When twin brothers David and Michael Adams’ parents came home with a G3 iMac back to their home in Cathays in Cardiff many years ago, they probably didn’t realise that their 12-year old sons would one day end up running their own software development company, making apps for enormous organisations to start-ups.
That computer kick-started a lifelong love of software and technology which they’ve turned into a successful app development company, Cardiff-based Propeller. “We were totally hooked,” recalls Mike.
The pair were set on leaving education when they completed secondary school, but an open evening at Coleg Glan Hafren – now Cardiff & Vale College – quickly changed their minds. “We had no idea you could study creative technologies and get a qualification for it,” says Michael. “We had a great two years where we met educators that had an actual interest in the industry as well as knowledge and experience to pass on to us. It was during college that we built up the confidence to take on our first clients.”
Now based in the Rumney area of Cardiff and employing a team of six, the company has developed projects for the NHS to the YMCA. “We now have a brilliant team of developers, designers, QA engineers and project & product managers that work closely with each other and with our clients to plan, design, build and launch great digital products,” says Michael. “There’s a great community here in south Wales and we’ve benefited from it more than once,” he adds. “We’ve been very lucky to meet and work with some great people that have helped us grow as a business.”
One of Propeller’s most challenging projects to date was the stunning augmented reality (AR) experience for the Wales Technology Awards at City Hall Cardiff in June. “It was important to ESTnet that the event had something technologically impressive to celebrate the progress their community was making,” explains Michael. “Our idea was to focus on just that: the community. It needed to be accessible to every attendee on the night, immersive and visually grand. We were going for ‘wow’!”
The team at Propeller certainly delivered on their aim – guests for the evening were amazed by the experience. “The final sequence was definitely a challenge and some even said it couldn’t be done,” explains Michael. “We needed to synchronise multiple experiences to each other, as well as to a separate audio source and live video feed. All with no internet connection, at a specific time, in a specific location and as a secret finale.”
Propeller solved the problem of developing the experience away from the room in which it would be deployed using a creative method: virtual reality. “The experience needed to be as large as possible while still fitting in the room and needed to consider the shape and features of the room itself,” reveals Michael. “Using VR and a 3D model of the room, we could visualise the AR experience as if we were there on the night, seeing how it would look to the end user. All while still being at the studio with the flexibility to build out the experience on the fly.”
The hard work certainly paid off, but Michael is quick to praise Propeller’s collaborators on the evening. “This was one of the most exciting ways in which we’ve built a product, and was made possible because of the teams collaborative approach. It was working with MJ Lights and Cinemerse, and their willingness to share some of their assets that allowed us to implement such a system. It’s a testament to what can be achieved when we collaborate,” he says.
After a successful 2019, Propeller’s future is certainly looking bright. The company is working with new businesses and looking to concentrate more on research and development. “A lot of the apps that we are contracted to build are the starting point of an entirely new business," says Michael. "We’ve been working with a few start-ups in the form of a ‘transition team’ that can not only build out their product but also help onboard their internal developer hires. We’re looking to take on more R&D projects, collaborating with other teams to build some innovative products and tools to push what’s possible with software.”
The company is also looking to support young people in tech, helping to encourage and educate the next generation of talent. “We’re expanding our education offer,” adds Mike. “We are very keen to talk to more schools, colleges and universities about how we can help them prepare young people for a career in technology and the creative industries.”