Startup Spotlight: PowWow Mobile’s App Transformation

Ann All

Updated · Jun 10, 2016

For years companies have bemoaned the scarcity of mobile development resources. Gartner last summer said that by the end of 2017 market demand for mobile app development services will grow at least five times faster than internal IT organizations' ability to deliver them.

PowWowThis pent-up demand should be good for the business of PowWow Mobile, a San Francisco startup that provides a service called SmartUX that it says allows companies to create native mobile apps from any web or Windows application.

Kia Behnia, a veteran of several software companies who served on PowWow Mobile's board of directors until assuming the role of CEO earlier this year, said some of PowWow's customers have a backlog of more than 1,000 legacy applications that they are converting to mobile.

“The highest number I've seen is 1,500 apps from a company that was completely moving off its Wintel devices to a BYOD model,” he said. “I think many organizations did not believe there was an easy way to address this problem, so they had about given up on their initial mobility plans. A combination of expense and time line is holding people back. If each app takes 18 months, at some point you can only do so many.”

Gearing up for Growth

Founded in 2012, PowWow raised $4.25 million last month, in a round of seed funding led by Vertical Venture Partners, bringing its total funding to $8.27 million. The money will be used to beef up sales and marketing efforts, Behnia said.

Behnia was brought on board along with several other seasoned software veterans to steer the company through what looks to be a period of rapid growth. In the second half of 2015, its bookings grew by 200 percent over the first half of the year and over 400 percent over 2014.

The initial focus of PowWow co-founders Jonathan Kaplan and Andrew Cohen, now the company's CTO and chief customer officer, was transforming legacy apps to make it easier for users to collaborate but they pivoted when early customers showed more interest in transformation than collaboration, Behnia said.

Preserving Application Value

Like other low-code application development platforms, PowWow's SmartUX can be used to create new mobile apps, Behnia said. But converting existing apps to mobile apps is a much bigger pain point for many companies. While software giants like Oracle, SAP and Microsoft all now offer mobile versions of their most popular applications, Behnia said it is difficult for them to address heterogeneous software environments.

“A majority of the large vendors have lagged on mobile capabilities of their software, particularly as it pertains to older versions; they do not go back and support a version that is three years old,” he said. “It puts enterprises in an awkward position. They don't want to do a multi-million upgrade just to get mobile functionality.”

SmartUX uses what the company calls a deconstruct/transform/reconstruct process, capturing and preserving data fields, GUIs and other components of legacy apps – including any existing integrations and customizations – then adding mobile-first features like voice and GPS and making it possible to connect the apps to any back-end.

“We let you offer an improved user experience but also maintain that SAP back-end you weren't planning to upgrade for another three years,” Behnia said.

The company has customers in six industries: financial services, health care, telecommunications, high-tech, consulting and the public sector. Most of them have more than 1,000 users, Behnia said. The applications they want to modernize tend to fall into two categories: horizontal apps such as those used for submitting expense reports and vertical apps geared toward industry-specific functionality.

Most client engagements begin with workshops in which PowWow or its partners – which include resellers, VARs and consultants –  look for “areas of friction” such as processes involving manual data entry and/or those with high failure rates and examine how to introduce mobile technologies such as scanning that can make employees' lives easier and better, Behnia said.

For example, the New Zealand Ministry of Health, a PowWow client, equipped its nurses with tablets so they can scan patients' wristbands with a bar code scanner before dispensing drugs, creating an electronically verifiable way of tracking medication as they do so. Before mobilizing their apps, nurses had to wheel around carts with laptops and manually enter information.

In New Zealand, PowWow worked with Citrix. Last month it was named a “Best of Citrix Synergy” award winner in the Enterprise Mobility category.

“We generally engage with clients to show them our product and do the first app with them; after that, they do the second, third and fourth applications themselves,” Behnia said. “Most customers have 50 to 100 apps they want to transform.”

Fast Facts about PowWow Mobile

Founded: 2012

Founders: Andrew Cohen and Jonathan Kaplan

HQ: San Francisco

Product: Mobile application development platform that facilitates creating new, native mobile apps from any Web or Windows app

Employees: fewer than 50

Customers: Companies across financial services, health care, telecommunications, high-tech, consulting and the public sector

Funding: $8.27 million in total, with investors including VKRM Ventures, Vertical Venture Partners, Prabhu Goel, Our Crowd and IT-Farm 

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  • Ann All
    Ann All

    Public relations, digital marketing, journalism, copywriting. I have done it all so I am able to communicate any information in a professional manner. Recent work includes creating compelling digital content, and applying SEO strategies to increase website performance. I am a skilled copy editor who can manage budgets and people.

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