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Denver's mobile app economy rivals the Bay


Denver is an emerging hub for mobile app developers. With more than a billion smartphones on the planet, this market has a big appetite, and many local shops are hiring and turning away business.
This story originally appeared in Confluence.

The critical mass of mobile app developers in Denver has some comparing Denver’s growing app development industry to that of the Bay Area. 
 
Most of these developers are eschewing the speculative chase for the next Angry Birds and have instead focused on mobile services and solutions for the enterprise, with good reason: This is a huge market that's been blowing up for years. 
 
Some estimates say there will be more mobile phones than human beings on the planet by year's end, including more than a billion smartphones. Market-research firm IDC projected worldwide sales of nearly 700 million smartphones for 2012, up nearly 40 percent from 2011. Great stats if you’re a Denver developer. Even better stats if you’re one of the city’s fastest growing app companies. 
 
Near Bay No Water
 
The Colorado Technology Association (CTA) doesn't track local mobile-app developers as a separate category from other software developers, but CTA President and CEO Steve Foster says Denver is emerging as a national hotspot. 
 
“It definitely has a growing presence,” Foster says. “There are a lot of shops that are booming.”
 
Take Tack Mobile. Founded by ex-EffectiveUI staffers Tony Hillerson and Juan Sanchez with John Myers at the end of 2011, the company has experienced significant growth and works with several national clients.
 
“We wanted to focus on mobile,” says Hillerson, the company's director of engineering. “There's a lot of money to be made on the enterprise side. Everybody needs a mobile app and it seemed like nobody was serving that mid-range market.”
 
Currently in the process of hiring more developers and designers, Tack has spent most of 2012 working from office space at Battery 621 and is relocating to the Drive building at Taxi in RiNo by the end of November. 
 
“We're really running out of space,” says Hillerson. “We started out in a little office we could barely fit three people in.”
 
In terms of its mobile-app development industry, Denver “is not the Bay Area, but it's pretty close,” Hillerson says, describing a reasonably deep pool of local talent. “It's tough to find them, but we're not coming up blank.
 
Focus on function
 
Ben Reubenstein, founder and CEO of Denver-based Xcellent Creations, started making apps for the App Store in 2008. 
 
“When the iPhone came out, I had this tingling,” he says. “I knew it was going to be big and I wanted to get in on it.”
 
After some initial success with spec apps -- a speed-test app peaked at No. 22 in the Mac App Store -- the space was “flooded” and Xcellent Creations moved into enterprise services. 
 
“It's not just about making silly apps that make fart noises,” Reubenstein says. “It's about making apps that make your business better and your processes better. There are gains to be made for companies that do this.”
 
Xcellent's projects have ranged from a turnkey solution for a mobile ticket broker to a QR-scanning sales and inventory system for a liquor distributor, but Reubenstein has to keep his biggest-name clients under wraps. 
 
Like Tack, Xcellent Creations has been growing with the market: The company has 17 employees. Reubenstein says the company will hire as many as five new staffers by mid-2013. 
 
Writing code, adding value
 
Double Encore is likely the largest mobile app developer in Denver, with 26-and-counting employees at its Ballpark-area office. Founder Dan Burcaw cut his teeth in the 1990s developing Mac-based “nuclear bomb simulations and all sorts of crazy things” for the federal government with Terra Soft Solutions, then worked for Apple through the June 2007 launch of the iPhone.
 
“Double Encore was one of the first iOS professional services companies,” Burcaw says. He founded the company in June 2008 after leaving Apple. By the end of the year, he had five employees. In 2009, “we were off to the races,” he says. Besides the Denver HQ, the company also has a new one-person office in Atlanta.
 
Double Encore's clients include big names like JetBlue Airlines and Major League Soccer. 
 
“It's not just code, but added value,” Burcaw says. Beyond national brands, the local startup scene is a fertile market for the company. “Any startup has to have a mobile strategy or their investors are asking, 'what are you doing?'”
 
Reubenstein and Burcaw were at the first iOS Dev Camp in Denver. 
 
“Ben and I are good friends,” says Burcaw. “We've kind of grown up in this industry together and we're kind of the old men now.” 
 
Old is a relative term. Reubenstein is 31, and Burcaw is 30. And a lot of relative youngsters are now launching their own mobile-centric startups in Denver. Beyond Tack Mobile, there's LoHi Labs, launched by Conor Swanson, Bob Spryn and Shaun Parker. It serves local clients like wine e-tailer Club W as well as developing a speculative “social app for getting information from friends,” says Swanson. 
 
“Mobile is huge right now and there are a lot of opportunities, both at the local level and with large national companies,” Swanson adds. “More and more people are getting comfortable using their phone for many different things, and you're seeing less people using a computer.”

 
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