Dennis Chu, founder of the Android app-sharing community Swably, is passionate about what he does. Having lived in Beijing since 1996, Dennis was the successful sales manager of a Chinese software company before he started his own venture. In 2012, Chu spent fourteen months to develop Swably, shifting through seven iterations before he ended up with the beta version we see on Google Play today.
What does Swably do?
Swably is a global Android app sharing community that allows users to directly interact with developers. Just like on Twitter, users can discuss the latest apps and games with each other, share their thoughts about their favorite apps with like-minded users, upload apps or download free apps from the Swably server, post app reviews, and discover some of the best apps available in the Google Play Store. We offer an open sharing environment. As the founder, I seldom intervene with apps shared by users. All the details come from users – whether the app is good or not can be seen by the comments it receives from users.
What is the problem that you’re trying to solve?
There are 1.6 million Android apps on Google Play right now. It is difficult for Android phone users to find an app that’s right for them. As a sharing platform, we can help users find apps they are interested in. We hope to build a bridge between the user and the developer and provide them with a barrier-free platform. So far, more than 30,000 apps have been shared on Swably since its launch. We have 50,000 monthly active users (MAU) with 300,000 total downloads. I hope Swably can become the preferred source of apps for Android smartphone users. Eventually, we will see developers selling their apps through Swably.
What are the challenges of working in China?
Compared with China, the US market is more focused on creativity. When you come up with new ideas, others will try to create something newer to compete. However, in China, when you make something new, people start to copy it, which can kill you in a short time. Obviously, intellectual property is an issue in China. That’s why we have our own rules and regulations to protect the app developer’s intellectual property rights. Users on Swably are only allowed to upload free apps, unless they are the developer or owner of that particular app. Developers or owners can claim their apps and disable downloads if they don’t want their apps to be shared on Swably.
How will you keep operating and help the business thrive in the future?
We are self-funded right now. I don’t think I will be able to attract investment here before I prove my commercial value, because Chinese investors only want to invest in something that’s mature or safe. I hope Swably will be able to survive on its own in the future. We have many profit models such as product placement and profit sharing. We will not be limited to recommending apps. If we achieve success, we will expand our business to sharing digital content such as songs, videos and books. I hope to build an ecosystem for byte sharing.
The tech world changes fast. Do you think the landscape has evolved? What if the problem you originally tried to solve is not there anymore?
Although search algorithms like the ones on Google Play are becoming more and more advanced, it is still unable to replace the diversity and unpredictability of human beings. Our advantage over sophisticated search algorithms lies in our human touch. Swably is a sharing community built by people, not algorithms. People can see reviews and comments from other users before they download an app. These reviews might be spontaneous and biased, but they are also authentic.
As we enter an age where everything needs to be perfect, products are also getting more like plastic flowers. Which do you prefer, a real yet imperfect rose, or a perfect plastic rose? I prefer real flowers, and I believe most people do as well.
(Top photo of Dennis Chu)