How Halcyon Innovation founder Bryan Lemster, a designer of mobile apps, found his footing in the booming Westside tech sector
To meet Silicon Beach luminary Bryan Lemster, founder and CEO of mobile application builders Halcyon Innovation, I head to the third floor of a building in the ultra-contemporary Playa Jefferson campus, where glass and steel facades facing open-air courtyards shoulder ginormous colorful letters straight out of “Sesame Street.”
In the floor’s vast central area, Maile Gilleres oversees young professionals in upbeat conversation amid a bright, optic yellow paint job, with a jar of Lego pieces in lieu of candies on the waiting room table, a fully stocked kitchenette and signs designating areas where people can “eat,” “chill,” or study (“Shhh”).
A coaching manager with the global office space firm Regus, Gilleres interacts with about 100 entrepreneurs, including Lemster, who lease workspace across the street from the rising $260-million Runway at Playa Vista retail and residential complex.
The place feels fresh and young, and the dorm-like atmosphere of the floor’s common area comes equipped with all of the perks — but none of the stuffiness — of corporate America.
Welcome to the new way of doing business.
This is just one of the offices where Lemster, whose team of app makers telecommutes, operates his boutique development company. Another is Cross Campus, where President Barack Obama delivered a speech to young entrepreneurs in October, and the third is his Westchester home.
Halcyon has developed dozens of apps, either for hire or as entrepreneurial partnerships such as the game-style personal health goal manager App of Life and the location-based social app Vibe.
As Lemster prepared for this weekend’s Consumer Electronics Show and AppNation showcase in Las Vegas, the 34-year-old family man spoke about the growth of the Westside tech sector and what’s on he horizon for 2015.
— Michael Aushenker
How did the iPhone change your professional direction?
After two years in enterprise software development in Long Island, I started working more in consulting. In 2005, I thought to myself that maybe it’s time to do something else. So I formed Halcyon Innovations and started my own consulting and e-commerce firm and became introduced to resources internationally and locally, built social networks. In 2008, the iPhone came out and I immediately knew that was going to be it. It was competitive, but we were one of the first to market apps for it.
Is the iPhone still king?
In my opinion, iOS [Apple’s mobile operating system] is still the leading platform for mobile app developers.
How has the app industry changed since 2008?
There was this phase of gimmicky apps, utility apps: the clown nose camera, calculator apps. Then it evolved with messaging, chat, photo- and video-sharing. Facebook started making an app presence. We have built a number of apps with social media features as a base component.
We either get paid to create an app or we have a minority equity stake in it. We’ll take an idea, vet it and see if it’s worthwhile for us. Among the apps we’ve created is App of Life, in which you get points for things you do in everyday life: going on a run, being of [philanthropic] service. We also created Happenstance, a goal-setting app. Say I want to learn to play the guitar, it goes about the steps to achieve this goal. We worked on Roomster, a roommate finder; Vocab Network, an educational communication portal that helps people learn the English language, the pop culture; and Vibe, a location-based social app that aggregates content from Twitter and Instagram and also allows users to post ‘vibes’ about relevant occurrences in their lives.
The philanthropic angle is something I want to gear more toward, using technology to solve real-world problems. What I like about [creating apps] the most is someone comes to us with some ideas just in their mind and we really actualize that. That’s really a gift to be able to execute that.
You moved from New York to Marina del Rey in 2009 and then bought a house for you and your family in Westchester in 2012. So Silicon Beach kind of began booming all around you, right?
It sort of did. My wife went to school here and I went to school here. We lived in New York and we wanted to live somewhere related to our business and for family life, the cost of living was reasonable, there’s a lot of space to own a house and property here. So we came out here. Then Google came in 2011.
What has happened in Silicon Beach is that you have a market dynamic where tech people tend to make good money and they can choose where they want to live. So of course you have Venice and Santa Monica by the beach. If you look at Southern California’s history, it’s what it’s always been. Hughes has been here, the aerospace industry, SpaceX is here [in Hawthorne]. All the transportation tech. I have an electric bike that I ride in L.A. and the store [IZIP] is in Santa Monica. They’re here because they know people here will see the value of that product and embrace that innovation.
What is it like to be working in the heart of the Westside’s tech boom?
It’s awesome. I always feel that I am part of a community. It’s not so insane like Silicon Valley yet [where cost of living and tensions between locals and techies have sky-rocketed]. I’ll go to an event like TechWeek [a two-day conference at Santa Monica Pier in November] and I’ll see people I know. It’s not over the top. That’s what people like about it. In Westchester we have a community that is a new development. Across the street, Playa Vista is booming. In my market, the supply will meet the demand, so it’s fine right now because it’s not an overwhelming thing yet. Now, who knows what will happen in five years from now…
What do you see on the horizon this year?
Crypto currency is a tremendous market opportunity. That’ll be a game changer. One of the things we are looking to do is infrastructures for crypto currency transactions. Bitcoin currently has a $5-billion market cap. Right now, Overstock.com and Expedia.com accept Bitcoin. It could be where the Internet was in, like, 1994.
Another thing on the horizon is apps for wearables, like Google Glass and the Apple Watch.
Along with everything that has come with tech, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen is the sharing economy, which offers a tremendous value in entrepreneurship and great potential where people will work when they want to work, as much as they want to work and make what they want to make. It’s creating a whole new economy that’s potentially more efficient. You use the resources necessary at the time. What has happened with Uber and the sharing economy, I’ve been doing that for years. It does require self-discipline, but it’s cool, man.