Salvatore Barras (21) and Kyriakos Ioulianou (18) are the cofounders and directors of MiBRAND, a mobile app aimed at changing the way we, as consumers, interact with our favourite businesses and retailers. The app, which is competing for the MTN App of The Year award, launches on the 1 July and allows you to follow and receive up-to-date information on what’s happening at all your favourite retailers, venues, restaurants and more.
Briefly explain the MiBRAND app.
MiBRAND is a user-friendly mobile app designed for both the retailer and the shopper. It is designed to revolutionise the way we connect with the brands that we love by making it fast and easy to access information from the brand and share it with your peers.
There is now an app for pretty much anything and everything. How do you remain innovative in your ideas?
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to innovate. Innovation can mean improving what’s already there, the same way Google and Facebook revolutionised search engines and social networks that already existed. It’s not about what it does but rather how it does. Our innovation with MiBRAND came in the way we present data to users – fast and simple!
I see the app is focused mainly around Bedfordview, Johannesburg. When can the rest of South Africa expect to be able to make use of MiBRAND in their areas and how will you go about expanding your reach?
We aim to expand to the rest of South Africa over the next six months. We didn’t want our marketing efforts to be an annoyance but rather something people can enjoy. Hence, we designed the free entrance launch parties featuring celebrities, accessible to anyone who has downloaded the app. People can expect an event near them over the next six months.
As someone who loves to shop, how do I use MiBRAND to maximise my shopping experience in one mall, while minimising my spending?
With MiBRAND, your shopping experience doesn't begin as you walk into the mall, but rather at home. When you walk into a mall you will already know all the stores, their specials, and multiple places that offer what you’re looking for. It informs you about what’s happening in each store before you make a decision. So you won’t be paying for that dress when there’s a special happening on a better one next door.
Apart from helping me on my shopping sprees, in which other areas does MiBRAND assist with my everyday routine?
MiBRAND is designed to eliminate the question, ‘what should we do today?’ It allows you to see all of the stores, restaurants, activities, events, and everything else happening nearby. The app features sixteen categories so there is something for everyone – whether you’re looking for a quick bite to eat or looking to find something for the kids to do, MiBRAND will make it faster and easier than ever before.
How user friendly is MiBRAND?
During our early design stages, we wanted to ensure the app would be simple enough for both child and pensioner. It is almost impossible to get lost, and the app presents an interface that takes a few minutes to understand. We feel app developers jam pack their products with too many features, which puts people off. We worked by the rule that it cannot be possible to get lost in the app while browsing.
What goes into creating an app? And how much time did you spend on it before you were happy to introduce it to the public?
We first began working on MiBRAND on 1 January. We realised it would have to be perfect before its release, down to the shape and size of every button. Most people see a finished product and have no idea the weeks of work that go into the simplest parts of it. MiBRAND launches on the 1 July, officially marking six months of development.
What has been the most challenging part of creating the app?
Definitely data management. MiBRAND features over 400 stores. Managing images, descriptions, logos, contact details and coordinates for all of these brands have proved to be one of our most difficult challenges. It needs to be perfect. Otherwise, all round it has been tough. You would never guess how the simplest things always cause the biggest headaches.
In your opinion, how important is it that you have investors investing in the app? To what extent does this affect the success of the app?
Our investors play a huge role in the app, they have become like family to us. In life it’s tough to find people who have your best interests at heart. Having an investor on board covers three major problems for us.
The first is money. It takes a lot of money to launch a product like this. There are massive development, legal, advertising and infrastructure costs involved that we would not have been able to manage ourselves.
The second is time. We’ve been blessed enough to never have to worry about having to search for funding and it has given us the space and time to focus on the most important part – the product itself.
The third is guidance. Our investor gives priceless guidance that you won’t get off the internet – knowledge is power. I would say it would have taken us a year or two longer to get to where we are now, so it definitely does play a major role.
What is your advice to young people who want to transform their ideas to an app?
As the Jim Lovell character in the movie Apollo 13 said, ‘From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.’ You have to let go of the fear of failing and just do it! Most importantly you have to love what you do, there has to be a flaming zeal for it because at the end of the day, when the lights go out and things get tough, that’s the only thing that’s going to keep you going.
What are the five most important characteristics needed in someone entering your industry?
The tech industry? I’d say a cup of passion, a teaspoon of boldness, a small pinch of wits all mixed into a litre of optimism with that slight dash of slick.
Where do you, as people in a rapidly growing digital age, see the future of the tech industry?
This is a question we could write a book on. But to sum it up we find ourselves at the forefront of one of the most important times in human history. The birth of the internet marked a new age in civilisation. We believe over the next 20 years there will be developments that would sound absolutely ludicrous to us right now, the same way people saw the technology in Back To The Future 2 and laughed, yet today we have that same technology in our homes and use in our everyday lives. Best way to describe what’s coming – a revolution.
We are in a time where non-traditional career paths are becoming more acceptable. It is largely as a result of technology that bloggers and app developers can make a living for themselves.
How has this changed the ways in which you are able to approach your life? And are these career paths sustainable for long-term success?
Our generation has a powerful and intricate understanding of technology that past generations don’t have. We have grown up with incredible user interfaces whereas if our parents wanted to use a computer they would have to understand computer code and hardware. Today kids as young as three years old are able to use and efficiently operate an iPad. This astounds us! We grew up with Windows 95, which was very basic. The technology kids are growing up with today is extremely advanced and has limitless possibilities. This technology allows you to have a professional photoshoot with your phone, make a movie with advanced Hollywood CGI from behind your laptop, or create apps that change the way you do things in your everyday life. It doesn't take multi-million Rand equipment and software to do things anymore, these capabilities empower the youth like never before. Over the last ten years we have seen the rise of some of the youngest self made millionaires in history and this will become more common as technology becomes more powerful and opens up new opportunities for the youth. We believe technology is the future and it has already started becoming essential to have a thorough understanding of it. You can be a DJ, photographer, app developer, designer, public figure, singer and so much more, all from behind the screen of a phone or laptop.