Podcast Episode 31

Mastering Mobile App Development

In this episode of the Tech Business Roundtable podcast, Ken Vermeille, Founder of Vermilion Sky, a mobile app development industry expert, shares strategic insights and proven strategies to help elevate your tech entrepreneurship journey. Whether you are a seasoned professional or just stepping into the tech realm, Ken’s 15 years of experience in developing and delivering digital products can offer invaluable perspectives on navigating trends, overcoming challenges, and seizing untapped opportunities in the dynamic mobile app space. This episode is more than just about technology; it’s a roadmap to building products that resonate and stand the test of time. Tune in now to gain actionable tips and unleash the potential of your tech venture.

Ken-Vermeille CEO @ Vermillion Sky

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Ryan Davies: Welcome everyone to the Tech Business Roundtable podcast show. This podcast show is dedicated to shining a spotlight on tech innovators, entrepreneurs, founders, and the compelling narratives behind the movements they’ve established. I’m your host, Ryan Davies, and I’m hosting today’s discussion on Mastering Mobile App Development with Ken Vermeille. Ken, Thank you so much for being here today; this is going to be a fun one.

Ken:  Oh, yeah, definitely. I’m super excited and glad to be here. I’m glad to help people learn more about mobile app development and building apps that people love to use.

Journey into Mobile App Development

Ryan Davies:  I’m super excited to squeeze every drop of knowledge for our first conversation here. Before we started, we discussed how deep this could go and how much fun this was going to be. So I’m excited to see where this goes, and for our listeners, a little bit about Ken with Vermilion Sky: they collaborate with companies aiming to create mobile and web applications. They use a US-based team crafting the initial MVP supporting internal development of teams during expansion and are really a reliable partner in product development. Notably, he’s done a number of start-ups or with start-ups like art fairs and opinion up that have entrusted Vermilion Sky to help construct their applications from end to end. He has a meticulous understanding of client requirements in timely product development for immediate success, securing funding, generating revenue, and facilitating enhancements. This is the go-to guy in this space. I think so; with 15 years of experience in developing and delivering digital products, his mission is to assist entrepreneurs in building products that resonate with users and will stand the test of time. You know, grow with their business. I think from there, naturally, if you could share a little bit more about your journey into the world of mobile app development and what inspired you to start for Vermillion Sky,

Ken:  Oh, yeah. Well, The interesting thing is my background is in development. So, I have a bachelor’s degree in video game development. And so, it meant that I wanted to go to school to make video games and go into actually making a video game. It’s incredibly intense and incredibly fun. The moment that I got out of school, I had a couple of interesting offers, and one of the things that put me away from the video game industry was the overworked culture, right? It was common to work 80-plus hours a week and do all that stuff. So I was like, No, I’ll do something easier, which is start a business, and where I proceeded to work 80 hours a week then. So it was essentially I was going to work 80 hours a week anyway. So, I started my own business, but even before that, a couple of agencies ended up hiring me and using me as their engine. So, you know, they go out, they sell a bunch of business and say, hey, Ken, can you build this? And I’d help them build it. And I was a kid, and I was like, sure, you know, and throw challenges at me. Mainly because, again, in my mind, I’m just like, you want me to make an app? Sure, I make video games, right? And it was fun. It was really fun to understand and, like, see the process of building an app from scratch and having that app turned into a business. One of the first apps that we built was an app to determine whether or not kids would have a snow day from school. It was interesting because it was one of those, at the very beginning of the app store, where every app was like 99 cents. I remember we launched it that year; there weren’t too many snow days, but we saw that our client made a lot of money. They had a lot of $1 downloads, and they were featured in the news, and they came back, and we did updates, and it was a really good experience, and I saw that, and I thought, well, I believe that I could do it myself. And so I started Vermillion Sky, and from then, we’ve just been helping start-ups build mobile applications from idea to conception to managing the front and the back end and essentially doing anything that we need to do to allow them to be successful because it’s hard. But once you have a good formula, then you can move forward.

Ryan Davies: I mean, to be completely customizable. Yet certain pieces of that template need to be there, right? So you can repeat some of the processes but then have that there. And I mean, Ken, where I am, we’ve already had two snow days this year. It’s early. So, we recorded this podcast. We’re at the end of November, and we’ve had two. So they happen a lot. Sorry, go ahead.

Ken: Yeah. The cool thing is we, like, hooked into the National Weather Service, we like pulled in a bunch of APIs, and then we had this cool formula to like to determine like it’s a 70% chance of a snow day or it’s a 22% of the chance of a snow day. So it was awesome.

Ryan Davies: For parents looking to prepare, that’s gold. Let’s talk about it now, right? What trends do you see the kind of in this, in the landscape of mobile app development, like, especially in the context of business solutions with your experience? What do you see happening in, sort of the changes and the offering that’s out there?

Ken: Oh yeah, when it comes to building a mobile app, one of the things that I see is people essentially jumping into the business opportunity too early. The thing is, you want to validate and make sure that you have a market for your idea. So most of the time, because a business may be in business, they have a customer, they have a customer avatar, and they are able to generate money from one service offering. It doesn’t necessarily translate automatically to an application because there are a lot of other things that make the business run that you can’t turn into technology. So you can’t, yes, you can do customer service with AI and technology. But if you’re doing a white glove service and then you pivot from that to an AI, you may lose customers, and it may just not align with your business and your brand. So what I’ve been seeing is more of a customer-focused approach, dealing with the top 20% of the people who bring in the revenue and only focusing on building features that generate revenue well for the business from those people. That means that if somebody who’s not in that top 20% if they are requesting something, it’s not necessarily that you ignore them. It’s hey, we’ll do that later. Still, if somebody within that top 20 cohort wants something, you then build that thing for them and allow yourself to reap the revenue. And when you do things that way, because development is expensive, right? Especially dealing with the US team. We really want to make sure that anything that we are going to attempt to do is going to have a downstream revenue boost for the customer essentially. It doesn’t make sense if we spend $100,000 only to make $20,000. It makes more sense if you spend $100,000 with us, and then you’re attacking an opportunity that makes you 2 to $3 million over the course of a year. So, instead, 2023 budgets are drying up, which is fine. But in that, it forces people to think about whether we should build this. Who are we building this for? Why should we build it, and will it have that downstream effect of increasing the business revenue?

Ryan Davies: That’s a very key point, right? It’s making sure that businesses align the mobile app strategy with their business goals and objectives. And like you said, sometimes that gets missed, overlooked, assumed, right? So, like the business leaders and founders that are listening here, they’re looking to invest in mobile app development. Are there key considerations that they should go through some sort of a don’t have to give your whole recipe for success but that, you know, those pieces where you’re like, this is how you might be ready for this, or these are the things the ducks you have to have in a row first before like you said, you’re going to invest in something and not see the ROI from it, right?

Ken: Yeah. The first thing is you want to focus on doing one thing very, very well. Ten years ago, it used to be really cool to have a very bloated application in which you could do 10,20,30 different things. Now, it makes more sense to have multiple applications in each of those applications. You just do one thing. Well, let’s say that you’re creating an app. And the purpose of the app is to review legal contracts. In that sphere, you can make it review legal contracts; you can make it generate contracts; you can make it so that you have a dual editing capability where two people can look at it and say there’s a lot of stuff that you can do because you know, the technology is, it’s there. It takes a lot of discipline to say, you know what, we’re only going to focus on the contract analysis, and we’re not going to do anything else because once you do that, then you have revenue. Once you have the revenue, you could reinvest that revenue into the other features. Again, that makes sense to the top 20% of your users. So, the biggest thing is to validate the application without building the application, and you do that first. Well, there’s a couple of ways of doing it. One, you could launch a fake product, or you can announce the product and get a small cohort of people who are interested in your product and get to the point where you could convince them to prepay for the product and say, hey, look, you’ll have a lifetime subscription to this product, give me $20. when you interview people, they tend to want to be nice. And people who would sit down and do a customer interview or do any type of customer development, they’re going to tend to be on the nicer side, and one way to kind of break away from that is, you know, ask them to pay you because if they’re willing to pay you, now you validated that, even if it’s, you know, $20 for a lifetime subscription of something that you haven’t built yet, it’s still some type of validation and that protects you from spending too much money on something that may not work. And so that’s like my biggest thing after that. Then, yeah, do the research and development to figure out what type of user interface works with that customer. Focus on doing very quick six-week iterations of product development. Well, you could do one-week iterations, but you should bunch up your features into six-week releases. That means every six weeks, you’re releasing something significant, something that will resonate with your customer. It doesn’t necessarily have to go live out to the customer yet, but it should be; it’s a good amount of time for you to say this is something that was designed and built and launched, and it serves its purpose, and it could be sent out to the customer who wants. And so that could look like two weeks of design, four weeks of development, and launching something through a closed group of people, having them test iterate, ensuring that you have some type of like application funnel that tracks your analytics from first download to purchase and then just watch your analytics and see what’s working and see what isn’t working after you launch. Then, if you launch and things aren’t super perfect, that’s completely fine. You need to spend the time after launch to iterate towards success and iterate towards whatever metric that you are trying to hit for your business.

Ryan Davies: I mean, that’s it. You’ve mentioned a few times. How important is that user-centric design and making sure that you are validating along the way? You want to make sure I came from an area like this before. I’ve done some custom software dev and sales work for it. So, of course, I’m your worst enemy in the fact that I can promise anybody the moon that it’ll solve everybody’s problem, and then the developers and engineers go, ok,  now you’ve promised all of this in a release. What are we going to do here? So you’re absolutely bang on with that. Like, you have to have that customization to meet the apps of the specific businesses and the specific users and things like that. We talk about some common challenges that businesses face when it comes to developing mobile apps or some untapped opportunities that might exist for businesses that they are overlooking in mobile apps. Do you have some examples where you’re like, this is something everyone runs into, or this is, this is an area that people should be looking at that’s so underutilized, and we could take advantage of?

Ken: Yeah. Right now, everybody should be looking into implementing some type of AI interface into their application. Now, there are many ways to do this. It could be something as small as if you’re creating. You have a project management app, and you need to find the name of a project or generate the name of a project; you could have AI do that for you. Now, a lot of the time, these are small de-lighters. They’re not necessarily things that are going to make or break your core value proposition, but it’s enough to make somebody say, oh yeah, well, this app has AI. So it’s better than this other app. Now that’s that bubble is not going to last forever. Eventually, all apps will use AI in some way or another. And it’s going to be less of a marketing kind of gimmick and just something that we assume that all applications use some type of artificial intelligence or generative capabilities to make the experience of using the app better. So, I would say you don’t have to read an AI 101 book. You could look at people who are within your current business space and see how they’re leveraging AI. And then also look at people who are not necessarily within what you want to do. So there are plenty of times where even for us, like, we see people use AI in their marketing materials, and we’re like, hey, we should leverage some of these AI tools in our marketing materials. It may not be a 1 to 1 translation, but it could be something that you can definitely build and market. It’s also a great way to get new users into your application because they’re going to be curious. Hey, we’re using this new AI feature to help you get from A to B quicker. And that’s another thing about having applications because apps are simultaneous, getting more complex and simple. At the same time, we want to leverage AI, even in the onboarding experience, to ensure that people are moving toward where we want them to move in the application. 

Integration and Security in Mobile App Development

Ryan Davies: You talked about this too. You mentioned it a few times in a couple of different responses here, but I really want to touch on that. Many businesses already have an app that they’re using, that they’re used to, or most commonly, have established systems that are integrated. A lot of times, they’re even siloed. So you’re using multiple systems, and you want to integrate across all of them. This is an area of expertise for you. So how are you, and how do people ensure, you know, that seamless integration when they’re developing the mobile app so that it’s going to work with your existing business infrastructure and, like, really again, squeeze all of the value out of what you’re already doing and add more of that ROI in the app that’s being developed.

Ken:  Oh yeah, absolutely. This might be a little bit technical. Still, the way that we like to allow multiple systems to play together is we want to remove those systems’ logic from the core business logic of your application. If your application is a word processor, and it uses Microsoft’s Business Intelligence, and it uses an SAP plug-in, and it uses sales force and all that stuff. You don’t want any of that to be in your application’s business logic. You want the applications. And when I say business logic, it’s like, what does the app do? Like the features of the application, you want the application to do what it’s supposed to do, and all the other tools and integrations should be details that don’t affect the core experience of the user. Users shouldn’t know that you’re using a sales force or anything like that. They should know that, hey, this app is doing stuff if things are happening in the background, and we’re able to complete the job that we’re trying to do. The reason why you want this, too, you want to have kind of those details on the periphery is because when something changes, it can cause a bug in your business logic, and these bugs cause a lot of issues for businesses, hey, you know, the sales force is down today. Well, that means our entire app is down, and we’re losing money now. or hey, you know, Microsoft didn’t update over here, and because you’re so tied to exactly what’s happening with Microsoft because if they move left, you have to move left too, they move right, you have to do that too. And in a day-to-day scenario, it may not really affect you. But let’s say something happens on the weekend, or you have an outage or anything like that; any one of those things going wrong will affect your business. So, removing those integrations from the core business logic and separating them and having them, as we call them, interfaces that allow you to move quickly and build quickly. It also allows you to swap out tools seamlessly; let’s say, hey, we’re not using Salesforce anymore. We’re going to use Hubspot. Awesome. Within a day of work, one of our devs can go in and plug in exactly what we need to do, and now you’re on the sales force. It doesn’t take a six-month build; it takes a one-week deal with testing, and everything is working exactly how you want it to work. The next kind of super tip is when it comes to your mobile app being out in the world. Yes, it’s good to change things periodically and experiment, but you still want to; you don’t want the business to be focused on the development team. The business should be able to work and do everything that it can do without focusing on the team. The team is going to deliver new features to make the lives of the business team better. But it shouldn’t be that paved. There’s a fire here, there’s a fire there, there’s all these things are happening. And again, the way to do that is to separate the business logic from the periphery and make things work in a way that everybody is happy.

Ryan Davies:  I mean, I love all of the tips and the pieces and everything. I’m sure people are realists. It will be realistic for a lot of people to pull all of this together. I want to drill down on one more key point here around security. That’s obviously a paramount concern, especially when we’re talking about sensitive business data that’s out there. I know that you approach and prioritize security measures in the development of mobile apps. Still, some advice around that as well and like steps that business leaders can take to ensure the security of their mobile applications and the information and data that they house there.

Ken:  So when it comes to, so there’s a couple of levels of security that we’ve personally seen with not necessarily with our clients, but sometimes when we help other businesses consult password management. If you’re dealing with any type of database or user passwords or, you know, it might be cool to ensure that you’re using something like one password or last pass or anything that makes your password super secure because there are times in when you may have like a data breach. It could be because somebody in accounting had a really lax password, and now, you’re getting charged for things that you don’t want to pay for. That’s one thing: having an organization-like business level of security where passwords are super important, you know, user password generator or user password vault. The other thing is when you are choosing your database or when you’re choosing to house customer data, you have to be very, very careful. Now, not everybody’s application is supposed to be PCI-compliant or HIPAA-compliant. But even for us, we approach it at that standard just in case because those compliances are good anyway. It’s just good practice. It’s good practice to make sure that your database is encrypted at rest. It’s good practice to ensure that any data transfer is not logged or saved anywhere. It’s good because you may not think that, oh, nobody’s going to hack my app or capture customer data or do anything like that. You may not think that, but you should prepare for it anyway because you don’t know what may happen in the future. You may onboard 200,000 people in the next three months. Because you’re moving so fast, you don’t have the time to step back and say, let’s review our security procedures and let’s figure out, like, you know, if you have downtime, take the time and invest into it because it’s going to save you a lot of time and a lot of money in the future. The other thing is if you are using any third-party providers and there is a data breach on your side, you could be liable for it. So, if you’re dealing with striped keys and your customer stuff is kind of floating around the internet, you could be liable for that. Yes, they’ll work with you if something happens. But you just don’t want to be in that situation because it could hurt your brain, it could hurt your reputation, and it can put you in a space where you’re dealing with problems that you don’t want to deal with.

Ryan Davies:  Exactly. Yeah, it’s just that stuff that nobody needs; nobody roadmaps for that part of their journey. So, avoiding that is incredibly key; it can be crystal ball time for you, do you? Do you see any emerging technologies that you find particularly exciting in this realm of mobile app development? What do you anticipate the shape of the future of mobile app development is going to be, and, you know, do businesses need to start preparing for that change now? Is there something that’s on the horizon?

Ken: Yeah, it’s going to be less mobile and more wearable. So, I have my Apple watch, but there are going to be a lot of things that hook into your phone right now. Today, your phone is your command center. For me, I track everything like, you know, my weight, my exercise, my sleep, everything that happens through my phone, and the more data that I can accumulate, the better it is for me. So I’ll buy a wearable. If anybody’s listening to this and they want to make like a sleep mask that hooks right into my phone, I’ll do that right. As these physical products get smarter, they’re going to need a phone counterpart. And so even my toothbrush connects to my phone. So, a lot of the time, I do this for customer research, just to understand where the space is moving. Still, everything will ultimately feed that into your phone and then optimize your life by doing some type of analysis on the back and hopefully only on your phone for privacy and then give you exactly what you need. So yeah, wearables are going to be the new thing. I know Apple is coming out with the Vision Pro, and even though it’s very pricey, that’s just the initial iteration. I think that when it comes to VR, the big thing is you have to put it on your face, right? With the phone, you just kind of have it on you and, whatever, whoever comes up with like a thing that’s not even as invasive. Then, yeah, everybody’s just going to use that, and it’s going to be cool. So, wearables mixed with an AI hooked to your phone as a command center.  That’s going to be the future.

Closing Remarks and Advice

Ryan Davies:  I remember when the vibe first came out, it was like you sit in a chair, and there are cords everywhere and this thing where we like, and now we’re already iterating forward on how it’s all going, right? So it’s exciting. As we wrap up here, I just have a really quick piece here, but maybe a final piece of advice or encouragement for business leaders, founders, or listeners who are considering mobile app development as part of their strategic initiatives. What would you like to reach out and tell them? I know we’ve touched on so much of it, but is there a closing point here that you’d like to drive home?

Ken:  Yeah, I’d always hire a professional. Even if it’s not me, just take the time to choose a good team because mobile app dev is not the same as webdev. Even when you’re choosing a designer, designing for mobile is completely different than designing for the web, ensuring that you have a good understanding of your customer. Mobile is not just like a form factor. It is also like you’re outside; you’re not in your house, you’re waiting for the train, or you’re on a plane, or you’re moving. So because of that, you have to keep those things in mind. And even when it comes to attention, right? you’re doing a task, and then you get a push notification or a text message, or somebody calls you; you have to keep all of these things in mind when you’re building and designing and managing and growing a mobile application. Once you have that done, then take the time to actually market it and do a so and all these other cool things that make sense, but getting that initial as this one thing works: it’s providing value to my customers. They’re willing to pay me. Once you get that, then you know the sky is the limit.

Ryan Davies:   Love it. Vermilion Sky, you mentioned hiring a professional. Anybody listening to this is going, yeah, we’re just coming to you for advice and to hire here; how can they find you and get a hold of you and connect with you?

Ken:  Well, if you want to build an app, you can go to Vermillionsky.com. If you want to learn more about building apps and how our process may help you, you can find me on LinkedIn at Ken Vermeille. You can also find me on Twitter at Ken Vermeille and follow us. There are plenty of free resources that we have that we just periodically give out. I know that we have an app, idea handbook, idea workbook, and where it takes you from conceptualizing the idea to even sketching out the initial pages and then going out there and testing with people. All those things, we provide at our website, so reach out, and we’ll help there.

Ryan Davies: Folks, this is the man we want to talk to here. Again, I want to take a minute. Thank you, Ken, for this amazing podcast on mastering mobile app development. This won’t be the last time that our listeners hear your voice, or at least I sure hope not. Thanks so much, Ken, for being here. Really appreciate it.

Ken: Thank you, Ryan, so much for having me. I appreciate it as well.

Ryan Davies: Wonderful. I want to thank our listeners. We can’t do what we do without you. So until we meet again with another amazing TBR episode, I’m your host, Ryan Davies. Thanks, everybody. Take care out there.

About Our Host and Guest

Director of Marketing – Ekwa.Tech & Ekwa Marketing
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CEO @ Vermillion Sky
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” When it comes to building a mobile app. One of the things that I see is people kind of essentially jump into the business opportunity too early. So the thing is, you want to validate and make sure that you have a market for your idea. So most of the time because a business may be in business, they have a customer, they have a customer avatar, and they are able to generate money from one service offering. It doesn’t necessarily translate automatically to an application because there are a lot of other things that make the business run.”

– Ken Vermeille –