Many of us spend as much time at work as we do with our own families. Jean-René Auger created the web and mobile development company Appwapp with a heavy emphasis on a tight-knit company culture. By creating a family atmosphere and insisting that his employees enjoy their work, he’s not had to rehire since opening the company in 2011.
We had a chance to catch up with Jean-René to discuss the keys to small business success, as well as how he balances work with two young children at home.
Tell us about your business.
I founded Appwapp with my wife after running my own business for 10 years and selling it to a U.S. company. Instead of retiring, I decided I had more to do in the industry. So, I founded Appwapp six years ago. It took off quickly. Soon we needed more space to work and we rented out the apartment across the hall. Six months later we needed office space because we were hiring employees.
Tell me, what exactly, does Appwapp do?
We’re a web and mobile development company. Our employees are developers. We integrate into our client’s existing teams or do turnkey projects in-house.
How many employees do you have?
Right now we’re at eight. Eventually I’d like to have a team of 12. The employees feel like they’re part of something. Once you get beyond that point it requires a different management style.
We work with other teams that are much bigger and they love our culture. But it’s not possible for them. I believe larger teams can’t get the feeling we have here. Appwapp is like an extension of my family. We really have fun at work and that’s my motto.
Small Business Culture
“I openly tell my employees if I’m not having fun today, I’m going to lock the doors and we’re all going home.”
It’s interesting to hear many small business owners fiercely defend their culture. Everyone wants to make money, but it’s often more than that. Would you say that’s true for you?
Absolutely. I openly tell my employees if I’m not having fun today, I’m going to lock the door and we’re all going home! I could’ve stopped working six years ago but I chose not to. It does have a trade-off on the bottom line, no doubt. But I think that trade-off pays because we don’t have to rehire at all. Our first employee is still with us.
“I had my first business at the age of six or seven…”
You were self-employed before AppWapp for 10 years. What was life like before self-employment?
I was always an entrepreneur. I had my first business at the age of six or seven. I was making about a hundred dollars a day which was considerable, especially at that age. I’ve always had a love of entrepreneurship, but when I graduated from university I went to work for someone else. I worked eight months for a company and they were bought out. I was in a position where I could afford to start my own business. Even the paper routes I had were a form of self-employment. You had a direct relationship with your clients and you needed to know basic accounting to make sure your route is generating money.
So, you’re a serial entrepreneur?
Yes. I get involved in a lot of startups. I’ve invested in two that are really picking up steam. I mentor others, too. There’s a lot I’ve learned the hard way—especially on the accounting side—that I can share with young entrepreneurs.
We find those learnings take up as much time as a second job. Job 1 is get the work and get paid, and Job 2 is learn what I need to know to be successful on Job 1, right?
Yes, it really is. One of my only regrets in school was not taking accounting courses and it was tough to run the business and figure out how to track finances. My accountant was a teacher in her previous career and she took me under her wing and explained everything to me. It was basic for a long time—just using Excel spreadsheets. Things got to the point where I had too many columns and rows. That’s when I decided to invest in accounting software.
Accounting Tips for Young Entrepreneurs
As a mentor do you now say to people you’re mentoring, “You need some accounting knowledge to be successful?”
Yes. Some people don’t want anything to do with accounting. I tell them to find a good accountant that you feel comfortable with and isn’t too expensive.
I also tell people to take baby steps. You don’t want to get tax [ID] numbers right away because you don’t need to for the first $30,000 dollars of income in places like Quebec.
Start off simple and keep your accounting simple. Then you can build on that. There’s a natural path to follow. Too many people incorporate right away with a holding company and they don’t even have a single client. It doesn’t make sense. It took me five years to incorporate my first business. It doesn’t need to be done hastily.
There’s an evolution there you have to follow?
Absolutely. And from an accounting perspective, you can evolve there, too. Start with the shoebox filing system, but you’ll quickly realize that you’re better off having a centralized system. You can use an accounting service, but you should be in touch with that data rather than just hand over a shoebox containing your monthly expenses.
That’s a great statement, “Being in touch with your data.” That’s kind of what we’re striving for at Kashoo: to have insight and see it in real-time. This way you can use it to your advantage as opposed to just passing it off.
Yeah, anywhere and at any time, as well. That was very important to me. I’m all over the place from going to see clients to being on business trips. Wherever I am I have access to what I need to know. If I need to refer to something, it’s in there. All my client contacts are in there and I know what’s happening with them. I like to have all that information, even on the go.
Personal Life and Family
“I have two young children, and I get up before the kids…it’s always very hectic but I make sure everything runs smoothly”
Let’s talk about you. What gets you up in the morning? You had the chance to retire six years ago, but you chose not to. What keeps you going?
I like to learn. I surround myself with talent. Appwapp’s employees are younger and more grounded to technology. We’re working on all kinds of projects that push the envelope and that’s what excites me. If I were sitting at home or on a golf course, I wouldn’t be experiencing that level of innovation. And that’s what I need.
What does your morning routine look like? What do you do when you first wake up?
I have two young children, and I get up before the kids. I get things ready so that when they get up we can be out the door as soon as possible. It’s always very hectic but I make sure everything runs smoothly.
The Appwapp office is close to home, so we walk or bike to work. We start our day off with coffee and at 10 a.m. sharp we have our daily scrum: What we did yesterday, what we’re planning to do today, and it allows us to align with our goals. The rest of the day is very hectic. It’s all dictated by what emails come in, what meeting I have. It’s very different everyday which is cool, but sometimes it’s overwhelming when too much comes in one day.
As you look at your history, your evolution as an entrepreneur, what’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome? Not just in business, but personally.
I think risk taking was something I struggled with. Have I fully overcome it? Not really. As an entrepreneur you always have to push yourself, but I was very conservative, especially in my first business. I wasn’t bold. I had confidence in what I did as a developer but maybe as an entrepreneur I had less.
As I realized I could afford to take financial risks, I also felt the need to push myself a lot more and that’s the stepping stone between those two companies.
Do you still view managing risk as an obstacle? How do you view it now?
I think it’s always an obstacle because the decisions I make now have a direct impact on my family. Previously, it was just me and my wife in our condo (which was paid for). We had very little overhead. The decisions didn’t really have an impact on our daily lives. But now we have two other lives that we think about and more to take care of. I don’t regret having my family and where I am today, but if I didn’t have a family I’d be in a very different place. Better? I don’t know, but I might be more comfortable with risk taking.
With your family so central to the business decisions you make, how do you maintain balance? How do you not let your family life overtake your business or vice versa?
I founded Appwapp six months before my first child was born. In a way, Appwapp was my first child. I try to integrate my family as much as possible in the business. We still keep business and pleasure separate but I’ll do small things like bring my kids to the office on a Saturday morning. They draw on the whiteboards and play with the cardboard boxes. I get to do some stuff. We’re still spending time together. For them it’s a really big event.
I’d say in the last four years I try not to spend too much time at the office at night or on the weekends so I can spend more quality time with my family. I’ve been able to take vacations, too. It used to feel wrong to take vacations because I had so much to do and didn’t want anything to go wrong while I was away.
Now when I take vacations, I make it a point of going into an internet black zone so there is no connectivity available even if I wanted to. And I’m comfortable with that. I’ve got a good team.
The Future of Appwapp
How does that feel now that you’ve built this business to where it lives on its own?
Very weird. I think that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle to get to that level. It’s not a question of business size. If you have the right people, methodology and tools, disappearing for four or five days won’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things. I think when I started hiring more people, that’s when I felt less obliged to my business.
What do you see in the next year to ten years for Appwapp?
My target is 12 employees. I have four to go. I have to find the right people. My challenge would be to hire two more people by the end of the year. That would be the short-term goal.
For my medium to long-term goals, I am entertaining the concept of getting an office opened in Toronto. I have also a plan for one in Latin America. All small teams of twelve employees max. I’d like to scale up the business in bunches of 12, that’s where I see it in the longer term.
So you want to keep these small families operating autonomously, but part of a bigger thing?
Exactly. And we’ve been working aggressively on growing bigger projects in the last two years. I think that brings an opportunity for a bigger team to work on one project together, while you build another team and dedicate them to that other project, rather than having to work on four to five projects in the same week.
We’d like to thank Jean-René for taking the time to share about Appwapp’s unique family culture and wish him continual success. You can learn more about Jean-René’s business, Appwapp, by visiting his website.
Do you have a story to tell? If you’d like to share your story and have your business featured on Kashoo.com, drop us a line @KashooOnline, click on the little “smiling” chat icon in the bottom right of this window, or call us at 1-888-520-5274 and we’d be happy to chat.