Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Tech skills put NZ on the app

After less than a year in business, software duo have an enviable client list

As well as creating apps for clients, Chris Moore (left) and Ben Morreau are keen to develop more of their own  products. Photo / Dean Purcell
As well as creating apps for clients, Chris Moore (left) and Ben Morreau are keen to develop more of their own products. Photo / Dean Purcell

A couple of years ago, Chris Moore was working in a senior technology job at the London headquarters of internet phone giant Skype.

Today, Skype is one of the tech tools which Moore and business partner Ben Morreau use to connect with a growing list of global clients for their app development business, Roam Creative.

Not only do the pair build applications that can be bought from the Apple and Android app stores, but they also create apps specifically for business clients.

After only eight months in business as Roam, Moore, 37, and Morreau, 32, have a client list that runs from Spanish telco Telefonica and pharmaceutical company Pfizer, through to Silicon Valley start-ups and local companies, such as taxi app Zoomy, all keen to tap the duo's technology and design smarts.

"Think of it like your in-house business App Store," says Morreau.

Moore says they realised early on that companies were interested in getting customised apps suited specifically to their business.

"Because it's not a turnkey solution off the App Store that works for them," he says.

The work can range from the strategy and overall design work that Roam is doing for a British company, through to a full turnkey solution.

They've even rebuilt from the ground up an existing app created on the cheap for an American start-up.

"Come to us with a problem and we'll build you an answer," says Moore.

Technology took them both on overseas journeys before they put down roots again in New Zealand and created Roam.

Moore spent time in tech mecca Silicon Valley as well as London, with Morreau also ticking off London on his travel itinerary, with a stint at internet retailer ASOS, among others.

The travel bug satisfied, both returned home to start their own tech business — independently at first before joining forces to create Roam — using those overseas contacts to bring work in the door.

The pair each chipped in $50,000, aiming to create an app development company with a focus on fantastic design.

If you don't have good design and things aren't
intuitive ... you just won't be successful on the App Store.
Chris Moore, Roam Creative

"No one downloads instruction manuals for an app," says Moore. "You don't get software books like you used to; the 300-page guides to using Word.

"So if you don't have good design and things aren't intuitive and if the interfaces are cluttered you just won't be successful on the App Store."

Moore says their CV looks very "tech heavy" and while both are handy with design tools, they realised they needed to bring on professional designers to make the apps really shine.

"Commitment level is a lot more transient now with apps," he says. "That also opens up opportunities because an incumbent isn't necessarily an incumbent for very long if someone does a better spreadsheet or a better to-do list.

"It's amazing how fast the tide changes and yesterday's winner is no longer at the forefront. And it's design, it all comes back to design."

Creating beautiful, workable apps means staff numbers have grown to 13, and the pair are constantly on the lookout for new talent.

Moore says that number is likely to double within a year or so.

"We're being cautious; we don't want to over-reach.

"We don't know quite yet where the settling point of the business is because it's new but there does seem to be a good pipeline of work and a lot of interest so we'll continue to hire."

The plan is to also spend more time creating Roam's own range of app products.

"Consulting is great; it's certainly challenging" says Moore. "We get to meet a lot of amazing companies here in New Zealand and around the globe and help them bring their ideas to the world but at the same time we also have a lot of ideas churning away and fizzing in the back of our minds.

"As the consulting side grows we are using that to bootstrap product development because, consulting, you can only ever earn the money for the hour that you sell. It doesn't make any money when you're sleeping and yet if you build a product company you break that connection."

Products in the pipeline include a mobile payment system, and some apps using the new location technology iBeacon.

Working from New Zealand to create technology for a global market is not without its challenges, particularly as the dollar creeps higher, "but then again, these clients are coming to us for quality and they are willing to pay and get the great results," says Moore.

While Morreau admires the technology genius and charitable bent of IT entrepreneur Sam Morgan, Moore is drawn to the business and creative story of movie maker Peter Jackson.

"He seems to have followed his heart and has used his success to open up the pathway for a multitude of New Zealanders. We could only ever hope to emulate and promote something similar in the tech scene."

- NZ Herald

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