I interviewed Simon Lee, the founder of Locassa, who joined us at Edspace a few weeks ago. He told us all about his company and the exciting products that they've been working on.
Megan: Hi Simon and welcome to Edspace, we’re very pleased to have you on board! Please could you tell us a bit about Locassa and what it is that you do?
Simon: Locassa is a company that I founded in 2009, so we’ve been going for six and a half years now. We’re a mobile app development company - we work on producing apps for big brands, start-ups and individuals on the Apple and Google Android devices.
Megan: So you’ve been going for six and a half years - taking you back a bit - what inspired you to start Locassa?
Simon: I’m a developer by trade. A lot of our competitors come from a business background whereas I’ve come at it from the technology side. As a developer, and this is going back twenty odd years now, I’ve done everything from being a developer, consultant, CTO and this is actually the third company that I’ve run, or co-run, I’ve always worked in the enterprise sector on large-scale projects, multi-million projects, where the process is as important as the project that comes out the other end, so everything has to be done to a strict process and a strict level of quality for the budgets that were involved.
After rising up through several companies, I decided that I wanted to do something for myself and it was kind of a natural progression for me. As far as the market that we actually went into, mobiles had been around for years, however when the Apple iPhone came out it really hit me that this is now where the market is going and this is going to take over the market and I decided to start a company doing really creative mobile products. We still do all of the services and everything that supports it, as that’s our heritage, but we are a mobile focused company.
We decided to take the approach from the enterprise world and bring that to mobile, which again is something which is quite different. A lot of our competitors came at it from a gaming aspect or web, we’ve come at it very much from an engineering point of view. So for us it’s about creating quality products but the process that we get there is as important as the products that we deliver.
Megan: Do you have a specific market sector or do you go right across the board?
Simon: We’ve done everything! Big clients wise we’ve done work on the Times, The Sun, Cannon, The Ministry of Defence, Lucozade, Universal Music and we’ve done some big fashion brands. At the other end of the market we’ve dealt with lots of individuals and start-ups whose business is the product. The big brands want something to promote or get brand awareness, they’ve already got existing channels and products and services. For our smaller clients, they’ve come up with an idea and they want to build a business around the product itself. Both are interesting to work with. Brands are great because they give credibility to what we do, and the start-ups are great because they have the passion and it takes me back several years to how that feels. So it’s a mix.
As far as verticals go, we’ve done everything. We’ve done finance, broadcasting, media, gaming, music, education. That’s the nice thing about the mobile industry, it touches every single market base, so it’s quite interesting.
Megan: An impressive portfolio! You mentioned that you’re expanding at the moment but what would you say is your current focus?
Simon: We’ve gone through several cycles - we started off doing quick promotional pieces for clients and smaller products, where we can take the idea, run with it quickly and get it to the app store and see the value immediately. Then we moved into some of the bigger brands, where we were doing some of the longer term products, and then back into some of the smaller ones and doing a lot more of those.
More recently, we’re just finishing up a couple of large projects and the next focus is on doing something with a much quicker turnaround. The bigger brands tend to be longer drawn out but when it’s the start-ups and individuals, which is what we love, it’s taking that idea and getting it to market as quickly as possible.
As far as the market goes at the moment, there seems to be lots of social networking products. Once or twice a week we get new inquiries and it’s something that’s social based. I think the term social network is now becoming a lot broader and it’s not just your Facebook, your Twitters, it’s taking products that have a social aspect to them, that encourage communities and that kind of thing. And that’s what we’re seeing a lot of and what we’re working on at the moment.
Megan: What would you say has been the biggest challenge for you since you started?
Simon: Lots! Every day is a challenge. In business, one thing that I’ve learnt is that you’re always problem solving. Going from being a developer myself into running a business of development, for me personally was a challenge. Going from the skill-set of being the person who does the work to running a business with people doing the work. And a lot of companies that go through that initial growth phase don’t make that distinction and you can’t if you don’t break out of that. That really holds people back, and that really held our company back because I was intrinsically doing the work. When you make the distinction that just because you’re good at the work, doesn’t mean you’re necessarily good at running a business that does the work, you then look to improve your leadership skills, your management skills, and your business skills. That’s when your business can start to grow.
As far as the company and the market goes, one of the really big challenges that we face is the variety of devices and how quickly things are changing. I’ve worked in software for about 20 years now and things don’t move as quickly as in mobile - every new device that comes out, every new variant of that device, operating system updates, you’ve now got wearable tech like the Apple watch and Android wear, the new iPhone has just come out, and Android is littered with a multitude of devices and screen sizes - so trying to develop products and maintain that pixel perfect design across all of these devices is a technical challenge.
Finding good people is also a challenge. We produce great products and we’ve got a great team and it’s finding people that have that same drive and are passionate about creating beautiful products. And when you find those people, they’re like gold dust.
Megan: So when you started out, were you doing all of the software development as well as running the business?
Simon: For a long time I was still doing it all. We’re about 15 people now and I still wear so many hats on a daily basis. When you’re good at something and it’s a natural progression to start a company doing it, it’s very easy to stick within that but the problem is while you’re working in the business you’re not working on the business - and if you’re not working on the business you’re not going to grow. That’s fine if you want to continue doing what you’re doing and have more of a lifestyle business, but if you’re starting something where you’re actually wanting to grow and actually achieve something, and grow beyond you, then you need to elevate yourself and work on it rather than in it.
Megan: And why did you choose to be based at Edspace?
Simon: Recently we were based in Perseverance Works which is just over the road. This area is fantastic for art industry, super creative, but it’s getting very expensive - in fact recent figures that I saw showed that per square foot it’s more expensive than Covent Garden!
It’s become the place to be - you’ve got Silicon roundabout, Google Campus, Tech City and all of that kind of stuff - this is the area where creatives, and lots of agencies and digital companies are. I love the vibe around here and I love the space.
On Edspace itself, it gave us the space to grow, which is critical. Even though we’re well established we are going through another quite rapid growth phase at the moment and so finding a space that you can grow into without overfilling it, but also knowing that you’re not spending huge amounts of money on a space that you’re not yet occupying, is what was very attractive to us. Particularly with the focus on the education side of things, we do a lot of products on the education market and in fact we’re working on a social network, which is for college and university students and it’s all around education. So that connection with education is really attractive to us. And also the idea that we can give back to people who might want to grow up into this industry is something that we find really interesting as well.
Megan: Thanks very much Simon!
You can find out more about Locassa here: http://locassa.com/