Prolific Interactive Founders Get Real on the Business of Mobile Design
Technology. It’s a branch of knowledge that continues to drive our society deeper into the realms of innovation, discovery and – the unknown. The access to information has transformed our day-to-day lives, altering our expectations and interpretation of the world.
Today, we rely on cutting-edge products to fill the ever-increasing need for instant data, expression and entertainment.
Take Angry Birds, for example. The simple concept morphed into a million-dollar concept and spurred the evolution for gaming mobile applications.
And as the demand for all apps continues to climb, it’s no wonder Prolific Interactive – a strategy-led mobile product agency – was just named one of 500 fastest-growing private companies for 2016.
Founded in 2009 by two Quinnipiac graduates, Bobak Emamian and Eric Weber, Prolific has turned mobile experience on its head for leading brands such as Saks Fifth Avenue, American Express, SoulCycle, Lilly Pulitzer , Sephora and Scott’s Miracle Gro.
Now based in Brooklyn and San Francisco, Prolific started out as a pipe dream topic on the field for Bobby and Eric, pitcher and catcher for the Quinnipiac baseball team. Working throughout college building websites for class projects and tackling assignments for local clients, both joked about starting their own company and one day “taking over the world.”
Neither anticipated the truth behind those words.
Through quality work and perseverance, Prolific Interactive was able to land its first major brands soon after its creation, including ModCloth and XXL Mag. Since that time, the company has grown to include more than 100 employees, and continues to make a name for itself by redefining not only what an agency is – but the types of employee and partner relationships formed by spearheaded passion.
Tell us about Prolific Interactive and the type of customer you are attracting.
Bobak: Prolific is a mobile product agency. We build products and apps that can thrive inside the heart of a business. A lot of what is happening in today’s world is, companies are doing a great job opening a business, but they don’t necessarily know the best way to cater to mobile customers.
We use those opportunities to learn more about their business, users and what is valuable to them. Why do people want to engage with you on your app? A great deal of our focus has been on retail customers and places where we can have the largest impact. We have worked with companies like Saks Fifth Avenue, Gap, Sephora, Lilly Pulitzer, and others; we’ve helped a variety of retailers get up and running within mobile experiences.
Eric: Brands often come to us after they’ve already made an attempt to build an app and they realize that you have to do it right – you can’t just take a shortcut. Our goal is to find out what problems are valuable for these companies to solve. We take a very user-centered approach and look at how people are behaving, what problems they’re having and work from there to figure out how to design the application.
What sparked the idea to create the company?
Bobak: We love to build stuff. We were fortunate enough to have met each other on the baseball team at Quinnipiac University. Eric was a pitcher; I was a catcher. We had an on-field relationship, so we got to know each other. We actually had our first freelance opportunity together.
We obviously didn’t know what we were doing – and we still don’t – but we love building, learning and trying to problem solve. We got addicted to that. When someone asked us to build an app, we said, “Yes, of course!” And we went off into that journey and fell in love with the notion that an app in your hand was dependent on the way it was built.
Eric: Part of our lifeblood is saying, “Yes, we can do it,” or we will figure it out. It wasn’t an idea that the company was going to be a certain way; it just emerged from our accomplishments. Every once in a while, we would look around and realize the company we’re building and we get the inspiration to do even bigger things.
What are the dynamics of working with each other? Give us some pros and cons of working with your partner?
Eric: I’ve always looked at it like a symbiosis relationship with Bob. Bob is very good at creating opportunities and running through brick walls to make great things happen. I, on the other hand, am the one that’s interested in the technical aspect. But we both are able to look at situations and say, “Wow, no one has solved this before.”
In those moments, we are able to work together and solve things. Not to be too crude, but it’s almost like putting our middle finger up to the world and saying, “Look! We can solve anything.” When it comes to cons, sometimes we’re not able to get on the same level, but I’m sure that dynamic exists with any partnership.
Bobak: I think one thing we’ve learned about each other over time is that we have an advantage where we can be introspective without being emotional; the conversations we have are not emotionally driven. Obviously, there are frustrations that come up with any scenario.
We might start out at opposite ends of the spectrum and have different perspectives, but we’re often able to land somewhere in the middle. I think that’s one of the most powerful things we have – that combination. Being able to use that dynamic and solve organizational challenges or technical problems takes a lot of hard work and compromise. But we were fortunate that it’s something that came very natural to us, and it’s something that I appreciate more and more every day.
What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in order to get to where you are now?
Bobak: Every day is a challenge. As simple as it sounds, waking up and surviving is probably the hardest thing that we do.
Tell us more about moving to New York and building up your clientele. What was that experience like?
Bobak: I think it’s all relative. Every step you take is a new challenge, especially doing something that’s out of your comfort zone. We have been so naïve throughout this whole process, and we’ve been very lucky in that sense. We don’t know what we don’t know. We just put our heads down and solved what we believed.
We are very fortunate because, if we knew what we know now, it would have been overwhelming to go down that journey and know that there are a million reasons why it won’t or can’t work. It’s actually important to stay naïve and be open to the fact that everything is hard and nothing is given to anyone.
It really depends on how bad you want something and what you’re willing to sacrifice to get it. And you need confidence to go out in the world and do it. Our team is the only reason we have that confidence. The passion and the people are the reasons why we go to battle every day; they’re the reason we’re about to do what we want to do.
Eric: I think that’s an interesting point Bob brings up about being naïve. There’s a positive way of looking at that because you’re not locked in looking at things a certain way. If you’re naïve, you’re open to looking at problems in many different ways. It’s scary if you look back at us and realize we could have totally screwed things up, but that’s the positive side; the ability to look at things through different lenses.
What were you doing prior to launching your own business? Did you ever think you would be doing something different than what you’re doing?
Eric: I had one job before this – for nine months. And Bob was at graduate school for two weeks before he decided that was it.
Bobak: I think the ways of corporate America are interesting. For instance, what’s considered “normal,” and the amount of dollars that are thrown into career fairs and whatnot – the pressures that are on you to follow the normal path (social pressures and family pressures).
I remember interviewing for insurance sales jobs and finance positions. I never knew that you could do what you love and have fun – and have it still be a job. Looking back along the way, we’re incredibly fortunate. We came across some incredible people for the journey.
For instance, Chris Meyers, our senior designer, came onboard on day one and we threw him into it. He had just started design classes at school, but somewhere deep down, there was something driving him – and everyone that we work with. Throughout time, I see a lot of that passion mature over time, even though it’s still early. We know what we love and how to express ourselves in creative ways. I feel so fortunate that I don’t have any other job.
Eric: I knew that I wanted to be good at designing and developing. I didn’t know where the outlet would be, but I knew I wanted to build things.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions of being an entrepreneur?
Bobak: That you’re your own boss. I feel like I have 110 bosses – the amount of employees we have at Prolific. I turn to them and have learned that you can’t ever give in or make excuses. Everyone is relying on you, but in many ways you report to them. There’s a lot of “glory” that comes with being an entrepreneur, but I actually think it’s all perceived.
Eric: People assume that you can direct people and tell them what to do, but Bob put it in a great way – with how many employees we have, we’re still answering to them.
Click here to learn more about Prolific Interactive.
MiLLENNiAL is a lifestyle magazine profiling those who are shaping the world we experience. From business innovation and career strategy to sustainable health and cultural disruptors, MiLLENNiAL shines the light on the young change makers of the world.