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From rural Alaska to app development, Dillingham grad wins business award

Hannah HeimbuchThe Arctic Sounder
Courtesy photo

Even in 8th grade, Rob Carpenter was trying on the title of business owner for size. A 2003 graduate of Dillingham High School, Carpenter started his first business almost 15 years ago, before he could drive. “(We) spent free days mowing peoples lawns and buying model cars with it,” Carpenter said.

Now a graduate student and co-founder of Appit Ventures in Denver, Carpenter has moved from model car acquisitions to international app development. Appit Ventures, which Carpenter runs with business partner Jeff Macko, creates apps for the iPad and other devices. They have gotten recognition recently in Denver, winning a highly competitive award from the university for the best business plan -- out of 50 submissions from students and alumni who have started businesses.

His family said they aren’t surprised that the creativity and hard work they saw in his youth has led him to his present-day remembers several projects Carpenter took on as a kid that taught him skills he utilizes now. “His dad helped him rebuild a truck that he drove as a teenager,” she said. “He learned patience by working on something, making money for parts, then (waiting) for parts to arrive.”

Appit Ventures has also been featured in the Denver Business Journal and local television news, as an up-and-coming new business. In the words of their website’s homepage, “We develop affordable apps that are easy to use, beautifully designed and just work.”

Their first app -- Business Plan Lite -- helps entrepreneurial users develop a neatly packaged business plan. It sold more than 3,000 copies from the time it launched in November to when it was shut down recently to make way for a newer version.

This product and others like it represent phase one of Appit Ventures, Carpenter said, the part where they develop and sell their own apps. They utilize overseas developers and their own business and marketing savvy to create apps at less than half the cost of domestic developers. Other recent apps include those that help with product branding, Internet marketing and PR development.

In many ways, Appit Ventures’ products help others do exactly what Carpenter and Macko have already done -- start their own businesses and give them wings in the modern world. Phase two branches further into this concept, with the development of apps for individual clients. These are typically regular people that have stumbled upon a good idea for an app, Carpenter said. Appit Ventures helps make it a reality, but the clients own the rights to the final product.

“We can help people with marketing,” Carpenter said. “Right now the app industry is so new that people kind of create an app and sort of throw it against the wall and hope it sticks.”

With their research and tracking of demographics, sales and clicks, they are hoping they can create a better “stick,” for their clients’ apps and their own. “We’re kind of trying to bring the business side of websites of the last two years to apps,” Carpenter said. Their client ventures include a woman who contracted their assistance with a hypnotherapy app, and a man who wanted to develop a guitar tutorial app.

Phase three takes those endeavors one step further, where the company actually invests in the app ideas certain clients bring them. For instance, a contractor in New Jersey wanted to develop an app that helps contractors bid quickly and accurately on construction jobs. Appit Ventures, seeing the potential in a good idea, will help the client fund app development, and become a part of the app’s financial future.

Right now, getting all these things off the ground and maintaining momentum takes a major time, energy and financial commitment from both partners, Carpenter said, but one that is proving to be worth it.“I think the future is really bright,” he said.  Excellent feedback from app users and clients, as well as recognition from the business community, has them optimistic. “After putting in 80 hour weeks for six months it was nice,” he said.

Carpenter can point to many moments in his life that have in some way led him to where he is now. His degree in entrepreneurship as an undergrad, time spent in the real estate industry learning to flip houses, and something as simple as learning what a good business looks like in his first jobs in Dillingham.

“I was a bagger at AC. I made coffee at Bristol (Express). I worked for Fish and Game for two summers. I worked cool jobs around town,” Carpenter said. “(Chris Napoli) was my boss at Bristol Express. He was a really good role model of how you can run a good company.”

He also created his own ad company during college, selling ad spaces in the early hours before class. He said nothing can replace the real thing when it comes to business experience.

“When you’re in class and you talk about accounts receivable, it’s kind of nebulous,” Carpenter said. “But when it’s people that owe you money, it’s a very real thing.” Carpenter admitted there were times growing up in Dillingham that he felt stuck, and wondered if he was capable of doing great things with his life.

“What I learned was that the work ethic, skills and opportunities that I developed growing up in the region have played a big part in getting me where I am,” Carpenter said. “These included unique opportunities like the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Summit, a future leaders conference put on by then Sen. Frank Murkowski, and D.C. Close Up my junior year of high school. Not to mention college scholarship opportunities offered by local businesses, BBEDC and the state of Alaska.”

His mom echoed that sentiment, believing a rural background gave her son a strong and reliable foundation.

“He was frustrated growing up in a remote area,” Gina Carpenter said. “The lack of access to so many things. But it gave him perspective. He appreciates everything more because of it I think. We had a lot of family traditions that he enjoyed and being away from home has made him appreciate just what he did have here in Dillingham. Family, friends, safety and support and guidance from a lot of people in the community.”

Rob Carpenter added that all other benefits aside, having grown up in rural Alaska is always a good conversation starter. Carpenter is a believer in the try, try again method, he said, and recommends any young person that has ideas and drive should push themselves to get out there.

“Anything is possible. You just have to try and it’s okay to fail,” Carpenter said. “I’ve learned more from my failures than I ever did my successes. It always makes my next venture that much stronger and remove one more barrier to taking a chance on that next great idea.”

Carpenter maintains strong ties to Dillingham, returning several times a year to spend time with his parents, sister and friends in Southwest Alaska.

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder. Hannah Heimbuch can be reached at hheimbuch@reportalaska.com.