Interviewing Dan Katcher from Rocket Farm Studios – Top Boston App Developers

Dan Kathcer, Rocket Farm Studios

We’re featuring Rocket Farm Studios today as part of our Top App Developers Interview series. They’re a homegrown Boston app development firm that are among the Top 5 in the city. We’re speaking to Dan Katcher, the founder, on what makes them tick.

Vishruth: Why don’t we start off with you telling us little bit about your company right from how it started,how it has evolved, and what it has become today.

Dan: Sure. I started Rocket Farm Studios back in 2008, 6 months after apps started going onto the app store. It just seemed like an obvious opportunity, and that apps are going to change everything. People and companies liked it and Rocket Farm wanted to take advantage of that. We have been making apps for the last 7 years but we just don’t make apps, we also make back-end systems, we do design, UX design, visual design, and architecture. Along with that we also help companies with strategy and data, so we’ve truly broadened out significantly since then. We consider ourselves a product development company.

V: Great! So which of all this would you say is your USP, the one thing that Rocket Farm studios are the world heavy weight champions in?

D: That’s hard (laughs). The one thing that differentiates us, I would say, is our engineering. We have got a bunch of really strong, senior geeks working. We know the Apple and Google platforms, we can solve more problems, do image processing and voice processing. So that’s the core we are good at and we are adding everything else we need to go from a clients idea to building out a production ready mobile product.  Which of course includes really good design skills & project management on top of all that.

V: You have been successful over all these years, and when we were doing our evaluation, one of the things that boosted your ranking is the fact that you’ve worked with big brands. When we go to your site we can see brands like Samsung, Yamaha, Intel, so what is the secret behind that? It is a very big trust factor as we are concerned.

D: I think it’s just being really strategic and project management focused. You need to have a good process, because these guys are big brands and that’s what they do. Managing projects and being able to take leadership in terms of bringing a new product for consumption over the finish line is another important aspect; we don’t shy away from working hard. And certainly we are learning more about the concerns of the big brand, and have respect for their infrastructure and the order of processes that go into making sure that those things are air tight. And ultimately any big brand likes to innovate, and that’s kind of where we feel we can do a lot.

V: Great to hear! You mention innovation and a lot of people are talking about AI, chat bots, VR. So where do you see yourself in adopting some of these, in say 2-3 years’ time?

D: Yeah absolutely. People are interacting with devices & phones in new ways all the time. At our core we’re a custom app development company and we intend to be really good at that. We are thinking strategically about exploring new niches. We want to play in interesting niches like health-care and devices using IoT (Internet of Things)- that is a fascinating area. It’s the same thing for manufacturing with bigger enterprises. So my goal is just to become a power house product consulting company with scale to handle larger and larger enterprises and marry that with a real ability to innovate.

V: So what is your vision of the app economy in general? Especially when it comes to mobile apps, there is a feeling that the mobile wave has receded, and the analytics wave has started to rise. What is your take on this?

D: I think it is still early days. Everything you mentioned before, like VR & bots are literally just coming on, even in our existing client base. We are active with many clients, and no two of them are charging and making money the same way, and that to me is the hallmark of the app economy. It gives you distribution (that’s essentially the Internet) and a lot of different ways to innovate and lot of different ways to create a model to make money.

V: So you’re saying there is still life for apps today?

D: Yeah!

V: Alright Dan. We are entering the final leg of the interview and this is more about what you would say as a person to entrepreneurs who are starting up to build their own company from scratch. If there is one advice you could give them, something that you know right now that you wish you had know at the start, what would that be?

D: It’s a great question. The ones who we see succeed are thinking about a lot of different things simultaneously and have the ability to execute all of them. And we see people fail as they don’t think enough about the technology, the marketing and other different aspects of the company. So, whatever is next will take a completely different perspective. Then you have to have a really good plan and think about finance, marketing, distribution, customer acquisition, technology and operations because you have to execute all of that. In short, it’s all about executing on great ideas.

V: That is great! Obviously this is something entrepreneurs could keep in mind. Another thing is that they should keep in mind it’s not going to be smooth sailing. There are going to be phases they are going to struggle. So could you just give anyone reading this what you told yourself during these times to keep going and turn the tide?

D: Yeah it’s hard sometimes. I’ve been through three iterations of this company in terms of leadership. So I think, part of it is making sure you are doing what you want to do, or you can see the path to take, make sure that you will enjoy it and it will pay off. Somebody smart told me I should ask “why am I doing this?” and the big part is the persistence and being the most stubborn person in the world and also believing in what you are going to do and what you can do.

V: Great! Great stuff Dan! So just one final question before we wrap up. And we are going to shift a track little bit over here. So can you just tell us your experience with  he most  interesting app or the most interesting project that you’ve worked on and why it is your favorite? In terms of whether it was very challenging, whether it was a breakthrough kind off a project, or anything like that?

D: Yeah! We have done some interesting stuff, but the work we did with Yankee Candle to me is fascinating. It’s a famous United States brand, especially popular in the north-east. They’re a 40-50 year old candle company that are known for big, ornamental candles. At some point, they decided “We’re not a candle company, we’re a scent company”. They realized the huge opportunity to sell scents to places like hotels & retail shops, where branded scent is really important. At that point, people were just using scents through a bottle and a vent.

So Yankee Candle found us, and designed the connected hardware to be used with two chambers for internet-controlled release of scent. We then built  an app, built out the IoT back end, and connected it with these devices. The hotel people can use this app to control the scents everywhere. The system also reports errors and can dispatch help immediately if they’re out of fluid. This really changed their mindsent from selling a product (scent) to becoming a services company, where they license branded scent-as-a-service. It’s really interesting what you can do with IoT, so I loved that part, and love talking about it!

V: We’ve heard of apps that can control lighting, but now apps control scent! That’s great.

D: We are hoping to do more and be really good at product development, analytics and the back end, I’m looking at data, the cloud, and thinking through what is the next model for companies like that.

V: I’m sure you’ll do great. Thanks a lot for your time, and all the best!
D: Sure. Happy to help. I like being number 5. Next year we should move up. Thanks much. All the best.

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