MEET THE MEN BEHIND THE MAGIC
Founder Facts Week 6:
As all entrepreneurs can attest, starting a successful company is not without its challenges. Watch Dusan and Mike share what they’ve learned and their advice for anyone else thinking of starting a business.
Device Magic was launched in 2011 by Dusan Babich and Mike Welham, two veterans of the mobile technology space from South Africa. After forming a company that built developer tools for Nokia Symbian smartphones, Dusan and Mike saw an opportunity to build a mobile forms solution that would improve productivity and streamline data collection.
Device Magic was incorporated in Johannesburg, and then incubated in Dallas, Texas before opening its headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., in 2015.
In this light-hearted chat with Device Magic co-founders Dusan and Mike, we learn where the idea for Device Magic came from (plus how they decided on the name), why they chose Raleigh, as well as what the future holds for the company.
Mike and Dusan met at high school in Johannesburg, South Africa. "We knew somebody in common. I don’t really think we spoke much," said Dusan.
"We weren't in the same year," adds Mike.
They didn't begin working together until a few years later. Dusan was trying to find someone to collaborate with on a new project and started corresponding over email with Mike.
"Mike was in Germany, and I think we exchanged mails for 6 months before we actually got on a call, so not much has changed," said Dusan.
Later, while working in mobile consulting, the pair considered a few potential ideas for a new project.
"We had a hint that [mobile forms] were something we could productize and make more general," said Dusan.
Mike and Dusan worked together on another startup creating developer tools, and through this and their consulting experiences, saw that people wanted to run apps on multiple platforms to create basic workflows processes that were centered around forms.
They pitched the idea of mobile forms to a few clients and were able to put something together that was sellable, said Dusan. When they recognized that the idea was doing well and helping people, Mike and Dusan decided to build and productize it into Device Magic.
As all entrepreneurs can attest, starting a successful company is not without its challenges. Once Dusan and Mike decided to pursue their mobile forms concept, narrowing in on a direction to take the product and trying to gain momentum, while also needing to continue consulting was difficult.
"When you’re first building a product, you have in your mind what you think it should look like, you have feedback from some customers based on what they want, which is often not entirely aligned with where you want to take the product," said Mike.
"Some of our initial customers definitely wanted it to go in a completely different direction so there was a little bit of friction while we tried to do enough to keep them happy, but use that time to also move the product towards where we wanted it to go. That was definitely a challenge."
"I think the other issue was just trying to bootstrap it and doing consulting on the side while we were building the product. It was very difficult to juggle it all, you know, splitting the time between trying to get a product or platform out there and also having to spend time doing hourly work. That was definitely difficult, and a very frustrating period," said Dusan.
After starting Device Magic in their native South Africa, Dusan and Mike knew that they wanted to find a permanent location for the business. Johannesburg is "very busy, has a lot of traffic, and things are broken continuously. It’s just difficult to get around and doing business is harder there," said Dusan.
Device Magic was incubated in Dallas in 2011, and moved to its Raleigh, N.C. headquarters in 2015.
"I actually went to a conference, I think it was called Small Business Web Summit, in San Jose, and met a couple of people who were from this area [Raleigh], and they said you know you should come check it out. Eventually I did get out here," said Dusan.
"More traditional options like Boston or New York are very expensive. I think we considered Atlanta for a little bit," said Mike.
"I think we were considering East Coast cities because of the time zone and it's slightly easier to get back to South Africa. Then I was shown around by some of the people who had started companies here [Raleigh], and it just seemed like a really good place to start a SaaS business," said Dusan.
After making the move to Raleigh, Dusan and Mike agree that they made the right choice.
"Lifestyle, I think, is great here. It’s a good balance between huge city and small country town. You get a little bit of both and it’s easy to live here," said Mike.
Once Dusan and Mike had developed their product, they needed to decide on a name for the company. Although the company name does match Dusan and Mike's initials, the origin of the name "Device Magic" is quite practical.
"I think we just thought 'Okay, we’ll probably do something in mobile,' so like just pick a name that kind of works. And that’s the only dotcom we could find," said Dusan.
"Yeah, it was purely the need for the dotcom," said Mike.
"We explored a couple of ideas, and forms was the one that took off," said Dusan.
"Some of the other things we were exploring at the time were developer tools related to mobile, helping other people build mobile apps. At the time Blackberry was still doing okay, we considered building something in their ecosystem; very glad we didn’t do that," said Mike.
"We did some augmented reality stuff. I think Google Glass had just come out and we played around with some of those early SDKs or hardware prototypes," said Dusan.
"We want to have the best product on the marketplace. And obviously the number of people using it is one measure, but we pride ourselves on having a well engineered product and we want to continue making sure that we are the best in class mobile forms platform and product," said Dusan.
"I think there’s no shortage of things we could build and things that people are asking for, but we want to do it thoughtfully and make sure that the product we produce is useful, easy to use, almost fun to use, and really solves people’s problems," said Mike.