Rich Foreman doesnt develop mobile applications with mass appeal like Walking Dead, Angry Birds or My Fitness Pal, but the self-described appreneur from Folsom is carving out a niche making hundreds of apps for businesses large and small.
The 45-year-old co-founder and CEO of Apptology also teaches Apps 101 to area groups such as SACLead Inc., a business networking organization. He gives free advice to students and will judge and mentor Sacramento Rep. Doris Matsuis high school apps competition running through April (for more information go to www.matsui.house.gov/congressional-app-challenge).
In four years, Foreman has grown Apptology into a business that has developed more than 350 apps for clients ranging from Fortune 500 firms to mom and pop startups. He also co-authored a book called Tap Into the Mobile Economy.
Last month, the company was named small business of the year by the Sacramento Asian Chamber of Commerce.
An app can transform your business, he declared during a recent appearance at a SACLead luncheon. We have a pizza company in Alabama whose slow day is Monday, so we helped them create an app that pushed out an ad for $3 off a large pizza. They went from two to 14 orders on Mondays.
Foremans entrepreneurial journey was born of necessity. Like thousands of others in the Sacramento region, he lost his job during the recent economic slump. At the Asian Chambers awards ceremony, Foreman, the son of a single mother who immigrated from Vietnam, recounted how he was forced to think creatively after being laid off by Cisco in 2010.
For 11 years, the former Navy lieutenant and aerospace engineer had enjoyed the good life in Silicon Valley, working as a systems engineer for WebEx, which pioneered the technology for online business meetings. He moved his family to Folsom in 2002 and was working out of WebExs satellite office in Rancho Cordova when Cisco bought the company in 2008.
Two years later, he said, Cisco laid off many of those who worked at WebEx, including Foreman, whose salary was $125,000 a year. Im still bitter about it. When you get laid off, its hard to find a job at the same salary, he said.
In Sacramentos struggling economy, there were few job options, said Foreman, who is married and has two children. Those who did get work here took a severe pay cut, while others did weird things like take a job and apartment in the Bay Area and come home for the weekend, which for me was the wrong answer. We love the Sacramento area, so we had to find an alternative, and thats why I became an entrepreneur.
Foreman whose favorite apps include Pandora, Pedometer PRO GPS+, the Insight Timer meditation app and the game Clash of Clans saw apps were no longer just being used for fun by hobbyists, but were taking off as tools to promote businesses or causes. He decided to cash in on what he calls this modern-day gold rush by developing business apps for all types of smartphones.
He mass-emailed business databases, sent out postcards and made cold calls to potential clients. It was four months before I got our first client, Foreman said. I finally found a service where I would pay $35 to $80 for a lead, and thats where we got most of our business. You try something, if it doesnt work you have to try something else.
Apptology develops the equivalent of tract homes and custom homes, Foreman said. About a third of his clients are small businesses that pay about $2,000 for an app that Foreman creates on a template hes developed, so customers dont have to know how to code. Clients include restaurants and Realtors, salons and spas, dental offices and boat repair shops, publishers and nonprofits. Foreman has created free apps for the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce, the Sacramento Asian Chamber and SARTA, the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance.
Hes bringing the ability to write apps to the masses, said SARTA CEO Meg Arnold. Right now if you want an app for your business, you have to know how to build it from the technical end of things, but Rich is creating a set of tools that will make the technical part less of a hurdle for people who may not want to pay an app developer for a basic simple app they want to support their business.
Foreman is part of a growing community of app developers in the region. Some are individuals who participate in hackathons marathon competitions that draw software developers and entrepreneurs while others are companies like Apptology. Rich is very engaged and active in the community with entrepreneur training and development, and hes also very supportive of nonprofits in the region, Arnold said.
Foreman said his business did about $400,000 in sales last year. He has 10 full and part-time employees in Northern California and Oregon, and 37 more in New Delhi, where almost all the product development is done. But the small companys fortunes can still swing widely.
Were still in scrappy startup mode, and a couple of clients defaulted on us last year, which really hurt us, Foreman said.
Apptology is now going after larger accounts that hire the firm to provide a full range of Web services, including databases. Right now were working with a Texas startup in the medical industry thats paying us $125,000 to help them create their entire product, said Foreman. Apptology has done projects for Siemens and an app for a Pfizer-funded project called iBleed. which helps hemophiliacs track and manage their care.
Foreman was aiming to pick up more clients last month at a SACLead luncheon, where he preached the potential of mobile devices to an audience of about 50 business people.
Most smartphone users are 18 to 30 (years old), and 90 percent of them say they sleep with their phones, and 79 percent reach for their phones within 15 minutes after they wake up, Foreman said. About 40 percent of Internet time is on mobile devices, and 70 percent of the searches will lead to some kind of action within one hour.
The problem is that some websites are hard to navigate on smartphones, and 44 percent of users wont return if theres any hassle, Foreman said. The solution is mobile-friendly websites.
Foreman, who appeared at the SACLead luncheon in a pink and white pinstriped shirt and suspenders, also helps customers develop QR (quick response) codes, the square-shaped imprints that send customers to websites. You can actually change the color, put your logo in and brand them it doesnt have to be that ugly black pattern.
He stresses that business apps can be engaging. Coca-Cola now has Spin The Bottle and 24 other fun apps, and McDonalds has apps for kids, Foreman said.
In Foremans home office, which he calls Nerd Central, his sense of fun is on display in the form of a Star Trek pinball machine and an army of superhero figurines. When his daughter Riley was 3 and his son Ryan was born, Foreman developed an app, iMotherGoose, that could read them nursery rhymes.
Foreman said his next step is to launch a new product, ReadyEdition, in March that will allow people to self-publish their magazine or newspaper to their own branded app on the Apple Store, Google Play and Amazon Appstore.
The job is really fun, Foreman said. Were on the cutting edge of technology and its very interesting to see the different ideas that people present to me. Im becoming more like a consultant, where I advise people on how to develop their mobile strategy.
Call The Bees Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072.