View the original interview posted on WIP Connector
Bill Magnuson is the co-founder and CTO of Appboy, a customer relationship management platform for mobile app developers and marketers. As developed by Bill, Appboy’s SDK plus web dashboard enable mobile app owners to create and receive feedback from/market to user segments and provides individualized user insights, event monitoring, feedback forms, and marketing options. Previously, Bill was a Software Developer at Bridgewater Associates and a Software Engineer at Google, where he worked on App Inventor for Android, later taken over by the MIT Media Lab. He was a winner of the 2011 TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon and a winner of the 2010 North American Debating Championship. Originally from Minnesota, Bill holds a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences (EECS) and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with a minor in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
What inspires you about entrepreneurship and innovation?
When someone creates new, great experiences that never existed, innovation provides the right tools to enable this experience. For example, innovation allows us to put more people behind the “idea” while replacing people with robotics or technology to do 95% of things we don’t need to do to free up what we want to do.
As for entrepreneurship, the feeling of living and breathing the product and finding a market to cause meaningful impact comes with a sense of pride. Not only are you creating a new product for your customers but you’re also creating a new experience with your employees.
What got you started? In other words, when did you get “bitten” by the entrepreneur bug?
When I was an undergrad at MIT, I had the opportunity to join my professor, Hal Abelson’s pilot program. This program allowed us to reconstruct MIT’s Computer Science curriculum. Through this, Hal became my mentor. I then began working with Hal on App Inventor for Android at Google, where he was working on a program for foreign mobile applications to be useful, teach people fundamentals, and how to use tech to educate people on how to solve real world problems.
From there, I worked as a Software Developer at Bridgewater Associates but left because the company went from small to large very quickly.
With these experiences under my belt, I opted out of a weekend trip to join my friend and future co-founder, Jon Hyman, at a hackathon. After winning the hackathon, people came out of the woodworks, yearning for space to cause real world change. That’s when I was bitten by the entrepreneur bug!
Shortly after, through serendipity, I met Mark Ghermezian and from there got into the mobile space.
Why should developers care about Appboy?
Appboy combines services instead of just providing silos. We’ve realized that it costs the same amount of money to make an app that fails compared to making an app that succeeds. We’ve seen a lot of apps that can make change but there are no opportunities for user engagement. Those creating apps cannot differentiate themselves, keep users engaged, and bottomline – generate revenue. Appboy solves these problems in mobile by offering insights after reports, not just data, but a marriage of intense analytics and marketing tools. This will allow the user to build out several marketing channels with analytics. Built on these fundamentals, Appboy is figuring out how to monetize and enable this; giving developers the tools to continue, engage user base, look at how to improve meaningful user experiences, which will then translate into much better mobile products.
In your opinion, where (what industry segments) are the most opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Hardware and software. Both are an investment with more resources to pull from. In the software space, free tools are provided to build and innovate on top of them such as open source tech and cloud services. The marginal costs are zero (e.g. rent a server, ability to operate in software space), distribution is available (e.g. an app on the app store), there is a unique value add, brick and morter becomes obsolete, and you’ll have an immediate audience because the distribution mechanism is already built.
This has created a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to stand on the high shoulders that the software community has come together to build.
Overall, the tech community is figuring out ways to help technologists succeed.
What are three things you love about the NYC tech scene?
New York City is a dense, urban area – with this being said, so many different facets of human experience come together for a more creative, diverse community, creating more industries that are more viable. There has been a ton of cross-pollination, in turn creating more diverse ideas.
When things get tough, what keeps you going? What are some of your tricks? In other words, how do you stay SANE?
When things get tough, I enjoy it because it makes things more challenging. When I’m bored, I need to find motivation.
To keep sane, I don’t keep work and my personal life separate – they run together and balance each other out and I never shut off life with work. I find things like traveling and going to events such as Burning Man (yep – I’m going) a way to keep sane.
Who inspires you? Do you have any mentors that have been an integral part of your success?
Hal Abelson. He said, “Whatever you do, just make sure you’re building great things.” This has stuck with me.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX. I’ve never had the pleasure to meet him but I like his way of thinking, which is beyond reasonable or insane.
What is one thing about you that most people don’t know?
I grew up in rural Minnesota across the street from my family’s homestead during the Great Depression. Most people are surprised when they find out that I came from a family that isn’t tech savvy and grew up hunting, fishing, doing construction, and fixing cars. Also, many do not know that I was a first generation college student.