Building your App and Mobile Presence with Quoc Tran of Thunderdog

Photo: Sean MacEntee via Flickr
Quoc Tran Techincal director at Thunderdog

Quoc Tran
Technical Director at Thunderdog

Quoc is an entrepreneur, co-founder & technical director at Thunderdog with 10 years experience in software development and 5 years experience in semiconductor engineering.
Previously the Director of Platform Technology at GameSalad, where he built a team to handle GameSalad’s transition from startup to a firm that handled hundreds of thousands of customers and up to a million DAUs for all games running GameSalad technology. Quoc has been a FoundersCard Member since 2013.
1. How did you begin your career in Mobile App Development?

Mobile app development has been the natural extension of years of console, desktop and web development. The Thunderdog founding team has a combined 3 decades of software experience and over 100 shipped products across almost every platform imagineable. The founding team all met each other while working at GameSalad, Inc, another Austin based startup. While at GameSalad, we built mobile tools and technology as well as games and apps for mobile platforms. When we decided to leave and form Thunderdog LLC. we already had a strong head start on mobile development best practices so it made perfect sense to make that the foundation of our business strategy.

2. What are the top questions that you would encourage asking when looking for an app developer?

Definitely their track record and previous clients. We have come across a number of competing app studios that have oversold the ease of development based on the promise of many technologies such as PhoneGap, Unity, and Flash. While technologies exist to ease aspects of development, we have yet to come across a real silver bullet solution. Most times, we end up heavily curating third party solutions, or ultimately writing from scratch. So beware the app developer that promises the world because they will likely come short or go way over schedule. If the studio has been around long enough to amass a decent client list and completed projects portfolio, I would take that as a good sign.

3. What would you recommend clients be aware of when negotiating their contracts to create a mobile app?

Clients should look for mature developers who can effectively communicate and document the work scope, schedule and cost. Before negotiating with a developer, it is incredibly important to have a good design in place or at the very least a good overview of features and functionality. Design on the fly, or troubleshooting unforeseen issues are schedule killers and by that token budget killers too. A good developer should have a lot of questions and feedback. If a reliable developer quotes over your budget, try to cut some features to compensate. If you can’t cut features, then see if a relaxed schedule can make up for it. Try to have a number of flex points so you can push and pull without compromising the quality of the app and the developer relationship.

4. How should companies evaluate which features are needed, and which are more secondary?

Companies should understand why their app is important and how it is different from other apps or the built-in functionality of the mobile device. Anything your app can do that others can’t is a great indicator of a core and necessary feature. There is most certainly pressure to provide customers with every possible feature, but the reality is that your app is going to live among other apps that may have already claimed some turf. Know what your app is, what it isn’t, and focus the user messaging on how it can benefit them in their busy lives.

5. What are some of your favorite and most used apps?

We spend way too much of our personal time and money in the Kickstarter app, no doubt! Mint is a great personal accounting and budgeting app, and I don’t know how we would get by without Freshbooks. On the fun side of things, we think Space Team is a great, if not ridiculous, team building activity.

6. What is your best piece of mobile advice for a non-technical person looking to build an app?

My advice is to treat mobile like its own unique and opportune platform and not like a lite or small version of web or desktop. Mobile has different strengths and is no less real in terms of development scope. So if someone was looking to build an app, I would ask “How will you reach your mobile audience?” and “How are you taking advantage of the mobile platform?”. This is key to user engagement and retention through mobile apps.

7. Who is someone we should be following on Twitter right now?

@danctheduck: Daniel Cook, genius game designer with tons of content to share.
@pennjillette: Penn of Penn & Teller being always brilliant and funny.

8. Share a couple “must-do’s” for those visiting Austin from a local’s perspective?

Some of Thunderdog’s favorite spots include:
Dragon’s Lair: one stop shop for comics, miniatures and board games
Pinballs Arcade: a living interactive “museum” of pinball games and other arcade favorites
Peche: Austin’s first absinthe bar featuring pre-prohibition cocktails and great food

9. Give us your best plug/brag a little about as to what you’re working on now/next.

Thunderdog bootstrapped its first year and grossed shy of a half million dollars in revenue. This has set the stage for a major change in our future plans. We are really excited to announce our shift from the app consultation business to original products and services. We have been studying the online and mobile landscape for quite some time now and have devised an effective way to isolate hungry consumers and deliver them engaging and high quality entertainment experiences directly. We are currently fund raising and growing our team to develop our first series of online gaming products set to launch sometime later this year.

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