Photos by Lisa Beth Anderson, courtesy of Principal.
From their small corner office with sweeping views of downtown Long Beach, Jeff Algera and his two colleagues seem to have the world at their feet.
Algera and his employees, Connie and Q, are the team behind Principal, a company that specializes in what Algera terms "product development."
Crouched around computers on the eighth floor of the Pacific Tower in the Work Evolution Laboratories (WE Labs) office space, the three spend all day conceptualizing, implementing and marketing new mobile apps introduced by some of Silicon Valley and L.A.’s savviest entrepreneurs.
“Principal specializes in delivering high-quality products for funded startups and established corporations,” states the Principal Facebook page. “We create flagship products. Backed by peer-reviewed, highly-tested and easy-to-maintain code, we create from Downtown Long Beach.”
The company was officially established in March of this year, after Algera found enough work contracting out to other companies to hire two full-time employees. Their clientele is built off of Algera’s contacts in the app world, people with whom Algera has collaborated to build or rebuild applications.
“The projects that I’ve worked on have either been for new products or large corporations that need their main product redone,” said Algera. “That’s what this business is gravitating towards, based on the business we have.”
Algera is quick to note that their work revolves around “product development,” not “app development,” because they are building off of their clients’ ideas. The “app,” in a sense, is the company, according to Algera. The actual creation, coding and implementation of the app is the product development.
One of Principal’s most notable and largest clients is a company called peerspace, what Algera deems as the company’s prototypical Silicon Valley client. According to Algera, the company is based in San Francisco but has expanded to New York City and Los Angeles.
“They are the ‘airbnb for office space,’” said Algera. “So you can [rent] office space that you have vacant. Which would be fantastic for Long Beach. They do a couple spots here in Long Beach, but for any vacant space you have, you rent it by the hour. And you do everything in the app.”
Principal gained the client through Alegera’s contract work, when they sought him out to build an app that would garner Series A Funding, an important step in procuring capital to create the product.
“They had an app developed and I initially was brought on to do fixes on that app, and then once we had the company we just rewrote the whole thing, and they were able to use that app to get their Series A funding, which they reported at $5 million,” said Algera.
Beyond peerspace, Principal has been working with PBS in doing “refresh” on their iPhone and iPad mobile app, with the updated product’s release slated for early February. But besides that, there are numerous other projects centered on creating “minimum viable products,” which are essentially rudimentary versions of a conceptualized application, imagined by a client, and built to raise funding and consider their viability as a full-on application in the marketspace.
It’s a lot of tech business for a 35-year-old from New Jersey who describes himself as starting out as a “punk kid” in the software business, first beginning his experience in software while working for a friend's father's company, MicroFirst, when he was still in high school. He continued to dabble in software on the side, continuing to work on Microfirst projects from his dorm room in Michigan.
Algera has called Long Beach home for just four years. Before that, he attended college in Michigan for music, going on to graduate school at City University of New York for the same focus.
Image courtesy of Principal's Facebook page.
While Algera always had one foot in the software and computer industry, music was his focus for many years. After graduating with his master’s degree and training with Pulitzer-winner David L. Tredici, Algera collaborated with friends on a concert series in New York, a period of time Algera called “another life.”
“We would write music, find performers (young classical performers), 25-30, have them write music, then we’d get together,” Algera reminisced. “We were in the New York Times once. It was cool.”
However, after some time not making much money, Algera said he made a “hard switch” back to software and computers.
“Growing up, we didn’t have a ton of money,” said Algera. “We had to run electricity from our neighbor’s house at one point. So, I didn’t want to run into that same position/predicament. [...] After one of these concerts we had in Manhattan, it was like, ok, we had made a pretty good showing, but I just chose to focus on software and computers.”
And focus he did. Before settling in Long Beach, Algera sold his family home in New Jersey and bought a van, traveling the U.S. with his wife, before settling in Southern California. They stopped by Santa Monica first and didn’t like it, so they tried Long Beach.
“It had that same urban feel,” said Algera. “We needed an apartment that day, and 6th and Pine had apartments that day.” So in Long Beach they stayed. And Algera’s contract work with tech companies began to take off.
Photo by Keeley Smith.
Today, Algera lives in North Long Beach with his wife and kids, and can’t imagine his business or his home being anywhere else.
The focus right now is mostly on Principal’s clients, but one day in the future, Algera said he hopes Principal can “roll” their own product.
“Ideally, we would be reliant on our own product,” Algera said. “The way that process works is in our free time, our down time, we begin work on a project and put it out there to test it and see if it sticks. Once something sticks, you put everything online.”
So far Algera said none of their products have been “sticky” enough for the company to stop taking client work, but they’ll continue the process in new and different iterations.
In terms of what seems to work for successful apps, Algera said an idea alone is not enough, as most companies that try to develop apps don’t make money.
“A lot of companies have ideas about apps,” said Algera. “But the idea isn’t really as important as the execution and development, and the execution and marketing and distribution. Once you figure those two latter pieces out, then you have something. But just an idea alone isn’t enough to make a successful business.”
So Principal will continue to churn out new apps from their perch at WE Labs, especially focused on their execution and marketing. And the rest of Long Beach will be watching, as one of the city’s few tech startups continues to grow.
Principal will be hosting an event tonight at Critiqueit, Inc. (235 East Broadway, Suite 506, Long Beach, CA), at 7:00PM for those interested in learning more about the company and app development in general. For additional information, check out Principal’s website, here.