#548 WP-Tonic Show Special Guest Brian Messenlehner The Co-Founder and President of AppPresser

We Interview The Co-Founder and President of AppPresser

Brian Messenlehner is the Co-Founder and President of AppPresser.com where he currently leads our custom development services effort in building and maintaining custom iOS apps, Android apps, WordPress websites, and everything in between.

Jonathon: Welcome back folks to the WP tonic show, this is episode 548. We got a great guest with us. We got Brian Messenlehner. I probably destroyed his surname but you know me listeners and viewers. I am sorry, Brian. He’s the co-founder and president of app presser. It is a really fun, fascinating in plug in and just a great member of the WordPress community and evangelist. Brian, can you give the listeners and viewers a quick 30 second intro about who you are, what you’re doing?

Brian: Sure. My name is Brian Messenlehner. It’s a long one. You did pretty well though. Better than most people.

Jonathon: Steven will confirm this that was a great attempt by me.

Brian: Cool. So I’ve been in the software game ever since 2001. So almost 20 years now I started off as a computer programmer for the United States Marine Corps. That’s where I learned the first program. The first scripting language I learned was cold fusion. If you guys remember that stuff. And so I did a lot of custom database systems Oracle SQL server when the.net framework came out. I jumped ship on classic ASP and went over to .net and asp.net. And C-sharp was my favorite languages. So when I got out of the military I started looking at open source PHP based projects. And WordPress was something that was very popular at the time. I was doing a lot of like Drupal stuff Magneto, stuffs and GMO stuff, but, but WordPress really stood out.

I liked the community a lot. They seem to be very involved. We were building a lot of cool plugins that did a lot of cool stuff and tying into other systems. So I think around in 2013, we had a project building a mobile app for the YMCAs in New York City. And they we were, we specialized in building WordPress plugins. But we didn’t want to tell the YMCAs to go away. And we had built this whole badging system for gamification. And Jonathan, you might be interested in this if you like buddy press, it ties into buddy press. So you could award your community members with all these different achievements and stuff. So anyway so the YMCAs want to take advantage of this plugin that we built, but we were in this dilemma that we didn’t build iOS apps.

So instead of telling the YMCA to go away, we decided to build one. And it was all basically just a rapper for a custom WordPress theme that was built to look and functions like a mobile app. In fact, the only native part of this app was when it turned on the camera to scan the barcode on the back of somebody’s Y membership ID to log them into the system. So they could take all these different challenges and earn these badges and earn points that equate to membership discounts or water bottles or whatever. So this app that we built for the YMCAs was a success. We had another project after that for the Dallas museum of art, which is essentially the same type of thing. Building a mobile app where people could walk up and work with the exhibit, like interacting with the exhibit right in front of the exhibit through this iPad based kiosk.

So after that we were at a work camp in San Francisco and Matt Mullenweg. I forget what year this was. He came out and he actually showed during the state of the word, our video of the YMCAs promoting this app that we built. And talked about how there’s going to be headless WordPress sets coming that you know, using WordPress data through the API to control client side apps and voice apps and all sorts of stuff. So right at that same time, we thought it would be a great idea to basically launch app presser, which was the world’s first WordPress, based plugins for building an iOS and Android app. So essentially you don’t need to know how to build an iOS and Android app. All you have to do is flux your WordPress skills and boom. You got a mobile app that could be on.

Jonathan: That’s fantastic. So I’m going to let Steven, and then quickly introduce himself. Steven, would you like to quickly introduce yourself?

Steven: My name is Steven Sater. You know, me, I’ve been on the show for a little while. You can head over to zipfish.io and check out what I’m doing. We make WordPress sites faster by optimizing not only the server stuff, but actually the code that runs the website. So your themes and your plugins.

Jonathon: That’s great. And I’m just going to quickly tell you about one of our great sponsors and that’s Kinsta hosting. Kinsta hosting is only a WordPress hosting provider. Basically if you go looking for a great hosting provider for your own website, if you’re using woo commerce, if you’re using lifter LMS or learn dash, you really need really powerful hosting. And that’s what you get with Kinsta. Also, they’re just fantastic people to work with. They provide all the technology, all bells and whistles.

Great interface, great support that should has interest for yourself and for your clients. So go over to Kinsta have a look at what they have. I suggest that you buy one of the packages for yourself or for your clients. But the main thing is tell them that you heard about them on the WP Tonic Show. So, Brian thanks for that extensive introduction. You know, you’ve got an enormous amount of experience in WordPress. So with app presser how long now has the company has the company been running? Is there anything in the next six months to year that that excites you around any improvements to the app in general or the platform really?

Brian: Yeah, it’s evolved over time since 2013 when we launched the first version of it. We’re on app presser 4 now. So it’s, it’s pretty cool. We just introduced a like a way to build custom app pages using a block editor. So at app presser we always got to the point to where you need to know a little bit unless you’re using our custom templates that we have already pre-built. Or you’re tying into your app to your WordPress site specifically and using our app theme, our theme. There wasn’t too much custom customization that you could do without actually knowing some ionic code and being able to markup semiotic. So now we have this block editor essentially to where you could put together your app pages just by drag and drop and really customizing some settings, which is pretty cool. So it works kind of two ways where you could either point you’re in the app builder, you could point to at press or to your WordPress website that uses the app theme, and it’ll just run whatever WordPress page that you have, but we’ll run it inside the app and it’ll look like it’s the app. Now that’s a little bit slower, right. Then using the WordPress API and pulling the data directly from the API into the app, which is our preferred method, you know, utilizing the WordPress API to build your pages.

Jonathon: That`s great. Over to you Steven.

Steven: Yeah. So I’ve like app presser has been like something in the back of my head for like, as long as I have ever been developing WordPress. Because like clients are always like, Oh, I want an app. And like, I’ve never had like the opportunity where it’s worked to actually use it. But the idea behind it, that you can take a website and make it an app it’s just like brilliant. Like it doesn’t take a huge amount of development to get your content from a website into an app. When it comes to like, like migrating that data, or I guess it’s not migrating, but like you would install a plugin on your site. Is that how it works? Like I saw the app presser plugin, and then I can customize that. Or is it another like WordPress install?

Brian: So there’s a series of WordPress plugins and a WordPress theme. The theme gets installed in the theme directory, but you don’t activate it. It just sits there. And when the website receives a request from the mobile app itself, it serves up this special app presser theme. And it’s linked to your app presser account in the app builder. So when you’re using the app presser app builder, and you’re choosing maybe like the colors for your app and the logo on the top or whatever the menu have a menu set up. All that is going to be pulled over to your theme, to your oppressor theme. So when the app serves up a page, that’s from your website using the app presser theme, it knows which colors to use, which styles to use and everything, because that’s already defined in the app. So it’s essentially pulling in any WordPress page into the app and made to look like it is part of the app. So thank you.

Steven: So you kind of have these two themes on your site, the one theme that like is doing what normal themes do. And this kind of theme that’s sitting behind the curtain waiting for requests coming in from the app to be able to generate and serve that contact.

Brian: Exactly. Exactly. So you could build your app that way, where you’re basically pointing setting up like pages on your app, that point to any WordPress site URL that has the app presser theme on it. Now there’s also the base app presser theme, which you, or I’m sorry, app presser plugin, which you need to install and basically map it to your like app presser ID and everything on apppresser.com. And then there’s also a third party specialty plugins. Like if you’re using like buddy press, you could install our app community plugin. And basically it’ll allow you to build a social network, mobile app all running from buddy press and from the buddy press API. So you have like all the functionality that you would in any buddy press social network and messaging groups, memberships, profiles, all that baked directly into the app.

There was also a WooCommerce plugin for app presser that you could install. And then anything that you have in your store, your e-commerce store, boom, is available for you in the mobile app. Same thing with LearnDash. We have a specialty LearnDash plugin, so you could set up, you know, all your courses and have that set up, on your WordPress site. It all ties in seamlessly already into the plugin that we have using the WooCommerce API. So it’s much faster than just like loading those pages. Like what we talked about in the beginning, like just pointing to a WordPress page and loading it like that it’ll work. But it’s going to be slower, because WordPress has to do its thing and load everything like that. When we’re using the API with some of these specialty plugins we’re pulling the data right from WordPress, right from the API. And populating into the mobile app and then the same thing and pushing data back to the web server.

Steven: Got it. Interesting. So you have your app presser account, you have your theme, and then you have these app presser plugins that kind of glue those things together a little bit. Is that kind of the correct way to think about it?

Brian: Yeah. Like for example, we have a push notifications plugin. So when you install that plugin, it gives you a little metal box with a checkbox on it when you’re publishing a post. So that you could send out a push notification to everybody that has the app about a new blog post. So Jonathan, if you were using app presser for mobile app for your podcast as soon as you publish the post about it on your website, it could go out with a deep link to everybody that has the app installed. They get the push notification click on it. It opens up right to that page and starts playing this video.

Jonathon: I would imagine the WooCommerce integration is extremely popular. Would I be right about that Brian?

Brian: A lot of people are using it pretty much a lot of people that have shops already existing shops in WooCommerce, and want to be able to offer that you know, basically have more doors to their content they’re making their app available in the app stores

Jonathon: Because I think a lot of people that are building something themselves or getting something to build them in the WordPress ecosystem. I think they have quite major ticket shock when they actually go in the world of app development for Mac or Android and iOS. They get real ticket shock and then they come across your solution and it’s a much more reasonable price, isn’t it?

Brian: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’re kind of the extreme under cutters when it comes to building mobile apps. And really because we’re taking advantage of open source software WordPress to be able to cost-effectively build these apps. There’s also another part of our business at app presser. So we have this SAS based platform for building mobile apps. You know, you can sign up subscription-based, you have access to our to our app builder which now has the app page builder attached to it. And you could build your apps that way. But then we also have another side of business that is all custom mobile app development. And in a lot of cases, we bypass app presser altogether. We still build the apps with the same technology stack that we built app presser on. But these are more, very tailored custom mobile apps for clients that have a very custom UX built for an idea for an app. Or a very custom workflow where we would just essentially build an app just for them.

So we’ve been doing a lot of like custom app development utilizing the WordPress API. And in some instances connecting to other APIs of other systems that aren’t WordPress, but bringing them all together within the app. Taking advantage of these open source platforms like WordPress really saves money even with very custom tailored app development. A lot of the projects that we build and we start off on some of these more high-end apps around like 20 grand and up. But a lot of these same apps that we’re building for around that price tag, if somebody were to go and get a quote on an iOS app that does this same functionality that we’re building or whatever they would probably be looking at, like at least like a hundred grand for that app.

And that’s just for the iOS app, then they got to go hire Android development team to build the same thing. And what we’re essentially doing with a lot of these custom projects too is we’re building a PWA or progressive web app that is the same code base from the iOS and the Android app. So really we’re even getting these projects down to one code base to run the iOS app, the Android app and the website. And we’re using WordPress the backend. So all the tools that everybody that you know is familiar with and loves and can use with ease to basically manage all the content in the website, the app, and or the mobile app for iOS and the mobile app for Android with one code base. So that saves a lot of time and money when it comes to like support and maintenance of maintaining a mobile app, and then also maintaining a separate WordPress theme.

And if you are using something like you know, buddy press, then you know, that custom buddy press team development could be a daunting task and time. Unless you’re using some of these prebuilt systems like buddy boss or whatever. So a lot of work is going to go into, and especially if you have something with some custom functionality, you’re going to build some custom plugin that a piggyback off of buddy press is built into the theme somehow. That’s going to be double the work of then having to duplicate that same functionality in the mobile app. So in some cases of these custom apps that we’re building now, we’re doing PWA and one source code for the website, the mobile app for iOS and Android.

Jonathon: That’s great. We need to go for our break and then Steve will ask some questions. We are going to go for our break folks. I think it has been a fascinating discussion already. We’ll be back in a few moments.

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Jonathon: We are coming back. It has been a great discussion with Brian. So Steven, off you go.

Steven: Yeah, I just wanted to explore this progressive web app or PWA a little bit more. Cause that’s like a really interesting thing that’s coming up on the horizon. It’s like for the listeners that don’t know out there a progressive web app is kind of like a hybrid that sits between a website and an app. It allows you to have like some local storage on a device and take advantage of some of the features that a mobile device has. But you’re not actually building an app and the app doesn’t have to necessarily exist in the app store. Somebody can go to a website and install the app directly onto the phone. And it’s kind of a new thing that’s been rolling out. Where do you see that going? And like, do you think that’s going to take over the app world and we’re going to just see everybody moving to progressive web apps? Or is that something that there’s still a lot of features that you can’t get out of the progressive web app? So, you know, it’s a painful process.

Brian: We take advantage of progressive web apps at app presser for our client’s advantage. So because in the long run, we’re building one thing instead of building things, instead of building a WordPress website, traditional theme, and building that out, how they want. By the way, most of their traffic is probably w you know, mobile phone based anyway. And all depends on really the circumstances of what the client’s needs are. Some clients really need a nice WordPress theme. Maybe they still want to use for whatever their app is. Maybe they still want to use a PWA for their app, and we’ll just make their website or the URL for the app, like app dot, whatever their domain is as a sub domain. And the real domain will be just a marketing site, a traditional WordPress theme that markets the app. They could just link directly to it APTA. And that would be, you know, essentially the same app that somebody would go download it from the iOS or Android app stores.

But as far as your question about PWAs, you’ll probably see that they’re going to get a lot popular and probably a lot of development companies that, that are building traditional themes and stuff may you know, start to build more PWAs, especially if they get into building mobile apps and stuff. It all depends on what device you’re using. What kind of devices that your users are using?

Steven: Do you find that it’s easier to create a progressive web app than an actual iOS app? I guess, as far as like budget number wise, like, if someone’s like, all right, I want to create an app is a progressive web apps, like magnitudes the time easier than what using like app presser to actually build like a native app inside of the app store?

Brian: No. So it’s basically the same process and we’re creating a WordPress theme that just basically invokes the PWA instead of the traditional WordPress theme. So there’s not a lot of extra work that goes into it. And there is a lot of extra work that goes into releasing an app in app store though. Especially like with Apple even though lately they’ve been pretty good, we’ve seen apps that we submitted to the app store that have been approved within three days. I’ve seen apps that wouldn’t get approved for three months on the app stores, you know, with a lot of back and forth. And they’re very obscure about what it is that they want you to fix, because they don’t want to any type of legal, you know, issues with it.

They just kind of push you to where, okay, well, here’s go look at this clause in this documentation, but they don’t, they won’t tell you exactly what it is. So it’s kind of like a guessing game. The exact opposite on Google play. I mean, you push up an app to Google play and it’s in the store within less than 12 hours. They’ll only usually pull it if, you know, if somebody reports it every, some kind of issue with it, but they pretty much approve anything, everything. So going back to what you were saying, like you could make a PWA that you could install as a shortcut on somebody’s phone.

And they really wouldn’t know the difference between that and an app that they download in the app store, it’s essentially the same thing, same code base. Just the way that it interacts with native features is a little bit different where, if we have an iOS app, we could interact with those device features directly via the app. Where if we’re doing it through the browser, we have to rely on that browsers capabilities which now the browsers have a lot of capabilities like camera and location stuff baked right into it that you could access. And use the same way that you would from a native mobile app, running the same code essentially.

Steven: Now, if we’re going to take a website and build it into an app, would I have to go and sign up for an app, like an Apple Developer account? Or does app presser take care that? Or is that something that like each person has to develop?

Brian: Yeah, so each client, each customer owns their own app. So they go set up the developer account on both app stores. And then with Apple, you know, you have to pay the extra, whatever it is, $200 a year or something. Or if you’re a nonprofit, you can get that waived and you have to go through their whole enrollment process where you need a DUNS number and all your social security number, all your kids’ social security numbers.

Steven: And especially when it’s your first time going through it.

Jonathon: But one of the benefits of working with you is that you also give a lot of advice and support around that whole process. Am I correct?

Brian: And we have a service where we’ll actually set it all up for you to where, you know, if you want to be completely hands-off and, Oh, this is cool. I can build my app, but now you have to go deal with Apple and submitting the app to them. And that’s where, you know, as far as app presser, being easy to use, it’s very easy to use for setting up your app. You could use our app builder and set up an app based off of your website in like 15, 20 minutes. And you’re like, wow, I have an app that is ready to go. But then you’re stuck with, you know, following the process with Apple and Google and making sure all your certs are set up correctly and all that. So we’ve tried to streamline that as much as possible. We actually have a process now built into app presser where it’ll submit your bills for you automatically. So when you build it and you’re done and you save it on the app builder and you push it up, it’s going to compile everything and push it up to both stores for you automatically, which is a time-saver.

Jonathon: We have had discussions with native app developers on Android and on the Mac platform. And they would say well app presser, great idea, but the problem is Jonathan, it slows everything down. Because, you know, it’s bound to, because it’s middleware, and interpreting. And they would argue, they’re aspiring to be some speed effect, but they would say drastic, how do you respond to that Brian?

Brian: I guess it depends on where you’re just like your website. It depends on where you’re hosting your website. If you have if you’re on Kinsta and your optimized site, and then your app is probably going to do pretty good. If you have like a, you know, and I’m not trying to dog any hosting companies, but if you have like a basic Go Daddy account or a baby Gator account or something, and your website’s slow, then, you know, obviously your app is going to be slow. And it also depends on how you have your app set up, right. Cause there’s two ways there’s to point your app pages to your website and load them with the app theme, which is going to take more time. Than if you were to have the more tailored API driven at pages pulling the data directly from the API.

So that would also, you know, come into play. But really, I would say it comes down to hosting. But you are right. You know, app presser does create this kind of you know, middle go-between. Even though we’re pulling, but that’s really to set up to build the app. Once the app is compiled and everything, it’s going to just load you know, your website data directly. So we’re not really pulling anything from the compiled app, from app presser. App presser is just use to build your app and to compile it for you push it up to the app stores for you. That being said, though when we do have clients more high-end clients you know, a lot of, a lot of people that use app presser out of the box, you know, $600 a year, that’s nothing for an app that they could use to tie into their data for what they want.

Some people think it’s too expensive. But really, it really does save a lot of time and money doing it that way. But in some cases where we have enterprise level clients or just clients that want something very tailored and wants something custom, like I’ve mentioned before at first will bypass using our, our platform altogether and just build a custom tailored app specific to the client’s requirements. And then in most cases using the WordPress API directly or maybe we’re integrating with some other API from another system or something like that.

Jonathon: I’m going to let Steven have the last question before we wrap up the podcast part of the show. Over to you Steven.

Steven: What do you see like in the app world right now? Do you feel like more and more people are trying to move to building apps? I feel like there was a point in time where it was like, I have a website, I need an app. Or are people more pushing into like a very highly customized sort of, like, I only need an app if I have like a social networking type site. Or if I have like the social engagement component like utilizing buddy presses. Are you seeing people just doing more general apps are very more special?

Brian: A little bit of both. And I would say a lot of our customers are WordPress development agencies that push app presser to their clients because it’s easy upsell. Like as soon as they’re done building a website, now you need an app. What better way to get your content in front of everybody’s eyeballs with push notifications? That’s key right there. So there are a lot of people developers and people that are building cool, WordPress websites and custom functionality that use app presser at that capacity.

Then there’s people that want businesses that have their own website. And somebody’s got the word down from higher ups, like, hey, you know, great job on the website guys. Now we need an iOS app and an Android app. And that’s when people find us too. But then sometimes they have quite valid questions. Like we were just asking about speed and scalability and stuff like that. And that’s when we kind of depending on the client’s needs, we may think putting them on app presser is fine. They’ll do great there. But then after some consulting we’ll decide like, hey, let’s do more of a custom app for them.

I got away from the question a little bit, you could tell, I could, I can go on with this stuff about this in my life.

Jonathon: Your expertise is much appreciated. We’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show. Brian’s agreed to stay on. He’s a busy guy and he’s got personal commitments as well, but he’s agreed to stay on for our bonus content. And you can watch the whole interview and the bonus content on the WP Tonic YouTube channel. We’ve having a lot of new people subscribe to the channel, please go there. So you’d be able to watch the whole interview plus the bonus content on our YouTube. So Brian, what’s the best way for people to find out more about app presser and especially what you’re up to personally?

Brian: At presser.com or my personal email is [email protected] That is the best way to get it in contact with me or just through social media, Facebook, Twitter.

Jonathon: And what’s the kind of training, the free training resources like on app presser because do you have a lot of training videos and just information, resources?

Brian: Yeah, so we have a DocStar app presser. You can go to look at all of our documentation about the entire framework itself, the builder plugins all of that.

Jonathon: It’s extensive.

Brian: We have a YouTube channel that has all our videos and stuff, and then we have a support team. So active subscribers get access to our support, email based support tickets, and our guys will jump in there and whatever they need for their app.

Jonathon: That’s great. So Steven, what’s the best way for people to find out more about you and what you’re up?

Steven: Go to zipfish.io and run a speed test and see how much faster we can make your website.

Jonathon: That’s great. We like to say we’ll be back out before it goes. I want to say that we’re going to be doing another webinar in December on the second Friday. So that will be December Friday, the 11th at 10:30 Pacific standard time. It’s going to be me and Spencer again. We’re going to be delving even deeper into marketing atomization and building effective landing pages funnels. The whole works, utilizing totally WordPress. So it is going to be a fantastic webinar. Go over to the WP tonic website. You’ll see in the top navigation, a button that says webinar, click it, sign up, and it’s just going to be a great resource for you. And also when you’re talking to clients or you’re interested in doing something around marketing atomization, but you want to use WordPress. We’ll be back next week with another great guest like Brian, we’ll see soon

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