By Allan Maurer
So, you think you have a great idea for a hot iPhone or iPad app but don’t have the wherewithal to make it happen? There’s a new company for that. Columbia, SC-based 52apps plans to create a new app every week from ideas submitted by the public and share download royalties.
The company, which is holding its first “App Idea Day” and launch party at 11:30 a.m tomorrow in Columbia, is the brainchild of two seasoned technology entrepreneurs and two young coders who built their first apps while still in High School in Arkansas.
The 52apps story began with a phone call to Stephen Leicht from his friend Bill Kirkland, fomerly CEO of Collexis Holdings, and entrepreneur in residence at the University of South Carolina. A woman sitting next to Kirkland in church saw him taking electronic notes and told him her son had created an iPad app for that.
Kirkland wanted Leicht to meet with the woman and her son at a Lexington, SC Starbucks. Initially, “I told him I didn’t have time to meet with a lady and her son with an iPad app,” he says.
Leicht, CEO of 52apps, was previously executive vice president and COO of Collexis Holdings Inc., a developer of knowledge management and discovery software, acquired by Reed Elsevier in July 2010.
While at Collexis, Leicht had a leadership role in more than $18 million in private operational fundraising, two company acquisitions, and the company’s initial public offering. He also held several positions with IBM and prior to that started, ran and sold International Telecommunications Distributors.
Started building apps at 17
But eventually, Kirkland convinced him to meet with the woman and her son, Christopher Thibault, co-founder and an engineer with 52apps, in January this year.
“He explained that when he was 17 and still in high school, he and his friend Brendon Lee (now co-founder & lead developer at 52apps), had built an app called “Algebra Solver,” essentially an advanced calculator, as a tool for their own use in math classes.
“In their freshman year in college, they converted it to the iPad and built another app, “Smartnote,” intended to eliminate the need to carry notebooks and texts to classes, and Chris carried only an iPad for the rest of his undergraduate career.”
Half a million downloads later
That was all nice, but Leicht wanted to know the nitty-gritty business details. Did they try to sell it?
Yes, they had put it in the iTunes store.
Did it get any downloads?
Yes, Thibault said, “We had some moderate success.”
H’mmm, thought Leicht. What is “moderate” success?
Smartnote, Thibault said, had been downloaded more than half a million times.
Half a million times? “That got my attention. Now I was interested,” Leicht says.
He asked, “Do you know how often it’s used?”
The real kicker
On an average day, he was told, it’s opened 250,000 times. Not only that, the two students had built a store inside the app allowing users to buy other features and were seeing 40,000 to 50,000 downloads a day there.
And then came the real kicker. The two had created a library of tools and modules for creating mobile apps that meant they could build a fully-functioning product in two or three days.
After some testing the verified they indeed could create an app in days, Leicht and Kirland were sold and along with Thibault, Lee, and CFO Mark Murphy, another former Collexis Holdings exec, they created 52apps.
Now, the company wants to create an app a day for the next year using ideas generated by the public (compensating idea generators with shared royalties).
The company was recruited to the USC Columbia Incubator by Kirkland after the launch.
App Idea Day
What: 52apps App Idea Day & Company Kick-Off Party
When: Friday, June 15, 11:30 a.m. EDT
Where: First Floor Theater, IT-oLogy, 1301 Gervais Street, Columbia, SC 29201
Why: Introduce new company, provide opportunity for people to make money from their app ideas