Rodney Macfarlane from MEA Mobile shares insights on the journey to becoming New Zealand’s largest mobile app developer.
MEA Mobile is New Zealand’s largest mobile app developer, having released over 300 apps since 2007. There wasn’t even an App Store when they started.
“We started making apps before the iPhone, on the original iPod touch, which was their first touchscreen-based mobile device,” says Macfarlane. “You could see it was the beginning of something pretty significant, as well as it being really great fun and interesting to work with.”
MEA Mobile was spun out of Macfarlane Engel and Associates (MEA), a consulting and IP commercialisation firm founded by Macfarlane and Gabriel Engel.
“We kept on doing IT, especially mobile projects and developing products, to the point that we spun out the mobile division and became MEA Mobile,” says Macfarlane. “It’s had a life of its own.”
MEA Mobile spun out of MEA in 2010, receiving investment from Sir Stephen Tindall’s K1W1 fund.
The company now has about 40 staff in offices in Hamilton, Auckland, Wellington and New Haven, Connecticut. Nearly a quarter of the staff are based in the US, including managing director and co-founder Bruce Seymour.
“To be in the mobile space at the infancy of the market, we had to be in the States,” says Macfarlane. “We were ‘global from day one’.”
MEA Mobile’s most successful apps target the photography and photo printing market. Its iSupr8 app applies vintage-style filters to video, and Printicular is a photo printing app that allows users to pick up prints from any of the 8000 Walgreens stores in the US.
Partnering with companies such as Rip Curl has allowed an even greater reach, with a customised version of iSupr8 achieving almost 300,000 downloads in a three-week period, and a new user every two seconds.
“We’ve had ten Number 1 apps, in a range of different app stores,” says Macfarlane. “Most recently, iSupr8 for Android went to Number 1 in the US for Google Play in the video and media category.”
As a product lab, MEA Mobile’s strategy is to put a small amount of money behind an idea, get a viable product to market as soon as possible, seek market feedback and if there is interest, increasingly monetise the product.
But MEA Mobile is also a full service agency. “We do everything from annual reports through to websites, apps and online marketing,” says Macfarlane.
This means that MEA Mobile has worked on a range of projects with international companies such as Levi’s, Samsung, ESPN, Intel, and locally with organisations such as the University of Otago and Jason’s Travel.
Macfarlane says that MEA Mobile has “an amazing team” of marketers, gamers, developers, graphic designers and videographers, and that Callaghan Innovation’s internship programmes have been a great way to bring in new graduates.
MEA Mobile also received an R&D Growth Grant in 2014. “Callaghan Innovation’s been great to us, providing support not only for R&D, but also for networks, connections and advice,” says Macfarlane.
This story first appeared in the June 2014 edition of Accelerate magazine.
Updated: 4 September 2015