Marvel Apps Started as a Hobby Then Became One of Goldman Sachs’ First 10,000 Small Businesses

Michael Antaran had an obsession with the iPhone when it first debuted in 2007. He was a supervisor at Chrysler, doing programming and design work and making a good living. But still, in 2008, when Apple released their software development kit, Antaran would stay up late at night programming applications and making games.
When the App Store launched in July 2008, Antaran was able to provide one of the first 500 applications for the store, a fantasy football app. He followed that up with an app for the Olympics when Michael Phelps was America’s star athlete in China.
All of this was all done entirely in his free time at night while he was still at Chrysler, working 60 hours a week and managing 16 people. At the time he had one three-year-old son and another on the way. After he had been programming apps for five years and making some respectable money on the side, he and his wife had just had their third baby, and they talked seriously about him going off on his own.
Finally, in 2012, Marvel Apps, an independent software development company, became a full-time entrepreneurial endeavor for Antaran, developing apps like Tapestry Twist, a kind of word Sudoko; Thresher Wing, a 3D defense game; and apps for tracking football trends and data analysis, among others.
“I always had an entrepreneurial side to me,” he says. “I put myself through college doing database work and web design consulting. I always had that side of me.”
But it wasn’t just about scratching the entrepreneurial itch; Antaran also wanted to be able spend more time with his three children.
“I realized I was missing a lot of my kids’ lives,” he says. “Now I can coach both of my sons’ soccer teams. [I can spend time with] my four-year-old daughter.”  
His commute went from a 40-mile radius to just one mile. He can bike to work and has the flexibility to coach his sons’ soccer teams and pick his kids up at school. He has that thing that can be so elusive to so many working in the American corporate world – a greater quality of life.
Additionally he also volunteers at a middle school in Royal Oak a couple of hours a week teaching a programming class. “That has been a truly satisfying experience. I have the personal satisfaction of giving back to the community by helping kids learn how to program. Programming is truly a language, like Spanish and French. [In the future] when [they’re] applying for jobs, these kids need to know how to program just like they need to know other languages.”
A year ago Marvel Apps was accepted into the inaugural Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program in 2014.
“We were fortunate to be selected into that cohort in Detroit,” says Antaran. “We got to meet a number of influential people like Warren Buffet, Mayor Mike Duggan, and [former New York Mayor] Michael Bloomberg. We got to shake hands with them and hear what they have to say. Just a year ago I was programming and learning how to run a business, but they saw the potential in Marvel Apps. It’s truly one of those Cinderella type stories: a year later I’m talking to Michael Bloomberg, one of the wealthiest people in the world.”
This summer Marvel Apps was chose as one of 16 10,000 Small Businesses participants, out of 4,500 that applied, to fly out to New York to meet with Michael Bloomberg and also talk to the top executives in investment banking and finance at Goldman Sachs. For six hours their business model was scrutinized, as was their revenue and marketing. “Having that type of engagement with highly influential people was invaluable,” says Antaran. “That was a $200,000 consulting day for free.”
With the guidance of the 10,000 Small Businesses program, Antaran has been able to grow his staff from two to 20 in two years, with a goal of growing it to 120 by the end of next year. It has also been named a top 10 app developer by Crain’s Detroit Business every year since 2011, has has multiple “Top 10” apps in the Mac App Store, and this year was named one of Michigan’s “50 Companies to Watch.” 
Most recently Marvel Apps developed Carrot, an app that rewards people for walking. Inspired by the health consciousness of Bloomberg, particularly when he banned sodas from schools to promote healthier lifestyles for children, Antaran wanted to create something that incentivized people to be active. Carrot counts the number of steps you take and gives you a point for every stop, which you can then use to redeem rewards from Carrot merchants. With every 10,000 steps – a good target goal for the number of daily steps to take for a healthy lifestyle – you can redeem $1 worth of merchandise at participating local merchants.
Carrot just launched last December and is completely free for users, and is also free for merchants in its first year. It currently has 390 participating merchants spanning from Ann Arbor to Pontiac, including businesses in Berkley, Birmingham, and Royal Oak. It is also the official app of the Michigan State Fair, happening this September. The more you walk around, the more you can be rewarded while you’re there.
Carrot is a new direction for Marvel Apps. “We made great games leading up to the 10,000 Small Businesses program,” Antaran says. “We loved making games, then we started moving into these other apps. Games have great engagement but the life of a game is six to eight months.” What they really wanted to do, he says, was create apps that addressed people’s needs. 
“We’re a bunch of nerds over here, we don’t know what consumers like!” he says. “We identified needs that are out there and developed a program around it. People wanted to be healthy and they also wanted to save money; that’s how we came up with Carrot. We really love using tech to solve people’s needs. We feel we have the expertise to provide a great engagement service to solve people’s needs.”