Developing Perspective

#192: Nobility of Effort.


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective. This is usually where I'd have an introduction,

00:00:04   but I don't think I have time today. All right. So, this last week we've seen a rather remarkable

00:00:08   explosion in writing and discussion about the business and practice, I guess, of making

00:00:13   a living in the App Store. Personally, I love these little bubbles of discussion. I love

00:00:17   when they appear. And if you've listened to me for any amount of time, you know, this

00:00:20   is what I love. I'm kind of -- I try and be a student of the App Store. And so, whenever

00:00:25   these little discussion bubbles appear, it's a great opportunity for tons of anecdotes,

00:00:29   tons of discussion, tons of things that help me understand this story and make my living

00:00:33   even better.

00:00:34   And I've got to say though, I'm a little bit apprehensive about this week's show. I've

00:00:38   had a lot of people reach out to me and ask, say, "Oh, they can't wait to hear what I have

00:00:42   to say about it," because the reality is I'm kind of right in the thick of this. I'm an

00:00:46   independent developer. I have somewhat of a history of sharing my thoughts on these

00:00:49   types of things. I've been making my living for about five years from the App Store. So

00:00:53   I kind of know what's going on. And sadly though, if you're hoping to hear some kind

00:00:58   grand unified theory of the App Store and what it looks like today, I'm probably going

00:01:02   to disappoint you. You know, business is complicated. It's dynamic, it's ever-changing. You can

00:01:07   do the same thing twice and have wildly different outcomes. You can try and replicate what someone

00:01:12   else did and it could work for you or it could work way better or worse. You just never know.

00:01:17   And the reality too is we're all coming at these questions about is there a sustainable

00:01:22   living in the App Store? Is that changed? Is it different? Is it possible? We're all

00:01:26   all coming at it from a very different place, different goals, different personal situations,

00:01:30   backgrounds. And so there aren't any grand unified answers. There's just opinions. There's

00:01:34   just lots of little data points that we will all individually connect together in a way

00:01:38   that makes sense for us. So here's my best effort. And the best way I could kind of think

00:01:42   to put something like this together was to just kind of have a series of semi-coherent

00:01:47   mini-rants. So let's go. All right. The first one. This is the super sort of super mega

00:01:52   high-level overview of where the App Store is and what it's like to make a living there.

00:01:57   First, it's never really been easy to make a living in the App Store, for whatever "make

00:02:02   a living" might mean to you, which I'll talk about later. The App Store, when it was young,

00:02:06   it may have been somewhat more straightforward to make something, put it out there, see if

00:02:10   it was a hit. It was never easy. The reality is, for even my own apps and myself personally,

00:02:17   most of my failed apps were launched in the first three years of the App Store. And as

00:02:21   it's matured, it's also become just a much more efficient marketplace. And marketplace

00:02:26   in the sense of the economics word, not in the sense of something else.

00:02:30   There used to be some things that you could do, some kind of tips and tricks that you

00:02:34   could use to kind of game the system or get unfair advantages, all these weird things

00:02:38   that you used to be able to do. And I think those are much less effective than they used

00:02:42   to be. And so we're now just left with kind of fundamental business competition, which

00:02:47   has some things that always would have applied anyway, but maybe were somewhat hidden before

00:02:51   before. You need more than a good idea to have a successful product. The market doesn't

00:02:55   really care about the process it took to create what you created. It just cares about the

00:02:59   end result. As supply goes up, prices come down. Diversification of your product line

00:03:06   is essential for stability and income and the reality that most businesses fail. These

00:03:11   are just realities of a store and as the app store has gotten more mature, I think they

00:03:17   have become more evident. That's not to say there are aspects of the app store design

00:03:20   that couldn't be improved, see the 8-part series and massive blog posts and other podcasts

00:03:26   I've done on the topic about how to make the App Store better. But the reality is, it's

00:03:30   never been easy to make a living in the App Store. It may have been somewhat more straightforward,

00:03:34   perhaps, but it's never been easy. And while it's difficult now, it's always been difficult,

00:03:39   and it always will be difficult. Alright, next. One thing that I keep thinking

00:03:44   about as I think about these kind of discussions about if you can make a living in the App

00:03:48   or making a living from software in general.

00:03:51   One thing that I want to make sure that I personally don't lose sight on

00:03:54   is just how unique of an opportunity developers find themselves in,

00:03:59   where something like this is even a possible discussion,

00:04:02   or something that people think about and discuss as though it is a likely possibility.

00:04:07   I think about most crafts where you can kind of pursue your passion in,

00:04:11   whether that's art, design, acting, music, whatever.

00:04:14   Like, there's so many of these creative arts that people apply themselves to and have strong

00:04:18   passions for, but in almost every case, they're either pursued as a hobby on the side, or

00:04:24   they're pursued in the context of a much larger organization.

00:04:27   It's a very rare thing that software and the current state of tools that we have at our

00:04:32   disposal allows an opportunity for us to make our living from our work, and to have that

00:04:38   be even somewhat reasonably possible.

00:04:41   If I was 18 and talking to my parents and saying, "Hey, I want to make my living from

00:04:48   my music," you know, whatever, I'm terrible at music, but if I was to imagine an alternate

00:04:51   reality where I was good at music, and I said, "Hey, I want to make my living from my music,"

00:04:55   they would be entirely reasonable to say, "You know what, Dave?

00:04:59   That's cool, but I don't think it's going to happen."

00:05:02   But if I do this exact same thing and say, "Hey, I think I'm going to make my living

00:05:05   from making and writing software and putting it out into the world," and they're like,

00:05:09   great, supportive, that's kind of remarkable. And so we should probably make sure that we're

00:05:14   careful about understanding about just how unique of a position we're even in to start with before

00:05:18   we get too wrapped up in the nuances of the likelihoods and the percentages of possibilities

00:05:24   and the actual outcomes. All right, next one. We all have different goals, and this is something

00:05:29   that I think about a lot, and I've had a lot of situations that make me think about it even more.

00:05:35   But why it is so hard to have these types of discussions about making a living in the

00:05:40   App Store, about making a living from software, is the definition of making a living is very,

00:05:46   very ephemeral. And even beyond that, a lot of people don't even really want to make a

00:05:51   living. A lot of people have very different goals in creating software, and we are all

00:05:56   competing for the same attention from customers, but from very different places. And that creates

00:06:01   some kind of awkward situations. I know a lot of developers for whom the ultimate goal

00:06:07   is just to ship something and have it in the store. And that the goal of making some money

00:06:15   from it somewhere down the road is something that's more like this fleeting notion that

00:06:20   they enjoy talking about over a beer with friends. It isn't really their goal. They're

00:06:25   just proud of having shipped something. And that's awesome. But that same software is

00:06:31   is going to be stacked up against people for whom they've put their entire family's livelihood

00:06:36   writing on it. And that's awkward. That's complicated. And I also start to think about

00:06:43   things like the differences in cost of living and how global a marketplace we work in. This

00:06:51   is something that I have a very personal story about. I remember in my earlier days of the

00:06:54   App Store, I was reading an article that was written by one of my most direct competitors

00:06:58   at the time for one of my apps. And because of our comparative rankings, I knew what they

00:07:03   were making, roughly. It was about the same as what I was making. We were neck and neck,

00:07:07   always two or three in a category, really jumping back and forth. And he was interesting.

00:07:12   It wasn't really the purpose of what he was talking about, but he was talking about how

00:07:15   he was supporting a fairly large team of people on the income he was receiving. And at the

00:07:22   same time, I was not yet at a point where I could support myself from that level of

00:07:26   income and it was because he was based in Eastern Europe and I was based in

00:07:31   Northern Virginia just outside of Washington DC in the United States. It's

00:07:35   fascinating how those dynamics will play out, right? Because he, I was competing in

00:07:40   terms of creating a product that was one person against a team of five or six

00:07:45   people, you know, with a variety of different skill sets and a variety of

00:07:49   different capabilities and yet I was still trying to be competitive. That's

00:07:53   going to be complicated. And coming at this from that perspective, it's probably good

00:07:57   to keep that in the back of your mind. That your ability to stay competitive may be impacted

00:08:04   or reduced by where you live. And what your definition of what success will be, will be

00:08:10   very different based on where you are. Making a few thousand dollars from an app in the

00:08:15   US may just be kind of like, "Eh, you know, that's alright." Making that same amount of

00:08:20   of money somewhere in the third world or in a more developing country could be amazing,

00:08:25   could be a tremendous opportunity and a wild success. And it's probably important to keep

00:08:30   that in mind as we start to think about and talk about these types of things. You know,

00:08:35   we're building apps into a global ecosystem where everyone's definition of success is

00:08:39   necessarily going to be different. And so again, I'm going to state something that if

00:08:43   you've been listening to the show for a long time, I've stated many, many times before,

00:08:48   is that the most important thing before you start building something is to make sure you've

00:08:52   understood and defined for yourself what success would be for you. And the better you are at

00:08:58   articulating and understanding that, I think the happier and the more satisfied you will be with

00:09:03   the result. All right, next kind of mini rant. The word "indie" I think has taken on a somewhat

00:09:10   mythical connotation within our community, somewhat consciously, somewhat unconsciously.

00:09:16   I mean, I think it is almost, and this is just speaking from my own experience, it kind

00:09:19   of takes on and evokes this persona of this genius engineer who is tirelessly toiling

00:09:26   away on their work, sweating all the details, making the hard choices, and then after much

00:09:31   noble blood and sweat and tears emerge with this gleaming product that they set forth

00:09:36   into the marketplace and the world lauds it and praises them and then provides them passive

00:09:41   income sufficient for them to continue their artisanal craftsmanship.

00:09:48   Is that what it sounds like to you? If I say, you know, indie developer? I don't know. Maybe

00:09:52   it does, maybe I'm just being a little bit crazy. But I feel like at some point that's

00:09:55   what it starts to have, the connotations that it started to have developed in our community.

00:10:00   And I must say, I love the story. It certainly does sound nice, doesn't it? And I mean, I

00:10:05   love that it kind of elevates and creates this aspirational thing for us to strive towards.

00:10:10   pretty cool. But as somebody for whom this is often ascribed to, it's not something necessarily

00:10:15   that, like, that reality is not how I would ever describe my life, but as some people

00:10:21   often refer to me as an indie, the actual reality of being an indie is very different.

00:10:26   And if I take for the purposes of this discussion the definition of being an indie is being,

00:10:30   you know, a small one, maybe one to three people team of developers who make their core

00:10:34   income directly from the software they create. Right, that's a pretty reasonable definition

00:10:37   maybe. It's much less dramatic. There's a lot of duct tape, cut corners, worried nights,

00:10:43   ends not quite meeting, and all the while with kind of like the specter of failures,

00:10:48   chilled breath down your neck all the time, thinking about, "Is this going to work? Is

00:10:52   this going to work?" And that's not quite as romantic, is it? And don't get me wrong,

00:10:59   I love it. This appeals to my personality, but this really isn't for everyone. Being

00:11:04   Being an indie is a really hard, tough way to make a living, and isn't honestly something

00:11:09   that I would recommend for most people.

00:11:11   And the thing that worries me more is that as a community, I think we tread into very

00:11:16   dangerous territory when we start to place undue elevation on that type of development,

00:11:22   and begin to, either directly or just by implication, start to look down our noses at people who

00:11:29   make their livings in much, much, much saner ways.

00:11:32   I have tremendous respect for people who support their families working hard in large corporations.

00:11:38   And whether that's a company as large as Apple, or it's the Omni Group, or it's just XYZ Corp.

00:11:43   If you're making your living from building software, more power to you.

00:11:49   And for the consultants who do consulting work, that's hard work.

00:11:53   I've done it before.

00:11:54   It's very hard to do.

00:11:56   I don't look down on people as somehow that's a failure.

00:11:58   So often there's this connotation that, "Oh, and then I had to take consulting to make

00:12:02   ends meet," as though that was a failure.

00:12:06   The nobility of what we do comes intrinsically from the effort, from the care and attention

00:12:11   in the manner in which we carry ourselves and the work itself that we do.

00:12:16   It isn't coming from the context in which that work is done.

00:12:19   It is the work itself that has that nobility.

00:12:23   And I think it's important that we remember that and remind ourselves of that as a community,

00:12:28   that we don't look down at one type of work as somehow

00:12:31   ennoble or a failure or different.

00:12:34   What we're doing is making software, and the way in which we make it,

00:12:38   whatever context we're in, is the important part.

00:12:42   Alright, and my last mini-rant is about patience.

00:12:46   It's so easy, I think, as people to look at the end result of someone's effort

00:12:51   and to look at it, want to emulate it, but not necessarily internalize

00:12:56   internalize the time, energy, and effort that they took them to get there. And it's one of those

00:13:03   things that I think I see most often in people is where they forget and really don't want to think

00:13:08   about how much time and energy it will take to get to a point where you can make a sustainable living

00:13:14   from your work. You can look at a few examples of people who do that, for people who have made that

00:13:21   that work for them, and in almost every case I've seen it, it is measured in years before

00:13:26   they get to that point. It is not something that will happen overnight. It is not something

00:13:30   that will be easy. It is not something that will get there. But I do honestly believe

00:13:34   that building quality products, being an adaptive student of the stores and marketplaces in

00:13:38   which you build something, and consistently improving your own skills, does provide a

00:13:43   path where it is a good, solid likelihood that you can get to that point if that's the

00:13:47   path you'd like to do. But patience is, above all else, the most important aspect of that

00:13:53   journey. Understanding that it will take failure after failure, whether public or private,

00:13:59   failure after failure, for you to actually get to that point. And understand that. And

00:14:05   if you embrace that and that sounds good to you, then awesome. In three or four years,

00:14:10   maybe you'll be doing a podcast talking about what it's like to have finally gotten to cobble

00:14:15   together enough of a success to be at that point. Because really all we can do at the

00:14:19   end of the day is to build, ship, and then repeat. That's our shampoo label. That's what

00:14:26   we do. We build, we ship, and then we repeat, trying to learn something every time in that

00:14:31   process.

00:14:32   All right, those are my mini-rants. Hopefully that was helpful. I'm not sure if it was,

00:14:36   but if it isn't, sorry. That's the best I could come up with in the context. I have

00:14:41   whole list of blog posts in the show notes that I commend to you as homework. If you

00:14:45   have any interest in this kind of topic, make sure you read all of them. They're written

00:14:48   by really smart people who I respect a lot. And if you have feedback for me, I'm David

00:14:52   at developingperspective.com. Thank you so much for listening. Bye.