Plutonium Apps: How did it ‘appen?
We interviewed the Georgia Tech students who founded Plutonium
The “startup” has been a popular way for ambitious people to challenge the abilities of technology in our world and disrupt the industry. With entrepreneurs continuing to push the boundaries of innovation and creative thinking, we can begin to wonder: What is it like to run your own startup?
Well, we had a chance to catch up with Seth Radman and Stephen Schwahn, the CEO and CTO of Plutonium Apps, a startup based out of Georgia Tech that creates beautiful custom iPhone apps, Android apps, and websites.
The team has been around for just over two years, and they have already grown to become a software development powerhouse with 15+ clients ranging from individuals to college startups to multimillion dollar enterprises.
Here’s the inside scoop on the lives of Seth and Stephen.
How do you balance taking classes at GT, being in the marching band, and running a startup?
Seth: It is all in time optimization. I say time optimization because time management just addresses the sorting of time. Time optimization is the process of making sure we (as individuals and as a team) are using our time as efficiently as possible. By that, we are setting priorities, filling our calendars every day, and categorizing to-do items by urgency and importance. I believe in living by the philosophy my Dad taught me: “Do you what you have to do before you do what you want to do.”
Stephen: I don’t settle for a routine. What I mean by that is, I have a routine, but it is flexible. Ergo, I can have blocks of time set for certain things, but I can mix it up or change it up depending on the day. Aside from the logistical side of managing all of this, it is super important for me to make sure I am doing what needs to be done well, so I don’t waste time fixing something that should have been done right the first time. In addition, I make sure to keep things short and concise because that can save a lot of time and get rid of a lot of miscommunication.
What advice would you give to other students who want to start their own company?
Seth: Go for it! The worst case scenario is that it all blows up in your face and turns out to be a huge failure, but it is going to be an incredible learning experience regardless. The best advice I could give to students is to surround yourself with passionate and encouraging people. Your teammates, friends, and family will be the people motivating you through it all, every step of the way. So in the end, you have to go all in and just go for it without worrying you’ll fail. You’ll never know what you’re capable of until you try.
Stephen: I have worked with four startups while in college, and three of those failed. But it wasn’t because it was hard to start one, it was because in each startup we lacked something huge like market research, or we lost focus because we were caught up in school. Although I lost my shot with my previous startups, I love Plutonium Apps, and it has been amazing from the beginning. So to get to the point, school is important, but you have to learn to prioritize your startup and school on similar levels, you can’t always let school take over. Give your startup your all, you have one shot.
Why did you start Plutonium Apps?
Seth: I worked with a small development team of friends and colleagues to create a new iPhone app my freshman year of college, and we thought it was going to be the biggest and coolest app ever! Unfortunately, it ended up being a huge failure and was not the successful product we envisioned. However, I really enjoyed working with our team of designers and developers and didn’t want to give up after one failure. I started thinking, how far can our team go? Could we be the next big thing to happen to Atlanta? The Southwest? America? The World? One of the best things about starting Plutonium Apps was being able to connect challenge myself to blast through failures and continue to push the boundaries of creativity and innovation in technology.
Where do you see Plutonium Apps in five years? 10 years?
Stephen: In five years, I see Plutonium Apps as the “go to” software development company in Atlanta for apps, wearables, and virtual reality. Our focus has been, and always will be, to create amazing apps for amazing people. We want to make great things Appen (pun intended). In addition, I see us narrowing down our market by investing in the right people and relationships in order to have a large pool of talent and capital that we can use to make riskier apps. In 10 years, depending on the deals we encounter, we may end up working for a huge app like a Facebook app!
How is running your own company different from what you expected?
Stephen: The biggest thing is always having your company in mind. The reason for that is a startup is not like a normal job where you go somewhere and work from 9am to 5pm. Plutonium Apps is nice because we can choose our hours to work, but also, we are caught in not being able to choose our hours because we have to be adaptable to changes, meetings, clients, etc. We have to always be ready to make a pitch or make a deal or hear an idea.
Even when I am asleep I am thinking of Plutonium Apps! I wake up some nights, and I write down ideas I have that could improve an app we are working on. However, alongside with all this work, time, and passion being put in, I feel a direct correlation to how great and fulfilled I feel when I see the results!
What is the coolest app you have worked on?
Seth: GradeBuddy is probably one of the coolest apps I’ve worked on because of the incredible level of User Experience design and collaboration that went into the app. GradeBuddy is a free app that allows students to quickly see the grades they need to achieve their target grade in class. I had the pleasure of working with one of our most talented iOS Developers, Cal Stephens, who brought so much to the table with his incredible design and development skills. The best part was collaborating with him and our UX Designers to really polish the app to perfection from a user interface and user interaction standpoint.
Stephen: The one we are working on with Tech Square Labs (unfortunately I can’t disclose more details yet). I find it the most interesting because it has revolutionized our infrastructure. As a CTO, I watch technology grow and develop, and in keeping up with technology, I realized we could be more efficient. Therefore, I decided to standardize the way we code as a team. This way, we would have the same coding style allowing us to be able to read and fix things easily. This cut back time, giving us more time to fix bugs and make the UI look better. This just goes to prove that with every project we are given, we are finding ways to improve the way we do things for not only our team, but for our clients.
What tools do you use for project management and team communication?
Stephen: Slack is definitely my go to. It is an easy and much better replacement to emails. As for the way we project manage, we usually use Trello to document our programming progress. In addition, Agile is another software we use to help with collaboration and development.
What is one of the greatest challenges or setbacks you’ve faced as a company?
Stephen: I’d say a more recent challenge is the struggle to make sure that everyone on board is really passionate about what he/she was doing. We always want to make sure our employees are having fun and doing what they want while meeting deadlines. Also, because we are college students, it can be super important that our teammates understand how to balance academics and work. Which is why we want Plutonium Apps to be something fun for these awesome people.
What is the most important thing you have learned so far from your experiences with Plutonium Apps?
Seth: The most important thing I have learned is to know when to abandon an idea. When we come up with an idea, we often believe it’s the next big thing and get very attached to the specific details for our own master plan. This can cause us to become so obsessed that we lose sight of the market demands, which is a common trap for app developers. You can create a new product that you think is great, but that doesn’t matter if you aren’t providing users with value or solving one of their problems. As engineers, it is critical for us to be able to abandon bad ideas and develop new ones rapidly in order to continue creating and innovating successful products that people want to use.
Stephen: It would definitely be to follow the lean startup model not just because it helps give you structure, but because it helps you pin point your failure. In taking steps, you can slowly grow and if something fails, you know exactly why you failed. This helps you cut back your losses, would be to follow the lean startup model. It is similar to the scientific method in the sense that you can isolate changes; there is a one independent variable in each step. Overall though, you have to be fully invested in whatever you do because failure is inevitable, but if you’re passionate about something, then you will always stick with it regardless of the hardships you encounter.