Sebastian on BeanFlow
For our next interview, we spoke to Sebastian Dobrincu, a freelance iOS developer living in Bucharest, Romania. Currently Sebastian is working on a new platform called BeanFlow, an all-in-one application for managing hybrid small businesses. Sebastian has been developing apps for a few years now and already has a pretty fantastic portfolio to his name. We didn’t realize just how young he was until we got to talking to him…
Tim Anglade, VP of Product at Realm: I really appreciate you taking the time. I know it’s late right now. You’re in Bucharest, right?
Sebastian Dobrincu: Right.
Tim: Cool, some of my best friends from college were from Deva and Arad. I had a really fun time exploring Europe with them. Are you originally from Bucharest, or did you move there for studies or for work?
Sebastian: I’m from Bucharest originally.
T: I guess if you want to do mobile, Web, anything like that — I’m from France, originally, and I imagine Romania is kind of like that. Everything is centralized in one city for the tech industry, right?
T: That makes sense. So, you have quite a few apps! I was looking at your website and it was pretty impressive. You’ve been doing a little bit of everything: some geolocation apps, some magazines, and then there’s this latest app — ecommerce, CRM kind of app. How long have you been doing apps?
S: I’ve been developing apps for about… three years, four years now? I started back in 2010. I’ve worked with a couple of clients. I guess I do have quite a few apps, but I’m still learning.
T: Did you start doing development directly on mobile, or were you coming from the Web or some other technology?
T: I came from the same side as well. Are you a student, or are you working professionally right now?
S: I’m a student currently.
T: Cool, what are you working on for your studies? Are you a CS student? Are you doing, like, a bachelor’s, a master’s?
S: I’m currently in high school.
T: High school!
S: I’m about to finish high school, yeah.
T: Wow. It’s amazing to have so many apps under your belt already and you’re not even done with high school. Man, I wish I was that good when I was so young [laughing]. Amazing.
Why don’t you tell me about the app a little bit? It’s called BeanFlow, right? People can find it at www.beanflow.com?
T: I thought the concept was pretty nice. You’re building it for a British company, right?
S: Right. The objective is to give store owners some flexibility. Like, they can check their stats, their customers on the go. They have everything on their phone. They can check events, services, everything. They can also add products on their phone. It just makes things easier for them.
T: So it’s not just a point of sale or cash register type of thing, like Square or PayPal. It adds that functionality, but on top of that you really try to focus on the small business owner and everything they may need to do from their phone—
T: —including selling products, selling services. I really like the example on the homepage. It seems like one of the things you go after is… Let’s say you’re a hairdresser or surf-shop owner and you’re trying to boost sales of products and sell services. And you need to be able to do the accounting properly for both kinds of things, and track your time, and track your appointments, and track your stock levels. You can do everything in one single application.
S: Exactly. You can check everything on the go. It makes everything easier for a store owner. We’re about to launch this month. We’ll see how it goes.
T: It sounds really great, especially since Europe has a lot of small businesses and microcompanies. It’s nice to see some innovation there, at that scale.
What I really loved about the app is the list of features. You do this really nice thing on your portfolio of apps where you explain the top advantages and technical and business features of each application. I saw a few things that were pretty interesting.
For that particular one — including offline mode and a few other things — you apparently do a lot of background data fetching… a lot of data stuff that I wouldn’t expect from this kind of application. Can you tell us a bit more about how you thought about this application, the kind of features it needed, and especially the kind of data handling that it needed?
S: Yeah, so basically after you download the data for the first time, I use Realm to store the data for offline usage. So next time you open the app and, say, you don’t have an active Internet connection, you can just look at current stats, which are already loaded into your phone. And Realm really helped here. I mean, Core Data is a pretty powerful tool, but it’s just overwhelming for what I wanted to do. When I found Realm, I was really excited. It was so easy to use, and pretty powerful as well. So I said, “I’ll give it a shot,” and I’m pretty happy with it.
“Core Data is a pretty powerful tool,
but it’s just overwhelming for what I wanted to do.”
T: Excellent. It’s always good when we get to make people happy. I was wondering about some of those features. A lot of people who I talk to say, “Realm sounded like it was good for what I wanted to do and Core Data seemed too complex.” But I’m looking at the outside of the app and all the stuff that you’re doing: you’re doing background data fetching — I’m assuming that’s across multiple threads and even when the app is shut down — you’re doing offline access, you’re doing a bunch of fairly complex things. At what point do you think you would be tempted to go with Core Data again? At what point do you feel like maybe Realm wouldn’t be enough?
S: Currently I don’t have any plans to go back to Core Data. I’ve played a bit with Realm, I’ve built a couple apps to see how it goes, and I really like it. It’s pretty fast. I tried to load a few images — they were pretty big images — and it was really fast. I don’t have any plans to go back to Core Data anytime soon. I really like it.
I don’t have any plans to go back to Core Data anytime soon. I really like it.
T: That’s good to hear. What are some of the other things you do inside of the application? I noticed that you mentioned statistics and reporting. Do you generate that directly on top of Realm? Or is that computed on servers?
S: That’s computed on servers, but after that I store it with Realm and for offline usage.
T: And then you just kind of draw inside the app from the computed data in Realm.
T: That makes sense. So, one of the things I make sure I ask people is: What sucks about Realm right now? What are some of the things that we should be fixing? What are some of the use cases that we’re not really serving well? And you seem to really be putting us through our paces doing all kinds of weird, advanced stuff.
S: I don’t have any big problems. The documentation is very good. I read almost all of it. It was amazing. There might be some features you could add, but I don’t have them in mind right now. I don’t have any troubles with it.
T: [Laughing] Aww, man. This is not believable. You gotta come up with something a little bad about it. I’m sure we’ll let you down at some point. You know how to reach us. We’ll get you covered.
S: Right now it’s never let me down. I’m pretty happy with it.
T: That’s great. If you have any problems with Realm at all, if there’s ever anything we can do for you or a feature you need, please, please, please reach out. We’re very happy to drive the product from user feedback, so we want to make sure we hear from you.
S: I will, definitely.
T: So, what are some of the things you’re looking at doing next? You know, either for BeanFlow or for other apps? Do you have other use cases in mind for Realm — other things you’d like to try? Or even other apps that you’re planning on building without Realm?
S: I’ll definitely build a few more apps with Realm. I’m also planning on getting into Android, and if Realm would extend to Android, that would be fantastic. It would make everything way easier, rather than using SQLite. I’d just love to be able to use it.
T: We’re working on that right now, actually. We should make you happy very, very soon. And the files will be compatible, too. So you’ll be able to swap files between Android and iOS very easily.
S: Oh really?
T: Yeah, completely the same format. That should be pretty fun. We have a lot of stuff coming on that front, including some cool data synchronization between those platforms. So that should make things a lot easier.
T: So you’re in high school right now, you’re studying, you’re going to get your high school degree. What’s next for you? Are you going to keep building apps? Are you accepting customers right now?
S: Yeah, that’s a pretty good place to find me. I’m currently trying to get as many apps in my portfolio — and learn as many things — as I can, maybe extending to different programming languages and seeing how it goes.
T: Speaking of which, you mentioned doing some stuff in Swift. I’m one of the people who organizes the Swift user group in San Francisco, and I’m always happy to talk more to people about Swift. What’s been your take on it so far? Have you been having a good time discovering the language? What are your thoughts on Swift in general?
S: Well, I love it. It’s pretty sharp. It’s pretty easy to catch onto it, especially if you’re coming from Objective-C. They’re the same APIs. Now that Apple has released it, I’m hoping to build some apps with it.
T: So now that it’s live and Apple says it’s good, you’re most likely going to start building your next app directly in Swift?
T: Wow. That’s very aggressive. I see some people waiting to see what’s going to happen with it. But I know there are a few people doing the same thing you’re doing.
S: I think it’s a pretty solid programming language with a lot of advanced features. And it’s fast, especially. I think all developers should already use it.
T: We feel the same way about Swift — and about Realm as well [laughs].
What are your plans after high school? I’m assuming you have one year left? Do you plan on going to college, or are you just going to go pro and start doing apps full-time?
S: I’m planning on going to college in London. After that, I’m just waiting to see what life has for me.
T: Sounds like a good plan. I’m really amazed by the quality of the apps. I definitely recommend anybody looking for an app developer to check you out because all your apps are super impressive. I really like the way you present the work you’ve been doing, and also the attention to detail. I wish I had been even 10 percent as talented as you are when I was your age. It’s not even that you’re good for your age. You’re doing really great work period — for anybody of any age. Many congratulations.
S: Thanks very much.
T: Did you have any questions for me? Any particular things you wanted to bring up?
S: No, I just wanted to thank you for this amazing tool. I love it and I hope to use it more in the future.
T: Cool. We really appreciate the very kind words. One thing we always encourage people to do is keep Tweeting or keep blogging. At this point for us, we’re very happy. We’ve already launched, we have tens of hundreds of users already. And we love it when people spread the word about Realm.
S: I was looking into writing a blog post, actually.
T: That’d be great, man.