There are millions of apps out there. Many are very successful, but most are not. What are the steps taken by successful app makers that distinguish them from unsuccessful ones? In addition, many people have ideas for an app but don't know where to begin. What are the steps you need to take to create a successful app? As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Igor Dzhebyan.
Igor is an inspiring Ukrainian entrepreneur, digital nomad, and globetrotter whose ventures have taken him to over 30 countries in the last 14 years. Igor is the CEO of andcards, a cutting-edge coworking space platform used by hundreds of spaces worldwide. Additionally, Igor helps as the VP of the Ukrainian Coworking Association, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering local coworking communities.
Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
Starting in 2008-2010, I successfully defended my MSc thesis on the application of neural networks and genetic algorithms in the mathematical modeling of steels at Asia’s top university, POSTECH. While working in the field of corporate investments at POSCO’s Seoul HQ from 2010-2016, I met my friend and co-founder Ross Khanas, who was then a software engineer at Samsung Electronics. Together, we’ve embarked on a journey to make coworking spaces more accessible to people and founded andcards in 2017.
Most of us have been around a lot longer than apps have. What were your hobbies and interests in your youth before anyone knew what an 'app' was?
In my youth, I enjoyed learning foreign languages, honing my public speaking and leadership skills, and even went free diving to challenge myself. I have always been fascinated by software and user interfaces and was the computer guy for all my relatives and friends. With all of these pursuits, I was determined to expand my knowledge and experiences, to contribute to our society in meaningful and impactful ways.
It has been said that our mistakes are our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?
Back in 2017, when Ross and I were just taking our first startup steps, we created an app that could potentially replace paper business cards. A software version of Rolodex on steroids, the app let users create “live cards” with personal contact details, that would auto-update for everyone.
Expectedly, our product failed to gain traction as we were taken away by the idea and didn’t think about such down-to-earth things as marketing and monetization. After reflecting on what went wrong, I realized that the product should not be developed before passing the validation process, which consists of multiple steps such as:
- Validating the demand.
- Establishing a clear problem-solution framework that’s somewhat unique and gives a competitive advantage.
- Designing a suitable business model.
- Finding the first customers that pay even before the product is ready.
- Separating the responsibilities clearly in a team.
I tend to meet two types of app developers; people who are passionate about app development and technology and people who started an app because they saw it as a means to solve a problem. Which camp would you put yourself in, and how did you arrive there?
I definitely fit into the second camp of app developers who started an app to solve a problem. Me and my business partner, Ross, started working on our startup project at a coworking space. We saw the value in their services and realized that there were still a lot of pain points when it came to organizing these services and presenting them in a user-friendly way.
As members of a coworking space ourselves, we wanted to make it easier for others to book desks and meeting rooms, apply for benefits, and join events. After extensive research and many conversations with coworking space managers and owners, our project was born – andcards exists today as an app that helps both members and administrators find the best and most efficient way to manage and use their coworking space easily.
Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint—though I suppose sometimes it's both at the same time. What kept you motivated to develop your first minimum viable product, and how have you kept your momentum since then?
Creating something that people want, use, and benefit from and making a positive impact is incredibly satisfying. It was a lot of hard work in the beginning, but I was motivated by the first customers who paid even before the product went live.
Sometimes I had difficulty keeping my team’s motivation up throughout this journey, especially when things didn't go as planned or when I had to rethink strategies. For instance in 2020 during the pandemic or in 2022 during Russia’s ugly invasion of Ukraine. But that hasn’t stopped us from continuing to develop our product and expanding to 40 countries around the world.
I made sure to remind the team why we do what we do so that I could stay enthusiastic about it. Keeping my momentum going is essential for our success, so I have set goals for myself along the way and given myself time to celebrate successes with my team and learn from mistakes.
Andcards was met with enthusiasm from spaces around the world. As of today, hundreds of spaces are powered by our product. Positive customer feedback is very encouraging and motivates our entire team to overdeliver. We are grateful to our loyal customers who rate their andcards experience with 5 stars, which is a huge source of motivation. We’re now making progress towards our goal of putting an entire coworking space in a smartphone which will make workspace admins' life much easier.
Staying motivated in spite of any difficulties that arise is vital, so understanding how efforts are impacting the business has kept me striving forward. Pushing boundaries and finding excellence in every aspect of what we do has allowed us to continue achieving greater heights every year.
Can you tell us a bit about your app? How does it help people? What do you think makes it stand out? What are you most proud of?
andcards is the easiest-to-use coworking space management software. It makes managing and using a coworking space plain simple and enjoyable. And this is not a marketing slogan. Our recent research showed that 95% of our app users book meeting rooms themselves without any help from the administrator’s side. On our app, invoices can be paid in an average time of just 8 seconds!
With our focus on ease of use, even those who are not tech-savvy find our system incredibly user-friendly. Not only does it automate invoicing, membership plans, and bookings at a coworking space. It also keeps the community engaged with built-in newsfeed, chat, and events.
Our unique unified platform approach enables all app users: members, nonmembers, event attendees, visitors, and administrators to switch seamlessly between web and mobile apps. Our software stands out from the crowd as the only coworking management solution that can be used directly from a smartphone, unlocking unprecedented levels of productivity for your team.
With more than 50 apps published on both Google Play and App Store, we have an abundance of multi-year experience onboarding new coworking spaces and aiding them in becoming more efficient, profitable, and engaging. Our customers enjoy a strong bond with us due to our unlimited customer support and chat response time of under 2 minutes.
Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you've taken to build such a large community?
Our app has experienced exponential growth since its release, and currently has over 100,000 users in 300 coworking spaces across 40 countries. Over the years, our team has implemented three key steps to build such a strong community:
1. Underpromise, overdeliver. Coworking spaces and their needs vary greatly, making it sometimes difficult to determine a common denominator between them. Clients come to us with various issues sometimes not within the scope of our product or hard to find solutions for. We always strive to be honest and helpful regardless, communicating what we can and cannot do while setting a low bar on expectations. Once expectations are set, we make sure to exceed them by doing our best efforts.
2. Localization. Our app is available in English, Spanish, Korean, Ukrainian, German, French, Portuguese, and other languages, with the ability for customers to translate andcards into their own language. A unified app approach mentioned before means that even administrators enjoy our product in their native tongue. Localizing products goes beyond language—it also encompasses integrations with local applications and ecosystems. For instance, we have partnered with some of the best local (WayForPay) and regional (MercadoPago) payment gateways so that coworking spaces can choose their preferred method to accept payments through andcards.
3. Helpful Content. Lastly, we create genuinely awesome educational materials, coworking tips, and influencer interviews, on our Coworking Smarts blog for global coworking communities, thus helping to promote the concept and the values of coworking worldwide.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
At andcards, we've designed our monetization model to be a mutually beneficial relationship—one that allows us and our customers to grow together. We offer three distinct subscription plans to our customers. We crafted them to meet the various needs of customer categories. The "Essential" plan is ideal for establishing a coworking space, organizing operations, improving productivity, and creating a community. The "Pro" plan helps expand businesses to multiple locations, increase brand visibility, provide a better visitor experience and attract customers via mobile. The "Enterprise" plan is designed for multi-location coworking operators with thousands of users in mind, giving unprecedented customization options and top-notch customer service.
Our pricing model is special in that it reflects our commitment to transparency. We don't obscure prices and don't try to confuse people. After experimenting with several pricing options, we settled on a shared metric that works for both us and our customers: active users. For coworking spaces, active users equal revenue and an engaged customer base; for us, they mean success in transforming website traffic into paying customers.
Can you tell our readers about the most unconventional tactic you've used to test, market, or gain feedback on a product? What did you try, what was unique about it, and what was the outcome?
At andcards, we take an integrated approach to testing, marketing, and gaining feedback; rather than sending only certain people to visit coworking spaces, our entire team, from support to engineering to sales and marketing, is invited to experience firsthand what it's like—whether or not they are our customers. This gives us a better understanding of how coworking spaces operate, how they use our product, and why customers use or don’t use particular features.
Additionally, from time to time we do surveys for end users (members) instead of just admins. From these surveys, we get valuable insights on what is really important for members’ happiness since admins tend to ask for more features and additional ideas, while end users are focused on the few key things that really matter to them.
To further understand our customers, we always strive to dig deeper to identify the root of the problem that lies outside the app and develop a solution to address that particular problem using our product. This helps us create a better product because we know exactly what pain a customer wants to address with the help of our app and provide a solution that brings relief.
What are some of the strategies you have used to improve your products and build on their success?
We constantly ask for feedback from our users to gain insights into their experiences and determine areas of improvement.
We are strongly data-driven and make decisions based on the numbers most of the time.
While there is a risk of taking too much time researching or experimenting, it often results in greater efficiency, bringing cool improvements to our products and deepening our understanding.
We research other apps, not just direct competitors, to identify features we can borrow, as well as features that should be removed.
Shipping small improvements is an efficient way to make a big impact on our user experience.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app?
1 . Validate your idea.
Before committing to developing an app, it is important to validate your idea. This means making sure that your app solves a problem and that there is actual demand for it. You may think that your idea is unique and genius, but at the same time, thousands of people could be working on the same idea. By validating your idea first, you can save time and money in the long run. I already mentioned above that our first idea, the one with the contact-sharing app failed because we didn’t validate it.
2. Sell the app before you develop it.
This is probably the most important step in creating a successful app. Sell it before you even start development. That means reaching out to potential customers, understanding their pains, and offering a solution they’re ready to invest into. An example of this is andcards app how we see it today. It was created as a solution to a pain point we learned of while working on another project. By listening to customers’ needs and precipitating a solution they’re ready to pay for, we were able to create the perfect product before investing time and money into developing it, thus making sure our effort was well worth it in the end. By selling the app before development, you ensure that your product has a solid chance of finding a product-market fit.
3. Find the right people and keep your team small.
The third key to creating a successful app is to find the right people for your small team. First of all, you need people that share your values. For instance, andcards values are responsibility, transparency, and honesty. Secondly, you need people with diverse skills and knowledge to sell, market, develop the product, and help your customers succeed with it. Your team should be diverse, inclusive, and have different areas of expertise in order for the app to be a success.
Many businesses expand their teams to hundreds of people, but this only complicates management. At andcards, we take a smarter approach: instead of recruiting large numbers of mediocre personnel, we choose to maintain a small, family-like team of high-quality professionals who are highly productive, motivated, and dedicated.
I'm fortunate to have such an incredible team at andcards; thanks to their help and dedication, we were able to launch an app that achieved huge success in its chosen niche. Building a great team that is unified in vision and works together as if they were one entity is essential to developing a successful product. Every individual's input is an integral part of crafting an effective plan for launching the app that will bring short-term as well as long-term rewards.
4 . Focus on solving real problems.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when creating a successful app is focusing on solving real problems. At andcards, when developing a new feature, we ask ourselves “what problem will it solve, how often do our customers face this problem, and how will the feature make life easier?” This critical approach allows us to develop solutions that solve actual problems.
For example, some of our competitors have floor plans inside the app. We made the decision not to add them due to our target audience—coworking space operators. Coworking environments change so often that a floor plan would become outdated immediately after publication causing members’ confusion and adding an additional task to the space manager’s already full to-do list. Our research also shows that floor plans are not a better solution to the indoor orientation problem for unfamiliar visitors than other strategies such as offline navigation. Imagine trying to navigate a hectic airport on a tiny mobile phone screen—isn't it much easier to just look for signs pointing the way to your gate?
By understanding the customer’s problem and creating highly usable apps with great user experience along with relevant features, we ensure that more people use our app and interact with it for longer periods of time.
5 . Focus on all stakeholders, not just a lucky few.
Another important thing to consider when creating a successful app is the experience of all stakeholders, not just those who make the purchase.
For instance, coworking space owners may purchase andcards app for admins that manage their spaces and members that come to work there. In this case, it’s critical to take into account both user groups and develop an app that provides an intuitive and enjoyable experience for all stakeholders.
This is paramount as happy members will be key to the success of a coworking space. Therefore, a coworking space app must not only automate administration tasks for managers but also enable members to easily access any services they need with just a few taps.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could start a movement that would be to create and promote a more flexible, inclusive, diverse, and happy workspace culture. Investing in educating people about the benefits of coworking as a better way of working is something we all need to do. The core values of coworking—community, openness, collaboration, sustainability, and accessibility—have an aura reminiscent of a political party manifesto. I believe that coworking is a foundation for a better future in which people come together through shared values and cooperate to share resources rather than compete for them.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers interested in learning more about our work can follow the Coworking Smarts blog, where we regularly publish stories, thinking, and insights from experts on the coworking and flex space industry or follow us on LinkedIn. I will also be happy to connect and answer any additional questions via my personal LinkedIn page.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
It has been my pleasure. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with your audience.
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