Q&A with George Slavov, Co-Founder, Nubis

Q: Today is a special day for Nubis. You are launching your app Alphega? And announced a partnership with GlassUp? What does this mean to you being such young company?
A: Nubis may be young but we think big and act accordingly. Luckily for us, everyone seems to take us seriously enough so I guess we must be doing something right. Today, we are launching globally a new Augmented Social Reality service named Alphega (where we augment the reality, not the society… yet!). We can now also announce that we have partnered with the leading wearable device manufacturer, GlassUp, to provide a complete experience of the next level of social engagement. Now, that Alphega is available and public, we will start working for our consumers and together with them, to push the evolution of social networking.

Q: What does Nubis do and which areas do you specialise in?
A: We are a relatively young company having launched Nubis in February this year. We develop custom technical solutions and have been working on a cloud based augmented reality social service called ‘Alphega’. Basically the technology turns smartphones into ‘Socioscopes’ and visually projects the social networking activities taking place around the user. Our team comes from different technology industries and we work together to create solutions by sourcing, integrating and developing from the ground-up to fit each project’s requirements. So we develop our own technologies but we also work on business IT solutions across converged network infrastructure, telecommunications, database, storage, voice/video, RF, DSP, media/content and security.

Q: How did the idea for Nubis come about – how did you find your team?
A: There’s seven of us in the company and we all worked together in another company previously. That was a telecommunications company that made some unlucky mistakes and folded. We decided we had a team with exceptional capabilities, so rather than let them scatter around and disappear as well, we started a new company to keep the team and its creative minds together.

Q: How long had you been talking about this idea with our colleagues?
A: We were actually planning something down the track, as in a few years from now, which was going to look slightly different. Because of the way things played out we decided to act quicker and rethink our strategy a little. The plan wasn’t necessarily to go into the mobile application space, but as it turned out, it was the right time and the right place for us to actually get into this. Given that we have the knowledge and the skill set, it made sense at the time, and we have not looked back since.
 
Q: What type of development background does your team have?
A: We all come from slightly different backgrounds actually. We have four people in the team that are all from Microsoft developer backgrounds. So .NET, C#, everything that’s the latest and greatest on the Microsoft development front. Then there are a few of us that come from infrastructure backgrounds. So that includes skills such as hosting and large service provision infrastructure and that’s again, mostly across the Microsoft portfolio products. All of us were very firmly in the Microsoft camp when we started the company so we decided to leverage the fact that we knew those platforms quite well and had such great support from the vendor. 

Q: Can you tell us about the Windows 8 development camp you attended at the Microsoft Innovation Centre in Brisbane back in February?
A: That’s actually where the idea for this application was born.  We hadn’t really thought about what we were going to do before we went to this camp. On the first day there was a lot of talk about mobile applications and what can be done for this and what can be done for that.  We thought about it and went: what is something that no-one has done with the Windows platform? We thought that augmented reality sounded like a really interesting area to explore because there’s a lot of talk about it on other platforms.  It doesn’t really exist on Windows. Then we started thinking about it a bit more, then thought about the social networking side of things. It’s something that’s not been done on any platform.  Google doesn’t have it, Apple doesn’t have it.  We thought that this might be a very innovative concept if we can pull it off.  We figured we’d give it a shot at that point, and see if we can make something that’s viable.  That’s basically where and how Alphega was born.

Q: How quickly after being on site at the Microsoft Innovation Centre were you able to put the applications together?
A: I think we had the first prototype running that weekend. It was a very early prototype but it was 95% complete by the Sunday afternoon when the event finished. In the following week, we actually got it fully working. Since then, we have spent the majority of our time on polishing it and optimising the user experience and adding features and making it a complete product, rather than a technology demonstration platform, which is what it was that weekend.  It took us a very short time to go to functional prototypes so we were able to see what it would look like and play with it and decide that it was actually viable. It took us the better part of three months after that to bring a bit of polish and finish to it and make it look like an actual product.

Q: You were able to secure some funding through the AppCampus program through Nokia & Microsoft?
A: At some point in time, while we were doing the development, we came across AppCampus. I think we saw an article about them or a publication somewhere. We saw that they were looking for companies very much like us to enter into the AppCampus program and to be mentored and supported through it to deliver a product.  So we contacted AppCampus and had an initial discussion with them about our product, and worked out that we were actually in a far more advanced stage of development than most companies entering AppCampus so their mentoring and support wasn’t really for us. Apart from the fact that it provided us with some funding, the main interest for us was the fact that it goes through a very stringent quality assurance program sponsored by the AppCampus team, which itself is guided by Nokia and Microsoft people. We had some very good feedback during the testing process that the app was actually quite polished and a very complete and finished product. We’re all technical people, none of us are great graphic designers so the feedback we received in the testing stages was invaluable in that respect. They gave us feedback from a user perspective on where we were lacking and where things were confusing and where things needed to be polished and optimised. 

Q: How did you approach the process from a business perspective?
A: We actually took a different approach to most other start-up companies. Most start-up companies look for some seed funding or venture capital. Through past experience, we have learned the hard way to stay away from venture capital firms, because local Australian ones do not seem to go for technology start-ups (high risk) and international ones see Australian start-ups as too far to manage, so we took a different approach and we’re now fully self-funded. There’s no external capital at all in the company, which allows us to be very independent and free in what we do, allowing us to select our future investment partners according to our preference. The way we’ve achieved this is by leveraging our individual professional skills outside of the company and contracting people out to generate revenue in the meantime. At any one time, we have part of the team in-house doing development on things like Alphega and part of the team outside actually generating revenue, so the company can be self-sustainable. Admittedly, this arrangement can probably only work in cultures like the Australian one, with the Work-Life-Balance concept allowing contract work to take 40 hours a week, leaving us with the rest to push our own development further. As a start-up company, I think we’re one of the few that are cash flow positive this early on in their lifespan.