In 2009, John Arrow launched one of the silliest apps ever created.
It was called HangTime, and the idea was simple: Who can toss their iPhone the highest? The .99 cent app calculated the free-fall time of an iPhone and kept a scoreboard of top performers. Within a few months, the app went so viral that users were skydiving with their iPhones, waiting until the last moment to open their parachutes--all to generate a higher score.
"It was called the dumbest app of all time," Arrow says.
At the time, Arrow and co-founders Tarun Nimmagadda, Jason Story, Sam Gaddis, and Mickey Ristroph had just started Mutual Mobile, a mobile app development firm based in Austin, Texas. Today, the company is wildly successful: it raked in over $26 million in revenue last year and has 300 employees. Arrow says that they've been profitable since "day one," and the company counts Google, Cisco, and Philips among its laundry list of high-profile clients.
But to get from HangTime to multi-million dollar company, the guys had to make some tough choices. "After the HangTime hype died down, we wanted to come up with something that would be just as successful but have more of a, er, purpose," Arrow says.
First tough choice: not going for venture capital.
"We saw raising money as sort of dangerous," says Arrow, who met his co-founders in an aviation club during their time at University of Texas. "We pooled our own money together to get off the ground. Then we got our first client and let that pay for us to do work with the second client, and so on and so on."
The second big decision came in 2010. The company, which had a healthy mix of B2C clients, shifted focus to getting B2B clients. Why? The guys had a hunch that there was meaningful work to be done in the B2B space. At the time, Arrow says, there were not many mobile app firms serving enterprise clients.
The company's first enterprise client was healthcare company Greenway Medical. The team created an internal app that kept track of patient medical information.
"Human error is obviously a big deal at hospitals and something that needs to be fixed," says Arrow. "Our challenge was coming up with a mobile way that a hospital could decrease human error."
And the app, says Arrow, did just that. Its success brought a wave of other enterprise clients interested in working with a young mobile company run by a bunch of 23-year-olds.
Today, Arrow says about 60 percent of the company's clients are B2B. Their portfolio of apps includes everything from internal data apps, like the one created for Greenway, to point of sale apps to an app for Google called Catalogs, which allows consumers to purchase from major retailers.
"When we look at the projects we want to take on, we ask ourselves: Can we make this experience better?" Arros says. "Whether it's in healthcare, education, or in the retail experience--our goal is to design great experiences."
2012 Jeremy Johnson of 2tor, Ben Milne of Dwolla, Lucas Buick and Ryan Dorshorst co-founders of Hipstamatic, Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski, co-founders of Codeacademy, and Amy Jain and Daniella Yacobovsky, co-founders of BaubleBar join our illustrious annual list. Plus the start-up stories of Pinterest, Spotify, GiveFoward, and Back to the Roots.
2011 Read about Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger of Instagram, Matt Mickiewicz of 99designs, and Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox. Plus the start-up stories of Quora, Onswipe, Dropbox, Foodspotting, and Gemvara.
2010 Meet Alexa von Tobel of Learnvest, Naveen Selvadurai of Foursquare, Jack Abraham of Mint.com, plus the founders of Rent the Runway, Airbnb, Crowdflower, Posterous, LivingSocial, and Urban Escapes (now part of Living Social).
2009 Pete Cashmore of Mashable, Elliott Bisnow of Summit Series, Danielle and Jodie Snyder of Dannijo, Jamail Larkins of Larkins Enterprises were included on our 2009 list, as were the teams behind ModCloth, Thrillist, IdeaPaint, Foodzie, and Justin.TV.