First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Robert Armstrong: Everyone is doing well. Thank you. We have been very fortunate that everyone is healthy, and COVID hasn’t impacted our business much. We have always worked from home on Fridays so transitioning to full-time remote work had very little impact on us.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Appstem.
Robert Armstrong: I was working at Oracle in a sales role, and after 5 years, I was actively looking to leave. This was in 2009, and the iPhone was taking off. Apple had just released the iOS SDK publicly to third-party developers to create apps. I was catching up with an old college friend over dinner in San Francisco, and he brought up the idea of starting a consulting firm that specialized in creating mobile apps for companies. He would need a head of sales, and he knew I was interested in leaving Oracle. Over the next few months, we built out a business plan, and I ended up leaving Oracle in March 2010. We started the next day.
How does Appstem innovate?
Robert Armstrong: We are constantly innovating. This is crucial since our clients lean on us for advice and guidance on the best way to build their digital products. We do this by staying up-to-date on new product releases, technology partnerships, trends, and doing in-house prototypes and proof of concepts.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Robert Armstrong: Things slowed down a bit in Q2, during the initial shutdown. We have a couple of clients in the travel industry (an airline and a transportation company), and their businesses were drastically impacted by the pandemic overnight. However, we have been very fortunate to have a diverse client list in terms of the industries we work with and our clients’ size. We also have a number of healthcare clients that needed additional support for their patient-facing digital platforms. Despite the additional challenges this year, we had some key new client wins, and we’re growing. We are currently hiring for a number of roles.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Robert Armstrong: Over the last 10 years, we’ve made a lot of difficult decisions. Everything from new hires, areas to invest in, clients to work with, etc. We haven’t always made the right decisions but what I’ve learned is, if you’ve made a bad decision, it’s always better to recognize that and fix it sooner than later. Things don’t fix themselves with time and usually only gets worse. In our line of work, it’s important to deliver great products for your clients, but really we’re in the business of client expectations, and it’s best to over-communicate and manage expectations.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Appstem in the future?
Robert Armstrong: If I’m feeling stressed out or anxious, I try to exercise. This has always been the best way for me to deal with it. Going for a run always eases my mind gives me time to think about things. I also enjoy going for a walk or even going to the gym. I recently got a Peloton so going for a ride is helpful. I also like talking things through with my team, good, bad, or ugly. I’m pretty transparent, and I’m fortunate to have a great team around me that I can count on.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Robert Armstrong: We have a lot of competitors both domestically and internationally, but over the last 10 years, we’ve built a good reputation delivering high-quality digital products for our clients. Being a trusted firm with a complete team in San Francisco continues to resonate well in the market. We’ve worked hard and are proud to be a go-to digital product studio in San Francisco. If you treat your clients well and put out good work, you’ll continue to do well.
Your final thoughts?
Robert Armstrong: If you’re interested in learning more about Appstem, please reach out. We’re also hiring!