Ask Enrique Bonansea what his company emonster does and he is likely to say they build the unbuildable, what others say cannot be done or don't have the imagination to realize it. With 20 years experience, emonster is an i3Development software company (iPod + iPhone + iPad = i3), with offices in Tokyo and Seattle.
The iPhone platform has become one of the most significant mobile formats on the planet with the demand for iPhone apps greater than ever. With the new iPad, Apple has expanded the platform to allow a new class of desktop quality mobile apps.
Born in Argentina, Bonansea emigrated to the U.S. to go to Seattle University where he studied computer science. After a few years, he dropped out because, he says, it was not challenging enough. In 1990, he started his own company in Wisconsin, making database applications. That would be the forerunner of emonster.
Bonansea first came to Japan in 2004. After six months of intensive Japanese study, he spent time as a software architect at Barclays Capital, before establishing the Tokyo branch of emonster.
Today, the company stands at the forefront of apps for smart mobile devices. Japan Today meets up with Bonansea to hear more about the digital "evilution," as he puts it.
How many companies do you head?
I have two companies, emonster Inc in the U.S., and emonster KK in Tokyo. Right now, the operation is just me, working with two developers in Seattle, one in Istanbul and one in Russia.
How did the recession affect you?
It hit us big time. Until 2008, all my clients were foreign and that turned out to be a mistake. It had been very easy to get foreign clients -- they had the money and the projects. Most of them were banks and staffing companies. After the Lehman shock blew up, all my bank clients stopped their projects; the staffing companies lost their work because banks stopped hiring. Our income was less than 10% of 2008. 2009 was a very bad year for business but a very good year for my companies' development.
What about this year?
It is better. Last year I didn’t have any clients, so I could concentrate solely on the company and reevaluate what I needed to do and see where the next revolution would be – which is smart mobile devices and cloud computing. So I did a lot prototype development and research in those two fields.
As a result, this year we shifted our company focus from Internet-based applications only to smart mobile devices. We have been dedicating most of our time to mobile application development and have developed over 40 iPhone and iPad apps since the beginning of the year. At the moment, it’s all iPhone and iPad. Android and other platforms are there but the demand is mainly for iPad apps. We are now getting more corporate clients who want to build applications for those devices.
How competitive is the industry?
I don’t really have any competitors right now. In order to develop and release iPhone applications, you need a license from Apple. Apple has sold about 300,000 iPhone development licenses worldwide. Out of those, less than half actually develop an application. About 100,000 actually use their license to build an application and release it to the Apple store. The others probably found the learning curve and development experience too difficult or they were just students playing around. Out of those 100,000, I would say 90% might have developed just one app and then they gave up... and what they developed was a bad app. So that leaves about 10,000. In Japan, it may be a few hundred, if that.
How do you market emonster?
I have a corporate website in Japanese and English. I also have a blog, I’m on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. I talk to large ad agencies like Hakuhodo, MRM, Ogilvy, and rely on word of mouth.
Can you give an example of an app you developed recently?
I did one for Smooch Japan KK, the pioneer of the smoothie market in Japan. It’s called Let’s Smooch! and gives customers mobile phone access to up-to-date detailed information on Smooch, its latest promotions, locations and drinks and lets them access Smooch’s Twitter page and home pages. It also incorporates perhaps the world’s first stamp card for iPhone using bump technology. This allows customers to get rid of paper point cards and replace it with a point card in their iPhone, which can be updated only at the Smooch store using the latest GPS and bump technologies.
How did you come up with the idea?
I love their product and used to go to Smooch three times a day. I noticed that they had a paper point card system. I went ahead and built an app without being hired. Once I had the app 90% completed, I contacted the president of Smooch and showed him the application and he was very impressed. Then we made a contract.
What is your revenue model?
We develop our own software which we can choose to release for free and then charge an upgrade fee. We put the app into the Apple store and collect revenue from sales of those products to end users. With corporate clients, we charge fees for app development.
What are you working on now?
A retail store location finder. For example, this application uses a GPS to locate all the convenience stores around you. It allows you to filter the stores by brand or services. Let’s say you are looking for a store that has an ATM; you can select only those on your phone and navigate to the store using directions.
Are you going beyond Apple to Android?
We are looking at Android, and have already built two apps but have not released them in Japan yet. NTT Docomo is very eager. They see they are losing ground to iPhone and are looking for talented people who can develop apps. All my apps are multilingual because I want to build up the number of Japanese corporate clients.
Is educating potential clients a big part of your job?
Very much so. For example, cloud computing is another area we are involved in, but Japan still lags behind other countries a bit, so I have done presentations on cloud computing services and what it involves.
Are you planning to hire contractors in Japan?
I am confident we will grow, so I will be looking for a few more contractors. Ideally, I’d like to work with my team face to face, rather than in cyberspace. Currently, I am only using trusted people whom I have known for many years and with whom I have worked. I know their capabilities. The iPhone development community is still small worldwide.
Right now, I am doing most of the work myself, promoting the company. Once I get a solid base of clients and steady revenue, I can get some more people and then shift my role.
What is a typical day for you?
I am incredibly busy, working 20 hours a day in three shifts. I take short sleeps throughout the day. I get up around 8 a.m. and work six hours and sleep for a couple of hours. Then I work for another six hours. Around 8 or 9 p.m., I take another two-hour nap and then work through the night. During the day, I focus on business development, such as meeting clients and doing sales pitches. At night, I do software development.
For more information, visit www.emonster.com© Japan Today