Appetite for success

Appetite for success

A chance meeting at the coffee machine of a co-working space has seen two RMIT alumni join forces to create a multi-million-dollar app development company employing 80 people.

Revisiting the archives can be a rewarding experience when tracking the progress of RMIT alumni.

In 2015, Michael MacRae featured in a story about a couple of young developers who had created a pregnancy app as part of their Bachelor of Information Technology, which had gone on to record half a million downloads.

Four years later, MacRae was in the news again, this time as one of the recently named SmartCompany’s Smart 30 Under 30 – a list of ‘entrepreneurial superstars who are innovative, socially conscious and smart as hell’.

MacRae is now CEO of one of Australia’s fastest-growing app development companies, Appetiser App Development, working alongside co-founder and business partner Jamie Shostak, also an RMIT alumnus (Bachelor of Business (Marketing) (Applied)).

Michael MacRae (left) and Jamie Shostak, founders of Appetiser Michael MacRae (left) and Jamie Shostak, founders of Appetiser

The young entrepreneurs were independently running their own companies when they met over the coffee machine.

Both in their 20s, MacRae was developing patent-winning apps while Shostak was running his own million-dollar growth marketing agency.

According to Shostak, their discussions about what made the world’s most successful apps – a harmony between design, technology and marketing – led them to realise that they were the perfect complement to each other.

“Michael had tech and design skills but no marketing experience. I had great marketing skills but no tech or design experience.," Shostak said.

“It turned out we both went to RMIT, which helped us form the connection and, long story short, we became business partners and launched Appetiser.”

Despite entering a mature app development market that had seen its share of big names crashing, the company’s goal of ‘revolutionising and modernising the app-development process though an agile sprint by sprint model’ by putting more control back in the hands of the client has seen it take giant strides.

In the past two years it has tripled in size and revenue, expanded internationally with offices in Manilla, Cebu, Davao and Dusseldorf, employs 80 people and locked in projects with a number of big-name clients, including YouFoodz, Roamni and Accent Group.

Appetiser App Development's Melbourne team Appetiser App Development's Melbourne team

Both credit RMIT with giving them some of the tools that have been key to their success since leaving university

MacRae in particular remembers Dr Charles Thevathayan at the School of Computer Science and Information Technology as being a key influence.

“Charles really gave us that trust to build our own projects and products. We got our industry experience not just as a cog in a machine, but as entrepreneurs doing our own thing – finding clients, building products for them, and then actually releasing apps,” MacRae said.

Thevathayan recalls MacRae as a student who had clear views that universities should not just be a place to impart knowledge, but an incubator of ideas for students with passion and drive.

“I encouraged Michael and his friend Henry to dream up the challenging multiplayer snakes-based game assignment for the Software Architecture course, which was subsequently displayed on our open day attracting many students to RMIT, Thevathayan said.

“We in the School of Science believe in promoting creativity and innovation at every level especially by empowering our students to participate in the process of setting assignments and projects that are engaging, exciting and challenging.

“RMIT will always continue to remain a cradle for innovation and creativity.”

MacRae and Shostak are passionate about giving Appetiser clients the best possible chance of succeeding in their market.

The goal is to be the number one product agency in the world, focusing on the intersection of design, technology and marketing.

“For us it is about getting a top spot in all three categories; we’re working really hard on design competitions, we’re working really hard on development standards, we have a massive curriculum for developers to learn and improve on an ongoing basis, and of course the same goes for marketing,” MacRae said.

“So much learning came from me and Jamie meeting – just realising what we were missing in our individual businesses and bringing it together.

“When a marketer works next to someone designing and building the technology, that creates opportunity.”


Story: Karen Phelan


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