Every year Apple publishes an editorial list of what the company sees as the best content across iTunes. This time an application with Bulgarian CTO and development has made it to the top 5 of Apple’s best paid apps of 2018.
Plant Snap is a mobile app that uses AI to recognize close to 600K different plants and give the user more information about them. And it has so far generated close to $4M in revenues. The application is owned by the US company Plant Snap Inc. led by Eric Ralls, but its development is done by the founder of Eden Tech Labs, Ivan Iliev in partnership with another Bulgarian tech company – the image recognition specialist Imagga.
Iliev himself serves as an outbound CTO of Plant Snap and leads his own, as he calls it, “boutique app development”. His whole team is dedicated to the current plant recognition project. The constellation is a bit unusual but it seems to be a working model for both companies.
From construction to IT and gardening
The story of how Eden Tech Labs was created is probably as interesting as the app itself and could be traced back to a Porsche Hackathon in Austria three years ago. Back then, Iliev, who was working as a manager in his parents’ construction company received a call from his friend Georgi Kadrev, CEO of Imagga. He was inviting him to participate together with him in a hackathon in Salzburg. They went and won with a quickly trained AI system that recognized different Audi models and offered leasing options to the users, Iliev explained. The prize was to implement the app in the marketing operations of the trade division of Porsche, but at some point, the company pulled back and used only parts of the creation.
This was one of several attempts of Georgi and Ivan to work together over the years. Prior to that, they have developed different products that didn’t really make it to the app store or any company. Until Eric Ralls called in 2017 with the need to create a demo version of an app to fundraise with. “It was probably better that Porsche didn’t take our technology back then, so we could reuse it, train the algorithm and have the desired outcome in no time”, Iliev recalls laughingly.
Iliev was instrumental in delivering the app and in June 2017, it was in the app store. Things escalated so fast afterwards that Iliev had to quit the family business and join the project 100% in October. Since then, he has worked alongside with Eric and with the Apple appstore team since the beginning of 2018 to further develop different features e.g. AR components.
A tipping point
Less than a year after the launch, Plant Snap was downloaded by close to 1M iOS users. Interestingly enough, most of the users are either students under 25 who use it for educational reasons or middle-aged gardeners. Given the interest, Eric decided to expand to Android. At that point, Iliev needed to stop being a one-man show and start hiring employees. His team already consists of 12 people and they are all working on the same application, which meanwhile has been downloaded 7M times by Android users (unlike the iOS, the Android version is free).
Iliev is a firm believer that the mobile app market will further develop and will provide mobile app development studios like his with enough business and revenue. Now as the team has grown and the business seems stable, Iliev has started to think in the direction of own products.