What if AI could build a custom small business app… in just 30 minutes? – USC Viterbi

Apsy Founder and CEO Tooraj Helmi (Photo/Courtesy of Tooraj Helmi)

Alexis Messina came up with an idea for a social media platform where beauty enthusiasts could share ideas, rate cosmetics, and shop for skincare, makeup, and haircare products. The aspiring entrepreneur envisioned an online community that would “foster organic relationships built on trust, an intersection of Yelp and Instagram.”

Messina, a 23-year-old senior at USC Marshall School of Business, wanted to find someone who could build her a complex web application quickly, inexpensively, and most importantly, professionally. Last year, the founder and CEO of Chime Beauty placed an ad on a Marshall entrepreneurial website looking for an app developer who could turn her vision into a reality. With work like this costing up to $60,000, she said, Messina was hoping for the best.

Luckily for her, Tooraj Helmi, MS EE ’03, replied.

Helmi’s start-up, Apsy, uses artificial intelligence to create custom apps at a fraction of the cost developed by similar companies. Apsy also promises to do so faster and with more features, not least due to Helmi’s technological know-how, which he continues to refine and deepen as a PhD student under the supervision of Professor Nenad Medvidović.

As an expression of Apsy’s potential, the startup was named a finalist in the 2020 Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition, or MEPC, the premier business model competition for USC Viterbi.

Helmi met with Messina several times to discuss the design and features she wanted for Chime Beauty. Then he and his team, including Vice President of Sales Alex Kwamin and Vice President of Experience Paulina Vargas, did the work. After six months, they had created a web-based social media platform that allows users to post product reviews, follow and message each other, and receive recommendations based on personalized preferences.

“You did a great job. I’m so excited and proud of the product they helped me create,” said Messina, who reported that Apsy will soon be developing a mobile app for her company. “It had the exact design and features I wanted, and it was only $5,000. I highly recommend Apsy.”

Apsy uses artificial intelligence to create custom apps at a fraction of the cost of similar companies (Illustration/Chris Kim)

Apsy uses artificial intelligence to create custom apps at a fraction of the cost of similar companies (Illustration/Chris Kim)

Focused on startups and small businesses

Apsy targets startups and small businesses with limited app budgets, typically between $3,000 and $15,000, Helmi said. Such companies often have a hard time finding reputable developers who could create a quality app at these prices.

Paul Orlando, director of the USC Marshall Greif Incubator and associate professor at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, said Apsy’s business strategy makes sense.

“There are a growing number of small businesses that need an app but don’t have the resources for an in-house app development team or the resources to hire externally. Apsy solves that,” said Orlando, who mentored Apsy at the USC Incubator. “As a result, businesses can focus on what they do best while reaping the benefits of a low-cost native app sooner and more cheaply than otherwise.”

Apsy recently developed a web-based app for Volynt, a company that uses AI to turn smartphones into at-home biometric screening tools to encourage health awareness, testing and doctor visits. Volynt co-founder Hazel Mann, a USC Marshall graduate, said she paid less than $10,000 for the complex enterprise app. In contrast, another company said the work would cost at least $100,000 and take at least 10 months — seven more than Apsy.

Given that developing an app is the biggest expense for most startups, new businesses could benefit greatly from working with Apsy, Mann said.

“This could emancipate so many ventures and allow them to become a reality when otherwise they were just an idea,” she said.

How Apsy works

At the beginning of the process, customers meet with Apsy designers to develop the look and functionality of the desired app. Customers choose a generic theme from a template library and customize the UI to their specifications. Using Vision AI, an algorithm quickly creates code to create the app’s look and feel.

To develop the functionality of the app, e.g. For example, the ability to stream video or make a purchase, a designer sends a description of the desired features to an algorithm that relies on natural language processing and AI to work its magic. A deep learning model extracts keywords and turns them into code, “based on a library of thousands of application programming interfaces, which is basically part of the backend we built,” Helmi explained. “Some examples of API capabilities include the ability to allow app users to create a comment, send a message to another user, or place an order.”

Apsy has filed a provisional patent for the overall process and methodology. Helmi said he hopes to automate the company’s entire app creation process by 2023, up from about 60% today.

Apsy is already profitable, reports Helmi. The company currently has 10 customers worldwide and reported sales of nearly $200,000 in 2021. Helmi is ambitious about the future and predicts that within the next five years, Apsy could capture more than two-thirds of the global app market for startups and small businesses. He hopes to open Apsy stores in college towns and other areas with a high concentration of startups. As planned, customers could have developed a prototype in 30 minutes.

To get there, Apsy plans to raise $1 million and spend much of that on advertising and brand building.

“Our competitive advantage is a set of patented tools that use complex AI and automated algorithms to generate code,” he said. “Building such a platform requires advanced knowledge of NLP, visual AI and advanced algorithms, which we have, along with the ability to offer one [better] App at a lower price.”

Released June 1, 2022

Last updated on June 1, 2022

Comments are closed.