Nancy Hua was a world-class quant in the fast-paced high-frequency trading market on Wall Street when she decided that mobile apps are really where it’s at.
“Mobile is going to be much bigger than the Web,” Hua says. “In a lot of countries, this is how every customer is going to interact with companies.” But, as she viewed the landscape three years ago she saw that apps are hard to make, hard to change, and often hard for users to discover. Plus, the industry was so new that best practices didn’t exist.
Seeing an opportunity to overcome those hurdles while helping to shape the nascent app market, Hua took her savings account and her ambition to Silicon Valley. She spent 2013 in the Y Combinator tech startup incubator, and launched Apptimize in 2014. Since then, with a specialized software development kit and more than $6 million in funding from Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, and others, the Apptimize team, pictured, has helped companies including Vevo, GlassDoor, StubHub, Western Union, and HotelTonight to get their apps up and running and to deploy and test changes that have boosted their popularity.
The main pain Hua sought to address was the protracted app development process. “Everything—from programming to the release cycle to waiting for the customer to download your app from the app store to see how they respond—took so long,” she says.
That rubbed the 2007 MIT math-with-computer-science grad the wrong way. “I’m an impatient person and I care about having a strategy and control over how successful the product is,” she says. “It makes me unhappy if it’s a crapshoot. People need a predictable way to get a successful app, and to react fast to what customers tell them. If you want to change something simple, it shouldn’t be a huge project.”
Hua says she set out to introduce a new approach, as in, “Here’s my system for how I’m going to fix this. Here’s how we’re going to innovate from now on.” She wanted to make it easier for app developers to see how their users were responding. “Your customers are telling you the answer. I’m not going to do focus groups to figure out what the answer is,” Hua says. “This is about being predictable in achieving your goals and your app doing what you made it to do.”
It’s the same analytical approach that enabled her to perform well on Wall Street: “You need to be disciplined and look at the data and adapt really quickly,” she says.
Fittingly, the Apptimize slogan is “mobile optimization in minutes, not months.” Its monthly subscription product can be installed in 15 minutes, and lets users change their apps without programming or going to the app store. Then, Hua says, it lets them immediately start measuring its impact. “As soon as you make the change you can start getting information from your customers. It’s a much more dynamic and agile of a way of interacting with them.”
In our Q&A, Nancy Hua talks about startup growing pains, what many businesses get wrong in apps, and points to a few awesome ones.