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App’s Got Game

 Keith Rumjahn
 

Keith Rumjahn was inspired by his experience as a basketball coach to come up with his award-winning mobile app

When veteran National Basketball Association (NBA) coach Flip Saunders contacted Keith Rumjahn out of the blue requesting a new feature from his company's app service, the Hong Kong-based mobile app developer swiftly responded and fulfilled the request in less than two weeks. 

"He asked if there could be a new function enabling our app to be shown on an external monitor so that his whole team of basketball players could see the app at the same time. Our team acted immediately," says Mr Rumjahn. "We attend to our clients' needs and have an in-depth understanding of what they want. This is one of our biggest strengths. We didn't start off providing an ideal service, but by interacting with customers, we have been making progress." 

"Making progress" may be an understatement for Mr Rumjahn's company, J Plus Corporation, a mobile app developer based in Hong Kong’s digital community, Cyberport. The startup has been growing at a remarkable pace, with its product, Coach's Clipboard, taking the sports world by storm over the past few years. 

Hollywood Debut

The basketball clipboard version of J Plus’ app featured in the 2012 Hollywood family film Thunderst 
The basketball clipboard version of J Plus’ app featured in the 2012 Hollywood family film Thunderstruck 
A paid mobile app launched in 2009, Coach's Clipboard is a digital clipboard designed for team trainers to show what plays to run. The app also gives players a visual idea of a game setup. Priced at US$1.99, the app supports about a dozen sports, including basketball, soccer and handball. It boasts some 200,000 users worldwide and has become so popular that its basketball clipboard version was featured in a scene from the 2012 Hollywood family movie Thunderstruck, starring American comedian Brandon T Jackson and NBA star Kevin Durant. At the inaugural Asia Smartphone Apps Contest held this year, Coach's Clipboard beat 200 entries and won the Grand Award and the Creative Lifestyle Gold Award. 

First Mover Advantage

 J Plus’ Coach's Clipboard beat 200 entries and won the Grand Award and the Creative Lifestyle Gold A
 

J Plus’ Coach's Clipboard beat 200 entries and won the Grand Award and the Creative Lifestyle Gold Award at the inaugural Asia Smartphone Apps Contest held earlier this year

Born in Hong Kong and educated at Queen's University in Canada, Mr Rumjahn, 28, came up with the idea of a digital basketball coach's clipboard, inspired by his early experience as a basketball coach. It took him about three months to put the idea into practice, at a time when mobile apps were still a relatively new concept. When the app was launched, word spread in the sports world about it, and the number of users quickly grew. 

"At the time, there were not many apps in the market. We got on this fast-moving train early, so we enjoyed a first-mover advantage," says Mr Rumjahn, who quit his full-time job two years ago to focus on the app business. "If we hadn't done it until now, it would probably have been a different story considering the much more intense market competition today." 

But it’s not just timing. Mr Rumjahn believes the company’s success hinged on its ability to tap a niche market. "If you try to please everyone, you may end up with a mediocre product that pleases no one. But if you have a niche product, and make it highly professional, you'll attract users who love your product with passion and your clientele will eventually expand. 

"Today, numbers are not as important to investors as before,” he continues. “Your app may have a million free users, but if they don't like it, its presence means nothing. Investors would be interested in your app if you have 1,000 users who open the app every 10 minutes." 

Angel Investment

Coach's Clipboard is a digital clipboard designed for coaches to show players what plays to run and  

Coach's Clipboard is a digital clipboard designed for coaches to show players what plays to run and give players a visual idea of a game setup

 
Investors have responded to the app’s popularity. Last year, J Plus secured about HK$2.5 million in funding from the Hong Kong Business Angel Network for business expansion. The company has also been handpicked by US sports company Nike to join its first "Nike+ Accelerator" programme, which offers select companies US$20,000 to learn to build high-tech products from Nike's mentors. J Plus is the only Asian startup among the 10 companies chosen to take part in the project. Upon the programme's completion in June, J Plus will see its app integrated with the Nike+ Fuelband, an activity tracker worn on the wrist. 

Apart from finding niche markets, Mr Rumjahn says that to stay ahead of the competition, newcomers should strive to build a strong and capable technology team. 

"Everyone now is looking for talent, so don't rely on conventional ways,” he says. “Go to startup events, university campuses, social gatherings or even karaoke nights to spot the right people. In terms of region, talent in mainland China has very strong IT skills. There's a strong talent pool in the US, too, but they are more expensive. If you need people who are creative with an international outlook and English skills, it has to be Hong Kong."

Related Link
J Plus Corporation

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