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This article was published 29/8/2015 (1478 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
About 30 kilometres south of Winnipeg, in éle-des-Chênes, Bold Innovation Group is building the Manitoba version of the Silicon Valley tech campus.
In four short years, Bold has become the largest app developer in the world for the online retail shopping platform, Shopify, that's used by 175,000 online retailers around the world.
It may not be Candy Crush but Bold's e-commerce apps for Shopify, such as Product Upsell and Store Locator, generate solid recurring revenue for the company that's big enough to devote 20 per cent of its resources to bluesky lab works.
The company is looking at a third location adjacent to its other two, thus the campus. Just like the California template, Bold serves lunch for staff — more than 50 with another 10 in the process of being hired — has foosball tournaments and is also considering starting its own Bold shuttle bus to bring folks in from Winnipeg.
A prospective new hire recently had to cancel his job interview when he realized Bold was not on a bus route.
"That happens sometimes," said Jay Myers, one of four founders.
Very quickly and before many people knew it — because of their location just outside the city — Bold Innovation Group has become the largest software app developer in the province.
Manitoba app developers are a disparate but growing group, including collaborative collectives based out of StartUp Winnipeg, solo basement dwellers and established Winnipeg IT companies with offices all over the world.
'We like to create apps that make the world a better place.We're interested in developing apps that have genuine value in people's lives'
Even Kevin Hnatiuk, head of New Media Manitoba, is one of those enterprising types who launched one of the very first iPhone video-editing apps five years ago.
App development — both mobile and web-based — has experienced massive growth.
Apple launched the App Store in 2007. By 2010, there were about 100,000 apps. There are now 1.5 million. There are 1.6 million Android apps.
Some say the mobile app industry will be worth about $70 billion per year.
It's tough to quantify the number of app developers in Manitoba.
Kathy Knight, executive director of the Information and Communications Technology Association of Manitoba, said it is an area of interest for all of its members.
A recent survey showed mobile was at the top of the list of things association members would be focusing on.
As well, apps are usually thought of as mobile, but there are plenty of web-based apps. Bold Innovation Group's apps may not be available from the Apple app store but all those retailers who use them don't care.
Jeff Ryzner, the CEO of Eureka Project, a business incubator that has helped launch a few apps, said despite the trendy nature of the concept, from an entrepreneurial point of view it is really just a tool to solve a problem, like any other business proposition.
"It is a medium," he said.
"If an app is the best user experience to solve a particular problem, then it is perfect. It is a lower-cost way of testing whether you have a solid idea."
In many cases, it can be incredibly lucrative — remember WhatsApp was sold to Facebook for $19 billion.
But the business model is not always obvious. Ryzner says rather than worry about how to create revenue, an if app can attract lots of users, the money will follow.
There are all sorts of shops in Winnipeg doing apps. Full-service IT companies such as Protegra do custom apps, ID Fusion has an app department, Master of Code is a global player with a Winnipeg office as well as ones in San Francisco, Denver and the Netherlands.
BOLD INNOVATION GROUP:
You know you've arrived when funders are knocking on your door rather than turning you down. Bold now represents about half of the revenue of the entire Shopify app store. It has 20 Shopify apps and will launch another four in the next six weeks. Unlike many others, Bold has solid revenue, is self-financed and has many exciting things in the works. Earlier this year, it launched a social-media concept called Picticipate, where people can share images and videos privately in their own group.
Launched about a year ago by Declan McDonald, the site gets users' money back on everyday purchases. Send in the receipt and Pricerazzi.com will find if the identical item is offered at a lower price and will send you a money-back alert. There are a few thousand users now — who average about $100 in savings — but in the next couple of weeks, the mobile app will be launched in the U.S. and Canada, and the user group is expected to explode. Some have already said it will be a game-changer. Instead of shopping around for the best price, consumers can make the purchase and let Pricerazzi.com find the lowest price after the fact. The revenue model is a dream — it charges 15 per cent of the money back.
The Winnipeg company — with an office in Dallas — has been an awarding-winning Microsoft partner for many years with a staff of about 55. It has done many apps for clients in health care and financial services. CEO Rod Giesbrecht said the company is experienced enough to know the launch and management of an app is about five times more expensive and challenging than the development work. That said, it has a collaboration app that will be among the first to be launched in January for Microsoft's upcoming Surface Hub.
One of Winnipeg's busiest go-to app developers, about five years ago it decided to work almost exclusively in mobile development. CEO and founder Kevin Glasier just returned from Vancouver where he met with clients. It has customers in San Diego, Chicago and the U.K. Tactica does a lot of work in health care, including apps for speech therapy and stress management (for Winnipeg's Klinic) and one called 3-D Baby. "We like to create apps that make the world a better place," Glasier said. "We're interested in developing apps that have genuine value in people's lives."
It's a partnership launched in Winnipeg earlier this year, fronted by Luc Bohunicky, that is plugged into the coding community in Ukraine, Cyprus and around the world. Its partners have been involved in the creation of more than 100 apps. As a custom developer, Consultica focuses on enterprise apps. It just launched NestLean, an app for continuous improvement and it's in discussion to develop apps for Red River College.
A recent winner of one of Innovate Manitoba's pitch events, it is a mobile app that tracks the health of cattle based on the animal's feeding habits. FarmTrack has already veered off from its original function as a digital log book for ranchers. Co-founder Dustin Refvik, one of the mainstays of the busy Winnipeg startup community, has been involved in the launch of several apps. He's a big proponent of the value of collaboration and getting apps out with the least amount of coding to see if there is demand. "That way, you de-risk the project," he said.
Entrepreneur Denis Devigne has already got lots of people in Winnipeg charged up with his project, still in the development phase, that lets people collaborate with friends and family in the making of a custom video for any special occasion. It's not yet mobile (or automated) but the idea is that people open an account, email video or audio messages and Vidday will edit them into a production that can be emailed to the subject. "I'm making an app to make people cry tears of joy," Devigne said.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.