App man puts mouth where his money is
Jonathan Barouch talks about his app non-stop. Photo: Tamara Voninski
MISSING out on a lively night at a nearby museum sparked Jonathan Barouch's idea for a smartphone app that has been downloaded more than 100,000 times in the past 15 months.
The app producer developed Roamz to help find out what's going on in a nearby area. It is unique because it works on several social networks, including Foursquare, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to give you a content experience of what people are talking about nearby, he says.
''Unlike other [social media] the Roamz experience doesn't start with a check-in, the tech term for telling friends of your whereabouts,'' he says. Instead it gathers information of what both friends and strangers are talking about and presents it to the user.
Mr Barouch was sitting at home one night about a year and half ago and noticed a lot of people Tweeting and posting on social media about being at Sydney's Australian Museum.
He discovered that on Tuesday nights in summer, the museum hosts the Jurassic Lounge, with food, live music and drinks after hours.
''I didn't find out about it and I live 600 metres away. So, I would have gone if I'd known,'' says the 29-year-old.
The entrepreneur knew there had to be a better way of collecting that information and using it to give real-time perspectives of events or places.
''I pitched that idea to a number of different partners and Salmat, a communications company, was one of the companies that came back to say they liked it,'' says Mr Barouch.
Salmat bought a 60 per cent stake in the business for $3 million in January last year. Mr Barouch provided $200,000 in funding before Salmat invested in Roamz. Based in an inner Sydney suburb, he works with 12 software engineers in developing the app.
After launching in January last year, the app has featured as Apple's App of the Week for Australia and New Zealand and Mashable - a social media news site - called it as the top app to download last month.
But Mr Barouch says he is not surprised by the fast growth of Roamz. He was just 17 when, in between classes at high school, he was taking calls for his first internet business, Fast Flowers.The idea came to him after an awful experience buying flowers for a girl. After doing some research he discovered some American businesses offering flower delivery over the internet.
Fast Flowers became one of the first e-commerce companies in Australia in 1999. His father had to sign all the paperwork for his loans and credit cards after Mr Barouch was laughed at upon asking for a business loan at the local bank.
He approached several flower shops, which agreed to deliver flowers if he faxed his orders through to them.
10 years later in 2010 he sold Fast Flowers to competitor Jack Singleton, who owns 1300 Flowers, for an undisclosed amount. By that time, the flower site had a database of several hundred thousand customers.
Mr Barouch is confident that e-commerce and mobile technology will continue to explode and he wants to ride the wave.
His tenacity has paid off. The Roamz app has been used 300,000 times by its users, who are mostly in Australia and the US.
Just a month ago Roamz had half the number of downloads it has now.
Mr Barouch relies largely on word-of-mouth advertising for Roamz but also engages in local marketing such as putting up posters in Sydney and Melbourne. He is also determined to keep the app free to download.
''The job of an entrepreneur is to talk about your product non-stop without taking a breath, and the ones who do are successful. I will even accost random people in the street,'' he says.
''It's shameless but I'm having fun.''