My name is Richard Rabins, CEO and Co-Founder of Alpha Software Corporation, which helps build business applications quickly. Today, I’m sharing the story of how we started our brand Alpha Software and turned it into a multi-million-dollar business.
From the development of the first PC in 1981 to the Internet in the 1990s to the first smartphone introduction in the early 2000s, Alpha Software’s goal has always been to make robust application development faster, easier, and more accessible, whether that be desktop, web, or mobile applications.
I come from Johannesburg, South Africa, and grew up in a home that encouraged entrepreneurship. Two of my uncles established a very successful business, which my father later joined. With a family of innovators, starting my journey as an entrepreneur felt like a natural choice.
After completing engineering studies in South Africa, my brother, Selwyn, and I chose to attend the MIT Sloane School of Management. When we graduated, Selwyn joined Analog Devices as a financial analyst and gained experience using various software programs. Two of my MIT professors and a Wharton professor had started a quantitative market research company, which they invited me to join.
I spent time using analytic tools to gain insights into consumer purchasing behavior. Our business studies and early career positions taught us the importance of managing data and analytics and the value of understanding market trends and identification of unmet needs.
Making App Development Faster, Easier, and More Accessible
When we started our first software company, we chose the name “Alpha” because we wanted a company name that started with the letter A, and I’m a huge fan of dogs, so “alpha dog” came to mind – we wanted to be the leader in the pack. Our mission was fundamentally the same as today: To allow a broad base of people to build powerful and sophisticated business applications as quickly and easily as possible.
Our first product was a database application development product. The software was easy to use, powerful, and highly competitive with other products on the market. At the time, software was sold through retailers. This gave companies little control over the distribution network and promotion. At some point, we became frustrated with the lack of control and began experimenting with traditional and direct mail.
Once we switched to a different sales and distribution mechanism, the company experienced incredible growth, with revenue growing from $2.5 million to over 20 million in two-and-a-half years. We were pleased with what we had achieved and learned, but it was time for new challenges, so we sold the company.
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Pivoting to Web Application Development
Fast forward to about 10 years ago, we saw that the market had continued to evolve, and the operating system for desktop computers and laptops was increasingly becoming the web. We recognized market similarities to when we launched our first Alpha product. Businesses and consultants wanted developers to build custom business applications faster. They also wanted to enable people who weren’t as skilled but understood real-world business operations to contribute to web application development.
In those days, if someone wanted to build a web app, they would need to know coding languages such as Java, C-Sharp, or Python. The challenge was that the developer needed to be skilled, but the development process was often very lengthy and expensive in terms of developers’ time.
We believed that many of the lessons and concepts from our original Alpha product could be helpful. We could apply them to building a new platform that would make professional developers significantly more productive and allow a line of business/operational people to build many of the apps they needed themselves.
Selwyn and I restarted the company, and several of the core developers who worked on our original Alpha products wanted to join us again in our mission. We planned to create a product that could build powerful Windows apps rapidly, but more importantly, web-based apps. We soon launched a new product for building desktop and web applications.
Building Mobile Apps That Work without WiFi or a Cellular Signal
In the early 2000s, Apple introduced the iPhone, and Samsung really got the mobile phone business moving. There had been Blackberry and other phones, but the iPhone was a game-changer, and we knew that its importance was game-changing.
We recognized that enabling people to build mobile apps, as well as web apps, was crucial. So, we evolved the Alpha product to include mobile app development (under the name of Alpha Anywhere). We became the first company to build mobile apps with both online and comprehensive offline functionality. This functionality, now patented, includes data collection plus database lookups and access to documentation, diagrams, and videos – even if there is no cellular or WIFI signal.
Let me explain why this problem is so pivotal to the mobile app industry. Healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, construction, mining, and other industries rely on apps that access data both offline and online. When a utility service business sends a worker out to service a transformer or industrial boiler and scans bar codes, they may need to see the service history, the parts database, or a video that shows them how to do repairs, plus documentation.
Make the worker a doctor, police officer, or fireman, and the data becomes even more critical. Our mobile apps are designed to give them access to all of that and more without needing WiFi or a cellular signal to access the data.
Alpha’s Aims and Who We Serve
Our mantra is to make desktop, web, and mobile application development easier, faster, and more accessible to the broadest possible audience. We create products for two categories of people on virtually every continent: professional or enterprise IT developers and line-of-business people (also known as citizen developers) who work in different business departments and want to be empowered to build many of the apps that they need themselves.
We have low-code and no-code products based on our core technology platform that serves these professional developers and citizen developers. Not only are we trying to save developers time, but the more we can empower workers with domain knowledge to build their apps, the higher the chances are they’ll create something useful and powerful for their organization that will improve competitiveness.
We are continuously moving towards making app building easier for more people. Service, manufacturing, warehouse employees, or people working in the field use our products to take existing paper forms or manual tasks and turn them into powerful apps that improve quality inspections, speed customer service calls, or sell more services. And because our products are so flexible, users can build custom apps that fit their unique business requirements, security policy, and business processes.
What Is Alpha Software’s Philosophy?
In my experience, the optimal size of a development team should be relatively small. You can’t just throw bodies at a problem; you need the right people. Give them responsibilities that cater to their strengths and keep the team as small as possible. This is where Alpha Anywhere fits in –allowing small teams to get a lot done partly because of the productivity of Alpha and partly because small teams minimize the chances for miscommunication to take place.
The most crucial asset of a strong software company is its people. If you can hire people with high integrity and talent, they will want to do excellent work. The trick is to pair your employees’ skills and passions with a relevant task — some employees are naturally more technical, and others are more creative.
When employees enjoy what they’re doing and are a good fit for their position, you’ll have a highly motivated team. When I look at what enhancements and improvements are coming in our products, it’s all from creative people who enjoy free rein. For example, we’re adding extremely innovative workflow capability into our products to boost professional and citizen developer productivity materially.
Another relatively simple principle is to treat people how you want to be treated. It’s how our management team treats people who work at the company and how we expect these people to treat each other. This has created a great culture of respect and teamwork. As a result, Alpha Software has achieved incredibly low turnover. Once people join us, they want to stay.
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The Future of Alpha Software
In the technology business, new innovations launch at increasing rates, and market challenges are constantly in flux. As a result, we don’t find 5-year plans very useful — so many things change in that time which we can’t control. Planning for something that far in the future won’t get desired results or serve your customers as well.
Ultimately, the nirvana of software development is to create an infinitely powerful, simple, and intuitive product for the current market yet flexible enough for tomorrow. We remain focused on serving a changing market looking to leverage the latest new technology innovations.
It’s our job to listen to our customers, watch the market, and predict what’s coming next. This way, we can constantly add new functionality into our product that evolves with the market.
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