Developing Perspective

#150: Five Years in the App Store


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective.

00:00:05   Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing news of note,

00:00:07   tonight's development, Apple, and the like.

00:00:09   I'm your host, David Smith.

00:00:12   I'm an independent iOS and Mac developer based in Herndon, Virginia.

00:00:13   This is show number 150.

00:00:15   Today is Friday, November 8th, 2013.

00:00:18   Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes,

00:00:21   so let's get started.

00:00:23   It's been an interesting day for me.

00:00:25   So as I just said in the intro,

00:00:26   this is episode 150 officially of Developing Perspective.

00:00:28   perspective.

00:00:28   I've had more than 150 episodes, including various other side

00:00:31   projects and things that were part of the stream.

00:00:33   But officially, this is episode 150.

00:00:35   And rather interestingly, that coincides exactly

00:00:38   with the five-year anniversary of my first app being accepted

00:00:42   by Apple for the App Store.

00:00:44   Back on Saturday, November 8, 2008, five years ago,

00:00:48   my first app, which is whose name was Perdium FY09,

00:00:52   was released.

00:00:54   And so I was going to do today-- and there's

00:00:57   a companion blog post that goes along with this episode that I'll have a link to in the

00:01:00   show notes.

00:01:01   But essentially what I was going to talk about is I spent all of today just sort of being

00:01:06   retrospective and thinking about what that experience has been like, what it's been like

00:01:12   to take five years of focused effort developing apps for primarily the iOS app store.

00:01:19   Back when I started it was the iPhone OS app store, I suppose.

00:01:23   And it's kind of an interesting thing for me, because I've spent--

00:01:27   it's by far the longest career or job or whatever you want to call it

00:01:31   that I've ever had.

00:01:32   Prior to this, I worked a couple of jobs that lasted a couple of years,

00:01:35   a few years.

00:01:36   But the reality is I'm 30 years old, and for five years I've been doing this.

00:01:40   And so the majority of my adult life I've been making apps.

00:01:43   And so it's interesting to look back and to see what are the trends that I've

00:01:48   learned?

00:01:48   are the lessons that I can take from that,

00:01:53   from those experiences and all the various failures

00:01:57   and the triumphs and things that I've had,

00:01:58   hopefully I can kind of bundle it

00:02:00   into some interesting stories.

00:02:01   And so the blog post that goes along with this,

00:02:03   which is called Five Years in the App Store-- like I said,

00:02:06   it's on the link in the show notes to it--

00:02:08   is kind of a narrative history of the last five years,

00:02:11   what that's been like from the experience of getting set up

00:02:14   on the platform to my first app, my first real success,

00:02:18   some of the failures I've had, et cetera.

00:02:20   But rather than doing the narrative part on the show,

00:02:23   which I think would be quite as interesting,

00:02:24   I'm going to take the step back.

00:02:26   And I'm going to talk about some of the high level trends

00:02:28   and things that I would say I've learned over the last five

00:02:31   years.

00:02:32   And there's probably about five or six of them.

00:02:34   And I'll just kind of walk through them in order.

00:02:37   So the first one I'm going to talk about

00:02:38   is that having done this for as long as I have,

00:02:41   the reality is I've found you can never really predict

00:02:44   the next trend.

00:02:46   Anybody who says they can is typically selling you something.

00:02:49   But there's a great degree to which

00:02:54   you can get too caught up in trying to predict whatever

00:02:58   the next big thing is.

00:02:59   Is it going to be a new platform?

00:03:00   Is it a new app?

00:03:02   Is it a new whatever?

00:03:03   I mean, there are some times that new things come out

00:03:05   like the iPad, where I think everyone thought

00:03:07   it was going to be a success.

00:03:08   And it turned out it was a pretty big success.

00:03:10   There are other times, for example,

00:03:11   like the Mac App Store, where it launched,

00:03:13   and it's been kind of difficult.

00:03:14   And it's been kind of a challenge.

00:03:16   And you can look at either one, and there

00:03:17   are people predicting both ways.

00:03:20   But the reason that I bring that up

00:03:21   is that I think what I've learned

00:03:23   over a long period of time is that the reality is you just

00:03:25   have to kind of make choices that make sense for you

00:03:28   and not worry too much about if you're going to miss out.

00:03:32   There's this great opportunity, and you're going to miss out.

00:03:35   You'll never-- it'll be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

00:03:38   Maybe, maybe not.

00:03:39   You just never know.

00:03:40   And so you're going to drive yourself crazy

00:03:42   if you start sort of chasing your tail.

00:03:45   for all the little opportunities or things

00:03:47   that you think you're missing out.

00:03:50   The reality is things move slowly, more slowly

00:03:54   than you actually think they are.

00:03:55   And these things take time.

00:03:57   And more often than not, you don't miss the big boat

00:04:00   if you are delayed slightly or if you miss time something.

00:04:03   The reality is focus on making your product

00:04:06   and making your product good, making your product fit

00:04:09   the market, understand your users,

00:04:10   those types of things, the kind of universal truths

00:04:12   that I talk about all the time on this show.

00:04:14   And don't worry too much about the trends.

00:04:16   Because as I look back over the last five years,

00:04:17   there have been a lot of times that I thought

00:04:19   that I had to jump on a boat.

00:04:21   I had a couple of apps available for the iPad App Store

00:04:25   when I first launched, for the Mac App Store

00:04:26   when I first launched.

00:04:27   And in all those cases, none of those apps

00:04:28   have ever done well.

00:04:29   It's always the thing two or three later

00:04:31   where I had the time, I had the perspective

00:04:34   to take a step back and say, you know what?

00:04:36   This could be better if I did this.

00:04:37   Or this idea that I've kind of been mulling over

00:04:40   and that I've spent several weeks, months working out

00:04:44   is much better.

00:04:45   So don't worry too much about those trends,

00:04:47   or catching the wave, or whatever you want to say,

00:04:49   in that way.

00:04:51   Next thing I was going to say is that it's incredibly difficult

00:04:54   when you're close to a project to have

00:04:56   any amount of confidence or accuracy

00:05:01   in trying to predict its success.

00:05:03   This is something that I've seen so often in my experience.

00:05:06   And I'm somebody who's known for being a little bit--

00:05:09   I don't even know the right word--

00:05:10   prolific, maybe, in development, where

00:05:13   I've probably released somewhere in the order of probably 80

00:05:16   unique app concepts onto the App Store in the last five years,

00:05:19   which is a lot.

00:05:20   That's far beyond what is probably reasonable or sane

00:05:24   or good, for me anyway.

00:05:26   But that's just the way that I work.

00:05:28   That's the way that my mind works.

00:05:29   I get an idea, and I just want to run with it.

00:05:31   And the thing that I found that's interesting,

00:05:33   though, is I have a terrible track record

00:05:36   of predicting which of those ideas

00:05:38   are going to be successes and which ones aren't.

00:05:40   Now obviously, to some degree, I thought all of them

00:05:41   are going to be successes, or I wouldn't have put in the effort

00:05:45   in the first place.

00:05:46   But there are some of them that I've launched with just

00:05:49   a speculative curiosity.

00:05:50   Say something like Podometer, which I recently launched,

00:05:53   which is an app that-- Podometer++ is just

00:05:55   an app that takes some data and shows it to people.

00:05:57   I thought it would be interesting.

00:05:58   It's just a speculative curiosity.

00:06:00   I put it out there.

00:06:01   And it's been very well received.

00:06:03   For other apps, I've spent months, probably five or six

00:06:06   months, working on an application,

00:06:08   working on something.

00:06:09   I think it's amazing.

00:06:10   I'm using it all the time.

00:06:11   It's great.

00:06:11   I put it out there, nothing, just crickets.

00:06:14   And I found that there's not really--

00:06:16   I can't, in my own experience or in my own strength

00:06:19   or my own understanding, predict that.

00:06:21   I can't say which of these applications

00:06:23   is going to be better.

00:06:24   Ultimately, I just need to worry about making it good

00:06:29   and putting it out there, and then

00:06:31   being patient or understanding about why it succeeded

00:06:33   or why it failed.

00:06:34   If it succeeded, I can learn about some attributes of it

00:06:36   that made it succeed and apply this to my next project.

00:06:39   Awesome.

00:06:40   If I put something out there and it fails,

00:06:42   and I can learn just as much from that for like,

00:06:44   why do I think it failed?

00:06:45   Talk to some of the people who tried and didn't like it.

00:06:48   Or just see-- whatever I can do to learn from that experience

00:06:53   is still valuable.

00:06:54   But I can't, at the end of the day,

00:06:56   predict the success that I'm going to have to something.

00:06:59   And I think that's ultimately taught

00:07:00   me to make fewer smaller bets than I would potentially

00:07:03   otherwise.

00:07:03   That I think it's a very dangerous thing

00:07:06   for an independent developer to put too many eggs in one

00:07:08   basket.

00:07:09   Especially if you say the classic thing of you're

00:07:11   going to take--

00:07:13   so if you save a bunch of money, quit your job,

00:07:16   go work for a few months working on something.

00:07:18   Working on-- the probability of that working out is so low.

00:07:23   I always kind of struggle when people ask if that's a good idea

00:07:26   or they're telling me that they're going to go do that.

00:07:29   And the reality is every project you're working on

00:07:33   has just as much likelihood of failing as it does to succeed.

00:07:37   You can do things to influence it, certainly,

00:07:38   but more likely than not, the best you're ever

00:07:40   going to get is a 50/50.

00:07:42   And so how that mentality, I think,

00:07:44   helps you to be thoughtful about how you develop things,

00:07:48   I think it helps you to be ruthless as you scope projects,

00:07:51   initially version ones, that you can look at it and say,

00:07:53   if I think there's a 50/50 chance that all this work is

00:07:56   just going to be for nothing, for nothing in the sense of,

00:08:00   monetarily, your success in the store,

00:08:02   then I'm going to be very ruthless about what

00:08:05   it is that I put out there.

00:08:06   And I want to put out the best thing I can,

00:08:09   but scope it down and scale it back to such a degree

00:08:12   that you have this nugget of a great idea that's

00:08:15   really developed, rather than trying to hit everything

00:08:17   and spend all this time on features and functionality

00:08:20   that ultimately isn't necessary to get you to that point.

00:08:24   Along those lines, I also have kind of gradually

00:08:27   discovered that I'm at my best developing when I'm building

00:08:32   something that I want to use, something

00:08:34   that I think is useful, something that I think--

00:08:37   an app that I will have on my home screen

00:08:39   that I will be in and out of throughout the day.

00:08:41   As soon as I start to be speculative about things

00:08:43   and developing applications that are things that I'm like, huh,

00:08:47   I think there might be somebody who could use this.

00:08:49   But I'm not actually that person.

00:08:51   I really start to run into trouble,

00:08:53   both in terms of motivation.

00:08:55   It's hard to stay motivated on something

00:08:56   that you're not actually going to be used.

00:08:58   It's hard to maintain that kind of an application.

00:09:00   I find that it's often the hardest things for me

00:09:03   to get motivated about maintaining an app

00:09:05   is when it's an app that I don't use.

00:09:06   People are using it.

00:09:07   There may be a reasonable-sized user base,

00:09:10   but I'm putting myself in an awkward position

00:09:12   when I make something that I don't use.

00:09:14   And so what I've been trying to do over the--

00:09:17   and I ran into this a lot earlier in the last five years.

00:09:20   Where early on, I would develop almost any application

00:09:22   that I could think of, something that I thought

00:09:24   there might be an audience for.

00:09:25   Where's our net?

00:09:26   What I do now is I'm gradually, systematically, essentially,

00:09:28   going through my home screen, replacing every app

00:09:31   I use on a regular basis.

00:09:32   And that's been much more successful for me.

00:09:34   It's been much more exciting and motivating

00:09:36   in terms of my ability to make things.

00:09:40   And it's also been worked out pretty well,

00:09:42   because the apps that I end up creating

00:09:44   are useful in a tangible, practical way that I think

00:09:47   really shows through to your customers when they try the app.

00:09:50   They can tell that someone's actually used this,

00:09:52   and used this day in and day out for an extended period of time,

00:09:56   and shaved off all the rough edges,

00:09:57   and really polished it down into a good, useful idea.

00:10:02   Next is one of the things that, having done this for five years,

00:10:07   that I heard a lot throughout the process.

00:10:09   I'd be listening to people say like the class,

00:10:11   so like a Merlin man kind of people.

00:10:13   Like people who've been doing this for a while

00:10:15   and have gone through a lot of the process of kind

00:10:18   of how you become independent.

00:10:20   How do you take ownership of your career?

00:10:23   Maybe there's a better way to say it rather than being independent.

00:10:25   You don't have to be independent to do that.

00:10:27   But how do you take ownership on your career?

00:10:29   And everyone kept saying this.

00:10:31   there's no such thing as an overnight success.

00:10:33   You just kind of get discovered.

00:10:34   It's not that somebody just rolled out of bed

00:10:36   and became successful.

00:10:39   You even say a great example recently

00:10:42   is the Tapbots guys, right?

00:10:43   Paul and Mark, who-- Tweetbot is wildly successful.

00:10:47   It's a great app.

00:10:48   It's been doing very well.

00:10:49   But if you look at their other apps,

00:10:50   it took them a long time to get there.

00:10:52   They had Waitbot, Convertbot, Pastebot,

00:10:55   all kinds of other bots that they

00:10:56   made before they hit on that thing that

00:10:58   really got traction.

00:10:59   And that patience is something that is very hard to learn.

00:11:03   And that's the thing that I think if you can get over,

00:11:06   you'll have a much better satisfaction about things.

00:11:10   That it takes a lot of trying and failing--

00:11:12   or not necessarily failing, but trying and being slightly

00:11:15   disappointed, and then trying again, and trying again,

00:11:19   and trying again, and trying again, and trying again,

00:11:22   and trying again, until you get to that point

00:11:24   that you finally hit some traction.

00:11:27   I think about even a show like this, Developing Perspective.

00:11:29   I've been doing this now for 150 episodes, plus or minus.

00:11:33   And at this point, it gets a pretty reasonable audience.

00:11:35   There's a fair number of people who tune in every week

00:11:38   to listen to me.

00:11:39   And that's something that I wanted.

00:11:41   And that's not necessarily to say it as a humble brag,

00:11:44   but I think it makes the point of it took a year, probably,

00:11:48   of doing this-- essentially just talking to myself,

00:11:52   and a few friends, and a few family members,

00:11:55   before it started to get any amount of traction.

00:11:57   But keeping at it, because I thought what I was doing

00:11:59   would be useful, ultimately led me to this place.

00:12:03   And I hear from so many other developers who

00:12:05   kind of-- they come at me, and they're so excited,

00:12:07   and they have all the zeal.

00:12:09   They wrote their first app.

00:12:11   They put it out there.

00:12:12   And they get a little crestfallen

00:12:13   when it doesn't quite pan out like they wanted.

00:12:16   And that's the thing that you have to keep in mind,

00:12:18   that it takes time.

00:12:20   There's no way that you can rush it.

00:12:21   It's not-- it's the old joke about you can't have nine women

00:12:24   make a baby in one month.

00:12:26   It's going to take nine months.

00:12:27   No matter how you slice it, some of these things just take time.

00:12:31   And I've been doing this for five years, and I'm still not to where I would sort of like

00:12:34   to be.

00:12:35   But I've understood, going through that process, that all the things that I'm doing now are

00:12:39   building on my next thing, and then building on my next thing, and building on my next

00:12:43   thing.

00:12:44   And ultimately, you're kind of just building your audience.

00:12:45   You're building your skill set.

00:12:47   You're building up all of these failures that you can look back and say things, "I'm going

00:12:52   to avoid that.

00:12:53   I'm going to do this again."

00:12:54   And ultimately, you should hopefully be getting better

00:12:57   as a result.

00:12:59   And last thing I was going to talk about

00:13:01   is an experience that I've had about how, I think--

00:13:06   or especially when I was more new to the platform,

00:13:09   when I was new to being independent,

00:13:11   I so often fell into the trap of feeling like the things

00:13:16   that I struggled with were obvious to other people.

00:13:19   That you see people who-- it's like externally,

00:13:22   everyone else has it all together.

00:13:23   and I'm the one who doesn't have it all together.

00:13:25   I'm the one who's messing it all up.

00:13:27   I'm the one who can't get whatever it is right.

00:13:29   And it has this horrendous sort of selection bias for that,

00:13:34   where you see people's successes and you attribute it

00:13:36   to them, sort of for their genius,

00:13:38   and you kind of brush over people's failures,

00:13:41   whereas you tend to emphasize your own failures

00:13:43   and kind of brush off your successes, potentially.

00:13:46   This is my personality.

00:13:47   This is the way I tend to go.

00:13:49   And what I've found, though, is that more often than not,

00:13:53   What is most helpful to other people in terms of sharing and helping and being, like, whatever,

00:13:58   an influence for good in the community, is sharing all those things that I struggle with,

00:14:03   even the small things, that I think are probably obvious to everybody else.

00:14:07   It turns out, more often than not, they're not obvious.

00:14:10   And everyone else struggles with them just as much.

00:14:13   Even if people who I think have it all together, they still probably struggle with all these

00:14:16   things.

00:14:18   And that, I think, is the key lesson in kind of building an audience.

00:14:22   If you're somebody who wants to have a bit of a voice, have a bit of a reputation, start

00:14:27   sharing the things that you're struggling with and don't be afraid that people are going

00:14:31   to think you're an idiot.

00:14:32   Because they're not.

00:14:33   Because what's going to happen is you're going to hit on all these people who are struggling

00:14:37   with that exact same thing and even if you're just a week ahead of them, you're going to

00:14:42   seem like a genius.

00:14:43   And that's kind of cool.

00:14:44   So don't be afraid of that.

00:14:45   Just embrace it and share what you know and people will appreciate that.

00:14:49   All right, that's it for today's show.

00:14:50   As always, if you have questions, comments, concerns, complaints, I'm on Twitter @_DavidSmith,

00:14:54   David@DevelopingPerspective.com.

00:14:55   Hope you have a great weekend.

00:14:57   Happy coding.