In 2010, mobile apps weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now so when Robert Armstrong and his business partner decided to start a company dedicated to that work, they were trailblazers. Now, ten years later, the company is celebrating the success of the past decade and looking ahead to an exciting future.

Robert Armstrong, CEO, Appstem


As your 10th anniversary approaches let’s go back to the beginning. Where did you draw your motivation to start and grow Appstem?

I was working at Oracle and my business partner, Hart Woolery, was at AOL. We were both looking to leave our respective companies and were introduced by mutual friends. The first iPhone had only come out in late 2007 and the software development kit (SDK) wasn’t available for companies to create apps – only Apple could do that – but when that world opened up in late 2008, Hart and I decided to start making apps for companies. I have a sales background and Hart is a software engineer. Apps were hot and trendy, and we were one of the few companies positioning ourselves as mobile app specialists. In the first month, March 2010, we closed our first deal with Gold’s Gym. That year we worked with Genentech, Hearst, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Lionsgate and the rest is history. 


What was your vision for the company in 2010? Have you reached – or surpassed – your goals?

Appstem really surpassed my expectations. At the time, we weren’t sure we were going to be around in 2020. We were just trying to build our portfolio and our reputation. We didn’t have any venture capital investment in the business; it was all done without outside help. We’ve grown every year and every year has been better than the last.

Back then, we were one of the few companies doing what we do. Now the market is saturated. There are more than 2.6 million Android apps and 2 million iOS apps out there. We spend a lot more time helping our clients with strategy, discovery and planning to make sure their products will be successful. What is the right solution for a client? What is the next big thing that we need to be ready for? How do we get results?


What do you see as the biggest accomplishment in the last ten years?

To be a respected firm and leader in San Francisco, the world capital of technology and innovation, is something that makes me incredibly proud. To come from humble beginnings and work with some of the largest and most innovative companies – Tesla, Kaiser, Genentech – is very gratifying. Our clients see us as their technology partners, extensions of their teams. That puts us in some very esteemed company.


How has the industry changed since you started the company?

In the beginning, as a software development firm, the barrier to entry was very low. Over time we saw a huge influx of mobile app developers around the world, making it a very crowded market. Since then some have gone under, others have been acquired, and some of the work has been outsourced to other markets. We’ve always stayed true to our model. We are truly a San Francisco office. We have some of the best engineers and designers on our team. We have a strong reputation in the industry. I believe that gives us the staying power to last.


What trends do you think will shape the next ten years?

We’re already seeing so much change. In the beginning everybody wanted an app but didn’t always know why they needed an app. There were a lot of tchotchke apps. There was a time when there were dozens of fart apps available. No one really needs a fart app! Mobile tech is evolving to build digital products that can solve real problems, serve real purposes and provide real value to its users. New platforms are already emerging – wearable tech, augmented reality, virtual reality, tvOS. Will there still be mobile phones in ten years, and will we be using them the same way we do now? What is coming that we haven’t even imagined yet? No matter what the platform is, Appstem will continue to stay ahead of these trends and advancements so we are ready to build the right apps for whatever comes next.


Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs thinking about starting a technology business today?
Technology is not a get rich quick scheme. That’s not an effective business model. If you have a product or service that solves a real problem or that improves people’s everyday lives, you have a good chance of being successful. In 2020, you also have to be prepared to carry the financial burden of starting up. Venture capital has tightened up and investors are looking for businesses that can be sustainable over the long haul. 

Other than that, I say just do it! If I had run all the numbers and thought about all the risk, I might not have launched this company. You can definitely overthink it and I’m glad I didn’t.


What’s your favorite part of the job?

I love helping clients achieve their vision. I spend a lot of my time on strategy and working with the client to solve their business problems. I really enjoy working with new clients in the planning and strategy phase. That’s when I enjoy my time the most.


Where do you see Appstem in 2030?

I’m not sure what the next big platform or computing devices will be in 10 years, but we’ll be there, making apps for it. I think there are a lot of opportunities with autonomous cars and car technology. What are people going to be doing in cars if they don’t need to drive them? I still think we have a way to go with voice activated devices and wearable devices. We’ve only really just gotten started with mixed reality apps. Right now games are the only popular apps for virtual reality, but those use cases will change to more enterprise applications. Whatever the platform is, we look forward to partnering with our clients to help them stay current in a digital and connected world.

Also published on Medium.