CEO Calvin Carter on What Drove Bottle Rocket’s Success
Six years ago, Calvin Carter founded Bottle Rocket, an Addison-based full-service mobile agency that creates custom apps. Carter took a great risk starting his company – a risk that paid off.
Carter started Bottle Rocket the day after Steve Jobs opened the iPhone platform to third-party developers March 6, 2008. Carter started the company out of his house, driving to Office Depot for graph paper and pencils to teach himself how to design apps.
“I was in bed at two o’clock in the morning, and my wife, Kelly, pregnant with our two girls, is lying next to me, and I’m watching one of Steve Jobs keynotes – one of his famous keynotes – and in this keynote he said, ‘I’m opening the iPhone to third-party developers.’”
Carter recalled that previously, the only apps on the iPhone were of course made by Apple, and the only way to produce software for the iPhone was to build a website and then for the user to use Safari to surf that site, and that’s not really software.
“So when [Jobs] opened the platform, I didn’t necessarily know where it was going to go,” Carter said. “The app store was not even out yet. The only thing we knew about the app store was the logo, so for me it was just the promise and the opportunity that this was going to transform the way we communicate with each other, share information with each other, and how we get entertainment, how we get news and information. I saw this as a transformation.”
Carter said he wasn’t even sure where to start. But decided to just start creating and see what worked and what didn’t.
“I just said I was going to take the first step, and the first step was build a team, start to create products, and see what works and what doesn’t, and then iterate from what I learned,” Carter said. “So, within the first half year of the company we had about nine apps in the app store. Most of them were colossal failures financially. They did not make money, but they were successes in so much as they allowed me and the people I gathered to exercise our muscle and start to build credibility. We built a knowledge base and experience in an industry that had no experience.”
Carter said by the end of 2008 Bottle Rocket was the most experienced app developer because they got in there and started trying things.
“I was attracted by a transformational opportunity,” Carter said. “I was attracted by the unknown and the ability to put our own fingerprint into some very wet clay.”
After teaching himself how to design apps, Carter started building his team. He found the first few people through Craigslist simply because there was not other way to put an advertisement out for app developers. Together they have built a successful company with a prestigious client base.
Late last year, the company was acquired by WPP, consisting of the world’s largest network of agencies with more than 150,000 employees spread over 120 countries, but Bottle Rocket still maintains their headquarters here in Addison.
“We do specialize in building the highest quality mobile solutions for the world’s most discriminating brands, and we also provide a very full service offering,” Carter said. “We are not a development shop, and we’re not a creative agency. We’re a highly specialized multi-disciplinary group that covers strategy, creative, engineering, quality assurance, project management, account management, analytics, ongoing maintenance and support, and everything else needed between those major bricks – all the mortar needed to hold that together – to essentially create, design and maintain over time a large-brand, mobile-user experience which is essentially their brand experience.”
Many people say that the key to success is a combination of hard work and luck, but Carter disagrees.
“I think the word ‘luck’ implies absolute randomness. Randomness does happen I guess, but it doesn’t happen consistently,” Carter said. “You don’t build businesses on luck. You could say it was the right time, right place because we were in the right time, right place, but you could also argue that every human was in the right time, right place when the app store was announced. A very small number of people took action on it. I don’t think luck had anything to do with the success of Bottle Rocket or the creation of Bottle Rocket. It was more about the willingness to take a risk, and the willingness to fail at something to get to success. Before you succeed, you have to fail, and before you fail, you have to try.”
The key, according to Carter, is identifying what makes you happy, make that the most important thing in your life, and never give up on it.
“There are two things that I always think about,” Carter said. “One is a great quote that says, ‘The most important thing is to keep the most important thing the most important thing.’ If you figure out the thing and you keep it the most important thing, you will be very successful and very happy because you are living out your gift… that ties into the next thing which is never give up and never give in. This is not a decision, it’s a choice. When you stop making decisions and you start making choices in life, you choose to do the thing you love, you choose to do it every day, and you choose to never give up.”
Carter has built a successful company on a foundation of hard work and innovation. Since 2008, he and his team at Bottle Rocket have completed more than 150 iOS and Android apps. Bottle Rocket’s apps have won a number of Apple Hall of Fame awards and frequently appear at the top of their categories on the App Store. For more information, visit their website.