Developer Spotlight: Chocolabs

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To app your life, CHOCOLABS takes an API-first approach

CHOCOLABS is one of the largest app publishers in Taiwan with over 50 iOS/Android entertainment focused apps under their belt. We recently spoke with Jerry Weng, one of their co-founders, to talk about building a team, finding a niche, and driving business growth with the right development tools.
Q – Indy | A – Jerry

Q: Who is CHOCOLABS?
A: We are an app publishing company led by three co-founders who met as interns at Microsoft Taiwan. It’s a long story, but we were all in different years, and had different backgrounds—for example Kevin and I both did computer science, whereas our CEO, David, got his masters in business management and worked at a global marketing research firm before we met and decided to form the company.

Q: What led you to starting your own company?
A: Everyone who starts his or her own business has a personal reason to do it. For us, we wanted to do something different to change the world, in our own way. When we thought about forming CHOCOLABS over three years ago, we saw building great apps as a way to make an impact as well as capitalize on a massive trend, so we decided to focus our talents on that, and that’s where were at today.

Q: Where did the name “CHOCOLABS” come from?
A: Our company slogan is ”App your life”, which means making your life more colorful by using our apps. The name CHOCOLABS came from the word “chocolate”—which we know everyone loves—and combining it with “labs”, which evokes experimenting with new ideas. “Delicious and creative”, that’s what we want to our calling card to be.

Q: What is unique about your market?
A: One thing about the local app market in Taiwan is that people typically don’t pay for apps (excluding games). That’s why we focused on offering free apps and building our business model via mobile advertising. The other thing is that people spend a lot of time on their smart phone—WiFi, 3G/4G internet are all ubiquitous across the country. The smartphone penetration rate is the third highest in the world, according to IDC, only trailing Hong Kong and Singapore.

Q: What excites you about the market?
A: We get to communicate with our end users directly. We know what they like, and what they want because that’s precisely the feedback we get from our products. That’s really the most interesting part of running our business. The other thing that excites us is the fact that the market changes rapidly which is a big challenge, but also one that keeps us moving forward.

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
A: As previously mentioned, the market is changing rapidly. It’s hard to find a stable business model to hold onto, so that requires us to be flexible and focused. We have to keep finding the next big opportunity in the internet industry.

Q: How did you initially get traction?
A: Just like every startup, we pivoted many times. At the beginning, we made business apps for almost a year. We then came to the simple realization that people spend a lot of time watching video on their smart phones, but observed that the experience was fragmented and somewhat sub-par. So we saw an opportunity to innovate, and built our first aggregator app, Taiwan Concert. What it does is collect videos of popular Taiwanese singers’ concerts from sources like YouTube, and compiles them in one place. The concept is simple but the feedback has been better than expected. We got 50,000 downloads in our first month, which felt like an impressive amount at that time. From there we started focusing on the consumer market and did more work on refining the concept. Our latest Android app, iMusee Mayday builds on the aggregator model, but is the product of a tighter collaboration between us, HTC and B’in Music, a local record company.

Q: You’ve described, in one of our early conversations, your team’s software development process as being API-first. Why did you decide on that approach?
A: There are many advantages to taking an API-first development approach. API is not a new term—in the past we used web services, and had to follow complicated protocols like SOAP to communicate with our backend servers. But now, with our custom built APIs, we can tap into any internet resource like text, images, videos—you name it—by simply evoking, and pulling their corresponding URL. APIs have also evolved, and with the help of tools like RAML, have become more elastic and easier to use.

Q: How many apps are you currently managing with the help of RAML and the Anypoint Platform for APIs?
A: We currently manage 10 apps on the Anypoint Platform for APIs, and expect to add more as we continue to develop our products. Because of RAML, it’’s been a very easy platform to learn and use. In the span of one afternoon, we moved all our API documentation from Google Drive to Anypoint Platform for APIs. The platform is not only easy for engineers, but also a good communication tool between product managers and engineers. The user and role management are also great for us to control access between third party collaborators and partners.

Q: Where do you see your business going next?
A: Mobile, social, streaming, and data are all powerful forces that will dictate our strategy in the coming year. We have done a lot in the field of mobile and streaming technologies, but are looking to add more social elements into our apps as well as better understand our users by mining data.

Q: If you could wave a magic wand for enterprise app developers, what would you have it do?
A: There’s no doubt that app development will become much easier in the near future. App developers like us can focus more on the product itself, without worrying about other technical issues like scalability, performance, security, documentation and so on. I can’t say for sure what will happen in the future, but we do know that new requirements will keep showing up. Anticipating issues, finding issues and solving them—that’s how we do business. If the magic wand could tell me what the next big thing would be, that would be wonderful.

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