Observations: Interview with Ian Schenkel of EuroSmartz
Completing the fourth year of my monthly “Observations” column for the Observer, I find myself reflecting back on the exciting variety of subjects I have had the chance to cover. Originally, my beat included two rather broad but related areas of the printer industry—simply stated, its past and its future. The former category often includes a healthy dose of nostalgia regarding how things have changed since foregone days when we were all young but also a reminder of how things may have stayed the same. The latter category is where I point to areas I have observed that are new and emerging.
However, a third category has developed, tied to the future, which is interviewing and reporting on some of the people involved with future-looking products and technologies. These entrepreneurs have typically been contributing to the future of our industry, and this month, I had the pleasure of chatting with Ian Schenkel, co-founder of EuroSmartz Ltd., the company known for being “#1 for Printing Apps on the iPhone and iPod Touch.”
Ian, along with brother Martin, form the basis of a bi-continental team, spanning England and New Zealand, a time-zone combination that the company sees as a big advantage with respect to making good on fast-turnaround 24 × 7 product support. For cohesiveness, I have consolidated a series of international phone calls and e-mails with Ian Schenkel into one interview .
Lyons: What is your professional background?
Schenkel: EuroSmartz was formed in 1994 when we launched a sales force automation application for Mac and Windows. Over the years, it has taken a few different iterations and has now turned into mainly an iPhone-app developing company specializing in printing apps. I am based in Amersham, which is 25 miles northwest of London, and my background has pretty much all been software sales and marketing—I have also helped establish a number of U.S. software companies in Europe.
My brother Martin is based in Auckland, New Zealand and has been a developer for more years than I can remember. His background is in C, C++, Java, and many other different languages. Part of the reason we started EuroSmartz in the first place was because of our complementary skill sets, which has really paid off well for us in the app store.
You need to create great, innovative apps to sell in volume [Martin’s job], but now with 100,000 apps, you also need to make some noise to stand out [my job].
Lyons: What led you to iPhone apps and especially to those that feature printing?
Schenkel: The decision to make iPhone apps was actually pretty easy, I read a few pieces about developers that were making apps for the iPhone and how the SDK [software development kit] was pretty easy to use. I then spoke to my brother, and he downloaded the SDK, and we started making apps.
As for the specifics of printing, that came about from looking for gaps in the apps that were available and also because of our own use of the iPhone—we found there was no solution at the time to print anything, so we thought we would design and build something ourselves. It was a bit of a learning curve getting into passing information and documents to the myriad print drivers on both Mac and PC, but once that was broken down and built, the rest followed pretty easily. Most enhancements we add to our apps are customer-driven requests. Field testing is always the best way to build better products, and we now have an absolutely huge number of customers that give us great feedback.
Lyons: Without saying exactly what is “huge,” can you provide some scale on the success of your apps?
Schenkel: The "number-one" claim we make on our Web site is due to the fact we are the top selling paid printing app in the entire app store and have been for all of 2009. We have two printing apps in the top 100 of productivity, and no other printing app in the store will print the range of document formats that our apps support. Because of this position we have sold more in terms of volume across our family of apps than any other printing app vendor.
Lyons: Will you tell us about being included in one of Apple’s famous “There’s an app for that” television commercials?
Schenkel: The ad was a little out of the blue really, Apple were looking for business apps that enabled them to showcase how the iPhone is a useful business tool. Print n Share was shortlisted and eventually made its place in the Office ad. There is not a huge amount more I can say about the ad, it was all very exciting but also very easy. The biggest thing we had to prepare for was translating the app into other languages. The ad showed in the U.S., UK, Japan, and France. Seeing the app for the first time in Japanese was fun, we knew each of the buttons but could not read what they had on them. We also helped Apple with the sequence of our app in the ad, so that it all flowed correctly.
Lyons: What’s next for EuroSmartz?
Schenkel: We have a number of new apps in the pipeline, some are variations on printing, and some are a complete departure. However the biggest initiative we have in place right now is integrating with other apps to enable them to print. We have created a simple way that other app developers can use our app to print. We provide all the tools for them to build this, and best of all it is free for the developer. Once the apps are integrated, all the customer needs to do is have our app along with the other app on their iPhone, and they can print from that app. We feel this is going to bring some major new features to the iPhone. So far we have two apps integrated and quite a number more in the pipeline.
We are adding four new apps that have integrated with our printing apps in the next few weeks, so we are excited about launching those too.