Interview with David Jarrett, CEO - Rootstrap

David Jarrett Interview on

David Jarrett  linkedin

CEO, Rootstrap

Give us a quick overview of Rootstrap. When and how did you begin this journey and what were your motives to be successful in app development?

Rootstrap is an award-winning custom software development agency that has built web and mobile apps for startups, publicly traded companies and public figures. Our U.S. office is located in Los Angeles, and we also have offices in Montevideo, Uruguay, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. We currently operate remotely due to the pandemic, but look forward to being able to work together in person again when it is safe to do so.

At the time of writing, we have over 150 employees globally and we are currently looking to add to our engineering team. Beyond our U.S. and Uruguayan operations, we were delighted to expand into Argentina in 2019, as well as adding new team members located in additional countries thanks to an increasingly remote work-friendly culture.

Our journey began in 2011 then evolved into its current form in 2017, when Rootstrap was created through the merger of a Los Angeles-based digital agency (in which I was a partner) with a Uruguayan web and mobile app development firm. We had developed a great working relationship together and collaborated on a variety of client projects.

After working together, we realized we’d be stronger together. As a hybrid firm owned and led by a truly multinational team, we would have the capabilities to occupy a unique position in the market. Since its inception of Rootstrap, we have been fortunate to work with several high-profile clients including MasterClass, Google, and Tony Robbins.

What is your role in the management and development of Rootstrap?

At the time of the aforementioned merger, I was operating as Rootstrap’s CFO before making the move into my current role as CEO a little over two years ago. In this position, I have broad responsibility for both the general management and continued growth and development of Rootstrap.

A big part of what I try to do at Rootstrap centers around removing bottlenecks for members of our team and facilitating a collaborative work environment conducive to success. We believe in the philosophy of servant leadership; my job is to work for our employees, not the other way around.

Beyond helping the company to grow and develop, it is extremely important to us that we create opportunities for our team members to grow and develop in their lives and careers and enable them to perform to the highest level of their abilities at all times. We’re especially proud of the people on our team who have grown with us over the course of the years into leadership and management roles, and are excited about creating many more of these pathways in the future as the company continues to scale.

Tell us about your biggest achievement in the industry.

I’m most proud of the type of company that we’ve grown into in a relatively short period of time. We came from humble beginnings as two bootstrapped companies in two different countries, and I’m proud of the way we combined our product, technical, and organizational expertise to evolve into a new organization that was much greater than the sum of its parts.

Key to this achievement has been a very high employee retention rate within an industry usually characterized by extremely high turnover. We have many employees who have been with us since the early days, which helps to foster a tight-knit culture and feelings of community and camaraderie. People here genuinely care about each other, and we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and working to preserve that spirit as we grow.

I’m also grateful for the caliber of clients and projects we’ve been fortunate enough to work on here. The global impact of our projects via the millions of people who have used and enjoyed our work has been amazing to witness.

How do you schedule the development phases of the apps to promise the timeline to your clients?

At Rootstrap, we emphasize process and focus initially on creating a base of shared knowledge between agency and client. We use this foundation to explore scope, timelines, and budget before shifting into delivery mode.

We work utilizing agile methodologies and employ an iterative development process based on continuous learning and reprioritization in response to the new knowledge that inevitably surfaces throughout the course of each project.

For example, in the beginning of a project, our ‘Discovery’ phase focuses on high-level project requirements. At the end of this phase, we review areas such as auditing, concept boards, story mapping, and estimations.

We then move onto our ‘Foundations’ phase, where we turn high-level requirements into a release plan for sprint development before reviewing story maps, UX flowcharts, and visual explorations.

After completing these phases, we then move into Iterative Product Development, in which we execute upon the release plan based on all of the planning work that has been performed before in order to help ensure a successful project outcome.

How do you help your clients in choosing the right yet profitable platform for app development?

We are technology-agnostic and focus on finding the best platform for each client’s individual needs. Profitability considerations are included in this evaluation process depending on the individual feature set and scope of each project and ultimately, we look to help our clients make smart long term investments via architectural decisions that meet future expansion and scaling projections. We work through our ideas hand-in-hand with clients to ensure we are properly considering all applicable requirements and constraints for a given project.

For example, one critical decision for many clients involves determining if an app is best suited to native or hybrid technologies. Questions we might explore include:

● What kind of features do we need? Are we working with low-level Bluetooth communication, a photo editor app, or a social network platform?

● Are both major platforms (iOS & Android) equally important?

● What are the time and budget constraints? Do we want to go to the market sooner with a more cost-efficient process, or do we want a highly scalable solution off the bat?

● Are we building a disposable prototype to test the market, or do we expect this mobile app to grow?

● Do we already have an audience, and if so, are we building the app specifically for them?

We go through similar processes when making decisions regarding appropriate backend technology stacks, and try to emphasize pragmatic, rather than over-engineered, solutions. Ultimately, our job is to provide our clients with the best recommendations possible based on our extensive experience combined with objective, data-driven analysis.

Which would you suggest for a successful and profitable business progression, Native or hybrid apps? How do you define the factors that influenced you to make this choice?

I can’t provide a simple answer to this question because the scope, features, and overall technical requirements for every project are different. The decision ultimately boils down to what outcome we’re partnering with our clients to achieve.

For example, if we want to build an app without deep hardware integration for both platforms while optimizing user experience, a hybrid app might be the best solution.

On the other hand, if we are building a platform where we want to delight customers with eye-catching animations, combined with strong integrated hardware capabilities, then a native app would be the way to go. Other notable factors here include a client’s expected time-to-market, as well as their budget and future growth plans.

How do you scheme your pricing model? How do you fix your budget?

We are an agile development shop, so our pricing model and associated project budgets are ultimately based on the time, effort, and resources needed to complete a given project. We prefer to use fully dedicated resources whenever possible to bring a product to life, and determine pricing based on project support needs - for example, whether we are deploying an embedded team in a staff augmentation-style assignment that a client will oversee and manage, or if we are taking full project management and comprehensive product development responsibility. We also discount based on team size and commitment length.

How helpful are the mobile apps developed by your team, for enhancing your clients’ business?

We focus heavily on the outcomes and impact when determining project success parameters with our client partners. Examples might include helping clients to improve user growth and retention, to increase process efficiency (and thus reduce labor costs), or to reduce risk based on better security and data management practices. We have helped clients dramatically grow their revenue, expand into new market segments, optimize customer journeys and experience, automate time consuming manual tasks, scale rapidly to meet user demand, and significantly reduce server and infrastructure costs, among other things.

We often also take on problems that companies haven’t been able to solve in-house, or for which they lack sufficient technical resources or expertise. Ultimately, we hope to help our clients move faster and more effectively than they could possibly do on their own.

What according to you are the best practices to attain client satisfaction?

Attaining client satisfaction begins with establishing strong and open communication channels between all parties involved in a given project. Without this foundation, it is impossible to understand our clients’ unique needs, challenges, and business goals to determine how we can best be of service and support. We encourage our team members and clients to raise their hands early and often in response to any issues of concern that may arise - successful collaborations require thoughtful engagement from every person involved, not to mention constant care and feeding.

The quality of our work is obviously the key, but what we do goes beyond just delivering high-quality code to our clients. We hold ourselves to very high standards, and challenge ourselves to do what is right rather than what is easy or convenient.

Next, we are highly relationship-driven and highly curious. Something as simple as the right question at the right time can change the success trajectory of a project. In order to increase the odds of these things happening, we try to get to know our clients beyond the work that we might be performing at any given time.

Finally, we care. The quest to deliver perfect service is like the pursuit of mastery in any given discipline - a goal worthy of chasing, but (generally) impossible to actually achieve. We try to be honest with ourselves and our clients about the fact that we might make mistakes sometimes, but if we do we will bend over backwards to make things right.

How do you update your business system to be on pace with the technological advancements?

Our core values include adaptability and approaching our lives and work with a growth mindset. We strive to be a learning organization, in which everyone is continuously seeking to further develop their skills and knowledge base. We continually invest in the training and development of our team members.

When our people are not deployed to work on client projects, we allow them time and space to learn and further enhance their skills, to contribute to internal initiatives, and to work on open source projects. Sometimes this type of exploration leads to new opportunities for both the individual and the organization alike.

In 2021 we are focusing on the development and implementation of a new initiative that we call Rootstrap University, which encompasses a wide variety of training, developmental, and knowledge sharing goals. Our plans in this area stretch far beyond technical skills acquisition or exploration of new technologies and working practices. We want to develop and train stronger managers and leaders to support our future growth plans and simply to help each other in our own personal development journeys. We must stay humble, and constantly remind ourselves that there is always more to learn and always room for improvement.

Initiatives aside, however, we continue to advance because we’re passionate about what we do. Team members are constantly giving talks - both internally and at meet-ups and conferences - about new learning and topics of interest. Engineers contribute to our tech blog and podcast. Our marketing team performs in-depth research and publishes whitepapers regarding areas of interest to the industry.

What are your thoughts about AR, VR, and Internet of Things (IoT)?

I believe and hope that VR will see a lot of growth in the upcoming years, especially in the gaming and education industries. At the risk of trying to predict the future, I also believe that AR and VR may eventually evolve to converge into one unified ecosystem. We can envision the creation of devices that can overlay elements over reality (AR), but can also become fully immersive (VR). These technologies have major potential for tourism, social networks, gaming, education, healthcare, and much more. We’ve done interesting work in the construction space in this area, for example.

IoT is a buzzword that means many different things. We already live in a world full of sensors and wearable devices, and this trend is not going to slow down any time soon. We will continue to see previously isolated devices move towards interconnection in order to make the objects we use in our everyday lives a lot, much smarter and attuned to our needs and preferences. As a result, we will see dramatic improvements in our ability to better track and optimize important lifestyle factors such as health, fitness, and sleep patterns. The technology available now only scratches the surface of potential in this space. We will also have the capabilities to build real-time dashboards, and deploy better environmental controls in industrial areas such as ports and airports. Ultimately, real-time monitoring and measurement should enable us to detect and respond much more quickly to the issues of regional, national, and global importance in the future.

What do you think will be the future of mobile technology?

Simply put, mobile technology will make all aspects of our everyday lives a lot ‘smarter’. Mobile technology isn’t limited to smart-phones anymore, instead now it impacts our wearable devices, medical devices, means of transportation, city living, security, work, and basically everything else.

The future will be a real-time, hyper-personalized and smart ecosystem of devices, fueled by machine learning and predictive behaviors. We will inevitably see the rise of ‘invisible software’, where a lot of our day-to-day decisions will already be optimized for us. We'll navigate through a world that is constantly adapting to our presence. This is already happening in many ways, but this transformation of our environment will continue to accelerate in the years to come.

There is so much potential for mobile technology that it's next to impossible to accurately predict the not so distant future, let alone what might happen many years from now. We live in very interesting times, however, as the technological advances we are seeing today are driving massive changes in the way that we live our day-to-day lives. I’m excited to see what’s next.

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