00:07:57 ◼ ► The same thing is true with apps. We can spend a lot of time on something, but just because you spend a lot of time making a really great version of something doesn't mean enough people want that thing.
00:08:35 ◼ ► So again, if you can achieve both, if you can make something that fits the market really well, that is also nicely designed and respectful of users and provides great features, then that's great.
00:08:48 ◼ ► That's a great place to be, but it should be prioritized accordingly with its actual impact to your actual business and ability to do this thing in a sustainable way, as opposed to being the primary thing.
00:09:18 ◼ ► And a lot of times that just cannot be justified by the business. And in many ways, a lot of us have worked day jobs for companies that had better priorities for their businesses, and we rebel against that.
00:10:10 ◼ ► This doesn't apply to everyone's definition of success. If you're trying to make something that's a beautiful experience or really nice in some way that is not highly valued by the market, that's only a failure if you don't need the market to value it.
00:10:31 ◼ ► But most of us need to make money from our apps to keep justifying pouring effort into them. And so, if that's your goal or your need, then you have to treat apps more like the businesses that they are.
00:11:27 ◼ ► Yeah. And I think the thing about it that I would think is why this really stuck with me when I was hearing John talk about this was the sense that what I want, or what I think would be best in the abstract for the ecosystem in which I make my living, is for there to be a higher proportion of people who care about design who are successful in this ecosystem, in this world in which I work.
00:11:56 ◼ ► In which we work. And in order for that to be the case, I think more of them have to be, it's like more and more developers who care about design have to be able to sustainably make a living from it.
00:12:08 ◼ ► Because labors of love are great in terms of, it's like making people who make art or paint pictures or do things like that. Like there's an element of it that it is purely an expression of something inside of you.
00:12:21 ◼ ► If it can be financially viable, great. If not, whatever. But in order for that to really have a sustaining presence in the App Store, it needs to be a sustaining thing. And so I think it becomes incumbent on developers to try and have these two perspectives and hold them in an appropriate amount of tension, rather than getting too sort of focused in one side or the other.
00:12:44 ◼ ► Because what you end up with is an App Store that is full of people who are only interested in engagement, in metrics, in squeezing every penny out of their users, etc. who don't care about design, and you end up with a platform that isn't as nice, it isn't as good.
00:12:59 ◼ ► And I'm not advocating that that is a good thing, but I'm trying to sort of moreover point out that if you don't have both of those things, you'll never be able to get into that place where there's a higher proportion.
00:13:10 ◼ ► A lot of ways I think about Apple with this, and I feel like early in my career, I would see Apple as only the design focused, like, "Ooh, they're the one who just makes the shiny finished product." That was the thing that was like, "Ooh, I want to be Apple-like."
00:13:27 ◼ ► Whereas the reality of it's like a lot of Apple's success is because they are just absolutely shrewd cutting business people who are very good at extracting money out of people, who are very good at designing things in such a way that they're good enough, and good enough is great.
00:13:48 ◼ ► What they do build is solid and good for the most part, but they don't get too mired down in the weeds, and very often I feel like what they've done, which is genius, and something that I try and see in my own work a bit more, is if they hit a hard problem, sometimes they'll just ignore it and say, "Oh, we'll just leave it as a third-party opportunity."
00:14:08 ◼ ► It's like all of this stuff with the Photos app, where the Photos app completely ignores the fact that you might be in a family, that you might want to have a shared photo library or things.
00:14:20 ◼ ► As an example, these are really difficult problems that would have really challenging solutions technically and visually and design-wise, and very often they're just like, "Oh, we just don't do that," and we just move on. Whereas I feel like they'd be so easy to get sucked into that as this really interesting, nuanced design problem.
00:14:38 ◼ ► It's like trying to solve things for the edge case rather than solving it for the mass case. If you solve for the mass case, which is very often Apple's solution, you end up successful. If you then also charge for it, you're not afraid to charge a high amount for it, and you value your work in that way, that you're not bashful about monetizing it to a large degree.
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00:16:06 ◼ ► And I think to get slightly practical for a second, too, something that I was thinking about, like where is a turning point in my app career that I think sort of this applies to? And I feel like it's the way that I approached advertising in my apps.
00:16:20 ◼ ► And you and I have ended up going a different direction with this, Marco, your own ads. But I feel like I went down originally when I was building products that were free. I didn't have any ads. I just didn't like the thought of them. They're ugly.
00:16:36 ◼ ► They're putting content that isn't my content inside of my beautiful app. Why would I do that? Then I tried to do a homegrown ad solution for a while for one of my old apps that didn't work very well. It was a nightmare.
00:16:51 ◼ ► And then at some point, I just was like, you know, I'm just going to put AdMob ads in, which ultimately became Google ads. And I did that, and suddenly my business became viable in a way that was a tremendous struggle before.
00:17:07 ◼ ► And I don't think that was a bad choice. I think it was a good choice. I think that making the business sustainable in a way that, you know, the rest of the app I could spend have now have tons more time to allow me to focus on polishing and getting better and have a sustainable income from.
00:17:23 ◼ ► And I'm aligning my design goals with my business goals because if I make a better app that people want to come into more and more, they'll see more ads, so I'll make more money. Like all of those incentives aligned, and it just was me moving away from the fact that, oh, ads are bad.
00:17:39 ◼ ► They're not pretty. And sometimes if you open my app, you're going to see, you know, it's like ads that aren't beautiful, that are just for the local car dealership or whatever it is that is functional and sort of there because it's relevant potentially to that person, but isn't beautiful and are handcrafted.
00:17:57 ◼ ► But that's how I make that substantial, if not majority of my income at this point. And it was a choice that I struggled with and agonized over for a long time and way more than I should have.
00:18:10 ◼ ► I think, in retrospect, I wish I'd embraced ads with two hands much earlier, and I think my business would have been better as a result, and I would have been able to spend more time sooner, you know, focusing on making my apps and the other parts of my apps better.
00:18:27 ◼ ► Yeah, because I think the culture that we came up in, as we were talking about earlier, of the old Mac indie software scene, that worked because at the time, Macs were still pretty specialized things that the majority of the world wasn't using yet.
00:18:46 ◼ ► I mean, they still aren't technically, but you know, they were much smaller than they were today, and indie Mac software could sell for like $50 or more. And trying to apply that same business model and expectations to today's market of iPhone software is completely different markets with completely different rules.
00:19:10 ◼ ► And now, what is expected, what is commonplace, has changed. You know, what is commonplace now is free apps up front that make money either with ads or with some kind of in-app purchase scheme.
00:19:34 ◼ ► And you know, we talked a while back, we talked about those "rate my app" dialogues that everyone throws up, and I mentioned how I've been making this promise in Overcast's settings screen since 1.0 that said, "Overcast will never interrupt you for ratings."
00:19:49 ◼ ► And I was talking then how I should probably take that out. Well, I did. And I now have this, I was thinking, I want to start prompting for ratings because again, I get killed in my ratings numbers just because I was never doing this, and people's expectations over time shifted.
00:20:07 ◼ ► And now, no one cares about those boxes anymore, and so I actually have this, this amazing property on my user models now in the upcoming version of my app that is a bool titled "Can prompt for review without breaking old promise."
00:20:23 ◼ ► And I check the user creation date, and the last version I shipped to the App Store removed that promise that I would never interrupt you for ratings. And so if your user account was created after the release of that version, in the future, whenever I ship the next update, I will start prompting you for reviews at some point.
00:20:42 ◼ ► Because I realize, like, yeah, business changes. There used to be a time where apps checking their servers for updates was considered a violation of trust. It was called "phoning home," and it was very unacceptable to do, especially without asking.
00:20:59 ◼ ► Now, apps communicating with their own servers for pretty much any reason is totally fine. No one cares. It's expected. It's commonplace. Even apps communicating back to their own servers for analytics is considered so commonplace and boring that no one even thinks you have to ask for that anymore.
00:21:17 ◼ ► So people's expectations and standards shift over time, and ads are a great example of this. Apps that have ads in them, that would have been considered really trashy back in the old Mac indie software days.
00:21:33 ◼ ► And I don't know of any apps that did that were well regarded. But now, apps that have ads in them, that's so incredibly common and expected, nobody cares. It's no longer the mark of a bad, low-quality app.
00:21:48 ◼ ► Now, there are different kinds of ads. There are crappy ads, and that can certainly make your app look crappier. But the concept in general of having ads in your app is no longer considered this low-class thing that makes your app impossible to ever be considered a nice app.
00:22:05 ◼ ► Those expectations are gone now. And if you have an app that can only be used by paying money, you're going to have a substantially smaller customer base, and you're going to have a much harder time sustaining your business over time.
00:22:35 ◼ ► Keep in mind that customer expectations will change over time. They always have, they always will. What is acceptable has changed over time. What you need to do to sustain a business has changed over time.
00:22:47 ◼ ► And leave yourself room for that. Like, you know, saying in my settings cell that I would never interrupt you for ratings was a mistake. Using the word "never" was not wise, because things change over time.
00:22:59 ◼ ► That was, I wrote that probably eight years ago. And that's not how things are today anymore. And so, now I have this ridiculous exception that I'm trying to accommodate my "never" to the people I showed it to, but not future people who I never promised that to.
00:23:16 ◼ ► And, you know, there's other things that I'm probably going to change in the future too. Like, you know, in the past, I've been very critical of using push notifications as engagement vehicles to, like, get people back in your app.
00:23:48 ◼ ► Yeah. And I think, too, it's just this fundamental thing that you have to understand. Like, if your goal is to run a business that is going to provide a sustainable, long-term income, there are certain, like, business fundamentals that have to be sort of addressed or understood or have a plan for.
00:24:10 ◼ ► That I think I very often, in the old, like, in the early parts of my career, I would just look back and my business plan was, make something nice, put it out in the world, world will like it.
00:24:23 ◼ ► Like, that was all I had. It was just, if I build it, they will come, kind of an approach. And increasingly, it's more the sense of, it's like, how am I going to get new customers? Which, like, the fancy, like, salesy word is, like, what is my sales funnel?
00:24:40 ◼ ► But it's like, where are people coming from? How are they going to find out about my app? Once I get them in my app, how am I going to make money from them? And how am I going to sustain that income from them over time? Like, if I can't answer those questions of, like, where are my customers coming from? And how am I getting money from them?
00:24:56 ◼ ► I don't actually have a business. I have, like, a wish. I have a hope. And that's just a different mindset that it's easy to ignore, that you have to be able to answer those two questions before you have a viable business. And if you don't, and if you just want to make something pretty, great.
00:25:12 ◼ ► But it's a different thing. And it's not something that, like, it just frustrates me because I feel like I wish, I'm sad for all the indie app developers who sort of weren't able to make it their full time career. Like, that is a loss, I think, for the world.
00:25:32 ◼ ► Because there wasn't enough sort of flexibility in the things that they could be flexible in. And, you know, there are some developers who I think have made some incredible indie apps over the years that I truly admire. And I was always sad when they sort of transitioned into, you know, like, now I work for big XYZ Corp.
00:25:49 ◼ ► Because I couldn't make it as an indie. And it's like so often it's because they made amazing things, but weren't able to answer the business questions. That they were making something amazing and just sort of hoping for the best. And that's just, that's sad. And that's disappointing.
00:26:03 ◼ ► And I feel like it's a solvable problem to some degree. That focusing more on these things and having a lot more flexibility about these things and not saying that, oh, you know, that's, yeah, don't look down on an opportunity to make money if it's not immoral. Like, in that way.
00:26:19 ◼ ► It's just a question of taste. It's just a question of, you know, where you fall on, is it interrupted? Is it user hostile or things like that? Like, don't be hostile, but maybe be a little annoying. Like, that's fine.
00:26:34 ◼ ► You know, it's like user annoying development. I don't know, like, I feel like so often that's fine. And that's actually better if you're able to annoy people in such, you know, it's like asking anytime you ask someone for money, it's probably a little annoying, you know, and being okay with that. Because if you don't ask, then they won't give you any money. It's like ask, you know, this is I was remember a couple few episodes ago, I was talking about in pedometer++, where I had the means to, you know, remove the ads from the from from the app. And it was like buried deep in the bottom of the settings thing that you could give me money.
00:27:03 ◼ ► And take the ads away. And I changed it to put that button right on the home screen next to the ad. And suddenly all these people were taking advantage of it. It's like, yeah, I probably should have just done that all along, rather than feeling like, oh, I'm just it's like a little shameful asking for money over here. I'm going to do it over in the corner. And just sort of like, you know, it's like if you're gonna have a tip jar, like put it front and center on the on the counter next to where people are buying their stuff.
00:27:29 ◼ ► Like don't hide, you know, have have a tip jar over in the corner on the way to the bathroom and just like, hope people are going to see it. It's like, no, just put it somewhere and have a plan for that.
00:27:38 ◼ ► Yeah. And, and if if you can do a successful business that that gets that, you know, that sustains itself with any of these mechanisms of possibly, you know, possibly being a little bit in people's faces, or a little bit annoying, whatever. If you can do that, while also satisfying your business goals, and also making something really nice, then that's great.
00:28:01 ◼ ► Like, and but keep in mind who you're doing that for, like, the market it like, take a look at what succeeds in the App Store, go to the top charts. How many like nice handcrafted apps do you see? It's not going to be a large number.
00:28:15 ◼ ► I think you're lucky if you find any most days. But what succeeds is different from what is nice. And if you can achieve both as an indie developer, then that's great. Do that for yourself for your own satisfaction. That that's that's why we make nice things. We make them for ourselves, not for the market.
00:28:34 ◼ ► If we can make something successful in the market nice, then that's, that's, that's purely a bonus on top of that. And that's for our own satisfaction, our own professional, you know, desires or whatever. But the business side of it has to come first. Otherwise, you will not be able to, to keep making the thing that you want to make.
00:28:55 ◼ ► And I hope that more of us can. And I think it's, it's just that that's the part of this part of this that I feel like it may sound come across as me being a bit pessimistic or negative, but it's like, I think it's such an opportunity for so many people who are talented designers and developers to take an ad, like, just dial up the business acumen, sort of slightly aggressiveness part of their part of what they're making.
00:29:18 ◼ ► And then suddenly they can do it sustainably, and suddenly it can be a living and suddenly they're unleashed from, you know, nine to five work and able to do this in a sustainable way. And that is such a wonderful, exciting thing for, for the community, for the App Store, for just the universe in general, that I think that's the exciting part to me. And so that's, that's, if you take anything from this, that's the message I'm hoping for. It's like, be hopeful, be open and flexible about business. And the reward is being able to make the things you love in a sustainable way in day to day.