On the anniversary of the formation of Exploding Phone we interview the company’s founder and Managing Director, Andrew Long. What were you doing before you set up Exploding Phone? I was a Business System Manager at Taylor Wimpey, which meant I had responsibility for managing the IT systems supporting the company’s Supply Chain systems.
What was the inspiration to start up an app development company? I have always been a bit of a gadget man and fell in love with the iPhone when it first launched. Being a techie at heart, I jumped at the opportunity to write apps. This experience convinced me that the demand for iPhone apps could be enormous, and this was enough to take the plunge and set up a company to service this demand.
Where did the name ‘Exploding Phone’ come from? Yes, I’ve been asked this a few times over the years. Well I wanted a company name that had impact. As I’ve said I was certain that the market for smartphones was going to grow massively, and so naming the company Exploding Phone seemed like a great way to reflect this belief.
What was the first app you had published on the app store? My first app was an LPG fuel locator in 2008, which was ironic as I have never owned an LPG vehicle. However I noticed that a database of GPS locations for garages selling LPG was freely available, and tethered with the iPhone’s location awareness, provided the elements for a simple but useful app. Well useful for LPG vehicle drivers anyway.
I have to ask, is it still on the App store? Sadly no. As I explain to our customers, apps are like plants. Beautiful when you buy them from the garden centre but they need care and attention or they wither and die, and I had plenty of other app development tasks to keep me busy.
When did the company start trading? I filed the paperwork in March 2009.
Where were you initially based? No flash incubator hubs for Exploding Phone. I started the company from my home office. We then moved to a converted barn near Alvechurch, just south of Birmingham in September 2010 and we’ve been there ever since.
Who was Exploding Phone’s first client? It was a start-up called oMbiel with a product called campusM, which went on to become the market leading app for Higher Education institutions in the UK. Oh yes, and I’m proud to be able to say oMbiel (now owned by Ex Libris) remains a client to this day.
Who was your first employee? My first employee was Simon Betts, who I’d known in a previous life. Simon joined in May 2010 and is still with us.
How many people are currently employed by Exploding Phone? We are a team of eight, so big enough to get stuff done but not so big that we get in each other’s way. That said we are always on the lookout for good people with the right skills and attitude to join the team.
Over the past ten years what is the most interesting project you’ve worked upon? Wow, there are so many, it’s difficult to choose just one. A few that I found particularly interesting include developing a log book application for yachts; a navigation system for motorbikes; a home automation app for users with disabilities; developing a couple of apps for the Chinese domestic market and an app to migrate care home paperwork to a fully digital platform.
Of which Exploding Phone apps are you most proud? All of them I suppose but campusM springs to mind as it’s currently deployed on millions of students phones, and GasAppUk which has won a couple of prestigious awards and is a rags to riches story.
Setting up your own company is a steep learning curve. What is the most important business lesson you have learnt since establishing Exploding Phone? In one sentence, cost control is king. A previous manager gave me some, perhaps obvious but powerful, advice: “Never buy anything you don’t have to.”
What is the non-technical thing that you are most proud of achieving with Exploding Phone? I really value and appreciate the team I have built. They’re simply a great bunch of people to work with, and I believe they enjoy working for the company. Certainly we’ve had an exceptionally low turn-over of staff over the years.
What is the one thing that you would have done differently? You always regret the things you didn’t do, and perhaps I could have been bolder and taken bigger risks. But would it have made me happier? I don’t know, but I know I’m very pleased with how the company has evolved.
How would you describe the culture at Exploding Phone? You’d probably be better off asking the team that question. However from my perspective, I believe it to be one where a diversity of opinions is welcomed, it’s inclusive, relishes technically challenging projects, and it’s engineering led. I also encourage staff to maintain a healthy work life balance, not least because I think this optimises productivity.
What is the biggest evolution in technology that you’ve seen over the last ten years? Not sure I’d categorise this a positive evolution, but I’m astounded by how good the big platform companies have become at manipulating us – so exploiting the attention economy, I guess. As a father of a young son I worry about the impact on society, and I’m glad that Exploding Phone doesn’t get involved in this type of development work.
What is your prediction for the next wave of technology innovation? _Another tricky question but I’ll give it a go. I’m intrigued by folding phones, but maybe we need them like a fish needs a bicycle. I believe AI is going to be huge and in the process I think apps, as we know them, may become indistinguishable from the native smart device operating environment. Related to my previous comment I think that the current ‘Platform’ economy is broken and I expect to see the big companies getting dismantled, but maybe this is wishful thinking on my part._
How many apps has Exploding Phone delivered in total? To be honest I’ve lost count. Pretty sure it’s way more than 200.
What are your ambitions for Exploding Phone over the next ten years? More of the same. I enjoy the work, I enjoy working with a great team of engineers, and I like going to sleep at night knowing we’ve gained a bunch of happy customers. I want the company to grow organically and, despite all the Brexit uncertainty, we’re seeing a healthy number of enquiries and new customers, along with on-going developments for existing clients. We’re on the Clutch.co website and it lists us as the number one app developer in the Midlands. This is principally due to highly positive reviews from clients. I hope that as we continue to do what we do, the positive reviews will continue to build, ideally to the point where we are Clutch’s number one UK app developer. Thanks for your time Andy. Best of luck for the next ten years.