Greg McGregor and Mobile Back-end as a service

Mobile App Marketing


In this episode, Chris and David interview Greg Mcgregor, an engineer, serial entrepreneur and the CEO of Magellan Holdings, LLC.

Listen in as Greg talked about his experience on working with backend as a service for almost 20 years and introduced his company’s enterprise services including M2, their cloud backend as a service tied up with Matric – a powerful but simple app builder targeted for small and medium sized businesses.

  • Greg’s experience on working with cas a service
  • How M2 Cloud Services works and what differentiates it from CloudKit or Amazon’s Cognito
  • M2 Matric – a powerful app builder targetted for small businesses at a small business price
  • What technical ability does users need to have before using M2’s cloud services
  • How businesses can avail of Magellan’s enterprise offerings
  • What does Greg find exciting or interesting in the mobile space over the next 6-12 months

Resources and links mentioned:


Transcription:

Chris: Hi and welcome to another episode of the App Business Podcast. Joined by David Pfahler. What’s up David. You’re right from Octoberfest you’re telling us.

David: That’s right actually. I’m about like three hours ago, I was still in a tent in Octoberfest drinking delicious beer. But of course I had to be in the podcast, right?

Chris: Yeah if you’re anything like me, the more I drink, the better I speak another language. Like around 3 or 4 beers, my Spanish just kills it. Alright we have a new guest..

Greg: I’m jealous..

Chris: We have a new laugh on the show. We’re excited to welcome Greg Mcgregor. He’s the CEO of Magellan, LLC. And they’ve got a bunch of things. We’re gonna dig in a little bit to their backend as a service. They also have something called M2 and we’ll dig into that. So Greg, welcome to the podcast.

Greg: Hey, it’s great. Great to be here and nice to meet you guys. Happy to be here. Let me tell you about myself?

Chris: Yeah let’s do that.

Greg: Okay. Let’s see. I’ll tell you about me personally and I can tell you about the company and then you guys can drive the backend as a service and so forth. I’m married and I have 3 kids. And so that keep me pretty busy. I’m a pilot and a serial entrepreneur. I’ve done this quite a bit for off and on over the years. And as a result, I’ve got a great team. I mean I’ve got a group that spend together (oh not everybody) but a good core of us for almost 20 years. We started out in the wireless phase and we did all the prepaid pay and go system throughout all of Europe. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that or not. Back in the 90’s when you couldn’t roam anywhere. You couldn’t..suddenly there was noon and you just couldn’t do anything with mobile. So you couldn’t roam. You couldn’t even do that here in the States. So we enable that and that was kind of fun to get to learn about the core technologies and then we expanded the team a little bit and did some content delivery networks during the dot com days like I’ve been broadcasting and others and learned a lot about video and other great stuff. And so we.. you know with the release of iPhone, it kind of change things so we decided just to focus on our professional services coz we’re great development shop and focused on our tool sets that enable mobile apps and backends and people to get stuff done with mobile apps. So that’s what we’ve got. Our M2 is our backend as a service that you access through our professional services and Matric is kind of our out builder and then we go from there. So that’s kind of who we are and who I am.

Chris: Okay great. How long have you been doing this backend as a service with mobile?

Greg: Oh, well let’s see. I mean if you count prior..if you count the whole prepaid days, it was in the 90’s. So we’ve been doing something with backend as a service for over 20 years. Specifically for this type of market stuff, 15 maybe, 14.

Chris: Okay. And so it’s been Magellan the whole time?

Greg: Yeah Magellan was known not the whole time. Magellan was formed in 2000.

Chris: Okay.

Greg: Specifically Magellan is specifically this (unclear) at 2000.

Chris: Yeah, that’s about when David was born so that’s perfect.

Greg: Not to be the more jealous.

Chris: So yeah I was telling you in like when we were getting started, it kind of like the warm up that backend as a service is something we hit on fairly often on this podcast just because..you know I used Parse and then Parse was acquired by Facebook. And there’s just a bunch of movement in that space and a lot of really great offerings. We started about.. we had a gent from Hoodie on and that was a really interesting conversation. It’s something that David kind of..I mean it’s an interest of David, right? Wouldn’t you say David?

David: Yeah I’m into it. Definitely.

Chris: Yeah so we’re gonna see if I can be quiet for 15 minutes and like David drives some of this conversation.

David: Well Chris I don’t think so. But I can at least try. So yeah again I mean I’m really interested in that subject because I think it solve like a really big pinpoint in the app development industry. And for many developers who just struggled to create really good offerings because most of the apps that you can just have standalone on your phone or just taken like most of the usecases or covered in all the interesting usecases now need some kind of backend. And that’s just a huge pain especially for people who are used to only code in the front end. So I would be really interested first of all how you get into that space specifically you talked a little bit about your background in cellular, but how did you get to that point where you said okay we’re gonna provide like a cloud kind of backend for developers.

Greg: That’s a good point. Well frankly we’ve done an awful lot of backend like I said over the last 20 years or so. But specifically through Magellan as a backend, and an even prior when we were doing some of the dot com. We’ve built out internet infrastructures for video systems and delivery and so forth. And so that’s kind of been our forte. And as we started developing apps, we actually came from it with doing more backend work and then came to it than developing the actual mobile apps. And again we don’t have this release as a developer SDK yet, we’re kind of working towards it. Everything’s been access through professional services. We helped large corporations. So that’s homeland security. Found small startups help build apps because it is challenging and difficult. So our whole set of experience is just been adding to our backend cloud services. And I think it’s great. The people are getting involve and you’re absolutely right. It’s really hard for an app developer coming from there to understand the backend. It’s a big mystery. You got to worry about scale, databases. You have to worry about. You know if I wanted to do some cool, like have a video on demand or pay for that video. Or I wanna have an account. Or I wanna have geolocation or push notifications. The list just goes on. It’s just overwhelming. So I’m happy to see other people get involve in this space. But that’s where we come from and that’s how we kinda got into it.

David: Yeah cool if you can..I would really appreciate if you can get into live it off how M2 cloud I think it is what you called it or cloud services, how that works and maybe how it is different from something like Apple CloudKit or Amazon’s Cognito which you know this is kind of a newcomer in the space compared to you which you said you are over 10 years in the space.

Greg: Okay. Well you know it’s M2. And M2 is a backend as a service. And you can access it on the client side through a number of interfaces. The primary one is through a JSON API. I don’t know how technical we should get as fine at this level that kind of talked a little about it?

David: Yeah it’s fine. Let’s just go right into it and people can skip this.

Greg: So you can access it that way. And so we do provide the account sign up and verification. And overtime we’ve allowed for account email verification. SMS and SMS account verification. We actually have a full video network built into it. We’ve got over a hundred different types of video formats we can support and transcode and deliver to any mobile device. We have a built-in content delivery network. We actually also have a built-in overflow network to Amazon’s content delivery network. So I mean when you start talking about the number of years, I do see people getting started with the basic pieces. And when you talked about 10 years, I mean we can do things, we have customers who are releasing for example video on demand and we do it as a subscription like Netflix and  they used our system to push out video and they just build the app, they don’t have to worry about the backend. And that means they can have subscription based services and the customers just pay a one time fee and you’re not paying Apple and Google the 30% as an example, like a Netflix sort of deal. And then the list just goes on and on and on.

But what we’ve done and where I think it’s unique is were taking all that and made it extremely simple to use just like other people like Hoodie’s doing and so forth. And we’ve also got the app builder as well tied to it. So it makes it really easy and that’s called Matric to put together an app in virtually no time to do extremely powerful things. A big differentiator for us. I feel you actually have control over the backend with your own business logic. Meaning if you wanted to do something specific to make your stuff seen, you can do it very easily without not having to understand all of the intricacies and the backend. So that’s just kind of a flavor. I’ll let you ask questions.

Chris: Hey, let me jump in real quick David. So Greg, it sounds like you started really servicing like federal/enterprise clients with services and then you realize hey look we could probably support medium small businesses as well by building like that app builder. Is that kind of the approach?

Greg: It again is. You know we had exactly, we started enterprise, the government, etc. And then we’ve gone to a lot of startups and small apps as well. So you know people will benefit starting with our system. Getting going with a mass amount of scalability and feature sets out the gate.

Chris:  Yeah and that’s the difference for in a large part between Amazon, Parse and maybe what you’re doing is it really significant service layer around it. Not like technical service layer meaning like code or something. I mean like people and brands. You know like saying hey we offer, we will build this for you on your proprietary system or solution or whatever were calling it which is how for the audience that doesn’t know this, this is how enterprise and government agencies worked. They don’t wanna have to figure it out. They don’t want to hire people to learn it. They don’t wanna hire new people. They just wanna hire someone to go get it done. You know like they don’t wanna add headcount or add staff, they just wanna hire Magellan to do it for them and that sounds like that’s worked out really well for you. I’m interested in how it plays out for the small business space just because I know its.. they’re just so much coming at small businesses right now. It’s like hey you need a Facebook page and hey you need social media presence and oh by the way you need a mobile app and oh here’s backend. It’s like man, if this sub-1000 person company is, they got a lot being thrown at them right now.

Greg: That is..I mean you’re spot on and that’s why we’ve spend the last couple of years working on a program called Matric. And Matric means to bring people in to something new and that’s a target for small businesses and I can send you the weblinks on that. It’s m2matric.com. It allows us to bring in small businesses at a small business price for you know..they gain all this big business features at a small business price. So we actually have more small businesses now that we do large ones. And what we end up seeing is startups or businesses that want to expand. Or they got a blog and a Facebook page and they want an app to kind of do something. And so we were able to get them started for not a lot of money, give them a lot of features and they can sort of chunk away at it either themselves or with us. And so we’ve done things like immigrate WordPress with some native functionality. And so they’ve got some control and they can reuse existing things and so forth. So you’re spot on and that’s kind of where were at at this point.

Chris: Yeah that’s awesome. Is that the main type of app you’re building for small businesses right now? Like the WordPress almost like extension or is it more kind of like custom to their specific business? Like a laundry, like a dry cleaner might have a scheduling app or something..I don’t know.

Greg: That’s really..I wish I had an answer for that. We’ve got some yes. They’ve got you know like a pizza shop, it’s got some things where they wanna order and you know have the menu and their specials and put push notifications out. We have some other small businesses that wanted to do some unique things. One for instance called  megafone.com. We’ve just released it on Apple and they work with them on Android. And that’s sort of a complete custom problem solving social media thing and that’s really cool. And it’s very custom, has nothing to do with WordPress or anything.

Chris: Okay.

Greg: We had a couple other ones that are beginning and starting record labels that want to push their artists out. And in those cases, they want to have as a group and blogging and they wanna build a new coaches, the music. And so that’s where that sort of fits together. But they’re all startup and they”ll have staffing services…

Chris:  Yeah. It’s a good story where it’s like you’re coming from the enterprise space so you know you can scale with us kind of positioning right?

Greg: Correct, yeah.

Chris: Alright David, back to you. Sorry buddy.

David: No problem. That was definitely interesting. I wanna bring it back quickly to the cloud, M2 cloud services and tie it back together with the Matric. So definitely it seems like a very..like how do you say that..we can do a lot with this Cloud service right? There’s many things you can do. It’s very powerful and it also ties back into these Matric which I understand is some kind of app builder, you know where a little programming experience I imagine you can create an app and tie that back together. So basically my main question is what do I need to know in terms of programming languages or in terms of technical ability to start using one or two of this services?

Greg:  That’s a good question. So we’ve built it out of a necessity to be more efficient with our own engineers and things in house. So Matric itself is a website and when you login to it, it’s a sort of a wheezy designer and feature creator for Android and Apple and Microsoft etc. So we’re working with native components and you don’t have to have any skills other than opening it up and clicking buttons and so forth. To go a little further, you would start to want to understand HTML, HTML5 if you want to link to WordPress or do something kind of fancy in there. Other features are as simple as yeah you know I wanna have this video purchased for $5 bucks, you click the button, I’ll pull the video and now it’s available to be purchase either in app or not from either Android or Apple. So that still makes it simple. Then work starts to get interesting as we actually work in one code base. So you can actually download your project from Matric and open an IDE, the sourcecode and begin coding one language for Android, Apple and Microsoft. So you’re not having to do your core coding in Android or Apple, etc, you just have to write at once. Which I think is the big benefit to a lot of people coz it’s really difficult and costly when someone tries to build an Apple solution and then you gotta go figure how to write Android and then your features and got one or not the other and they’re trying to play catch up. And then you know you’ve got bugs in one and then your trying to fix them in the other and it’s just kind of the pains. So that’s been our approach with that.

David: And how does that work? Like is that HTML5 or Java Script or some other kind of language?

Greg: Both of those and an option besides just having XCode and using your Android IDE… So we can download right there the C# project and you code your core and C# as well and just write it once.

David: Nice.

Chris: Real quick. Greg are you a developer background or have you just been coached well..like what the answers are?

Greg: No. I mean I’m an engineer. I have a degree in Computer Science.

Chris: Okay, okay. So you’re way into this.

Greg: Yeah to an extent. Although you know I’ve turned into Mr. Finance, business guy and setting emails guy and now I’m just kind of everywhere. I know enough to be dangerous everywhere I’m kind of you know whatever..

Chris: I can hear in the answers your like okay hold on what are we using again? Oh yeah were using.. you know not like you don’t know more like it’s just like you’re not living it probably which is I mean that’s where you’re supposed to be. You’re the CEO. You’re not supposed to be doing the coding. Okay that’s again back to you David.

David: So one very specific question would be if I’m using the cloud services and I want to write my custom business logic. What do I need to do like what language do I need to know, what technical ability do I need to have to do that?

Greg: So on our backend, when you hook in the core of M2 is built on a messaging framework or services oriented framework. And we did that for scalability and reliability reasons. And that’s very key. So you can hook into our queuing system with a client library. Whether it’s java, there’s a dozen of a Java, Ruby, C#. I mean there’s a number of client side ones because it’s based on a messaging architecture. So if you want, the most thing for your buck, we support a Java plugin coz we’ve done the most with that in terms of our core server and you can do amazing things with very little code on that if you select that route.

David: Nice. So basically just to explain this maybe for the listeners who aren’t as technical, it means you are allowed to add something to a queue meaning you are allowed to put something in a place where it’s gonna be processed at a certain time. You know it’s gonna be processed as soon as possible but you can’t put it there in many kinds of different languages and it’s just gotta be executed whenever your backend get’s around to it. Is that kind of appropriately described?

Greg: Yep. That’s pretty good.

David: Nice. So you said that the M2 Cloud services is still part of your enterprise offering or something like that and you’re working on an SDK? So if someone wants to use that now, what would they have to do? Do they have like to kind of apply or do they have to qualify for a certain size of your company or something like that?

Greg: Well to date so far, the only way to access everything is been through our professional services. Meaning you wanna build an app or you wanna use the backend and we’re here to help you. Although I mean if you contact me, I’ll help you get setup. One of our plans starting Q1 is to productize and release this in support(unclear 19:24 ) as independent developer solutions. Because I think there’s a big need for everybody including corporations to have access to and then the solution like this where you can have not as technical people do it and get as technical as you need and have this type of power. So we’re working towards it and if you want it, just give me your brand.

David: Nice. Maybe a couple of listeners will..I don’t know..

Greg: They do..occasionally. Yup.

David: So you’ve probably been watching the space for some time and as I said a couple of new offerings. There’s Apple CloudKit, Amazon Cognito and I think you also know about Hoodie because you said that during the conversation. So what do you think about the general trend there. Do you think it’s like a very good sign because you know finally people recognize how important this stuff is or did you view this as like competitors and it’s a bad thing for you and maybe finally you can say something about Hoodie specifically because there’s just something that I’m really a big fan of and what you think of that if you can.

Greg: Sure. Well first of all I think it’s fantastic that there’s a number of people in this space. You know I don’t like it when there’s one or two to pick one honest I think it’s healthy. I think we can help each other. And everybody’s got kind of a different type or an offering. We’re different than Amazon although if you put our features stack against with Amazon Web Services, by themselves they’re big kind of wide up. But then Amazon’s just Amazon. They just got those web services. You have to figure out to integrate them. You still have a client to worry about with other stuff which is why we ended up having customers come to us and then we can have that sort of one stop integration, etc. I think Hoodie’s great. I took a look at it since you point it out and what I really like about it and I think I’m very happy to have them in this space because people who are just getting started with stuff. I mean you look at the page and it’s pretty darn straightforward and simple and if they don’t know a backend, they’re able to get started right away it works. And I like that. It helps everybody, you know. It educates, it gets people thinking about a backend and it’s healthy for all of us you know. I like it.

David:  Yes. Yeah I love it. It’s like we always talk about this on this podcast. I mean it’s a recurring theme basically what I call the abundance mindset which is why we so love to be in the space and so much enjoyed this podcast because everybody seems to be having the same attitude that you have. It’s just like this is such a great space and there’s enough room for everybody. Everybody has like a certain offering which is a little bit different from everybody else. And so there’s really no need to be hostile to each other, we can all learn from each other. And that’s really the mindset of that. I so much enjoy about the space.

Greg: I agree. Cool.

David:  Yeah and it seems like you have carve out your niche and you would know exactly what you are offering. And this falls on a certain point of the spectrum so to speak. And then there’s Amazon Web Services and another point of the spectrum in terms of like what you need to know and how tight the integration is. And then Hoodie is yet another point in the spectrum. So it’s like there’s gonna be something for everybody which are really great.

Greg: Yep, I like it. I agree with that. I haven’t listen to your podcast yet. I will and glad were on the same page.

Chris: You know one thing I really enjoy that I didn’t even recognize I was missing was, you know my background is B2B stuff and I really…and even like B2B like the enterprise style and I really enjoy the business to business conversations coz a lot of this podcast started with consumer apps, entertainment apps and games and stuff like that. And all that’s great but I really like the problems that mobile solves in business. And so it’s fun to..I like what were talking and like looking over the App Factory and some of your other offerings that had their position. And I really think like what you guys are doing is really..I mean it’s very common model to have a services business and then kind of like push it down the stack if you will or down to SMB and other things. But for mobile, really makes sense especially if you have like the headquarters on your backend. Why wouldn’t one like the marketing department or another acquired company. You know how this enterprises are, they’re all like a bunch of small businesses put together sometimes. Why wouldn’t they go to you? So it seems like you guys have a really good positioning for being really successful with this kind of like SMB push that you guys are doing.

Greg: So were shooting for it.

Chris: You hope I’m right, right?

Greg: No, it’s working, it’s working. So it’s working and that’s all I can say. It’s working well and I’m glad to see the space maturing and I think it’s just getting started. I think David was alluring to that as well.  I mean if you look a the IOT and where things are headed, this is just getting going.

Chris: It’s pretty crazy some of the..we have a habit or we like to review the quarterly reports that some of the..like IDC and App Annie came out with one awhile back and we have so many authors on from time to time. And just the numbers are just amazing at the growth and usage and device adoption and advertising spend. And then you look at it compared to like TV, and it’s like 5% compared to 50%. Like it’s 1/10th. It’s like not even close yet. So there’s just so much more room to grow. It’s a pretty exciting place.

Greg: It is, it is.

Chris: Hey, is App Factory your business also?

Greg: Yeah so we get started toying with an ability to have people make apps and what we’ve ended up doing is transitioning that into something called Matric, and M2 Matric. And so that’s where we extended our hands down to help people because build those apps and so forth. And eventually we hand that over to allow them to build it themselves. If there a dev shop and you’ve got programmers, we can do that with you right away, that’s not a problem. But App Factory, we did work with for a bit. But it’s just..it was difficult for small companies to really get things done efficiently. You know and really understand the full gamut and really know what it was gonna take and it just works out well for us to..because we have so many of this services around to add to just help out and get them up and running pretty quick and profitable. That was all.

Chris: Yeah I find that too is like well I can spend this time training you or I can just do it for you. Right?

Greg: Yeah and then we turn it over and if they’ve got in-house people, they just kind of continue on with it which is great.

Chris: Well Greg, what did we miss? I mean you know the audience for this show, we think it’s a lot of developers and but we think it’s also a lot of people like me and kind of like who you are now more of the business folks. So we kinda hit bought those subjects. You know I don’t know if you’re gonna find a bunch of clients out there listening. But what else, what do we miss about what’s going on with Magellan right now?

Greg: Yeah we started kind of talk a little about everything. Primarily we’re a professional services at the moment and we have our M2 backend as a service that are Matric programmed which helps small businesses get that sort of big backend and all these great feature sets to get started pretty easily. So there’s no coding all the way up to high end coding. We are doing an off vlog and media. So we do have VOD and purchasing and we’re looking at coming out with..actually actively working on our store so we can provide script subscriptions and we’ve got some customers coming on with that out for video and so forth. Whereby it’s like a Netflix sort of model so we can help a lot of people with that.

Chris: So I got a question for you. I forgot about this David. We have a question that asks our guests and I just kinda blank on it. But we’ll ask you this and then we’ll let you go. What is exciting you or interesting you the most about mobile over the next 6-12 months? What things are going on in mobile that have your eye and have you excited?

Greg: Media.

Chris: Alright, great things are coming.

Greg: No. I mean that’s whats..there’s a lot of cool stuff. But for me specifically, what were working on is we’re really kind of pushing our media solutions and storing so forth coz a lot of people are excited about using that. I mean if you think about Voodoo and NetFlix and these folks that have this big OTT type solutions that other content providers scratched their head, you know we have a lot of that stuff and we can enable again a small provider or small content provider the same capabilities.

Chris: Yeah.

Greg: Or even, you know frankly the people who are getting eaten away like the cable providers and the rest, the bigger ones. It works for both. That’s what I love about mobile and these types of solutions. They change the game and they makes it equal playing fields. And so I’m excited about that. I really am.

Chris: You know no one’s answered that yet, but you’re absolutely right. All the numbers are just showing..I mentioned like advertising spend and stuff. But the amount of video consumption that happens on mobile devices is like I envision you know like 1 person is watching the TV and 4 people are watching things on their device. You know it’s like becoming that..I can’t say that word but ubiquitous. That’s a cool insight. No one’s.. You’re like the 40th guest and no one said media. So that’s a good one.

Greg: Well that’s where we are so if you wanna go that direction, were here and so that’s the word on.

Chris: David, parting questions or we good?

David: No, that was the last question I had on as well. So we both got it so it’s good. Thank you very much. That was really great. I hope we can have you on sometime again, maybe in a couple of months or so and see what changed and where the industry has gone coz I really enjoyed this conversation.

Greg: Yeah me too. i’d love to come back. I’d love to visit in Munich as well and have a get a beer too..

Chris: Yeah maybe we can just snap on 3 years and be there coz that sounds outstanding right now.

Greg: It does.

Chris: Alright, Greg Mcgregor from magellanllc.com. And you can tell from the conversation, he’s got a lot of enterprise offerings and services. But then he’s also building up pretty robust offerings for small, medium and startups. So if you go to his website, you can go for any business size and there’s dropdowns that kind of guide you with the relevant information. But I really like the..I’m glad we have that conversation about media coz I really liked that approach and it’ll be really interesting to see what kind of traction you get with that focus. But really appreciate you coming on the show.

Greg: Yeah thank you very much and we can do a follow up on the media on a month or two if you like to.

Chris: Yeah that would be awesome. Alright Greg, thank you very much.

Greg: Take care.

David: Thanks.