Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Magaly Chocano, founder and CEO of Sweb Development in San Antonio

Magaly Chocano, CEO of Sweb Development, knows success sometimes requires reinvention, whether it’s of herself or her business. After coming to San Antonio from Spain to get her college degree in communications, Chocano saw her first iPhone and realized communications was about to move in an entirely new direction.
“I lived in San Antonio for four years and then left and came back in 2004,” the Madrid native explains. “I didn’t really have a specific career path or trajectory.
“I worked at Bromley Communications for about four-and-a-half years and I learned a tremendous amount there. But I wanted to get out on my own. I thought, ‘If I don’t try to do something now, then when?’ So I resigned and started my website development business in late summer of 2008. No sooner did I get the doors open, than the economy tanked. My timing couldn’t have been worse. I had to really think fast and make a quick turn.”
Chocano credits a three-day weekend startup workshop with the brainstorm that saved Sweb.
“I had my iPhone and I was as tech-savvy as the average consumer. I liked what mobile technology could do but I didn’t know a whole lot about it. I was first introduced to Twitter in 2008 at a startup workshop. When I saw what was possible I was thinking, ‘This is nuts. I really need to understand this.’ There were aspects of mobile communications I hadn’t even begun to realize but I felt like we were just on the tip of the iceberg and I wanted to dive in. I could see mobile apps were going to be huge. That opened up a whole new area of marketing for most companies.”
And a whole new line of business for Chocano. Sweb Development would start creating smartphone applications in addition to traditional websites.
As is the case with most visionaries, there were plenty of people telling Chocano hers was a bad idea. “Everyone was saying ‘iPhones are too expensive. They’ll never catch on. They’re just a fad.’ But I could see they were going to be a key part of the way people communicated in the future.”
Chocano started small, creating apps for some of her existing website customers in San Antonio. The earliest ones were novelties attracting a small but enthusiastic audience. “No one was putting any budget into developing apps. Most people didn’t know what they were or how they could impact their business,” Chocano says.
“We got our first big hit from a company in Washington, D.C. They commissioned an app from us that was our breakthrough. It was built for iPhones and when I went back to sell them a second version for Blackberry (Androids weren’t even on the horizon back then), they said no. They didn’t have the budget for it.
“I was thinking, ‘If they can’t afford another app then nobody can.’ That must have been spring of 2009 and I thought I really had to refocus and come up with something that would sustain my company. That’s when I had the idea of creating this online do-it-yourself application building tool. That’s when Sweb Apps was born. It was the very first online platform where you could build your own app.”
Even with the growth of the use of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, many consumers still consider apps something just short of voodoo.
“We get a lot of that,” laughs Chocano. “People are definitely a lot more educated about websites and apps than they used to be but there’s still a lot of confusion about what’s the real difference between the two. Native applications are true software development if you will, where a mobile-optimized website is really just a mobile viewing of your website.
“We have clients who already have their web systems in place and they want to build an extension of that. AJE – Al Jazeera English is one of our clients and they needed an iPad app to stream all of their programming. So we built that for them. We also built an ABC app to teach people Arabic for them.
“Other clients, like U.S. Global Investors, wanted to have all their blogs and tickers and all of their information in applications so we built that for them. And some clients start with a website and then realize it really makes sense to move over to mobile as well. So we develop pretty much everything for them.”
Molly Cox, a marketing and communications consultant working with the city’s SA2020 volunteer coordination project, says the work Sweb did in updating the initiative’s website and creating the accompanying native smartphone application went beyond awesome to “stupid awesome.”
“We had an idea for a volunteer sign-up website that was sort of meets Netflix meets Groupon but couldn’t find the technology to do it anywhere. Magaly was not only able to do what we wanted, but created the whole thing from scratch. It’s just stupid awesome.”
Sweb Development also provides social media marketing for clients who want to have a presence in communities like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Chocano, now 38, feels like she’s found her place in the high-tech community and is looking forward to the next opportunity.
“We’re just moving at lightspeed with what we can do within native applications themselves. It’s really exciting to see how it’s growing. It’s just amazing. Little by little, we’ve built our knowledge base to where we are today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?”