Josh Hulst on Michigan Software Labs and his journey as the Managing Partner banner

Despite a grand reputation as a digital agency, is Michigan Software Labs a leader or follower? Josh Hulst, the managing partner of the company, converses with MAD on the same.

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1) How did you get started with Michigan Software Labs?

The short story is that my co-founder’s wife needed an app for when she went running. When the right one wasn’t available, he reached out to me and we worked together to build it. I was at GE at the time and we saw the potential for starting a company together. The goal was to focus on business needs, while also delivering really interesting technical work. From there, we started to put together a team laser-focused on building the right software for our clients.

2) What value-added services does Michigan Software Labs offer clients, and how do they set you apart from your competitors?

What immediately comes to mind is our product strategy phase, which helps to align the digital product being created with the business value it will provide. It’s a step other software companies often skip. Having this phase at the beginning of the project also helps to generate buy-in among stakeholders and provide benchmarks for the future.

3) The idea of an application is quite appealing for many businesses. How do you explain the process of building one?

We share examples of our work with other middle-market and Fortune 1000 companies. Since we choose not to outsource any of our services, we meet with potential clients face to face, so they get a clear sense of what it’s like to work with us. This includes our Design, Development, and Deploy process.

4) Does every business require custom software solutions?

Not always. In some cases, there are suitable off-the-shelf solutions; however, a business that wants to have an edge or create added value will enjoy many of the benefits that come with custom software development, including reduced costs, increased revenue, or improved communication with employees and customers. 

5) With disruptive technologies like IoT, Blockchain, AI, ML, and AR/VR shaping the digital ecosystem, do you believe it will narrow the global digital divide? If so, how?

Technology is driving a world of connectedness. While we’re seeing great strides being made around the world, I continue to view technology as simply a tool, one that needs to be paired with good policy. This includes providing access to resources many take for granted. At Michigan Software Labs, we are actively looking for opportunities to help narrow that divide by volunteering with organizations like Girls Who Code, Bitcamp, and Code For Good.

6) You recently mentioned the top three technologies to watch for in the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year. Are there others you’re keeping an eye on?

The ubiquity of technology continues to amaze me. We discuss it with our clients all the time. When Michigan Software Labs first opened, users mainly interacted with the software on their computers or phones. Today, we see connected devices everywhere. While these devices bring greater opportunities to users, they require even more creativity and planning to figure out how to integrate them when they all come together.

7) UI is considered a mindset. Despite the latest trends, what are the protracted rules of UI design that can help businesses to move past the ‘lorem ipsum’ jargon?

For all of us in the software industry, it’s relatively easy to imagine what a product could look like, or see past dummy content in mockups. We need to continue to push prototypes that are quick to create, while also presenting what the system could actually look like. Often, this includes picking out real data (or realistic mocked-up data). The more tangible the experience for our partners, the easier it is for them to imagine using it and, in turn, the better the feedback we receive.

8) You featured an all-girls coding team in one of your promo videos. What does this say about the culture of Michigan Software Labs?

Thank you for bringing that up. We want to remove the barriers that stand in the way of a career in software development. This comes through in the professionals we employ and the events we promote throughout the year. The goal is excellence. If we can inspire girls at an early age to go for it, everybody wins.

9) Is Michigan Software Labs a leader or a follower?

We are both, actually. So many brilliant minds came before us. We stand on their shoulders and are grateful for their contributions. There are also some amazing things happening around the globe that we’re picking up on and weaving into our own practice. Where we lead is with the level of talent we’re bringing on board. We have some truly exceptional minds working through our clients’ challenges. Our culture also sets us apart. We’ve created a space where everyone can speak into a project and find a better way. It’s a joy to be part of.

10) What do you have to say about the adage: “Innovation is different from invention. Innovation results in paying customers.”

The adage is overly general, but the idea is there. We’re not necessarily in the business of inventing solutions. But that doesn’t take away the tremendous value of innovation. If we can find a new way for our customers to benefit from an app or IoT, that’s greatly satisfying for our teams.

11) There’s a rising tide of entrepreneurs bent on change. What words of advice might you have for them?

The first thing I would say is to thank you. Our industry demands new thinking and the change that comes with it. Hats off to those who are determined to find a better way. My advice would be to be selfless in the process. Remember that, ultimately, we’re not simply solving business challenges. We’re also finding ways to make life more connected, productive, and rewarding for people. If we can remain true to our humanity, the rest takes care of itself.

  • The idea and formation of Michigan Software Labs rose from a trivial need which instigated the owners to build an organization that focuses on creating the right software.
  • The agency relies on its product strategy phase, which merges the digital product and business propositions it will provide.
  • It's not a mandate for every company to have custom software solutions at their disposal, but having them do come with a lot of privileges like growth in revenue, cost-cutting, flexible communication, etc.
  • Pushing the barriers of prototypes, dummy content and mockups and focus on creating real data is the key to improve UI development.
  • Michigan Software Labs have an all-girls coding team as the company doesn't generalize the process to only one gender.
  • Michigan Labs is an effective mix being a leader and a follower.
  • The goal of any agency shouldn't restrict to solving business challenges. It should focus on connective lives, be productive and be as humane as possible.

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