Today, my Together app, and thus Reinvented Software, turns 10. I’ve done a long post on the history of the app, but since there’s been a lot commentary lately amongst developers on what it takes to be indie in 2014 (some of which Gus Mueller linked to in his own post on the subject, saving me the trouble) it seems appropriate to talk about that now too.
All I have are my experiences and observations as a developer of ten years, with three Mac apps and one companion iOS app. I don’t have answers to things like upgrade pricing (although bye bye discount, I suspect) or what the hell to charge on iOS (probably more than you think, less than you’d like). Also, while I barely even consider myself an iOS developer, from what I’ve seen it’s just the same really, even if the scale is different.
To make a living, you need to create something useful that you can sell at a reasonable but sustainable price, and build up over time. Luck and good timing matter too, but a lot of that comes down to being smart about it. Sometimes it takes a while to come up with the app that sticks. In my case, my first app (KIT, now Together) launched and did nothing for two years, meanwhile my second app, Feeder, caught the podcasting wave. By the time that was over, Together was gaining traction and has been my main earner ever since.
Expect poverty starting out, moments in the spotlight far too brief, frequent setbacks and the ever-present threat of suddenly finding yourself in competition with some large corporation or VC-funded outfit possessing the kind of resources and reach you could only dream of. The iPhone app gold rush encapsulated this whole experience.
I wasn’t a part of that, but I can understand how it must feel. About four years ago, I remember being somewhat incredulous that I’d appeared on a list of 35+ Rockstar Mac Developers and their Apps (and here’s 20 more). Incredulous because it already seemed a little late from where I was standing. iPad had been released, which encroached on the Mac’s turf far more than iPhone ever had, and people were moving on. Would you get a post written like that about Mac developers today? I don’t think so. Hey, even that site has shut down. The wagons rattled off into the distance, leaving us coughing in their dusty wake.
Many Mac devs from that era have now experienced the full bell curve of interest in a platform, starting out as a niche concern, then hyped to the stratosphere, only to be swiftly brought back to earth. It’s hardly that the Mac or those apps are an irrelevance, but it can feel that way when you’re trying to promote your stuff. I don’t know how anyone else on those lists is doing now, but most look like they’re still going, thankfully.
The ones who aren’t? Well, I recognise the names and can suspect the reasons. There has always been, and probably always will be, people saying you should sell apps for pennies to get the most exposure, or do this or that to get gain thousands of customers overnight. This works for a short time, but it’s heralded the death of many a dev’s career, crushed under the weight of supporting people who paid next to nothing. What’s the point? There are no shortcuts to lasting success.
It took about 3.5 years until I could say I was making a proper living, but it’s not like you crest the hill and then it’s all freewheeling. I was buried under the avalanche of work that followed, and it took a few more years to dig my way out, by which time I had to start all over again creating a Mac and iOS app combo to survive in the new world that emerged in the meantime. There have been many hairy moments, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve thought it’s all over, only for things to roar back into life with the next release.
The peaks and troughs seem more extreme these days, and it’s much more difficult for apps to gain attention. You need to make sure you always have irons in the fire, while keeping up with the latest developments. You cannot rest.
It’s not easy and never was, but nothing worth doing ever is… at least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Yes, that just happened.