Bruce Howe, CEO at Putti, tells Tribe how apps can help build successful businesses
We are living our lives more and more through apps. They are literally everywhere – when we shop, read the news, pay for our park, apply for a job. They’re even there to help us chill out and meditate. Bruce Howe, CEO at Putti - a web and mobile solution company – answers some of our burning app questions in this Tribe Talks Q&A.
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Tell us a bit about yourself and Putti?
I’m Bruce and I’m the CEO at Putti. I have been back in New Zealand now for 15-16 months after 12 years offshore with Microsoft and Nokia. I came back for the family as all Kiwis do and I am very happy to be back in New Zealand. I came back knowing that I didn’t want to go back into big corporate, so I have joined a small software company called Putti.
At Putti, our core purpose is to build the best of tech right for our partners, so we do everything from digital forms, to mobile apps, to business applications, to ERP solutions, to MetaWare. So, it’s a really broad array of software, web, and mobile app solutions all done here in New Zealand with a New Zealand team.
Tell us about the history of Putti and apps in general?
Our business started just around the time when iPhone launched the app store and it was an interesting phase. Big and small companies were getting into building mobile apps (really for only the reason that it was the latest and greatest thing), so there was a big surge in the initial phase which was around 8-10 years ago.
Then around 3-4 years ago, there was period when businesses weren’t seeing the value in mobile apps, so there was no real economic model. The customer engagement wasn’t necessarily there and then the upkeep and maintenance didn’t really work out. But, in the last couple of years, apps have really started to pick up, and I think most New Zealanders will recognise certain industries and big brands getting into the mobile app space. The gas stations, for example, suddenly have mobile apps so that you can pay at the pump. Big restaurant chains have also seen the value of apps, in fact we built the Wendy’s app recently.
I think the biggest reason for this uptake in apps is that consumers are really into the mobile space, so 74% of Kiwis are regularly searching through mobile, and over 60% of them are making regular transactions online. The really interesting piece is that customer search is now split evenly between PC or laptop and mobile device, so smartphones are where all the growth has been. People are not just browsing on their smartphone, they are actually going to online stores and making transactions.
Additionally, the work Apple and Google have been doing to enhance their operating systems is allowing for much more imagination, and much more use of the actual hardware. So, if you think about Google and all the Google services that they have, like maps, YouTube etc. it is all super integrated through the operating system, so brands can start to build a creative solution as well.
What makes a great app?
The companies that are playing around with the idea of building an app need to think about why they are doing it, and how they want to engage with their customers.
We see incredible loyalty behind some of the big brands who have done it well. When I think about what we have just done with Wendy’s Hamburgers, it is really interesting to me to take in that restaurant experience and create a mobile experience. The fans of Wendy’s are really, really engaged.
The app has some smarts around it like Geofencing, so for example, if you get close to a Wendy’s’ restaurant you get a push notification, of maybe a special offer on that day, so there is a marketing platform associated. You can start to process your order on the go, and then when you get to the restaurant, you can choose whether to go through drive through, or you can pick a table number and the meal is delivered to your table. So, it is delivering a unique experience to their fan base that is prepared to download the app, sign in and register and then they are actually getting something very cool.
For something to be a great app then, it comes back to the reason behind what you are trying to achieve? Yes, so it’s about the consumer journey. So, if the consumer is prepared to download the app and have it on their home screen, you need to start to think about what the journey is and what experience they are going to have with the brand. That’s where the creativity of the solution comes into play and that’s what we do. We work through those user stories and start to bring in that creativity and some of these apps are doing some really interesting things.
Tell us about a successful app you’ve worked on?
We do a heck of a lot of mobile apps. We look after the NZ Herald app, which is one of the top volume apps in New Zealand. It’s an interesting solution because it plays around with different advertising models. They have recently created a paywall, and we went through that implementation with NZME. It’s a big step into a new business model for them and their premium customers, so lots to learn in that space.
We have done a lot of builds for Grab One and we have done a lot in the hospitality space as well. We’ve also done a lot of work outside of New Zealand, so we do outsourced work. We built the Air Europa app which is a full airline experience. We’ve done a lot of hotels, (and interestingly, given we are a New Zealand based business) big hotel chains like the Hyatt, the Ritz Carlton, and Best Western. They have used us because we deliver high-quality apps.
The cost of the New Zealand dollar vs the US has actually worked out well for us, not only can we build apps here in New Zealand, but we can do it really well and we actually beat out a lot of the offshore modelling like India or Ukraine or Vietnam, where a lot of companies are going to have solutions built.
Tell us a little bit about the technology that goes into work you do?
There is an amazing amount of tech nowadays. If I think from a website standpoint, a lot of that is now templated so we really encourage customers that are starting out to do it themselves - use Wicks or Weebly or WordPress. There are a lot of tools out there so people can learn a lot and do a lot themselves. When you want to have a beautiful design / create an online store and making transactions / run your customer database through your websites, that’s when you start to step up. When it comes to apps, it’s a bit more restrictive when you’re talking native, because Google and Apple have their own sets of rules.
How can apps enable businesses to grow?
There are incredible outcomes that happen all the time. We built the first ASOS app internationally, which has been one of the biggest international retail brands for a long time. They certainly do a massive amount of their business online. Originally, it was very web based so when they went over to mobile, we built their first three phases of their mobile app. They did ridiculous numbers, like millions of pounds of new revenue within the first few months of their mobile app going live. It’s about timing and then getting it right for the customer. Ask yourself, is the customer ready to go into that enhanced experience of a mobile app? If you get it right, the business returns are massive.
Should every business have an app?
No, they certainly shouldn’t. They should definitely have a website. Here is a crazy number - there are still 25% of kiwi businesses that don’t have a website. A website is the most fundamental piece of any business nowadays, it’s how you tell your story when you are not in the room.
The next phase up is make sure your website is mobile responsive, which may seem silly, but there is a huge drop off when sites aren’t mobile optimised. In fact, 50% of NZ businesses that have a website is not mobile responsive, so that just means that customers can get a positive experience through a smartphone.
Then you start to think - do I want to take that next step into a native app on android and iOS? That is another step up in cost as well but certainly a consideration. Companies talk about digital transformation all the time, but you may start with a digital form, a website, then you’re into a mobile app, and there are going to be options beyond that as well.
Do you have any practical advice for businesses that think they want to start out and have an app?
Yes, come and talk to companies like us. There are actually quite a few companies that we think are doing a really good job in New Zealand. Shop around as there is a couple of options.
One option is to look at what the big companies are doing internationally. Obviously, Microsoft, Google, AWS, all those guys are in that space. They have partners here in New Zealand that resell their services.
Then there are companies like us that focus more on customised work. Go and have a chat to these companies so you get a pretty balanced point of view. Ask yourself, do I want something off the shelf or am I going to do something more customised?
Lastly, any predictions about the future of apps or the technology beyond apps?
I think that mobile apps and the way that the world is split between Android and Apple is here for quite some time. I think what has been done in that space through their native app solutions still holds true for quite some time ahead.
There is a lot of talk around an app free world, where devices engage through the web, and you get that similar experience, but I think that is well, well down the track. I think the way native mobile apps are starting to be adopted by the business is actually pretty cool, I think that will be the case now for quite some time ahead.