App after App — the journey of Precognitive Research

by Casey Allen


Precognitive Research EcoHero

“We started out by building an Exchange Server app for the 1G iPhone. Then iPhone came out with theirs and we became instantly obsolete…overnight.”

Thus was the humbled beginnings of Precognitive Research, the two-man team in Minnetonka that has since pivoted and — starting with pooled funds of $2,000 — churned out 3 iPhone apps, is working on a blockbuster of a 4th, and currently manages

James DonFransesco and Andrew Sinesio, two long-time pals who both have “day jobs” at LifeTouch in Eden Prairie, knew from iPhone inception that making iPhone apps was their destiny. DonFransesco, who’s previous business architecture background at BestBuy instilled what he calls the “Best Buy approach” of building a business in stackable modules, operates as the business strategist and creative force. His partner, Sinesio, who honed his enterprise Java skills as part of the Imation Mafia (which has bred several active entrepreneurs since), does what DonFransesco calls “the real work”.

Together they’re rabidly driven to do things differently than most app developers do — as demonstrated by their next product.

The EcoHero impact

“We were inspired by Haiti when they had a lot of people that were so easily enabled to give money by text messaging…so why not through a video game app?” reflected DonFransesco.

EcoHero, which is still under development, is a graphics-rich game that allows the user to start with a submarine tasked with cleaning up an oil spill.  Throughout the game is multiple opportunities to buy various virtual goods, the proceeds which will go to numerous causes to help the human and environmental victims near the Gulf.  Awareness is every bit the goal as fun explains DonFransesco.  “It’s a game that allows people to buy a battery for their ship….and that 99 cents will go to a fisherman that needs it.”

Eventually there will be a dashboard section within the game that transparently breaks out where the money has gone and options for the player to dictate where their virtual goods’ revenue will go — whether they want to help the Louisiana shrimp farmers or if they want to kick their proceeds towards the Nature Conservancy’s oyster reef restoration project.  Throw in some game-mechanics for top donors and Precognitive is excited about the rush of bringing this one to market.

A bold email to another app development outfit called 6thMega, whom they thought would be their competition to beat, has actually turned into a partnership which will make both companies stronger by leveraging “goodware” — shareware with a grander purpose.

Experiments in Apperang

Rob Weber was approached by DonFransesco at MinneBar in May and managed to get himself pitched on giving Precognitive a spot in Apperang’s private beta with one of their earlier apps, ElevationPro.  Apperang, a service from W3i, distributes apps to a network of thousands of users who are paid money to download them.  Technically, the developer pays for each download plus a small fee to Apperang for facilitating the process.

Just like small business strive to rank well on Google, as do app developers within the iTunes store.  Starting with a $500 budget, Precognitive “only paid $280 net-net out of our own pockets to achieve an Apperang improvement of about 60 positions.” In theory, a higher position means more organic buyers which equals broader awareness and even more downloads.

“I give the service a thumbs up and will definitely use Apperang to bring future apps to market, ” James testified.

A blossoming marriage

“I’ve just stopped telling Andy about all of my ideas, now I just log them.  I think there’s times he just wants to slap me,”  muses DonFransesco, noting how their project lists grows as fast as his brain spits them out.

Behind LifeTouch’s HQ lies a lake which takes 30 minutes to walk around; it’s during these breaks that much of the company’s progress has stemmed from.

“We think it up, sort it out and spend all our nights and weekends executing.”

And how to decide when an App is “ready enough”?   It’s a process.  “We’re always negotiating,” he says with laughter.  “We used to play together in a Quake clan, so we knew we worked together really well.” The geek’s acid test to compatibility, no doubt.

It certainly is for these two persistent entrepreneurs, who’s tagline “Clearly, What’s Ahead” is where their passion and brainpower is going these days. And most nights too…clearly.