The Aussie app developer who gambled his company and won

Cuda shut down his successful digital agency and risked it all on creating an App. Photo: Supplied
Cuda shut down his successful digital agency and risked it all on creating an App. Photo: Supplied

It's easy to get the impression that the world of digital media and app development is a goldmine of unfathomable wealth and opportunity.

Every month, millionaires, and sometimes billionaires, are ordained into the order of digital magnates who made their fortune developing a killer app or digital service; one the world never knew it needed, but can now no longer live without.

But while there is no single secret to success that applies to every digital business, there are success stories. For James Cuda, founder and CEO of Savage Interactive (Si), along with his wife, Alanna – developers of iPad painting app, Procreate – his company has grown dramatically by focussing on a few simple core values.

The poster for Netflix's Stranger Things was designed using Procreate. Photo: Facebook

The poster for Netflix's Stranger Things was designed using Procreate. Photo: Facebook

Integrity and internalisation

"One of our biggest values is honesty," said Mr Cuda. "I know that sounds obvious; but honesty, not just in what we're making, but also in who we are."

"One of the other values is: if we do what we really love and believe in, the money is going to come. I really think that's been the core of our rise against all odds. We don't have any funding, no investment – everything is organic, from the App Store."

"We have a very, very strong focus, which is actually contrary to watching the market. What we really do is internalise as much as we can about the product and focus on the customer. I think that's been one of the biggest shielding things for us."

Opportunity strikes

Right time, right place – it's a common metaphor for pure ol' luck. But in the realms of business, where luck will only get you so far, preparation will take you further.

At the time that Apple launched the iPad, in April, 2010, Cuda and his team were running successful digital media agency, Savage Media. This new device took their breath away.

"From a background in the arts, being a believer in the arts – you see the iPad and think, 'That's going to be the next big thing that kids grow up with'," said Mr Cuda.

Sensing this was a device on which they could make their mark, despite being risky as hell, proved an opportunity to good to pass up.

"We really wanted to do something we believed in and really wanted to do," said Mr Cuda. "So, we did something crazy; we shut down the company and four of us went on to start Savage Interactive."

James and Alanna Cuda took a risk on a new product. Photo: Facebook

James and Alanna Cuda took a risk on a new product. Photo: Facebook

The lure of the Caribbean

Despite the offer of dump trucks full of cash, the ever-present lure of Silicon Valley and the chance to mingle with the captains of digital industry is a carrot Cuda has so far ignored. So, why would he stay in Tasmania when he could be driving across the Golden Gate bridge in a shiny Lamborghini to grab a coffee in Sausalito every morning before work?

"We've had some offers to move out here [Silicon Valley], but, for me, the long game is too important," said Mr Cuda. "I believe in Tasmania; when I first moved there, it was vibrant with arts. You'd walk into artist studios in Salamanca Place and it was beautiful. It's a very creative place; a very special place."

"In software, more often than not, you hear about how so-and-so sold out and he's now sailing on the Caribbean, but I'm looking for something much, much bigger. I'm making a concerted effort to internalise people, either to come to Tassie or find them in Tassie, because that's a bit of honesty there."

Who could blame the man, really. With international icons such as MONA, the annual Dark Mofo festival and a vibrant arts community, Savage is just one of many creative companies that have flourished in Tasmania's truly inspiring creative scene.

Keys to the kingdom

Throw a stone in Silicon Valley and chances are you'll strike a company that began life as a passion project in a garage somewhere in the world. For those looking to make their mark in digital and move to 'the valley', Cuda has some sage advice.

"In the first year or so, it's going to be really bloody hard," said Mr Cuda. "Really, really bloody hard. Like, REALLY hard. You might have to put your house on the line, you know. Nobody's going to be there to help you, so you just have to push through that. Even when you have success, it's going to get bad again, so you have to have that tenacity to push through."

"The second thing is, from my point of view: do it for the love of it. When you really love the product, when you really believe in the product, you'll kind of figure everything else out. But if you go into it looking for an angle, you'll get eaten in this market."

For a digital project that started out in his bedroom, in Old Beach, Hobart, Procreate has now become a digital creative wonder that has captured the attention of creatives the world over – all thanks to unstoppable amounts of passion, tenacity and honesty.