A Democratic Culture Designed for Commercial Success

Childhood friends, Suresh Kumar G and George Christopher have travelled a long journey together—long after their evenings under the Sun, playing cricket in the paddy fields of Rettai Vaikkal, a small neighbourhood in Trichy, well known for its Murugan Temple. Like most other third grade friends, their paths diverged for college and afterwards, when they began work for corporations. However, fate had it that they once again converged paths when their careers took them to the US.

Back then, Intel used to launch developer challenges (much like the hackathons of today). These competitions would involve developing a fully functional app within ten days of releasing a topic. The childhood friends, who were now working full-time jobs, casually enrolled for the competition, only to soon realise that they were up against large companies that deployed their top-of-the-line talent to win. The duo stayed up at night to work on this competition as their day jobs did not allow them much free time. Realizing that the odds were against them they decided to strategize well in advance.

“Every application usually has about 50% common components—like the login page, a one-time password (OTP) generation system, a ‘forgot password’ link, payment system, and so on. So we developed all these components before the competition, and once the topic was released, we just had to code the USP for the app,” laughs George, revealing the formula that resulted in much more than just hope of winning the competition.

With this workflow in place, the duo completed product design in six days from the topic announcement. On the tenth day they were declared the winners with a prize of $25,000. Encouraged by this experience, they participated in six more competitions with Intel, eventually bagging a half a million dollars over time. What’s more, they developed a great relationship with Intel as they attended many of their conferences, and even had the chance to present a paper on rapid application development. At this point, some of the senior executives at Intel were surprised that these large-scale apps were created by just two people. In the next few months, Suresh and George were awarded the ‘Most Valuable Developers in the World’ and the ‘Intel Black Belts’ (the highest recognition for technical excellence in Intel.) The awards and recognition gave Suresh and George enough validation to start their own company.

With that dream, the duo moved back to Madipakkam in Chennai, a neighbourhood that would soon become their identity. “Although we’re from Trichy, we moved our residences to Chennai as we had been working in software companies in the city at that time,” explains George, when asked about his preference for starting a business in Chennai.

“This was a crucial period in both of our lives. My wife had just given birth to our first son, who was three months old at that time and Suresh’s wife was pregnant with their second child,” George recounts with a chuckle, “Basically, we quit our jobs, split the prize money and gave it to our wives to manage household expenses for the next two years while we focussed on the company.”

In January 2012, George and Suresh founded Macappstudio in their living room without a single penny. Like the name suggests, the founders (also the only employees at that time), specialized in creating apps for MacOS Platform. “We would come up with an idea, submit it to Apple and they would send it to 182 countries through the App store. Apple would take 30% commission and we would get a 70% revenue share.”

Why Chennai? “10 years ago all the processes required to register a company were digitised. We only had to submit physical copies a week later through mail,” explains the co-founder, stating that they did not face any hurdles during the process.

Three years later Intel approached the duo to develop an app for showcasing the apps which were optimised for their new X86 platform. “When a project comes from Intel you don’t say no,” laughs George, “So that’s when we got into providing services.” That was the turning point, George and Suresh had to start building a team.

Today, Macappstudio has 120 employees and an international client base. “Ram Nagar South, Madipakkam has always been our Identity!” says George, “Our customers have never cared for the fact that we aren’t in an IT Park, they always approach us because of our work culture and our approach.”

“Macappstudio has been an experiment from me and Suresh since day one,” he says, referring to it as a concept, idea and a vision. He recalls a movie that demonstrates how democracy was once a whisper in fifth century Greece before it became a widely practiced political system. “Similarly we want Macappstudio to grow products, delivery, recruitment, employee engagement and create a culture along the way,” explains George about how they have always wanted to revolutionize the software industry.

What sets Macappstudio apart from all the other IT companies, besides their unlikely choice of location? The company has a unique hiring process that has made them increasingly popular in the recent past. The founders believe that everybody has the potential to contribute in their own ways and that the standard interview process is not the best way to understand a person’s capabilities.

The company has never had to market themselves to either clients or employees. The Macappstudio culture and workflow have ensured sustainable growth and success. As an organisation they break the misconception that a software engineer is a sophisticated English speaker who does complex things. “The software industry is not entirely built of one type of person,” believe the duo.

Over time they developed a workflow similar to a car assembly set-up where people were placed according to their skillset. “For example, someone who constantly keeps asking questions would be placed as a quality check engineer while someone who’s always sitting on his bike would be ideal for operations. Likewise, someone who listens to instructions and goes from point A to B would be an ideal developer while someone who talks about everything except for A and B would be placed under the design team as they are more prone to innovative thinking,” says George in an attempt to simplify the complex psychological analysis that goes behind the introductory conversation he would have with a potential employee. Following this, the employee would go through a period of training to upskill themselves for the job.

As evidence to the success of the Macappstudio culture, George recounts a conversation over coffee with a fresh graduate from Kanyakumari who had approached him for a job. When he asked him about what he had been doing before this, the boy replied that he had had forty subjects in arrears that took 2 years to clear. On further questioning, the fresh graduate revealed that his parents—both lecturers—were upset with his academic record. George asked the boy about how he felt about idling for two years. The indignant boy retorted, “Who said that I didn’t do anything? I have 100 plants at home, 50 inside and 50 outside. I spent 4 to 5 hours studying them, and understanding how much water they needed, how much manure to mix and how much sunlight they required.”

At this time, the number of employees had crossed the one hundred mark. The founders were looking for someone to oversee and manage their in-house food and accomodation services, which were integral to the Macappstudio culture. The fresh graduate from Kanyakumari was the ideal candidate for the job. “When the Pandemic hit Chennai, he personally packed everyone’s computers, booked cabs and ensured that every employee reached home safe,” says George, “We give him credit for having a fully functional team during this crisis. If we had followed the mainstream interview protocol and hired people based on qualifications, we probably would not have had the same result.”

As news spread about the company’s unique recruitment methods, there was a steep rise in the number of people applying for jobs. Not having the capacity to recruit everyone, the founders decided to record and democratise the training sessions through a portal called Macappstudio Bridge. The courses are completely free and in Tamil. It was found to be very popular amongst people who did not have the opportunity to receive higher education or work in the IT sector. This program benefitted people from all walks of life including young students, unemployed freshers, housewives, women on maternity break, petrol bunk workers and even delivery agents who wished to upskill themselves in order to find better opportunities.

Macappstudio has been running for 10 years as a self-funded software development company with the fundamental ideology based on equal opportunities for all. The founders believe that bringing in investors would disrupt the experimental nature and the close-knit culture that has led to the international success of the company.

The future of the company is all about expanding in size, revenue and client base without altering the core value systems and culture of the company. “We have never really been excited about becoming a billion-dollar company, however an opportunity to impact a billion people would definitely peak our interest,” concludes George. “There is no better time than now and there is no better place than Chennai! Remember that passion and process are equally important. And definitely start small, that’s what Suresh and I did.” That is the advice that the founders would give to young entrepreneurs who wish to revolutionise an industry through their work.

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