Interviews and Reviews

Application Workflow for Product Teams, Developers, and Designers: Interview With James Billson, Co-founder of Primary App

“Primary makes communication between business and tech folk significantly clearer” It “models your application as user flows that product teams, developers, and designers can understand, and bring to life”. James Billson, Co-founder of Primary App, will be explaining this further for us in this interview.

Please tell us about yourself and how you got involved in SaaS technology?

I initially studied Construction Management at university, my family is full of architects and there is a strong practical streak running through us all. There was a building industry downturn in the early ’90s in Australia so I moved to the UK and worked on large infrastructure there. When it came time to return home, I decided to ride my bicycle back to Australia to make the most of the journey.  By the time I got home, Tim Berners-Lee had created the World Wide Web, and I decided it was time for a career change. I could see that the internet was a huge opportunity. Initially, I created a website that enabled home delivered food to be ordered online, but I was way too early. This business became a services company building websites with complex software back ends that rode the wave of the tech boom of the late ’90s and survived through the lows of the tech-wreck of the early 2000s. I exited by selling the company to a global ad agency in 2008. The lasting lesson from this journey was that service businesses suck. Mine delivered in the end as I was able to sell it, but as a business model, providing services is a tough job. 

What is Primary and what services do you offer?

Primary is a SaaS product ( that allows users to model digital products as a set of goal-based user flows.

Primary allows ideation and communication of new services in an agile working environment. Primary believes that extending the design and thinking beyond the wireframe is the key to successful digital products.

Primary is modeled in Primary when we consider a new feature, it is modeled on the platform itself. Input from our UX and dev teams is incorporated, and then a slice of the model is released and managed through our normal task management system.

What is the technology stack that Primary uses?

Primary was initially created as a traditional HTTP request/response application using PHP via an MVC framework, storing data in a MySQL database. It had a vanilla bootstrap interface with a sprinkling of font-awesome icons, all pretty simple stuff. Two years ago, we took the decision to rebuild the entire front end of the app in React. The dev team selected MobX for state management. We converted the PHP code into a de-coupled logic and data layer that works asynchronously with the web client front end. The early days were difficult, but support for this architecture has increased, and so there are now many more resources available. It also adds complexity to development, but the enhanced user experience is worth it. Some of the boring stuff, like account management, is still in PHP. 

Who should use Primary and why?

Primary is for teams who are designing or managing digital products. Specifically:

  • Digital agencies use Primary to plan app developments and to communicate with clients prior to undertaking development work.
  • Product managers use Primary to plan product enhancements and to co-ordinate the ideation phase with their teams.
  • Founders and entrepreneurs use Primary to plan new apps. The modeling process reveals opportunities and pitfalls before any coding is undertaken.

What differentiates Primary from other digital product workflow apps?

We don’t sell a workflow product, we create shared visions. Primary has an internal workflow, but it is not a workflow app. Primary allows a digital product team to have meaningful discussions about the way an app works before it is built. The platform provides enough of a template and guidance to allow a new user to create a model of the target system. The structure of this model is designed so their team can be taken along on the journey. This creates meaningful engagement and buy-in across disciplines. As we like to say, move work forward, not just around.

What are the key industry issues you hope to solve with Primary?

There is a lot of mistrust between business people and technical people. Although the lines between these roles are more blurry now than they have been in the past, the divide still exists. I believe that a language that is both complete and accurate and still understandable by both groups is missing in most team’s toolkits. Primary provides businesses with a way to explain a planned application with stakeholders and development teams, with enough detail that the technical implementers have most of what they need to make good technical decisions. 

Tell us about the Primary team:

Primary has a distributed global team, app development is in central Europe, UX in the UK, PR in the US and marketing in another part of Australia. The head office, CEO and infrastructure engineering are based in Melbourne, Australia. 

How much does Primary cost?

Primary has a freemium pricing model. Free users can create a single project with some volume limitations. A single user account is available monthly for $10. Team accounts are annual at $12 per month per seat.

What is next for Primary?

Primary has gathered a community of super-fans who spend a significant portion of their working day in the app. We are working closely with these clients to define future directions for the platform. Our most exciting project at the moment is a customer journey feature that ties the goal-based user flows to a broader context.

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