Entrepreneur finds niche with iPhone app

Scottsdale software developer Joe Michels had spent his entire career working for large computer and technology companies.

But when his last employer announced plans to outsource the work done by his division, the company man decided to become his own employer.

Since then, the founder of Software Ops LLC has hit a steady groove specializing in security apps for the iPhone, and most recently the iPad, since 2008.

“Security is a good niche. The market for iPhones has exploded so I’ve been able to maintain business because it has grown so fast,” Michels said.

Michels designed his first app, My Eyes Only, to protect personal information such as passwords, credit-card numbers, bank-account information and other data that users typically want to have with them and access at any time. An encryption detail is what distinguished this first app and the ones that followed, he said.

“Encryption is the key to my apps. It adds a layer of complexity to everything,” Michels said.

Since its introduction through the iTunes App Store, My Eyes Only ranks in the top 50-selling business apps with more than 5,000 sales. He has since created other apps that aim to provide the same security for contacts, photos and other information that could be hacked into. To date, more than 600,000 customers have downloaded Michels’ apps, according to Software Ops data.

Michels’ customers range from young people who love sharing their photos via social media yet want their albums protected from prying strangers to corporate presidents and CEOs who want to keep their business data and contact information secret. Beyond that, he knows very little about who is purchasing his apps.

“That’s one of the challenges of building apps. I don’t know the demographics of my customers. But that’s kind of the point of being in the security business, I don’t ask customers what they’re doing,” he said.

Four years ago, Michels was informed that his department in a large Valley software company would be eliminated and the work done in India. At that time, the iPhone was starting to take off and users began to rely on the device for much more than making phone calls or checking e-mail.

“Security was a need that I noticed. I was putting very important information in it. That became the baseline of what I needed to do,” Michels said.

In response, he built My Eyes Only and starting selling it. Within eight weeks, sales exceeded his expectations, and it quickly made the iTunes App Store’s “What’s Hot” list.

He left the company before his position was terminated, he said, and launched Software Ops.

Despite the stagnant economy, conditions in the mobile market are the opposite, which has been a reason Michels has found success.

“In the depression, everyone had a radio no matter how little money they had. It was the technology of the time. Now, the mobile device is the technology of the time,” he said.

Wisconsin-based entrepreneur Steve Michels has professionally collaborated with Michels, who is his cousin, since 2010 on various business projects and ventures in which information security is a priority.

A combination of creative vision and business sense is what makes Michels a good businessman to deal with, Steve said.

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