808STARTUP: Hawaii Apps: Turning a Passion into a Business

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How many times have you gotten career advice that goes something like, “just do what you love and the rest will take care of itself?” Probably many times, and it’s true. So, it’s no surprise to hear of another promising Hawaii startup whose roots sprung from that advice.

Melialani James, co-founder of Hawaii Apps, LLC, has a background in hospitality, having graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Hospitality Management, which required many culinary and wine pairing courses. (Not many bad homework assignments, I bet.) But, that introduction to wine turned Melialani into a wine lover, and that career choice exposed her to many other wine lovers and the wine industry.

After having what she termed a “quarter-life crisis,” she wanted to figure out what she wanted to do next, and, at the same time, was approached by a friend to attend a blind wine tasting contest – which she won! With the friend being a developer, the gears started turning and they saw an opportunity to build a mobile website around a wine database, helping people choose wines. At the beginning, it was just for fun and no money was involved. But, after seeing their user base jump into the tens of thousands, the capitalist gears started turning. Enter the iPhone and the App Store, and a business – and new career  –  were born.

“Once the iPhone and App Store came about, it was clear that we could monetize the app,” she remembered. “We launched as a paid app from the very beginning. Most other wine-related apps were in the three to five dollar range, so we started at $1.99.”

But, in a stroke of marketing genius, they remembered that wine lovers associate price with quality, and might figure that a cheap app was just like a cheap wine. So, they doubled price – which doubled the downloads!

“We were the #1 wine app for two years straight,” said Melialani. “It was successful enough for us to build a business around. It helped pay salaries, fund other apps, and play around with other cool ideas.”

Keeping with the alcohol theme, they created a beer ratings guide, and a separate “freemium” wine app (where free users see ads, while paid users can eliminate the ads).

“We found our niche in wine and beer, but then we started to look at children’s books. We saw other children’s book apps  doing really well, so we did an interactive ABCs app for kids, and we charged for it.  Since then, everything has been for-pay.”

With revenue flowing in and growing experience in selling and marketing apps, she launched TuneTug, a social DJ app, with another partner.

But, feeling the tug of Hawaii and moving back home, Melialani connected with Andrew Yani, with whom she had bounced app ideas back and forth. They started thinking about working together on a few app ideas, but then expanded the concept to build apps for others as well.

“We started thinking about a business creating apps in Hawaii, because everyone you talk to has an app idea,” Melialani recalled. “Today is like the web was 10 years ago. Every business realizes that they need an app or mobile strategy. People are on their smartphone much more than their PC, smartphone sales even surpassed PC sales two years ago, so everything is moving in that direction. When we started thinking about doing something in Hawaii, we wanted to connect with local businesses and help them figure out their mobile strategy. And, we set out to work with businesses of all sizes, from mom and pop merchants to huge corporations.”

Thus, Hawaii Apps was born, and they opened their doors in July.

Their team, which also includes Kitty Lagareta and Steve Hochart, plus a few local developers and a few developers in Seattle, but they are always looking for more local talent as they build a full-time team in Hawaii. On the client side, Hawaii Apps already has local customers as diverse as real estate agencies, restaurants and bars.

“We’re really excited about helping Hawaii’s local businesses,” Melialani proclaimed. “Local companies want to meet with the teams that they hire, so we meet with them face-to-face and really get a good understanding of their business and their marketing goals.”

And, that local angle isn’t just because they’re based here, it’s their entire focus.

“That’s why we named it ‘Hawaii Apps,'” Melialani said. “Our team gained a ton of knowledge and skills on the mainland, and we want to put that to work locally to grow the talent base here and help Hawaii businesses go mobile.”

Two things that we definitely need!

Here’s the 808 on Hawaii Apps:

808STARTUP “We are an Island-based company of people who have created successful apps and are now designing apps exclusively here in Hawaii.We are from here. We will develop your app from concept to launch. We are passionate about putting you front and center. We are Hawaii. We are apps.WE ARE … HAWAII APPS.”
STARTERS Melialani James, Steve Hochart, Kitty Lagareta, and Andrew Yani
LOCATION Honolulu
BUSINESS MODEL Services
COMPETITION Upspring Media, Shacked Software, Ikayzo, and many other local and non-local contractors and app development shops.
CONTACT Web:  hawaiiappsinc.com
Email: info@hawaiiappsinc.com
Phone: (808) 223-7907