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Townsville talent shines through in software startup

The founder of Townsville development studio Oz Apps, Jayant Varma, sees working in the city as a mixed bag.

While he advocates for the city’s accessible business-to-business model, natural beauty and free-flowing traffic, Varma admits that Townsville is not the first point of call for potential clients.

“Staying in Townsville, is, believe me, a privilege,” Varma said. “It’s a big, upcoming place in the country – you talk about politics and technology, it’s happening [here] too.”

“But when it comes to business, it’s all decidedly south,” he said. “I’ve been making apps since 2009, but the moment someone thinks about making an app, they don’t think of Townsville; they think of Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne.”

Varma, a developer, blogger and academic, believes more coverage of the city’s success stories is required if its image as a software market is going to change.

But while he cites established startups JESI and SafetyCulture as “two big examples of Townsville being in the big league”, Varma himself has done plenty to grow the city’s brand.

For the last five years, he has run the multifaceted Oz Apps, a software development, consultancy and training startup. As well as offering advice and training to local software developers and businesses through Oz Apps, Varma is directly responsible for a number of apps, blogs and books.

Oz Apps has developed fifteen iOS apps, which have ranged from games, like the chess-based puzzler Dark Horse, to reference platforms, like Explore NT. The company has also developed a number of apps for clients, notably Mongadillo Studios’s successful apocalypse game ZDAY Survival Simulator.

Jayant Varma has authored a number of guides for developers, both as a lead and contributing writer. Images courtesy of Oz Apps.

Jayant Varma has authored a number of guides for developers, both as a lead and contributing writer. Images courtesy of Oz Apps.

On top of authoring two guide books, “Learn Lua for iOS Game Development” and the recently released “Xcode 6 Essentials,” Varma is a prolific blogger, and hosts a number of guide blogs through Oz Apps.

These include guides for specific platforms, namely Swift and Lua, as well as the general developing guide HowTo. Varma also started a review site marketed for developers, ReviewMe, which he designed to highlight lesser-known apps and products.

“A lot of small developers do not get the coverage or the visibility on the app store, because all the big names take up the app store,” Varma said. “The idea was, ‘I have this platform, let me offer these developers a chance,’ because it basically targets apps that are going to benefit the developer community”.

Oz Apps was founded in 2010, but Varma had worked to foster the local ecosystem  well before then. He has been involved with the Australian Computer Society’s North Queensland Chapter in a number of capacities since 2008, and, since completing his MBA-MIT in 2007, has worked as both a lecturer and business analyst at James Cook University.

His experiences at the university helped form his impression of Townsville’s development scene. While job prospects for programers are currently above the national average, Varma saw graduate developers having trouble finding employment and moving away from the area.

“Because you don’t have a lot of tech-related business, a lot of students start migrating south,” Varma said. “Obviously you can’t offer them the $50-$100,000 [a year] jobs initially, so a brain-drain is happening.”

But Townsville’s recent startup boom will hopefully improve both its perception and actual viability as an option for prospective software developers; SafetyCulture, for example, prides itself on its growing number of employees, with a recent recruitment drive aimed at luring designers to the city.

Like all established entrepreneurs, Varma is also currently looking to grow his company, specially with new artist collaborators and venture capital. He argues that Oz Apps’ flexible services make it especially well-suited to integrate new initiatives, in a way that more established regional startups are not.

“I’m looking for collaboration from artists, musicians, people with talent,” Varma said. “I’m approachable to integrate new initiatives, to start something up in Townsville.”

About Chris Woods

Chris Woods (@tophermwoods) is the Tech Street Journal's Editor-in-Chief. He lives in Brisbane, has worked in places like Sydney and New York (State of), and will someday update his media-news blog.