Alykhan Jetha is notable not just as the CEO of successful Mac business software maker Marketcircle (just nominated to MacUser's Business Software of the year) but as a prolific and opinionated blogger, and a defender of the iPhone.
Besides, we're doing a few pieces on Apple's strategy of late. So we were particularly happy to be able to interview him last week:
Macuarium. AJ, you recently wrote a post in the company blog that strikes a chord with what we've been saying of late: Apple's surging. Do you think this is an "iPod halo effect", or there is really something to the "control the whole widget" strategy that gives Apple a market edge?
AJ. From the perspective of Apple business users, I think people are simply fed up with all the problems on Windows. We hear some real horror stories from switchers. What the iPod has done is re-introduce the Apple brand to these people and after some investigation, they take the plunge. I think that the "control the whole widget" strategy is working because it provides a more stable platform and that stability is a competitive edge today.
Macuarium. Do you think this Apple advantage is relevant only to high-cost, lifestyle-driven consumer buyers or does it extend to corporates? What do you see as Apple's weapons in that market?
AJ. I think Apple appeals to the open minded. A lot of people simply don't have an open mind and thus just stick with what they know or what the "herd" is doing. Open minded people on the other hand, will investigate and eventually come to their own conclusions – appropriate for their situation. I do not think these people fall into specific demographics. I think this thought process also extends to small businesses and independently run small divisions in enterprises. I do not think this thought process extends to the large corporation and frankly, I do not want to extend there. Large companies have a lot of restrictive requirements that get in the way of the individual and small businesses. Let Microsoft have the large enterprise, and Apple can take the consumer and small business segments.
Macuarium. What is the role of Apple's new non-computer range of products in this – and specifically of the iPhone?
AJ. The role of these devices, besides making money for Apple, is to make more people aware of Apple and the cool stuff it has been doing lately. I see so many people with iPods and iPhones now. Even here in Canada where there is no official iPhone support, we see a ton of people having them. So, this extends the Apple awareness and it will benefit Apple and its developer community.
Macuarium. Can you tell us how do you think the iPhone can help a business in a way that a PDA couldn't?
AJ. First of all, more people will use it because it is easier to use and they want to use it. It is cool and functional. That alone is a huge advantage. Many people can benefit from being more organized and an easy to use smartphone can go a long way towards that. But for the iPhone to totally replace PDAs, Apple will have to make some modifications such as allowing third party applications. For our part we've already got our flagship productivity management product, Daylite, working with Apple's Sync Services and the iPhone.
Macuarium. Marketcircle is a company catering to the needs of Mac-based businesses: Daylite is a very good productivity application (we've commented it at Macuarium.com) and other business tools. As you tell in your blog, you're growing so much that you're having to move into new premises. Does that mean Marketcircle is in a growth market? What would you say to a developer thinking about working for the Mac market or the Windows market? What are the advantages of doing as you do?
AJ. We are in a growth market. Beyond the Mac, small businesses are employing more people than large enterprises and that trend is increasing. Within the small business market, Apple is growing faster than its competitors, so there is definite growth there. For developers considering the Mac, you have to make sure you build a Mac product with a proper Mac UI and not simply port a Windows product. People enjoy their Macs and they want to enjoy using software on their Mac. This is particularly difficult for advanced business software, but it must be done and without sacrificing functionality.
Macuarium. Can you tell us where is Daylite heading after version 3.5?
AJ. We are going to continue work on improvements and we're happy that Daylite 3.5 has incorporated Apple's Sync Services to connect Daylite to the iPhone, iPods and other handheld devices, beyond that, we do not comment on future products – a valuable lesson we've learned from Apple.
Macuarium. Can we look forward to a localised Spanish version and support?
AJ. It has been difficult for us to estimate the size and opportunity of the Spanish business market, so we are unsure how much resources to commit on that front. There are three relatively big parts of Daylite that are not currently localizable, so the investment is significant. Our time tracking and invoicing product, Billings, on the other hand is localizable. We have a German localized version in Beta right now. Spanish localization can easily be done, we just have to find the right partner.
Macuarium. What do you look forward to seeing in the Mac world? Is there anything you see coming? Any changes you wish to see? Anything Apple should do?
AJ. This is a good question. What I really want is a new MacBook Pro (I think it needs a refresh) and an official iPhone/iPod Touch SDK [software development kit]. I realize that this is a new platform and it takes time to prepare an SDK, but it must be done. I really hope Apple does not keep that platform closed. Maybe Macworld is not the best place to announce an SDK, but some indication would be good.
Macuarium. There's many developers with a good idea and coding skills, but few manage to build a serious software business. In your view, what does it get to do things right? What steps would you reccomend to aspiring Mac software CEOs?
AJ. This is a hard question to answer because there are so many areas to cover. I would say the biggest thing is continuous improvement and releases, not only on the software side, but also on the business operations side. Eventually the release cycle slows down, because as the mass adopts your software, they are not so keen on continual updates especially in multi-user scenarios. One also needs to be financially frugal so that you can handle the inevitable dips. Another important aspect is time management. It is very easy to get caught up in things that don't affect the growth of the business and that must be avoided as best as possible. As they say … easier said than done.
Macuarium. Thanks for your answers, AJ.
You can comment this interview in the forums (warning: the forum system is in Spanish).