A warm salute. Today I have the great honor of presenting the interview to Carlos Icaza to you. He is a man with a great experience in Silicon Valley at software level in general and creation of development tools for mobile devices in particular. I just want to mention I made his interview more than a month ago and he decided to left his place of «Co-Founder and Chief Instigator Evangelist» at Ansca Inc. last month, the enterprise he created with Walter Luh. So this is his last interview. I really appreciate the time you gave me (more than an hour of recording), the sincerity of your answers and your great availability…
Hi I’m Carlos Icaza, I’m from Leon in Nicaragua. I came to Miami in 1977-78 and ended up in Silicon Valley. In 1997 I started working at Adobe. I worked on the PageMill product and later on Illustrator.
In 2004 I went to Macromedia to be the general manager of their mobile group to produce Flash Lite for mobile phones. 3 months later Adobe decided to buy Macromedia. Back in Adobe I continued managing the Flash Lite team as well as Flash Authoring.
At the end of 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone I decided to leave my job because my vision of mobile phones was totally opposed to Adobe’s.
Four months later after quitting Adobe, I joined Walter to have a coffee and we were talking about the mobile world, then he told me he was developing apps too and as we worked together before in Adobe and Macromedia, we decided to get together and that’s how Corona was born.
We wanted to create something that make us able to develop apps more easily and for various platforms so we could have and advantage over someone developing apps natively. A few months later we started to look for founding to create an enterprise and accelerate the creation of a prototype. It all started in 2008, ending up the 9th of September of 2009 closing a deal for a million dollars to create our start-up.
- Why using LUA as Corona’s main developing language?
- Why would you recommend to use that SDK?
With Corona SDK you can create a physics based game in 5 lines of code and it’s very easy to implement: you don’t need a degree in physics. We made a good abstraction work, presenting a very elegant form to create the physics of a game. So easy that someone knowing HTML can get to LUA very fast.
We have customers that have made prototypes in 8 hours and totally ended their app in 2 weeks… And that’s something we see very often and teaches us how that can change people’s life.
- What’s your vision about the startups world and the mobile world in particular?
Mi vision about the startups world hasn’t changed since we started our adventure with Walter. There are a thousand ideas and everyone has one but what makes a difference is the execution. You have to have a product ready to sell and people willing to pay for it. What happens is that in the «Bay Area» the sense of reality gets lost: here lots believe they will be the next Mark Zuckerberg (from Facebook) from one day to another or believe they can sell as much as Zynga or the Angry Birds people in the mobile world. It’s not like that: for every single one that succeeds there are 10.000 dead.
The mobile world? We are just starting in this world.
- What’s Ansca’s structure and hoy many developers it has? At the beginning they were about 15 but now?
Well let me tell you, at the beginning it was just Walter and me, we were 2, later we got a tester and the one who manages the server in which we made all Corona transactions. Now we are 15, back ago we were just two and when we had the initial one million dollar founding we were 6, first 4 and then 2 more, the 2 that came with me were colleagues that had worked with us previously in Adobe, the resting 4 were developers and we had the one who maintained the IT system and testing. The company’s actual structure is based in engineering and marketing and I think we are 5 people in marketing basically and the rest are on engineering and support.
- Can you tell us the story about ANSCA’s name (“Algodoneros Nicaragüenses Sociedad Cooperativa Agrícola”)? – It means «Nicaraguan Cotton-Workers Agricultural Cooperative Society» in Spanish
Well it happens that when I was a child (laughs) when I was a 7 year old child my father had two farms in Nicaragua, a cotton one and a cattle one (cows) and there was a society in Nicaragua he started to be able to buy pesticides, animals food, fertilizers, etc… so the owners of other farms, at my father’s level could be as successful as he was even if they didn’t own a big farm, being able to buy all those products (fertilizers, vaccines, seed, etc…) wholesale. Instead of my father buying a 50 weighs of seeds and having a discount for that, the complete society bought wholesale, so they could all pay the same having just a cotton acrid or 10.000. Basically that’s what I was grown with, in that cooperative society, so everyone could benefit.
- It seems that the recognition for your company started with the game created by Robert Nay, a 14 year old teenager?
It’s true, the most important one since today has been the game created by Robert Nay, that’s what really put us on the map, but at the same time we had other events that had been as important as that or even a little more. Another important event was when Apple rejected applications made with other languages than Objective-C, basically when Steve Jobs was giving his «mantra» about why he was prohibiting every language apart from Objective-C and showing Tap Tap Revenge made by a company named Tapulous, which was made with LUA with the same architecture shared by all Corona apps and that caused me happiness also because the majority of games that were on the top 100 were made in a combination of Corona, LUA and Unity3D. Diner Dash is a company that uses LUA quite a lot and they had various games on the top 100 so that caused me laughs because I knew we weren’t going to have any trouble at all. Also the great letter from Apple punishing Flash came out and that also helped us a lot. As I say, everything comes at stages and that was a stage for us, the fact that they were allowing Tap Tap Revenge or Angry Birds or Diner Dash, using LUA, I said: We don’t have any trouble.
Actually Adobe has thrown in the towel and said they aren’t supporting mobile anymore.
- Is it possible to know an approximation of Ansca’s revenue in 2011?
Unfortunately I would like to give you the amount, but we can’t. What I can say is that we have raised 1.5 million dollars and haven’t had the need to ask for more money, so if you do the math… we are doing pretty well, right?
Another set of personal questions
- How do you remember the time when you were looking for founding for Ansca?
I don’t know if you’re going to be able to publish this but… What a great bitch! (lots of laughs) They were very hard times, first of all, very difficult because in 2008 the economy here in the USA was very bad, it was when all banks were pretty bad and also with the mortgage crisis. It was extremely difficult for us to get money, but it also was a great experience because we learned a lot about what’s talking with investors, with every kind of investor and one thing that always kept us alive was that every time we wer told not, we put more effort and get more motivated to make Corona better and every time we went to show something we had something better and always showed an improved product over the previous presentations. But what’s more important is not the investors because most of them at that time (we are talking about 2008 with the first iPhone just being out and there was no Android yet. Nokia was the nº1 back in 2008 and was selling about a million phones every 3 days, opposedly the iPhone sold a million in about 4 months) and I remember the investors asked us: How are you going to do it? What connection or arrangement we had with AT&T to distribute apps on the iPhone? and we were thinking: oh man, what kind of brutality is that! Apple has it’s own store. What happened was that we were slightly more advanced than investors were and they were still trying to understand what was all this about mobile ad iPhone’s madness, they still didn’t know what was all about. In the other hand we were a lot forward creating apps and had some friends already creating prototypes, something they couldn’t understand.
It was really hard but the most important thing is our partners and friends and various people that were using our product internally told us: Awesome! How can it be so easy to create this? Look, I already have 3 or 4 apps! and I remember when we launched the company we already had like 10 apps in the market and that helped us quite a bit. Finally they said, this company and these guys have something, so here you have the money.
One thing I can say about Ansca’s questions is that we received and offer to sell the company and Walter and I decided to reject the offer because we really believed in raising up the company to the point at we have it right now.
- Have you maintained a relation with the Spanish and south American world about technological companies?
Unfortunately not, but I hope that now, thanks to this Blog they can connect with me and see if I can help them in some way.
I made lots of speeches about being an entrepreneur on the USA and specially being latin and I like a lot making speeches about the mentality of being latin and the american’s mentality, investor mentality, Silicon Valley’s mentality, the mentality of building a company, because it’s not the same. Latin’s mentality has a tolerance aspect different to american’s mentality and I came from being working in companies and computing since I was 16 and I know the world is totally different but now and because I’ve been in north California, here in Silicon Valley and I was just starting, I haven’t had the opportunity to connect with lots of companies but now here you have me.
I know some spanish companies developing apps for mobile devices, various of them, but unfortunately I don’t have their names in my head, I have to look for them, there were two companies, one of them made an app that was called ChocoRun (he means DunkelGames from Girona, by Alejandro Jimenez: @dunkelg) a very good app, and there had been quite a few more that we have got in contact that are working with mobile and also using Corona.
I’ve been in Spain some times, in Barcelona. I was in Barcelona two years ago and had a really good time, in the «Ramblas», at the church made by Gaudí (The Sacred Family), Barcelona is really beautiful, I was impressed about how clean it was and liked it a lot. But I haven’t been in Madrid or the north, I hope I can be there someday.
The other question is from Fernando Rodríguez: Basically I’m interested about how little promotion or learning material is available about Corona, and I talk about english resources. I’m about to begin specific learning teachings about it and about english to learn how can I help on that. I would like to ask you: What would you recommend in terms of learnings for that? Would you be interested in collaborating with the creation of resources? Of course I will, send me an email and I will put you in contact with our marketing manager. It’s always good to collaborate, we have Corona Ambassadors around the globe and now our community is also unbelievable, and of course the more we can help each other, the best.
Question from Javier Párraga, developer, about CoronaSDK:
CoronaSDK is a stable product with a great API and constant improvements, but looking to the competitors that also are advancing fast we could have the next doubts:
- When could we have a really integrated IDE?
Well, there are some companies that are making Debugger integrated IDE’s, we just putted one on our 3rdParty page. It’s called «CoronaComplete» (only available for Mac) It’s an editor with a debugger and it’s already usable, very good and complete.
- Would it be possible to develop from Windows or Mac for all the platforms?
No, unfortunately there is a restriction in Apple’s license and because Apple is just around the corner and I know some people in Apple very well, I don’t want to bother them in any way. Their EULA agreement doesn’t permit the distribution of any Apple document and iPhone certificates are documents created by the SDK and it’s not allowed to distribute them to a non Macintosh computer, unfortunately we and our lawyers decided we must follow the rules.
- Are you going to change the actual strategy of requiring a high fee to be able to create a new plug-in for Corona?
For small companies and «indie» developers, there’s nothing much needed apart from the professional platform, but Ansca’s competitors allow plug-in creation and you want to know if we are making that possible for developers with not as much money as big companies.
Well, it’s a very hard question to answer, even if I understand small companies, unfortunately the problem is that can’t be done, the problem is that now the number of people asking us for that functionality is very small in comparison with the number of people willing to update their apps inmediately. The way we see that is this: there are many types of tools in the market and there will always be competitors, that’s one of the best things there are, because competitors are what keep you alive and force you to ensure your software keeps getting better, but at the end of the day, some things are done and others aren’t, we can’t satisfy everyone everytime. There will always be people that leave us in benefit of other technologies because they offer something we don’t, but from the place I stand, that’s a very small number compared with the amount of people satisfied with the product and what they want is not an IDE or how to create plug-ins, what they want is to be able to publish their app as fast as possible and monetize it, that’s our main kind of developer.
Remember I said at the start that we are using a scripting language to make it easy for people and avoid the need to learn Objective-C, Java SDK or any other low level language. Corona’s API is targeted at publishing apps as fast as possible, and the amount of developers asking for that functionality compared with the amount of developers we have is minuscule. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know those developers exist, the reason because that’s still not open is like I’ve said, because the majority of our developers aren’t asking for it.
Another important thing is that, when you tell me about companies that want to use that functionality, I’m going to tell you in every product, it doesn’t matter what is it, being Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, Corona or any of our competitors, the most expensive thing isn’t to open the functionality to companies that really need it and are ready to put money on it because, number one, when a company is ready to pay for it, we are talking about something serious. Number two, someone ready to pay that amount is going to demand being able to call by phone at any hour and have someone answering, it’s not like they are expecting to hear: Oh! yeah, it doesn’t matter, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in three days we are going to answer you… No, no, no. What they are paying for isn’t the functionality, it’s the luxury of having someone, being me, my co-founder, our company general manager or a direct contact with the company. The day something like that is opened, supports raise aswell as expenses, because nothing can’t be done for free forever and we need to find that balance together with the amount of developers we have right now and their interest of having a fast app development process to be able to publish something to the market as fast as possible.
We make many surveys to our developers and honestly what we usually see is what they want is «How can I make more money with my app?» before any other functionality we put on it, that’s why Launchpad came along and with Launchpad we already had for example Joe Kauffman from Fire Maple Games, who already sold a million dollars using Corona. We also have another company I can’t mention right now that told me they got more than 500.000 dollars in revenue in mobile, just with their Corona made apps. We have companies like Universal Studios that used Corona for their app about the LORAX movie, and some other big studios are using Corona right now and about to globally publish various applications for other movies with a budget of 200 million dollars. When they have that kind of budget either me or my partner have to to answer the phone for them personally and every hour we put on that is an hour less invested in improving our product for the rest of our customers.
I really would like you to understand it isn’t we don’t want to do it, but the maintenance and updating expenses for the company and to be able to keep a balance between our developers wanting to publish their apps fast and monetize them, compared with the amount of people that want plug-in access, is huge. That doesn’t mean we are ignoring it, no, what happens is that everything has to come at the right time because the worse thing that can happen is making and offering something and not having the structure to maintain the developers that want that opportunity, because it’s easier not having it than having it and have the need to offer support, that’s valid for every other company, not just ours.
- Even if the API is growing and making available the possibility to develop appplications that aren’t games. Have you thought in bringing more features in for the framework in that direction (Widget, etc…) to make more than games?
Yes, we are always looking at what are our customers, the developers, saying, but the majority of people using Corona always makes games so I come back as the previous question, the amount of people willing to make apps that aren’t games is very small.
What I also want to say is that in our experience working with lots of developers with Flash when we were in Adobe, they always want to create their own GUI (graphics user interface) so it can be cross platform, and we had various applications where developers used basic widgets we have to end up building apps that look exactly the same on Android and iOS, creating the app identity.
- There’s a whole world growing around Augmented Reality. Could Corona have an API that help in specific development for that kind of applications?
We are always looking at every kind of functionality we can add in, but it’s also a very rare case to be asked for augmented reality.
- By the capacity, power and easyness of CoronaSDK, have you thought in enforce it’s use trough College agreements?
Of course, we already started and we have prices for schools and students and also for college in purchases for big amounts, we have «Educational Sells» for that, and we already have some books made to give teachings and degrees at least here in the USA and I think we will expand it to other countries as soon as we can. If you are interested in Spain or any other place, just tell me and I will put you in contact with the right person.
Many thanks, for anything you need you can send me an email and there’s also my web (http://www.carlosicaza.com/).
Credits: Photos by Jun Shim
I’ve spoken with Carlos after his quitting from Ansca and he is already pursuing other interests and giving advise to many startups at their first stage. I didn’t wanted to mention it officially, but it seems like he’s already working in his next start-up. We will be expecting. I recommend you to follow him on Twitter (@carlosicaza) and maybe he will announce it. Meanwhile the only thing I can tell is that he is in «stealth mode» ;-)…
Here ends this very interesting interview. I hope you liked it. Without forgetting to thank Javier Párraga (@japargon) for his great help to make this interview possible and Alejandro Jimenez (@dunkelg) for the translation from spanish to english…