Rockland’s RustyBrick

Rockland’s RustyBrick

Meet the company behind the first Apple Watch siddur

Barry Schwartz
Barry Schwartz

Glatt Wok is long gone from Route 59 in Monsey, but the company it hired for its first web page is still going strong. Except it wasn’t a company back in 1994, at the dawn of the Internet age: It was just two 14-year-old twin brothers, Ronnie and Barry Schwartz.

More than 20 years later, RustyBrick — the name comes from the twins’ initials — is going strong, with more than 20 employees and clients for websites and mobile apps that include Harvard, Harper Collins, and MTV.

Barry is the firm’s CEO; his brother is the chief technology officer. “It’s a good division of labor,” Barry said with a laugh. “We don’t really fight much.”

The brothers grew up in Monsey and both still live in Rockland County.

Despite the high profile clients, among the Jewish public RustyBrick might be best known for its command of a distinctive, if not particularly profitable niche: the Jewish app and software market.

In 2008, when it first became possible to write apps for an Apple iPhone, RustyBrick produced its siddur app.

“Let’s build something Jewish-related that will help observant Jews go ahead and do their day-to-day observance of Judaism,” Barry remembers thinking.

Given the iPhone’s capabilities, RustyBrick’s “Smart Siddur” could do what no printer prayer book could: It knew the time, it knew where it was, and with that information it could calculate how much time was left to recite the evening prayers, what prayers might be added if there were a new moon, and where to find a nearby minyan.

This spring, when Apple came out with its watch, RustyBrick was ready with an update to its siddur — 7.1 — that included watch features.

Among them was making some of the shorter prayers — Grace After Meals, afternoon services — available on the watch face.

“It can be configured to remind you x minutes before its time to daven mincha,” said Barry, referring to the afternoon prayers.

Is a watch actually practical for prayers?

“Nope,” concedes Mr. Schwartz. “I don’t typically daven off it. It’s hard to keep scrolling and scrolling. It’s good to have just in case.”

But RustyBrick wasn’t betting its business on a killer watch app.

“I couldn’t pay Jewish day school tuition just on Jewish apps,” Mr. Schwartz said.

The siddur is the best selling of the company’s Jewish apps. It also led to a partnership with the ArtScroll publishing empire: RustyBrick built the app for ArtScroll’s iPad Talmud.

“There’s not much money to be made in the Jewish app world, but it’s enough of an impact that it’s worth doing even though there’s not much monetary purpose,” Mr. Schwartz said.

Similar logic led to developing a software package to manage his synagogue. It wasn’t much of a stretch, in some ways, from RustyBrick’s work in computerizing medical practices. The result was ShulCloud, a web-based synagogue platform the company launched four years ago.

“It does everything from managing a website to accounts receivable, calendaring, registering events, high holiday seating, and sending out emails and mass mails to their community,” Mr. Schwartz said. “We’re currently signing up 10 to 15 shuls a month.”

It can import and export data from bookkeeping software like Quickbooks, but Mr. Schwartz said that synagogues need information about their members that Quickbooks doesn’t ask for.

“When you’re billing a member, you need to know more than it’s the Schwartz family,” he said. “You need to know who the members are, what the yahrzeits are, whether they pay through a company or a foundation. There’s shul politics Quickbooks doesn’t understand.

“We looked into building Jewish day school software. There’s a lot of good software out there, and school budgets are stretched,” he said. He said they get requests to develop school software, but “it would be a huge investment,” and he’s not convinced it would pay off.

After 20 years in the web development business, Mr. Schwartz remains excited by it.

“It’s always changing,” he said of the technology. “It began with old-fashioned gifs. Now we’re at HTML5 and mobile. It’s amazing what’s going on.”

And beyond the pixels on the screen, working with cutting-edge technology has its concrete benefits.

“You should see my desk,” he said. “There are tons of gadgets, from Google Glass to the Apple Watch.”

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