Eighteen-year-old tech prodigy James Anderson is one of the most fascinating developers/innovators/entrepreneurs appearing at Apps World Europe (18 – 19 November 2015, ExCel) in London next week. Anderson learnt to code at just seven, and is the founder of Thinkspace, a space in schools around the world where students can learn how to code, backed by Richard Branson, Steve Wozniak, Stephen Fry & others. Here Anderson tells us about his precocious passion for coding and entrepreneurship, and details his new app Zest.
Thomas Campbell: Hi James. First of all, can you tell us about Zest?
James Anderson: Zest is a smart phone application where you can order food and beverages where you can order at a number of coffee shops, tea houses, juice bars and lounges in advance of your arrival so when you arrive your order is already waiting there forJam you.
You can also use it to have your order delivered to your table if you’re already sat inside the store. That’s hugely beneficial to people that have their laptop out and are working and don’t want to have to pack it away and go up and queue again. It’s also beneficial to the stores because they’re seeing a lot of customers have one coffee and sitting there for two hours and then move on to another store.
Using our app they can keep customers and orders flowing – and customers will receive a notification after a certain amount of time to suggest ordering another.
In 2015, if loading a webpage takes a fraction of a second longer than it should we become frustrated. I think that time is one of our most important global assets. Therefore anything that can save time or offer more value for time is going to be popular with the customer. It’s certainly what we’re seeing so far with Zest, as with other successful apps like Uber, Airbnb – their ultimate goal is to save time.
How’s it monetised? You take a percentage of the transaction?
Yes exactly. It’s completely free to the customer, they’re not charged any more than they would be if they went inside the store and queued. The stores are paying a small commission on every order and also an initial set-up fee.
Do you foresee some opportunity to the business model in the increasing digitalisation of transactions? It would be easy for Barclaycard, if they already have a relationship with all certain brands or shops, to add a pre-booking option…
I mean we’ve only ever really thought of Zest as a standalone app so we haven’t really explored that though it does sound like a really good idea. I think it would be a really good idea to overlay it. At the moment we’re probably focussing on the standalone app. In the future we may look at other companies to try and extend its reach.
If you were the age you are now twenty years ago what do you think you’d be doing?
That’s a very difficult question because I grew up with the internet. I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t an internet. I first had access to a computer when I was five and I was learning how to code at aged seven and was always fascinated at how websites and applications work and are built. I’ve never really had time to explore the world outside the internet which sounds very sad.
I guess at an early age for some reason I wanted to be a policeman. I don’t know why. That’s pretty much it. Other than that I’ve just always been interested in technology. I love the idea that, in creating something, you can potentially get it out there to tens, hundreds of thousands of people and have an impact on their lives in a positive way. I think that’s incredible how we have the power to do that just sitting in our bedrooms at home.
What apps have influenced you most?
All the ones that were started by other young people like me and have now somehow become useful and make hundreds of thousands of people’s lives easier – so, Facebook, Snapchat, Uber, Airbnb. I’ve always looked up to the founders behind those and I think the number one trait they all have is persistence. A lot of them took years to properly grow. Twitter took a year to get however many users – they were growing very slowly and the whole of Silicon Valley thought they were going to fail and that it was just this website where you posted a picture of your breakfast, and then now we see what it’s become. So many of those founders could have given up at an early stage and chose not to – especially with Snapchat being offered such a large amount by Facebook to buy them out and they said no. They’ve carried on growing and have grown ten times since.