The idea was simple: Solve basic problems with user-friendly mobile experiences. DeShawn Brown and fellow computer science students were building apps for fun in their junior year at N.C. State University, and one problem they wanted to solve was transportation.
None of them had a car, so they created Campus Cruiser — a ride-sharing app to connect students with car owners eager to make a few bucks. It was 2012, the launch year for two San Francisco-based companies, Lyft and Uber, unbeknownst to Brown.
Fast forward another year: Uber arrived in Raleigh and brought game-changing lessons to the student entrepreneurs. The first takeaway: It’s not enough to have a great idea.
“You have to understand the competition and how it may affect your business,” says Brown, who is now 29. “Another lesson, how fast things can change — it happened super quickly.” Their app lost out to Uber’s marketing prowess, but when Brown graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2014, the Campus Cruiser experience provided inspiration to launch Lithios.
“We started with nothing except our skills and our passion for building apps,” he says. “But we don’t just make apps; we create experiences in people’s lives.”
Lithios now has business from Raleigh-based startups including Offline Media, Operation 36 Golf and sports officiating app Silbo. Global brands including Bayer, Cree (now Wolfspeed), Intel and DraftKings also use apps designed with Lithios’ assistance.
As virtual became the norm, demand for mobile experiences escalated and 2020 proved a record-setting year, with revenue gaining 40% from the previous year. Speedier work is now the norm. In 2020, Lithios created an app for Greensboro-based Triad HealthCare Network that replaced an antiquated email process with mobile-based communications that keeps doctors, nurses and others advised of the latest pandemic news and protocols.
Building the app took about six weeks, compared with the more typical six or eight months.
Lithios’ project mix is veering to large corporations, but supporting startups still makes up as much as 40% of revenue, Brown says. Staying ahead of technology evolutions requires constant curiosity and innovation, he adds.