Kicking off our “Think. Do. Share.” initiative is, Mark Sawyier. Mark is co-founder and CEO of Bonfyre.
Bonfyre is a workplace culture platform – an enterprise social network designed to support the human connections at the heart of a strong culture and highly engaged workforce with features that support employee recognition, feedback, experiences, communications and more.
It’s a simple equation this app delivers on- happy employees + improved communication =successful company Bonfyre’s successes at doing so has led to incredible reception. Bonfyre has been adopted by companies such as Southwest Airlines, Marriot, Commerce Bank, and Maritz Travel Company, just to name a few. It’s also earned a number of accolades, most recently being named one of the top 10 St. Louis tech startups and reaching over $9.7 in venture capital investment.
We sat down with Mark to learn more about his experiences at Bonfyre and what he’s learned along the way.
Think. Do. Share
When you came up with Bonfyre as a business concept, what was it that made you decide an app was instrumental to achieve your vision?
Mark: We began with the basic idea of building some kind of a mobile app. We first started talking about it shortly after the iPhone came out – we knew the platform was going to change everything. We started out as a private social networking platform for friends and family and, over time, evolved into the workplace culture platform Bonfyre is today.
What did the drawing board look like?
Mark: We had lots of ideas about what it would mean to build a better private social networking platform. But with limited time and resources, throughout our journey we’ve always tried to focus on the most essential and what we needed to achieve to prove we had a viable idea and business opportunity. In the very beginning, as a private social networking application for families, we were concerned about app virality and stickiness (something that is still very important to us today).
Would you agree that companies often make the mistake of investing in an app, when a mobile-responsive website is more suited to attain their goal?
Mark: Sometimes. It really depends on what the goal is. Mobile-friendly websites are limited in user experience, features, and functionality- like push notifications. It really depends on what you want to do.
What parameters do you recommend when deciding if you should invest in creating an app?
Mark: Ask yourself, “Does achieving the goal require or benefit from using a smartphone?”. If it’s important for you to be able to reach out and “touch” the user (ex: send them a push notification), then a native mobile application is important.
The app biz is tough. The statistics for app success are intimidating, to say the least- 77% of users never use an app again 72 hours after installing. What is it that made your early adopters not only try, but continue using Bonfyre?
Mark: It was important to meet the high expectations of the quality for user experience: polished, simple, and delightful. The application must be robust enough to meet needs, but not overly complex to where it gets in the way. Make sure to thoughtfully map out the user experience from A-Z and establish clear goals for each step (and screen).
When you were starting out, how did you get people to try Bonfyre?
How did you cultivate and grow your early adopters/installs?
Mark: General marketing tactics, PR and beta email invites. We built features into the product that allowed existing users to invite others to join. App marketing, which you [Decantery] helped us with; things like app store optimization and pay per account signup. Working with a good partner that takes the time to not just throw ads up, but to get the end goal, which in our case in the beginning was account signup. Now of course, we see this occurring as part of driving new customer relationships.
For those interested in launching their own app, what were some of the surprises you encountered along the way?
Mark: How different the app store ecosystems are and how different the submission process is for iOS and Android. Also, “you get what you pay for” stands true in the app space. There’s a lot of low cost developers and out of the box options and it’s important to find good middle ground. Building a mobile app that will meet the desired goals almost always will not be a very small investment. In my experience, going for the “least expensive” option has a higher probability of not getting you where you want. Particularly for lower cost options, it’s important to spend the time understanding exactly what you’re getting for your money.
When I think back on how apps have changed over the past few years, the appearance and navigation has gone through tremendous evolution. What do you believe is an essential design element for user experience?
Mark: Less is more. Always ask yourself what is the action you want the user to take on the screen. Map out the user experience and test it, get user feedback.
Anything you’d caution against?
Mark: Trying to do too much at first or lead users to do actions that aren’t part of your most important objectives.
Virtual Reality, the Internet of Things, Chat Bots: there’s always a new technology having its moment. What do you foresee as the major market trends or changes in the app industry over the next 2-3 years?
Mark: Trends are easy to get caught up in and distract from the most important part of the user experience (polished, simple, delightful.). They can add additional complexity and cost. Unless it’s foundational to the end goal, don’t worry about the “bells and whistles” until you have that foundation reasonably well developed.
We’ve seen how number of security attacks and threats have struck the mobile app industry alongside its growth. How does a fledgling app prepare to defend and protect their users?
Mark: For most applications, make sure users names, email, and password (anything personally identifiable) information is encrypted. If you’re not an engineer, it’s worth doing a bit of research to find some “security best practices for mobile applications” to help educate yourself and have a more informed conversation with someone who is actually building the application.
What’s your closing advice for app entrepreneurs?
Mark: There’s a lot of value in bringing in people who have experience, experience can’t be underestimated.
Do not underestimate the value of investing the time in your goals for the application as well as the experience for the end user.
Brainstorm big, but take small steps that are highly quantifiable.
And lastly, be persistent. The longer you work at something, the more likely you are to succeed at it.
A little rapid-fire fun
Here’s some completely random, non-scientific questions “revealing” the psyche that is, Mark. Enjoy!
- What haircut did you have in high school?
- Basically, what I have now. Before that it was kind of like James Van Der Beek circa Dawson’s Creek.
- Super power- fly or read minds?
- If you were guaranteed to be successful in a different profession, what would you do?
- Last movie you saw? Recommend it?
- Ken Burns Civil War documentary. Learned a lot!
- Do you believe in aliens?
- The end of Titanic- Did Rose have room for Jack on that door she floated on?
- Starbucks go-to?
- Cold brew, black
- Name the most famous person you’ve met
- Barak Obama
- Best underrated travel destination?
- Captiva island, FL
Many thanks, Mark Sawyier for taking the time! Your insight and advice is greatly appreciated. Bonfyre’s growth is incredible and an inspiration to technology entrepreneurs and beyond. We look forward to seeing what’s to come for Bonfyre and wish you continued success!