Praveen Narra grew up in such a small town in India that when he was studying in school, the roof would leak when it rained. During his education, only two teachers taught five grades.
“It wasn’t an easy journey all the time,” he says to me, shifting his eyes to the ground, as if recalling memories of a heavy kind. A flicker of afternoon sun runs across his face, and he begins to relay his story to me.
“I was fortunate enough to go to one of the best universities in India. When I first got there, however, all I did was have fun. So instead of getting into computer sciences, which was well sought after, I got a civil engineering degree. In India, however, civil engineering wasn’t popular and no one was getting good salaries from it.
“In ’94, we Indians were just getting to know computers, so I began spending lots of time in the computer lab. No one was rewarding me, and my friends used to make fun of me. ‘You have no rest and no reward,’ my friends used to say.”
Fortunately, though, computers became more popular. Narra began getting good grades in a program called C-Programming. In fact, he started getting better grades than the computer graduates.
The time Narra spent in the labs actually paid off because shortly following the program, he landed an apprenticeship in a software company. He was assigned to a $227,000 project, which he successfully completed, and was then brought onto the world-class team at Microsoft.
“In 1999, I began working on integration of Microsoft Access and Sequel Servers. At the time, Microsoft already had something called pocket PC. If you think about it, they were way ahead. Their mistake was making a huge Windows operating system, when they should have made it smaller.”
I ask him what motivated him to leave Microsoft and he laughs.
“I was young and stupid! I thought I knew everything. It wasn’t until after I left Microsoft and started my business that I discovered I didn’t know the difference between sales and marketing. I didn’t know payroll. I thought if you knew software you could run your own business!”
Unfortunately for Narra and the rest of the computer world, it was at this time that the dot.com bubble burst. Narra struggled for a couple of years, running out of money, maxing out his credit cards, and drowning in debt.
“I remember days when it was 95 degrees outside and I couldn’t even afford to run my car with air conditioning.”
That was hitting a threshold for him, he says.
“Back then my credit card debt was $40,000 without even having a lot of credit cards. Before I left Microsoft, I had more than $120,000 in my bank accounts! But of course, I was only 24-years-old.”
For Narra, his breakthrough didn’t come until 2001. Google was barely known at the time. Narra started a website for Indians who were coming to the U.S. to help with immigration and integration. It was just a web portal then, but he began tweaking it to make it rank higher in the search engines.
“There was no such thing as the optimization industry then, and I didn’t know that I would be able to make money based on that. So I was getting lots of traffic, but no money because of course, advertising had plummeted.”
Then one day, on a coffee break, Narra met a guy who shared office space with him and listened to his website woes. He offered to help for free.
When his second client came soon after, he charged $200.
“I was like, someone is paying me! What I’m offering has value! So I charged the next guy $2,000 and the one after that $6,000.”
Narra laughs. I’m reminded of my own light-bulb moments that have happened to me during moments of experimentations.
“Sometimes you have to give away products or services for free to test and see if there’s traction.”
After mastering optimization, Narra and his team moved on to software development, web apps, and the shiniest, newest phenomenon of them all—mobile apps.
“We created an app for Tony Robbins. I was a platinum partner, so when I went to my first financial event with Tony, attendants had to fill out these printed forms with all of our financial assets, and information like when we would become financially independent, etc.
“But because this excel spreadsheet was just a page of numbers, when I came back from the event, I simply put it on the shelf.
“Tony’s team reached out to me and asked about building an app. So we took all of the numbers and built an app so people could understand their financial assets much easier. Assets are in this red bucket, risks are in this green bucket.”
Narra also works with a company who is a lead competitor with Uber. Even though Uber is killing everyone else in their industry, this company is still growing and through the app, have made tens of millions.
“Everything is evolving so fast in the world of mobile. In the old days, you could develop whatever app you wanted and people would use it.
“I remember these kids who built a farting app and when you sat on it, it let out a fart sound! Those days are gone. Now, if you want a real app, you’ve got to give it real value. The revenue for app stores from 2015 – 2016 went up 40%, but the number of downloads went up only 15%.
‘The numbers of apps being installed has plateaued a bit, but if you solved a real customer problem or fill a real customer need, that’s when the app becomes valuable.”
Narra believes the best time to get a mobile app was ten years ago and the second best time to get one is now. It’s not for every business, though.
For example, for a 3-star restaurant in just one location it doesn’t make sense. But if you’re a high-end restaurant and you’re bringing in musicians and doing live shows, there’s more implications for a mobile app.
Think about Youtube and Google. You might rack up millions of views on Youtube, for example, but Youtube isn’t telling you who is watching your videos. You could have a Facebook page with millions of followers, but only a fraction of your posts are actually seen.
The same principle applies to email. If you send out an email, a lot of it is going to spam. These filters are put up by companies to protect their consumers, but it affects all of these businesses and the products they’re trying to sell. Sometimes it simply affects the business’s ability to simply communicate with their customers.
Thus the amazing opportunity the mobile app brings: you can add value to your consumers, you can communicate with them via video or text, all without wading through the sticky world of email and spam filters.
It’s Narra’s belief that the rapid advancement of technology is getting ready to change everything about mobile apps and the user’s experience with technology in general.
“There are lots of things that are changing the way the mobile industry is evolving. According to my guess, 5G will be implemented in 2020. It’s going to make your mobile experience up to a 1,000 times faster. It changes everything.
“To get to the server and come back currently takes about 30 to 100 milliseconds, but it will be going down to 1 millisecond. There’s no doubt speed will be changing everything.”
Mark Zuckerberg is betting that by 2019 more than 70% of all mobile communication is going to be video.
Plus, data will be, in essence, free in most places around the world.
With an entrepreneur’s wiring at his essence, Narra is taking his expertise in building customized software for large companies and transferring it into a platform for small business owners to build apps for their own businesses, thus bringing the power of a mobile market to more consumers.
Imagine being able to get your own leads through your own mobile apps. 97% of Millennials are either mobile only or on multi-devices.
Narra is passionate about the controlled customization of his app platform. “Our mobile app platform comes with a standard framework and can be completely customized to the business’s branding, colors and content. We work with small business owners to customize these features according to their needs.
The platform allows businesses to communicate with their audience in a variety of mediums: pictures, text, video. You can reward users and even send push notifications with the app.”
The average adult receives 147 emails a day. However, if your target customer is a successful businessperson, they’re probably getting 300-400 emails a day.
If you have an app, with the push of a button your audience gets a push notification from you. No getting lost in the ocean of emails.
You can also automate the app to drip content over a period of time—whether it’s videos, pictures or notifications.
“The thing I am really excited about with our platform is our built-in analytics,” says Narra. “We can tell who is much more likely to become your customer based on how they interact with your services or content on your mobile app.”
“You can send these people a coupon or target them in some way to bring them on as a customer. So for salespeople wasting time with dead-end leads, this is an automatic time saver.
“Let’s say you have three different products, but someone is always watching one of the videos. We can tell you to give this person this one, particular product.
“Based on the content consumption, we can even go deeper. Let’s say you send out a marketing video about one of your cars, and a thousand people got the video.
“80% of them dropped off after 10 seconds, but 200 people watched until the video was 90% through, and you know that those people are much more likely to buy, so with the app you send a push notification to just those people.”
And the investment cost for this service?
“We have a $10k package which includes a native iOS app and a native Android app, so that you’re not only communicating with your consumers via their choice of mobile device, but also on their desktop computer.
“We also give you ability to upgrade or build your own app. For what we are offering, it would cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars to build it on your own. But because we’re building it as a platform, we’re able to offer it for much less.
“We can take the content you’ve already got and bring it into our platform to create a mobile app. For example, if you have a YouTube channel, we can take all of your content straight to your mobile app.
“If you have the content on your computer, it’s just a simple drag and drop into your app. For blog posts, we let you reuse that content so you just grab your blog url and paste it into your app.”
If you’ve ever looked into designing an app yourself, you know that it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Did you know that whenever Apple upgrades its operating system, you have to hire those people again to upgrade your app?
Even if you’re only paying 100 dollars an hour, 40 hours is $40,000! Narra’s company does this three times a year for free so you don’t even have to worry about it.
Narra is a proud Tony Robbins disciple. “One of the things I’ve learned from his events is that your life is your rituals. You need to constantly be learning and taking yourself to the next level.
“Like it or not, the truth is that the world is mobile. If you’re not mobile, you’re not going to survive. If it’s Super Bowl Sunday and you advertise on the History Channel, no one is going to see you. That’s what’s happening in technology.
“The world is mobile, your consumers are mobile, and if you’re not mobile, you’re missing a huge portion of your market. They’re not going to hear you.”
Adapt or die. As strong as that statement is, it’s backed by significant evidence and the agreement of thought and tech leaders from every corner of the globe.
Assuming many readers will be concerned about the risk involved with throwing down several thousand in cash, I ask Narra about whether or not his company offers any sort of risk removal.
“Yes,” he says. “65% of software projects fail, so if a company has a private party do their mobile app, there is no guarantee that their app will be designed the way they want it to be.
“We remove that risk by offering a system that has already been proven to work. In addition, we offer a 30-day full money back guarantee if someone is not fully satisfied.
“Lastly, if the app gets rejected by Apple for reasons that are not your fault, we work with Apple or get your money back. By doing this, we reduce significant risk for our customers.”
What Narra is most excited about is the way technology is skyrocketing in every industry, literally. Spaceships, fast and free data, any product or service at the touch of a button anywhere in the world, including drones, AI and cars that drive themselves.
For a moment, we bond over the Teslas that we both own—these mind-blowing cars that can and do drive themselves.
Wrapping up our time together, it’s a confident grin that Praveen Narra tosses me now.
As fascinating as his past is, Narra’s story isn’t really about where he’s come from, it’s about where he’s going. There is no hesitation in his tone, no complacency in his smile.
“The best time to be alive is now,” he says with with a kid-like, ear-to-ear grin, like the words feel good to say.
And they do.