Upwardly Mobile

Alex Moazed is living the dream as a rising star in the mobile applications industry. At twenty-three, he’s president and CEO of Applico, a multimillion-dollar mobile applications company based in Manhattan, and is in the process of taking over another floor in his Gramercy Park office building to accommodate the influx of new hires, almost doubling his workforce from forty to seventy-five in 2011.

Growing up in Greenwich and Stamford, the young techie dabbled in Internet gaming and set his sights on creating his own business even while still in high school at Choate. By twenty, armed with entrepreneurial drive, a degree from Babson, a few credit cards and plenty of chutzpah, Alex launched Applico in 2009.

His mom, Janet, recalls his first foray into business, “When Alex was sixteen, he started a business creating video game characters—avatars—then building up their powers and selling them.”

Alex explains how he turned a pastime into a profitable venture, “These online video games have virtual economies and worlds where tens of thousands of people play. I would create and build a character who has a business in the virtual economy. There are people in the real world who will pay real money for virtual money. This was the first thing I started that was similar to a business."

His next step toward entrepreneurship was creating and marketing a real-world app for NYC Transit with transportation schedules to help people get around on Metro North and NJ Transit. Janet, recalls, “It was a proud moment when Alex created his first mobile application and installed it on my phone.”

But creating products alone wasn’t enough. Alex was hungry to launch his own company, a desire that was fed at the Entrepreneurial Studies program at Babson College, where fellow students were incubating startups in dorms all across campus.

“What put me over the edge,” he says, was seeing the older guys in my fraternity running their own companies or raising millions to pursue their dreams. I thought to myself that if they could do it, I could do it, too, and the only thing stopping me was my own hesitation.”

Ryan Kohan, a friend since college, says Alex was a born leader. “I met Alex when I was the head of recruitment for our fraternity,” he recalls. “He was a new freshman at Babson, but it was clear he already exuded many of the leadership qualities we try to develop in our recruits at a very young age. He was an important recruit to our fraternity, and I knew he would quickly rise to a leadership role. Sure enough, the president of the fraternity to follow my term was Alex.”

During his junior year at Babson, Alex began evaluating the mobile industry as a viable area to start a business. He couldn’t have picked a more booming sector. According to a recent report by Research2guidance, the app development market, which includes app creation, distribution and management, will grow to hit $100 billion in the U.S. by 2015.

Too young to secure outside investments, he maxed out credit cards to finance the launch of Applico. In just over two years, Alex has grown the startup into a force to be reckoned with, including a growing number of employees, and an impressive client roster. He has been recognized as “one of the rising stars of telecom” by Fortune, CNN and Entrepreneur magazine.

A personable guy with a head of thick brown hair, a crisp button-down tucked into jeans, and loafers with no socks, Alex looks the part of a young entrepreneur (or the guy you’d ask to help you study for your Econ final).

Kohan notes, “Alex has a very easygoing demeanor that makes people feel immediately comfortable. When he speaks with someone, he devotes his attention to the discussion, bringing a level of sincerity and intellectual curiosity to a conversation that you wouldn’t typically find in a casual setting.

“He also has an intensity that he brings to his business. While he is his own boss, there are countless times that I find him in the office longer than I was as an analyst at an investment bank.”

Life Application

Without ego or swagger, Alex describes his company as being “on the cutting edge of technology and in an industry which is changing how every single person in the world lives, whether at work or in their personal lives.” Take, for instance, a new app in development that lets you scan all the items in your grocery cart, pay for them, skip the checkout line and walk straight out the door. Or, he says, “How about an app that lets you control your automobile from virtually anywhere? You can turn it on/off, activate theft prevention, honk the horn, view the rear/front video cameras—all from your mobile device.

“A mobile application is really a software program on a mobile device,” Alex says matter-of-factly. But when he talks about the way new applications are making people’s lives easier, you can practically hear his gears shifting. He says, with exuberance, “We are touching every industry and every vertical. I’m learning about many different business models and then thinking of how mobile can improve them.”

Alex is living his dream. Since rolling out its first app in 2009, Applico has developed mobile solutions for leading companies and consumer brands, including AT&T, NBC, Pearson Publishing and GM. What does this mean to you and me? How about: No more waiting in lines for a piece of equipment at the gym (the Equinox app lets users scan a bar code from their phone to book a bike or personal trainer). It also means letting you read thousands of Pearson publications on your iPad, rather than buying them at the store, or taking you on a fun scavenger hunt around a city, giving you compass headings and clues about where to go (GM iPad app).

Colleagues point out that Applico is more than just an app developer and that Alex’s true forte is “his calm demeanor, attention to detail and business brain.” So more than just creating an app, Applico devises the “mobile strategy” for clients, helping them see some of the ways apps can drive sales, traffic or buzz. This is particularly important to companies that want to stay on the cutting edge. “Clients will have us evaluate their business model and then make recommendations about how we can restructure it to leverage mobile.”

Do big companies ever have a hard time handing major accounts to such a fresh-faced “newbie”? “I look at my age as an asset,” he says. “People tend to associate youth with inexperience and immaturity, neither of which you want a potential client to think you possess. It comes down to how you carry yourself, dress, talk, etcetera. If dealt with properly, the client goes from potentially doubting you to respecting you even more. This just happened recently, and I did exactly that—the response was ‘I’m jealous’.”

Norman Mohl of Norbelle, a GPS and navigation company, is one such client. When Mohl first contracted Alex to create a series of apps for personal tracking, social networking and shopping, he didn’t know Alex was in his twenties. Then, at the first meeting, Mohl recalls, “Alex was very professional and responsive to my needs. The decision [to go with Applico] was made based on meeting him and his team. I was surprised when I learned of Alex’s exact age, but the exchanges that had taken place by that point overshadowed any age-related thoughts. The age is not a factor in my decision-making. It all depends on expertise, and responsiveness to the project’s needs.”

There are a ton of young computer geeks creating apps (you can find more than 425,000 apps at Apple’s App Store alone), but that doesn’t mean those apps are going to be good or useful. Alex says, “It’s true, there are a lot of apps out there, and there will only continue to be more of them, however, it’s natural to have a lot of ‘bad’ quality products and a smaller percentage of ‘good’ quality ones. This is true in just about every market, except the bad ones are more visible in this industry, given the distribution model through App markets, like Apple’s app store. Developing apps is difficult, and gets more difficult as the application becomes more robust. We will continue to make top-notch apps and remain a market leader.”

At this time 66 percent of all apps are developed by third-party app developers, such as Applico, a share that will likely increase, as more companies want to
publish apps but do not have the in-house resources to do so. Most developers start out as publishers, says Ralf-Gordon Jahns, of Research2guidance, but due to the hard level of competition with the main app stores, along with failure rates, more app developers are changing their business model and concentrating on developing apps for third parties rather than creating their own apps.” He adds, “Selling the spades became a much more reliable and bigger business than digging for the gold.” Applico can make money both developing the apps and then helping clients make sure they are using them to full advantage.

New apps companies are also being created every day. But competition doesn’t faze Alex, who reports proudly, “We are ranked as number 1 for Android, number 2 for iPhone, and number 9 for BlackBerry for two consecutive years.” He credits Applico’s status as a major player in the marketplace to the fact that, “We continually innovate and improve our service offerings. We’re also doing more consulting and strategy for our clients, which is an important differentiator from the competition.”

Alex’s mom, Janet, is thrilled by Applico’s swift rise, but not surprised by it. “Teachers and other parents often remarked that Alex seemed wise for his age. He has always been determined, straightforward and no-nonsense. Even as a young child he had a plan. He is pursuing his dream.”

Building Brands

Alex’s team has helped a notable roster of companies raise brand awareness, revenues and reach. Explaining how it works, he says: “Mobile apps allow a brand to be omnipresent with its customers and, in some cases, fundamentally change the company’s business model. If a user has downloaded that brand’s app, that brand will be with him almost all times of the day, and wherever he goes. That is a very powerful tool. Then, it’s part of our job to strategize how the brand will accomplish such a feat.”

He notes that eBay and Amazon’s mobile apps have seen explosive growth in usage and transaction volume since they launched. “Their mobile apps allow them to process more transactions by letting users purchase items wherever they are.”

Alex explains how a good app can also help a company stay connected in times of crisis, “If a manufacturing company ships heavy equipment to an oil company, and the machine breaks down in the middle of the night, the mobile app can alert the correct manager and let him know that the machine broke and action needs to be taken.”

Though Applico is at the forefront, Alex won’t be satisfied unless it is recognized as “the best service provider in the industry.” To get there, he relies on good people (many of whom look like the stepped out of Central Casting for The Social Network). “Our teams are composed of the brightest minds in mobile. We have engineers, designers, project managers, account managers, product managers, sales people, research and strategists, and quality assurance engineers. All of our employees are in the U.S., and we don’t offshore our services like some of our competitors.”

In order to keep his finger on the pulse of the industry, which, according to one recent study, is centered in Manhattan rather than in Silicon Valley, Alex strategically located Applico’s headquarters in the Gramercy area of Mahanttan. Alex notes, “The most mobile apps are coming out of NYC, and Applico is the largest in the NYC area."

Alex wanted his office to be a hip and fun place to work with a downtown vibe. So he set up shop in a former residential building and installed his offices in the penthouse, with a kitchen and a rooftop space with a skyline view, a grill and a communal dining table where you’ll see project managers and engineers drinking beers after a long day. If you stop by the offices during a break, you might find a few apps’ designers duking it out on the Kinect for X-Box 360, using apps they wrote themselves.

After months of commuting from his family home in Greenwich, Alex now lives two blocks from his offices. In typical twenty-something style, a huge flat -screen TV, a large leather couch and an oversized Bose speaker dominate his single-guy studio. “I blast this almost every morning while I’m getting ready,” Alex says. “I’m not a morning person—I much prefer to work late instead, so I figure that most of my neighbors have left by then and that’s why I don’t get any noise complaints!”

In case you’re wondering, Alex’s mobile device of choice is an iPhone; on it, he uses the Starbucks app to pay for his lattes and the Equinox app book an exercise class.

When he’s not working, you can find Alex visiting his family in Greenwich or hanging with friends. “I love to relax in my free time. Put me at a pool or a beach, and I’m all set.” Alex uses the time away to recharge his batteries. “I’ll either be reading, sleeping or brainstorming ideas. It’s hard to get away and clear my mind, so I find that taking time to relax can give me valuable clarity. This is helpful when planning big-picture strategy.”

For Applico, it would seem that the best is yet to come, as “more and more devices are becoming connected, such as your appliances and automobiles. We will begin making software for these devices in the future and connect them to the enterprise and consumers.” If Alex has his way, you’ll soon be able to do most anything—anywhere—so long as you have a mobile device stocked with killer apps.

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