‘Beautiful is a verb’
Siebrand Dijkstra is a natural‐born entrepreneur; someone who challenges frontiers and builds software with determined vision. Everyone can build functioning software; the difference lies in the manner in which this is executed.
“After 8 years at SchoolMaster, my role as entrepreneur had been played out. Of the 1,400 secondary schools in the Netherlands, 1,200 were using Magister, SchoolMaster’s educational administration software. That was more or less the highest we could hope for in terms of market share. On the basis of this success, Microsoft invited us to Redmond. We had made large investments in building Silverlight components during the early days of its existence and quickly became one of the largest users. Microsoft’s question was ultimately whether we could replicate our success with Schoolmaster in the United States. Unfortunately, this was not the case. School administration software relies heavily on laws and regulations, and these are unique in each country. The software was thus quite difficult to internationalize. Our software served the schools in the Netherlands and international expansion was not possible.”
Siebrand sold SchoolMaster and started looking for his next challenge. “I was looking for something preferably in a horizontal market and not in the kind of vertical market I experienced during my time at SchoolMaster.” This next challenge became AppMachine. AppMachine was born out of the Speak communication agency in Heerenveen which Siebrand bought in 2011. Speak also built apps. “Building an app could cost anywhere between €30,000 and €40,000! I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to do this.’ That was when my DreamTeam of developers started developing a platform for making apps. We wanted a platform that made it possible for non-developers to start building apps.”
The DreamTeam Siebrand assembled was made up of the best developers he knew. Their collective experience and skill has been the backbone of AppMachine’s growth into what it is today. AppMachine has been in development two years now and it has become a full-fledged platform for building apps. “It is a product that can be deployed in many markets.” In late February 2013, Siebrand presented AppMachine for the first time to the world press at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
How does your first start up compare with AppMachine?
“I founded my first start up, QNT, in a time before internet. It was much more difficult to influence the market. I had 3,800 customers in the Netherlands, but only a few hundred abroad. That is very different now. Now it is much easier to operate internationally… Even when it comes to apps! When I talk about AppMachine now, everyone gets excited, everyone wants an app. This market is really booming. There are already 19,000 people registered for the beta. Right now, there are apps being made with AppMachine in over 100 countries and parties in 50 countries have shown interest in collaborating with us.”
What is the latest on AppMachine?
“We are currently in a very enlightening beta phase. We’ve gained insight through tracking the high volume of users as well as their helpful feedback. For example, one of the things we’re seeing is that a large amount of non-designers are building apps now… a lot more than were initially expected. We envisioned that we would be making a platform primarily for designers—users who demand control over every pixel in the app that they’re building. Now we’re seeing users that don’t seem interested in this at all. These are users that want that little bit of extra help while they’re designing their apps. With that in mind, we’ve created a wide range of skins. Skins are templates that have preset design elements and styles to make app building fast and easy. We currently have ten skins but are working hard to get that number up to a hundred. More skins will give users more freedom when building apps for a wide range of industries and target audiences. It’s fascinating to see that a concrete manufacturer in the Philippinnes has already managed to build a beautiful app or that someone in Poland is working on building a city guide using the AppMachine platform. It really is great to see that! Another awesome milestone is reaching an average of 50 to 100 simultaneous users on the AppMachine design site! We love tracking app building across the continents to see how people from Asia to Europe to America are interacting with the website.”
What do you think is in store for AppMachine?
“We’ve just opened the beta and have seen a tremendous amount of new users register with us. We’re not in the habit of looking farther ahead than two months. We know we’ve still got work to do to get all the small bugs out of the platform. We will be working hard in the coming months to build a network of partners. We are working out the details for a reseller and partner program. In the meantime, we are continuing our work on the Developer app. Developer apps will allow you to use an import wizard in the AppMachine CMS to create a table from an Excel sheet, or from an XML or JSON feed. That table is then automatically synchronized, so it’s always up-to-date. For now, we are still busy. We mainly deal with building beautiful things. ‘Beautiful’ is a verb. We constantly work on increasing insights into what ‘beautiful’ can be.”