also take advantage of a web-based backend service for configuring different types of reports they can receive from citizens with the ability to send different types of incidents to different council departments for action.

As a result of that local success, Gorog said Outware Mobile was approached by Christchurch City Council to take the app to them. That lead to a significant shift. Until that point, Snap Send Solve had been a free app with the local governments that benefitted getting access to the reports sent in by citizens at no cost. But the Christchurch council was prepared to pay for Gorog and his team to develop the app and backend service to suit their needs.

“We did a commercial deal with Christchurch City Council and that lead to deals with other councils in New Zealand where they pay us for our service. We cover a lot of the South Island now”.

From the time of Gorog’s experience with the broken swing to getting commercial customers has taken six years. Gorog says that slow burn has been supported through the other work the growing company managed – which ultimately led to Outware Mobile being acquired by Melbourne IT, where Gorog is a member of the executive team. But as part of that acquisition, Gorog negotiated to retain Snap, Send, Solve as his own side business.

Over those six years, Gorog says there has been consistent effort to improve the product and service. And, as it was developed almost as a side project, there hasn’t been any external funding. But now that the platform has grown and has a solid body of users, he is looking at ways to monetise the effort that’s been put into Snap Send Solve.

“It’s one of these ‘slow burn’ platforms”, he said. “These businesses don’t get built overnight. It takes about three to five years. Because it’s a platform, you need more runway than if it’s just a product”.

The distinction between Snap Send Solve being a platform, rather than just an app is important. When Gorog talks too councils he pitches it as a platform they need to be on, just like Twitter, Facebook, the phone or a website. It’s another channel for them to engage with their community.

Unlike social media, Gorog says Snap Send Solve is private as it is a direct communication between the constituent and the council. The benefit for council is that problems aren’t discussed in public forums and items requiting attention are automatically directed to the right person or department.

Having started as a tool to report issues to councils, Gorog said the app, which has been downloaded by over 200,000 users, can report issues with telecommunications pits to Telstra, abandoned shopping trollies to Coles and Woolworths and issues with water supplies with South East Water in Melbourne.

By creating the platform, Gorog says he is uniquely placed. It’s unlikely a single council would ever develop something like this as they would not see value in creating a tool that other councils would use. But by using public data and developing an easy-to-use platform, Gorog said he has been able to service a country-wide, and now international, need.

While councils have been able to benefit from Snap Send Solve for free, Gorog says he thinks the time has come for him to be able to talk with them about commercial arrangements where they pay for the service and, over time even look at other opportunities. But Gorog said he will start with the councils as he already has a strong relationship with them.

Gorog’s advice for anyone with a great app idea is to be patient.

“Selling to local government, or government in general, is a much slower process than selling to consumers or small to medium businesses. Local governments buy things very slowly and have an arduous tender process depending on the value of the contract. It’s about choosing your markets. If you’re targeting local government you’re going to need a longer runway than if you’re targeting consumers or small businesses”.

Then it’s about understanding the benefits of your platform to consumers and the business you’re selling to.

He recommends a book called Platform Revolution which talks about how platforms work systematically. This is critical, he said, as the process of building a platform is complicated which is why many fail.

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