Kiwi app firm builds reputation

US AMBITIONS: Guy Horrocks' company Carnival Labs is playing a role in the US election.
US AMBITIONS: Guy Horrocks' company Carnival Labs is playing a role in the US election.

When  national conventions for both the Republican and Democratic parties kicked off in the United States recently, a small Kiwi mobile app development company was involved in helping CNN-Time feature news reports from the showroom floor and poll Americans on their views.

Wellington's Carnival Labs created the Convention Floor Pass app for attendees and non-attendees to keep up to date on what was happening during the US presidential race.

The technology worked “swimmingly well” but best of all, from Carnival Labs' point of view, was that the press release on the free app included the fact it had created it. The small Kiwi company gained worldwide exposure.

The company was formed in 2008 by Guy Horrocks and fellow Canterbury University student Cody Bunea. Another university friend, Toby Cox, has since joined the company and has a small shareholding.

The rest is owned by The Shark Factory, which is, in turn, majority owned by Horrocks and Bunea with a small stake held by their adviser and Canterbury University vice-chancellor Rod Carr.

Horrocks is busy fending off investment offers - the opposite to what most small Kiwi companies do. He's keen to keep the company growing through its own revenues but is acutely aware there's a race on to grab the opportunity in the mobile app marketing space before someone else does.

That's why they have set up a New York sales office and Horrocks is awaiting approval on a visa application to base himself in the US. The development team under Bunea's eye will remain in Wellington and Auckland.

“We want to build a large scaleable technology company, not an agency," Horrocks said. "A lot of people are talking about mobile as being the hottest industry and there's interest in getting brands on mobile. We're uniquely placed to take advantage of that."

The company's client list already features some of the world's biggest brands, including DreamWorks, Kraft Foods, HBO and Taco Bell.

Horrocks founded his first company while at university in Christchurch - a forensic company that analysed blood splatter at crime scenes. The 28-year-old then co-founded Polar Bear Farm, which in 2007 became the world's first commercial iPhone application company.

He sold his half of the company to co-founder Layton Duncan and then set up Carnival Labs with Bunea. They shifted to Wellington after their office was destroyed in the Christchurch earthquakes.

Their original focus was building mobile apps on demand for clients, but they lost 80 per cent of their revenue last year when The Hyperfactory's new owners shifted development work to India.

The founders viewed it as a catalyst to get on a plane and win their own clients and also to rethink their business model. Carnival has now developed its own IP - a software-as-service messaging notification product called Core Push.

It was first used last November to promote DreamWorks' animated movie Puss in Boots. Smartphone users in California were sent a message that made their phones vibrate and purr like a kitten.

When answered, the application asked whether the user wanted to accept a phone call from the movie's star, Antonio Banderas. If they opted to, a message urged them go on a journey, including being sent one of the movie's characters they could have their picture taken with.

Since then Core Push has been used with a score of other customers, including Air New Zealand on its Grab a Seat promotions.

They have modelled their business on US social media company Buddy Media.

Horrocks wants Carnival to become the market leader in mobile app marketing, based around helping clients run marketing campaigns on its platform. First it has to prove it has a scaleable business model.

“We're boot-strapped and profitable and want to self-fund our growth. We have the American mentality to grow something really big.”