1. Please introduce your company and give a brief about your role within the company?
Distillery is an international full-service software design and development company based in Los Angeles, California. We are an award-winning mobile app developer with an absolute commitment to helping our clients succeed. We help start-ups and enterprises to accelerate, scale, and thrive, serving as a trusted partner to CTOs, CIOs, CEOs, and VPs of Engineering across LA and worldwide. Distillery’s 100+ professionals balance engineering excellence with artistry to provide services related to the app and web development, product strategy and continuing development, analytics, UX/UI design, security testing, and IoT. In 2017, we were honored to be named in the Inc. 5000.
As the founder and CEO of Distillery, I am tech-minded, business-focused, and always coming up with new ideas to make the business better. While I play a role in countless facets of the company, including providing strategic direction, building and maintaining client relationships, expanding our media footprint, and providing specialized product development support, I’m currently focused on continuing Distillery's expansion in the US and international markets.
2. What was the idea behind starting this organization?
I was lucky to find and learn from some excellent mentors and leaders in my first few jobs, and they – along with my father – gave me the confidence and drive to believe that I could form and run my own successful business. I am a software developer by training but a leader by nature, so I hoped I could bring those talents together to build a successful software development business. I started my first software development business, Rus Wizards, back in Russia. As we grew more successful, it seemed increasingly apparent that if we wanted to prosper as an international business, establishing a US-based presence and headquarters was going to be crucial. The first US-based incarnation of my business was WeezLabs, which is the business that has now morphed into Distillery. Throughout, my overall motivation has been to develop a strong team and a growing business that consistently delivers clients the benefit of our top talent, international perspective, and wide-ranging app and software experience.
3. What is your company’s business model–in-house team or third party vendors/ outsourcing?
We supplement our in-house team with third-party vendors for non-engineering parts of the business such as accounting, content creation, and receptionist services.
4. How is your business model beneficial from a value added perspective to the clients compared to other companies' models?
Designing and launching a new software product is a complex process with countless moving parts. To navigate it successfully, companies need to work with a true business advisor – someone who’ll guide their efforts, helping them plan strategically and execute effectively. At Distillery, we bring a strong point of view focused on making sure our clients’ products – and their businesses – succeed. We aren’t afraid to push back when their success is at stake. In addition, we design our services and teams to fit each client’s unique needs (e.g., prototype vs. full development, outsourcing vs. partnering basis) and timeline.
5. What industries do you generally cater to? Are your customers repetitive? If yes, what ratio of clients has been repetitive to you?
While we consider ourselves industry-agnostic, we currently have the most experience with fintech, big data, enterprise file synchronization and sharing, and video streaming projects. We are also starting to grow our AI and blockchain capabilities, though they are not yet prominent.
Approximately 90% of our clients continue working with us for a period beyond their initial engagement. Approximately 50% of our clients return to us with new projects, and many clients have stayed with us for many years.
6. Mention the objectives or the parameters critical in determining the time frame for developing a mobile app.
The key point here is to understand what data you get at each app development stage and to be able to interpret that data in the right way. For example, if you have a schedule estimate during the product concept stage, don’t expect that estimate to be accurate. But that estimate is nevertheless valuable data against which to test your business goals and plans. Are those goals and plans truly realistic? Don’t try to change the estimate; instead, adjust your plans and goals.
7. How much effort in terms of time goes into developing the front end and back end of a mobile app?
It really depends on the app type. If it’s a client-rich application that utilizes the backend only to store and synchronize data, then most of the effort goes into the frontend. If the app is just a so-called “thin client,” then most of the data processing is done server-side. Most apps, however, are pretty balanced and require nearly the same level of effort on both ends.
8. What are the key parameters to be considered before selecting the right platform for a mobile application?
It depends on two factors – your budget and your customers. Who are your customers? What are their needs? What kind of devices do they typically use? It’s great to conduct surveys or use public research data to determine the answers to these questions. Even if you have the budget for both major platforms (iOS and Android), the data that you obtain about your customers is very important. And if you don’t have that kind of budget, that data becomes even more essential.
9. Which platform do you suggest your clients begin with when they approach you with an idea (Android or iOS) and why?
Every idea is a solution to a problem. Bill Gates once said, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” At Distillery, we brainstorm the problem first. Before trying to digitalize it, we imagine how the problem can be solved without computers. Our intention is to find the most effective process, and then and only then think about automating it. By doing that, we obtain valuable ideas on who this business’ customers are, what they need, and what they wish for. It also helps us make proper recommendations about the technical decisions that need to be made, including the choice of mobile platform.
10. Android or iOS, Native or Hybrid — which platform is best to use to build your app? What are your recommendations?
Every technology has its pros and cons. Some agencies prefer to use one tool for all apps, thereby saving their own time and effort at the expense of their clients’ wallets. At Distillery, we don’t use anything as a “golden hammer.” Instead, we invest in having a wide technical stack, thereby making certain that we’re able to address every problem with the most suitable solution.
11. What are the key factors that you consider before deciding the cost of a mobile application?
The three most important factors to consider when deciding the cost of a mobile application are scope, platform(s), and time. It obviously costs more money to build something as complicated as Facebook – with all of its video, picture, game, and social integrations – than it does to build an application with only one or two critical custom features. Further, it obviously costs more to build for iOS, Android, and web right out of the gate than it does to build for a single platform initially and then expand to other platforms further down the road. Finally, the cost is a function of time and vice versa. If it’s critical for a project to be completed in 3 to 4 months, we can often accommodate. But meeting the compressed timeline would require additional resources which would incur additional costs.
12. What kind of payment structure do you follow to bill your clients? Is it Pay per Feature, Fixed Cost, Pay per Milestone (could be in phases, months, versions etc.)
We offer either fixed-bid or time-and-materials (billed monthly on a per-sprint basis) quotes. What we don’t do is bill hourly, because in our experience it tends to lead to slow, ineffective work that ultimately frustrates both parties.
13. Do you take in projects which meet your basic budget requirement? If yes, what is the minimum requirement? If no, on what minimum budget you have worked for?
While the minimum budget varies depending on the project, Distillery’s typical minimum engagement is $50,000.
14. What is the price range (min and max) of the projects that you catered to in 2016?
Again, it varies. In 2016, the smallest project we took on was $20,000, but we took that project largely because we knew it would ultimately lead to a larger and more development-intensive project. For managed services, our largest project was more than $400,000. For our co-sourced engineering resources, the largest contract exceeded $1M.
15. Which business model do you suggest to your clients enabling them to generate revenue from mobile applications? Why?
Choosing the right revenue-generating model is a very case-dependent question. Whatever the client’s business situation or product, however, we always advocate putting market needs and consumer feedback at the center of all business decisions. We also recommend staying flexible and being willing to iterate quickly so that your product can become the best possible digital spear point for your business.