Feb. 16--Rich Foreman doesn't develop mobile applications with mass appeal like "Walking Dead," "Angry Birds" or "My Fitness Pal," but the self-described "appreneur" from Folsom is carving out a niche making hundreds of apps for businesses large and small.
The 45-year-old co-founder and CEO of Apptology also teaches Apps 101 to area groups such as SACLead Inc., a business networking organization. He gives free advice to students and will judge and mentor Sacramento Rep. Doris Matsui's high school apps competition running through April (for more information go to www.matsui.house.gov/congressional-app-challenge).
In four years, Foreman has grown Apptology into a business that has developed more than 350 apps for clients ranging from Fortune 500 firms to mom and pop startups. He also co-authored a book called "Tap Into the Mobile Economy."
Last month, the company was named small business of the year by the Sacramento Asian Chamber of Commerce.
"An app can transform your business," he declared during a recent appearance at a SACLead luncheon. "We have a pizza company in Alabama whose slow day is Monday, so we helped them create an app that pushed out an ad for $3 off a large pizza. They went from two to 14 orders on Mondays."
Foreman's entrepreneurial journey was born of necessity. Like thousands of others in the Sacramento region, he lost his job during the recent economic slump. At the Asian Chamber's awards ceremony, Foreman, the son of a single mother who immigrated from Vietnam, recounted how he was forced to think creatively after being laid off by Cisco in 2010.
For 11 years, the former Navy lieutenant and aerospace engineer had enjoyed the good life in Silicon Valley, working as a systems engineer for WebEx, which pioneered the technology for online business meetings. He moved his family to Folsom in 2002 and was working out of WebEx's satellite office in Rancho Cordova when Cisco bought the company in 2008.
Two years later, he said, Cisco laid off many of those who worked at WebEx, including Foreman, whose salary was $125,000 a year. "I'm still bitter about it. When you get laid off, it's hard to find a job at the same salary," he said.
In Sacramento's struggling economy, there were few job options, said Foreman, who is married and has two children. "Those who did get work here took a severe pay cut, while others did weird things like take a job and apartment in the Bay Area and come home for the weekend, which for me was the wrong answer. We love the Sacramento area, so we had to find an alternative, and that's why I became an entrepreneur."
Foreman -- whose favorite apps include "Pandora," "Pedometer PRO GPS+," the "Insight Timer" meditation app and the game "Clash of Clans" -- saw apps were no longer just being used for fun by hobbyists, but were taking off as tools to promote businesses or causes. He decided to cash in on what he calls "this modern-day gold rush" by developing business apps for all types of smartphones.
He mass-emailed business databases, sent out postcards and made cold calls to potential clients. "It was four months before I got our first client," Foreman said. "I finally found a service where I would pay $35 to $80 for a lead, and that's where we got most of our business. You try something, if it doesn't work you have to try something else."
Apptology develops the equivalent of tract homes and custom homes, Foreman said. About a third of his clients are small businesses that pay about $2,000 for an app that Foreman creates on a template he's developed, so customers don't have to know how to code. Clients include restaurants and Realtors, salons and spas, dental offices and boat repair shops, publishers and nonprofits. Foreman has created free apps for the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce, the Sacramento Asian Chamber and SARTA, the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance.