When Denver’s Tack Mobile got its start in 2011, the three-person company was interested in working on small screens and connected hardware. At the time, that mostly meant phones and tablets.
But with the rise of the Internet of Things, the concept of “connected hardware” has expanded to include thermostats, garage door openers, dishwashers and even coffee makers. For Tack Mobile’s President, John Myers, the company’s dedication to connected devices meant the evolution from smartphones to smart homes was a natural move for the company to take.
“In 2012, we looked like a mobile company,” said Myers. “But now our online presence and community participation are focused on connected devices in general.”
The company started working with IoT clients at the beginning of 2013 — something not many software agencies were doing at the time.
“We were on the forefront, if not even further ahead,” said Faye Wolfe, Tack’s VP of Client Services.
Today, nearly half of the company’s clients have a connected hardware device that isn’t a phone. In the last year or so, the team has worked with Hunter Douglas on automated window coverings, Gaiam on their tvOS app and a California company that builds many of the technical infrastructure for other companies to build products on, like lights, thermostats and irrigation systems, among others that use their hardware.
They’ve worked with local IoT companies, too. For instance, Tack recently partnered with home energy company Tendril. Together, they created a mobile web app that allows consumers to monitor energy usage over time.
Myers said the exciting thing about working with companies that build hardware is that they work in industries the Tack Mobile team doesn’t often know a lot about.
“A lot of our clients are very good at building whatever their product is, and their culture is good for building that — and not so much for building software,” he said. “A lot of times, we are valuable in helping affect some cultural change, and we can also let clients focus on what they do best without having to stand up an internal software development culture that might affect the staff.
Myers said anything than interacts with people’s environments is “really neat,” whether it’s lighting or connected thermostats or window coverings.
“It’s a very human way to interface with what’s around you,” he said. “On a technical side, it’s challenging to work with devices that have limited memory, may not be connect or have limited bandwidth. There are UX challenges in working with screens that might only be a few inches across — the design is about functionality as much as it is about making it intuitive and attractive.”
Working with a range of clients means the Tack team has to be flexible with their process in order to meet their clients where they’re at.
“From our stance, the more client involvement the better,” said Myers. “We provide as much structure as we can without interfering with the client’s process.”
When it comes to building a team, Myers said the company tends to attract people who are interested in connected devices in the first place, including people who come from an electrical engineering or firmware background.
But the entire staff is technical, including the company’s interaction designers — some of whom came from the advertising world doing mobile work.
“Even with their various backgrounds, they’ve at least touched UX in one way or another,” said Wolfe. “The teams are very collaborative, especially since they’re in house. There’s a shared quality that gets infused into the rest of the team.”
Wolfe and Myers said they tend to look for people who are familiar with the company and already know they want to work there and do what they do.
“As an agency, you won’t be stuck on one project for more than six months at a time,” said Myers.
Tack Mobile’s interview process doesn’t rely on quiz-type questions. Instead, they try to get to know their candidates and look for an ability to learn. The most important quality, though, is a passion for the type of work they do — including a passion for connected devices.
Photo via Tack Mobile.