The History of Surf
Surf — the beginning
The idea of creating a mobile development company of their own came to three friends, Vladimir Makeev and his two classmates, while they were still students. They had already collaborated on a project before: in 2009, they took part in an open competition and each won a scholarship.
It did not take long to come up with the name SurfStudio (later on — Surf). Their legal entity needed a name that sticks and has a ring to it. Since all three of the friends were into windsurfing, the idea passed by a solid vote.
Having had some experience developing Java-based mobile apps for keypad phones, in 2011, the founders made the decision to get Android development under their belt. At the time, Android OS was already gaining ground on Symbian and iOS in terms of market share. Further along, this strategic decision steered the company in the right direction. What makes Surf stand out is their passion for all things new and their ability to recognize and harness technological possibilities.
Back then, Surf had no office: the newborn company was headquartered just next door to Vladimir’s parents. In fact, it was given a floor in their own house.
One of their first orders was a mobile app for a personal budgeting service. Since the company did not yet have a client base, the first mobile app was built in exchange for a cut of its profits.
In search of their next projects, the guys turned to a freelancing platform, Upwork. As early as the summer of 2011, they already got a new project as a second-tier subcontract. The aim was to design an Android app for The Home Depot, the world’s leading home improvement retailer (in 2011 the company had 2,248 stores and a total of over 300,000 employees).
Meanwhile, the company was working on another project: an app for netmonet targeting the US market. Back then, it was already extensively using QR codes for things like tipping a waiter.
In 2012, we built an augmented reality project for a French company. We wrote a trigonometry-heavy engine that visualized what was positioned at a particular spot using a phone camera. Based on this code, we decided to launch our own project, Park Me Right, an app that helps to remember where you parked your car. We budgeted about $ 3,000 for development and $200 for marketing (made a video clip). As a result, the app was downloaded over 100,000 times and got on the US news.
In addition, in 2012 we had another project that really boosted our progress. It was the custom firmware we built for Malaysian Android phones. We created a wrapper, built-in software, and a messenger integrated into this ecosystem. It was a massive project; we even went on business trips to Malaysia a few times.
Decent education is essential
Despite the fact that the number of projects continued to grow, Surf maintained a tight relationship with its alma mater. The founders have offered jobs to a few of their classmates. As soon as he finished his fifth year in September 2011, Vladimir began teaching at his university. All the brightest grads were offered positions at the company.
Formal education became one of our team’s top values. In fact, we are still partnering with the university, launching our courses and summer boot camps, and sponsoring hackathons. In 2019, we launched an iOS/Android lab at our hometown university to teach developers.
Ever since 2011, Surf has taught iOS and Android development, project management, QA, and business analysis to over 1,000 students.
Transitioning to a full service company
In 2013, we began expanding our business to include all aspects of product delivery apart from Android development. Gradually, we established design, iOS development, testing, and project management departments. Newcomers made our teams stronger by bringing their expertise. For instance, our Art Director, Dmitry Sidorov, provided substantial product expertise and numerous product practices, such as CJM and custdev. Today, no serious project can be done without these steps.
In 2013, we developed our work philosophy: we don’t just do projects — we partner with our clients. We have always taken pride in what we do. We have always shown a profound understanding of our clients’ businesses and goals. And sometimes even helped frame them. We filled our portfolio with projects that had long-term prospects. After all, if our clients are successful, our reputation grows with them.
We go through the entire cycle of app development ourselves, from concept to development to support. Few businesses do everything themselves. We, on the other hand, have put together an entire outsourcing center of excellence. We provide education and always firmly focus on the kind of people we hire. In particular, how skillful they are as engineers and whether or not they share our values. This is the rule we have been following ever since the beginning.
New ambitious projects
Thanks to great engineering education and a product approach, we have built ambitious projects for millions of users.
Mobile app for one of the largest online food delivery aggregators. In 2012, our Client had over 250,000 active users, with 70,000 daily users visiting their website. We made the first move and reached out to them, offering our services. We could tell that the project had a lot of potential, and we knew exactly what app could help it grow. To talk the company into collaborating with us, we designed three screens and built a prototype on Android before the project was even launched. The client loved it so much that it was used as the basis for the initial version of their aggregator app. In 2014, it became one of the top 10 Android apps worldwide.
Further down the road, we continued investing in our growth.
- Built a solution for Sensorly, a French startup providing real-world mobile coverage.
- Partnered with Mars (a collaboration that lasts until this day).
- Made a design concept for Forbes: a mobile app for iPhones and iPads.
- Developed an app for a supermarket delivery service.
- Partnered with worldwide pizza franchise, creating an app design and turning mobile into their primary sales channel. Soon after the app was released, it accounted for 40% of all online orders, becoming the key sales channel soon after.
- In 2016, we collaborated with two retail and e-commerce market leaders.
For the first large retailer, we created a native app that allowed users to browse the available offers and make shopping lists. Gradually, it gained more features, such as statistics, feedback, and a loyalty program with over 9 million monthly active users (MAU).
The project for the second one became a genuine innovation launchpad since we packed the app with so many innovative features. To name a few, we were among the first developers in the world to build an Instant App, we added a neural network so that users could scan a cover and find the book online, and we integrated the app with Apple and Google Pay. This app was showcased as an early adopter of these technologies at Google IO. In 2016 and 2017, the app won a number of awards in various nominations.
What sets Surf apart is passion for all things new
We incorporate new solutions or technologies into our client’s app as soon as they become available. Over the course of our 12 years on the job, we have developed a tight relationship with Apple and Google.
Partnering with Google
We owe our active partnership with Google to their DevRel manager. She always kept in touch with developers and shared the news of early access to technologies.
Aside from that, Google had the Google Developers Agency, a program set up to help agencies build better apps. As part of the program, developers were given early access to technologies, invited to tech conferences, had their design reviewed in accordance with Material Design, and were given the latest know-how. We actively took part in this program, flying to California for the Google I/O conferences to learn firsthand about the latest releases.
Up to this day, we work in close partnership. We often speak at Google events and co-host DevFests. In 2017, Surf entered the top 18 agencies worldwide granted the Google Certified Agency status. That gave us access to the new Google technologies two to three months before they are officially released.
According to the Google conference in 2017, artificial intelligence became the trending technology for the near future. Our team immediately delved into the topic. That very year we built a team of experts in Machine Learning and artificial intelligence. We implemented over 20 ML cases. In 2017, Surf won a Machine Learning championship with a product we built for one of the major retailers. We were able to forecast whether or not a consumer would make a purchase based on their behavior.
We dedicated 3 years to Machine Learning but our experience showed that it is far more productive to gather and validate data for such projects in-house. As a result, we had to close down the department.
Partnering with Apple
Each year, Apple presents its recent technologies at the WWDC conference. Our task is to incorporate these into our current projects by September. If we succeed, the apps receive positive feedback from Apple and are promoted by the company. Naturally, we always try to take advantage of that for our clients.
Crypto projects, banks, and more
The year 2018 marked the beginning of a new era of crypto projects at Surf. We built Twim, a cryptocurrency trading app. To get an understanding of the industry’s unique features and the needs that different types of users might have, we analyzed around 10 stock exchanges and tried trading. In the meantime, we also built an app for MDK, a project that has now evolved into a cryptosocial network called Main.
In 2018, we entered into a far reaching partnership with KFC. First off, we provided them with a concept of a client app. To get a better understanding of all the specific in-house operations, we visited a KFC facility. That was when we discovered that most of the paperwork is still done on paper. Therefore, we suggested addressing another, much more overreaching issue — business automation. As a result, we created a custom ERP system to help KFC go digital and automate their business operations. Today, KFC is planning to roll out the product worldwide, which is over 15 thousand restaurants in 134 countries.
In addition to that, in 2018, we started working with banks.
In 2019, we helped the bank from SBI Group pursue a new market segment: family banking. In 2021, the app won in the “Breakthrough of the Year” category at the “Time for Innovation” awards.
The time between 2019 and 2020 saw a surge in e-commerce projects.
- We created a mobile app for a multibrand chain of stores.
- We also made great progress with a large pet retail chain. Together with the clients’ team, we held a CJM workshop and a series of in-depth interviews, which helped us pinpoint the pains and needs of their customers and build the optimal user flow. Thanks to that, the conversion rate grew from 5 to 15%.
- Furthermore, we created a mobile app for a large chain of beauty stores.
However, the list of our projects goes beyond retail, banking, and fintech products. We strive to try new things and go beyond the usual projects.
As compared to product teams, we have a very progressive stack of technologies at hand. We can write each new application using cutting-edge technologies. Every project we make is unique and different.
One of the challenges in 2020 and 2021 was a project we worked on for a large YouTube publisher, which involved building a video streaming service. That was a challenge for the entire team. We were given an ambitious task: going beyond the capabilities of YouTube and adding interactive mechanics.
In 2021, we successfully launched an AR-powered project. We provided the client, a German company called SAP SE, with an app visualizing the process of building oil wells. It was critical for their clients to visualize the entire process and link construction stages with IT tools.
Flutter — how it started
In 2019, we delved into cross-platform development with Flutter. Two of our Android developers became early adopters of the technology, incorporating it into Surf’s projects. They saw its potential and switched from Android to Flutter development. To start off, we took on a tiny simple project for a local retailer. The framework then proved to be useful in projects that were more complex, and it has since become our top-of-the-line technology.
In 2019, we released one of our game-changing projects: the first Flutter-powered mobile banking app in Europe. It also became the second one worldwide — we released it a bit later than the Brazilian Nubank.
In 2020, we created six apps on a single code base for a large pharmacy chain and its three brands. The cross-platform apps were built with Flutter, saving our client 40% of its budget.
In 2020, we successfully set up an online Flutter course, which then server as a launching pad for new employees. We are still working with Google to contribute useful features to their products and write better code in general.
Today we have a sizable Flutter team and host regular events to discuss the technology.