Digital Careers TasICT Conference: Matt Dobson, Savage Interactive transcript

Matt Dobson

Who are Savage Interactive?
Savage Interactive and Procreate and everything that we do now started with a small company called Savage Media in 2006, a creative branding agency in Hobart founded by James and Alannah Couta, a young married couple.  So they founded Savage Media as a branding agency working with other company’s doing re-branding’s and brand directions with other companies.

Why was the business started?
The reason they started the business, the raison d’etre, their driving force was always solving human problems, they wanted to go out and find opportunities of things that they could make better solve the things the problems that they had and make better tools and better things to work with for themselves and for other people in the community.  Savage Media was succeeding really strongly but they came to the realisation that it wasn’t what they wanted to do, it wasn’t the solving human problems and the surge of creativity that initially inspired them and so they decided to pivot the company with a small amount of private capital, they closed down Savage Media in 2010 and took two of their core employees Cameron Newton and Lloyd Bottomly across to their new company, Savage Interactive. They closed their office in Hobart and moved into James and Alannah’s spare bedroom and began making software and that was the beginning of Savage Interactive.

What was the initial focus for Savage Interactive?
They initially started focusing on Apple products, on iOS and around that time was when Apple first released the iPad and that simplified their strategy and then decided there immediately going
to solely make software for the iPad which marks the direction of Savage Interactive all the way up until now.  And so this was the transformation of the company they led the development of their first software title with James’ design and the programmers that they’d hired and one of their core employees Lloyd rapidly learned Objective C and in under three weeks they made their first
application which was a simple list management application called Sorted. Sorted was one of the very first third party pieces of software on the iPad, it was released on the opening day of the iPad app store and it immediately did very well. It got sold well. It had a good following, I still occasionally get emails about sorted, even though we don’t make it any more and it allowed them to then move on to what they really wanted to do.

Why are Savage Interactive successful?
I’ve been working for the company for about 2 years now and I’ve learned a huge amount about how they work and how they’ve been able to be a successful company starting from such a small private base in Tasmania and part of that is because they’ve always had a purpose, they’ve always been incredibly driven and had in mind what they wanted to do.

What came next?
Industry standard applications, generally aren’t very good, their not industry standard applications because they work well, their’s often alternatives that are more functional but the applications that have become industry standard, the tools that we all use are often the tools we all use because we all use them now and you have to have the same tools as somebody else as everything is compatible and works together and that wasn’t good enough and James and Alannah wanted to make something better and that was were Procreate came from. Lloyd again single-handedly created a breakthrough painting engine powered by the iPad GPU solely using all of the graphical processing power of the iPad using open GL and the engine was called silica and until this day it’s still widely respected in the industry, so after 18 months of work, really hard work, after changing the company, Procreate was released on the App Store exclusively for iPad.  It quickly established itself overseas in the United States particularly, which still accounts for about 70% of our revenue in the United States market and as the Procreate user base grew they released a flurry of updates with a bunch of new features and rapidly started to change the face of what was out there releasing an illustration application for this new device, the iPad, being able to paint by touch changed the view of what could be done with this device with talents and to this day we have some phenomenal art created in Procreate on iPads by some amazing artists all around the world who use Procreate.

What success & development have Savage experienced?
In 2013, after a couple of years at Procreate the company got a call from Apple, informing us that Procreate was a finalist for an Apple design award and we should probably go to the worldwide developers conference in San Francisco just in case something happened. An Apple Design Award, I’d never heard of what that was before I joined the company had no idea and I came to my interview with James for the job and there was this box kind of like a glorified touch lamp on the coffee table and I didn’t know what was going on but it’s one of the biggest awards in software industry particularly, clearly in the iOS space its reserved for applications which display an outstanding level of design aptitude and innovation only a small handful of companies are awarded them each year and in 2013 James and Lloyd took to the stage to win an Apple award for Procreate which still is a monumental achievement for a small company that is still based in Tasmania and they were alongside huge companies, Yahoo, National Geographic that year winning those awards. Spurred on by that attention we released another major update to Procreate, Procreate 2 and that’s something else that I’ve learned in this job with Savage is its breakneck speed all the time, we’re always working, every time we have a schedule and we’ve released something and things are going really well and we have a bit of downtime, we think ok it’s going to be a bit better now we can relax, I’ve got a plan something changes Apple comes out with a new piece of technology or something changes in the industry and all our plans change and we have to make something new and we never stop working and that’s always really difficult but it’s part of what’s so exciting about
the job is there’s always something to do and there’s always something changing and we’re always making fantastic things, we released Procreate 2, we released Procreate pocket which is a version of Procreate for iPhone specifically designed with the same engine as Procreate but designed to be used on your iPhone, painting on the go, that did very well, awarded an Editor’s choice on the App store and that’s been quite successful for us too and we started this year 2015 by releasing in addition to Procreate Pocket for Apple watch which has also done very well, it was one of the first applications on the Apple watch store and then last month at Apple’s Keynote event in September announcing the iPad Pro that was Procreate featured on stage and discussed on stage by Phil Schiller, we’re the only third-party app featured in the promotional video for Apple Pencil and we work out of a house on Old Beach. We’re about to release Procreate 3, which is our biggest update ever, its tailored specifically for iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, it’s got over a hundred new features and refinements, we know, we counted.

Who works at Savage Interactive?
One of the really interesting things about Savage is that we are really diverse company we have six full-time employees now and we all come from incredibly different backgrounds and experiences. James who was a freelance illustrator he never finished high school he’s done a dozen different things around art and business and now has co-founded Savage Interactive. His wife, Alannah did finish school and had a lot of experience in retail management which has really helped her to run the business she really does, mostly I think, she runs the business without her there wouldn’t be any more. We have Lloyd who’s a core programmer he built Procreate, yet he was entirely home schooled, self taught programming he’s done a hundred different things, he was a mechanic at one point when James first met him he was painting windows.  We have Dave who did Computing in University, he’s a successful game developer he’s worked with half a dozen different ICT companies around Tasmania. There’s me I did one semester of University ten years ago, I worked in a supermarket and call centre until I started working at Savage, and then we have Claire who has a PhD in robotics and is an accomplished screenwriter, so we are an incredibly diverse company and one of the things that brings us all together is that, we were discussing this the other
day in the office is our work at Savage is the hardest work that anyone of us has ever done and that’s part of what makes us so successful I think, it makes it so difficult but the reason we’re all
there is not because it’s the hardest work we’ve ever done but it’s also the most rewarding and being able to make successful things in this industry and be able to make a difference in the industry and in the community and to be able to do it all from Tasmania is the reason we’re still here and the reason we’re still doing it.

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