Tag Archives: business

Release Notes 2015

The best blog posts we write are as much for ourselves as for our readers. That’s one of the traits that makes personal blogging so special.

I published my essay last week from the hotel at Release Notes, right before heading downstairs as the conference got underway. Almost no one had read it yet, but the essay still helped me because it made me even more aware of when I accidentally monopolized a conversation. I did end up talking a lot about my new project while at Release Notes, but I also caught myself many times, making sure to turn the conversation around and listen.

And there was plenty to hear at Release Notes. I got something out of every talk and from many conversations with developers who I had never met before. Congratulations to Charles and Joe for putting together a great conference.

Highlights for me included Myke Hurley’s opening talk on Wednesday night about quitting his job and the first full-time year of Relay FM; Rob Rhyne’s fantastic whirlwind tour of accounting, which scared me a little because of everything I still don’t know about being independent; Jean MacDonald’s talk about podcast sponsorships and the fundraiser for App Camp for Girls; Pieter Omvlee’s advice on aiming to build a bigger business; and David Smith’s talk, which I’ll get to later. I could pull out lessons from each of these talks as well as the others from Rachel Andrew, Georgia Dow, John Saddington, Chris Liscio, Daniel Pasco, and Jim Dalrymple.

Thursday night was the “dine around”, a clever idea to split attendees into groups of about a dozen people, each meeting for dinner at an assigned restaurant. It’s easy to fall into cliques at conferences. This was a great solution to mixing it up, all but guaranteeing that you’ll meet someone new.

It’s worth saying something about the venue. Converted from the Indianapolis Union Station, which was built in 1853, the conference center and hotel served as a beautiful backdrop to the conference. My hotel room was even made from an old train car. As we left the conference center late Friday afternoon, I took another look up at the vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows, making a mental note to read more about the history of the original train station.

On Saturday I checked out of the hotel, walked up to Bee Coffee Roasters (where I ran into a couple other attendees who were also still processing everything we learned at the conference), and then took an Uber to the airport. My driver was a musician; he had toured the country playing with bands, was working on a soundtrack which he played on CD for me, and had such an optimistic take on the world that it struck me in obvious contrast to the negativity we see online sometimes.

And he said something that stayed with me even longer while I waited at airport security and for my flight to board. He said that everything he had wanted to do in life, he had done. Sure, he’d love to tour with another band, he’d love to find success with his new music. But already he was content. He laughed when he said he could die happy, and he was not old.

David Smith mentioned in his talk at Release Notes that he used to want to do everything. Have a best selling app, win a design award, be admired by his peers, and other goals that many of us share. It was only when he set out with a more singular focus — judging every decision by whether it moved his business forward so he could continue to support his family — that all the other secondary goals started taking care of themselves as well. It was a great talk and something I needed to hear.

As a community we’re ambitious. We want to build something amazing and we want to make a positive impact on the world. But this week was also a reminder to me that it’s okay to be more focused, to tackle niche vertical apps, or make small boring decisions that will help our business. It’s okay, even as we want to do more, to slow down and be proud and content with the path that we’re on.

The Focus Course

Today, Shawn Blanc launched The Focus Course. Originally conceived as a book on productivity, it expanded during his research and writing to include 18 videos, PDF workbooks, and a discussion forum, wrapped together with 75,000 words in a 40-day course package:

“The Focus Course is for anyone who wants to increase productivity, personal integrity, morale, and overall quality of life. What sets the course apart is that it guides you in the implementation of these principles so that these topics go beyond mere head knowledge and into experiential knowledge.”

I love the scope of this. It sounds like he put everything into it.

Luck being indie

When Gus Mueller recently linked to Paul Kim’s post on being indie, he called out the section on luck:

“One thing that I did learn is to have a healthy respect for randomness. Luck plays a huge role and you can’t always attribute one’s success or failure solely on their decisions and actions.”

Reminds me of the book Get Lucky by Lane Becker and Thor Muller. Like half the business books I’ve bought, I never finished reading the whole thing, but it’s in the stack on my bedside table and I pick it up every once in a while and read something new. I love the book’s premise and they’ve got some great stories.

Most of life is a series of random opportunities. Knowing which ones to skip and which to double-down on makes all the difference.

$10 iPad apps

I’m fascinated with App Store pricing. There’s just so much interesting stuff going on:

  • 99-cent apps and the race to the bottom.

  • Users expecting apps to be cheaper because the device is smaller.

  • The high-end successes like OmniGraffle.

  • Sales and pricing gimmicks.

  • Whether apps can compete outside of the top 100.

So when 37signals launched their first iPad app — Draft, for sketching mockups and quickly uploading them to Campfire — the first thing I wondered was: “how much?” The comments on their “launch blog post”:http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2420-launch-draft-for-ipad are a hilarious and sad mix of the usual cheapskates balanced with 37signals defenders. But the most amusing part is that at only $10, Draft is a bargain compared to Campfire itself, which has an entry-level paid plan of nearly $150/year.

(I’m a big Campfire fan, actually. The best iPhone client for Campfire, Ember, has a permanent spot on “my home screen”:http://www.firstand20.com/homescreens/manton-reece/.)

My first indie iPad app, a 3-4 week project that has stretched to 3-4 months, will also be $10. At that price it will be twice as expensive as its competition. I’m pricing it that way for three main reasons:

  • It’s worth the price of two trips to Starbucks, because it takes the category in a new direction with features no one else is doing.

  • It’s designed for people who are serious about this stuff, not an impulse buy, not for everyone.

  • It’s a standalone app but includes an optional web complement, offered for free, but which will incur “real hosting costs”:http://www.heroku.com/.

Daniel Jalkut and I talked about this a bit on “Core Intuition 28”:http://www.coreint.org/2010/04/episode-28-the-ipad-super-episode/ — that it might be okay to overcharge a little for 1.0 rather than raise the price later, and that it should be possible to build a business on the iPad the same way many developers have on the Mac: not by looking for the big overnight hit but by steadily selling some number of copies every day and letting it spread by word of mouth.

Marco Arment wrote about this as “App Store B”:http://www.marco.org/208454730 in October last year:

“More of their customers notice and demand great design and polish. More sales come from people who have heard of your product first and seek it out by name. Many of these apps are priced above $0.99. These are unlikely to have giant bursts of sales, and hardly any will come close to matching the revenue of the high-profile success stories, but they have a much greater chance of building sustained, long-term income.”

We’re three months into the iPad, just passed 3 million devices sold, and not every app has dropped to near-free. I think $10 iPad apps in particular are going to remain pretty common.

It’s okay to ignore the iPhone

I talked in “Core Intuition episode 22”:http://www.coreint.org/2009/08/episode-22-not-just-a-hobby/ about how I’ve stopped working on my indie iPhone apps. Mike Ash is also done with it. “He writes”:http://www.mikeash.com/?page=pyblog/the-iphone-development-story-one-year-later.html:

“I have abandoned the platform. Apple’s nonsense is just too much for me. There’s no joy in iPhone development, and an enormous amount of frustration.”

Reading through the comments got me thinking. I’m not abandoning the iPhone just because the App Store is such a frustrating environment to run a business in, or that I have a bunch of real work I could be doing instead of playing games with Apple. It’s also because most of the apps I would write have already been done, and in some cases done very well.

I love having a small computer in my pocket and mine is full of third-party apps. I’m thankful for the developers who are coming from other platforms and focusing all of their attention on the phone. And they are thrilled to be an a platform that is such a step up from traditional mobile development. The financial success stories of developers hitting on a great idea and it just taking off in the App Store are real and inspiring.

But the iPhone doesn’t need me.

As a user there’s no way I’ll give up the phone, but as a developer I can focus my time on “things that I have control over”:http://www.riverfold.com/, and add value to places where no one else has a good solution. Perceived gold rush or not, stretching myself too thin with both iPhone and Mac development is a great way to fail at both.

Imagine for a moment that “Yellow Box for Windows”:http://www.cocoadev.com/index.pl?YellowBox wasn’t killed off — that we could build Windows apps using Cocoa. Should I make my apps cross-platform just because it’s Objective-C? No. Writing software for a platform I don’t use would be like still supporting Mac OS X 10.2; there’s no way I’m going to boot into that thing to test and fix my app.

If you’re a Mac developer, my message to you is the same: just because the iPhone is awesome and runs on Objective-C does not mean you are required to build software for it. Maybe your time would be better spent refining old apps or building new ones on the Mac. Maybe… the iPhone doesn’t need you, either.

Wii Transfer 2.6 and August

As I mention on the next “Core Intuition”:http://www.coreint.org/, which I’m currently finishing editing and should be out tomorrow, “Wii Transfer 2.6”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/ was very well received. I put out a 2.6.1 tonight to address Mii problems for some customers, and with new encoding settings that improve movie streaming quality significantly.

The following chart shows the spike in sales for August along with every month of 2008 and 2007. This isn’t revenue but total units sold for the month.

sales_26.png

While I don’t expect nearly this level for September, I am nevertheless interested in how far it will drop. Maybe I’ll post an updated chart at the end of the year.

For the extra curious, the jumps in September and October of last year were when I released version 2.5 and when I did the MacZOT promotion. December was MacSanta, and somewhere in the middle of there I did the Nintendo Wii giveaway.

MacSanta 2007 in time for Christmas

Wii Transfer’s featured day for “MacSanta”:http://www.macsantadeals.com/ starts at midnight tonight, but I’ve already rolled out the coupon code. Because I’m still using simple PayPal “Buy Now” buttons, I hacked together a little custom coupon field just for MacSanta (based on a simple JavaScript trick posted to the MacSB list). I tried to come up with a clear interface even though there isn’t a traditional online store, because it just doesn’t make sense to spend time on a full store for only one product. (Plus, look at that cute MacSanta logo! Aww.)

Here’s a screenshot “from the web site”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/ after you’ve redeemed a code:

MacSanta coupon

On Friday the discount drops to a respectable 10% off for the rest of the month. Happy holidays!

Wrapping up the Wii Giveaway

Sending away second Wii After sitting on a shelf in my office for 2 months, unopened and unloved, I finally shipped off the Nintendo Wii today to the lucky winner. I was initially worried because he didn’t respond until well into the second day after I notified him, but he was pretty excited (“You’ve made my holiday”) and I’m glad it could ship out before Christmas. The picture here is in the car before I went into the UPS store to fill the box with peanuts.

The promotion took a surprising amount of effort, but it was fun and definitely worthwhile. There were a total of 2447 unique submissions (1925 for the email form, and 522 from Twitter). Of those, over 1/3 agreed to sign up for my annual Riverfold Software newsletter. I consider that alone a success, although until I look at the stats more closely it’s not clear what percentage of potential-customers are actually using Macs. My “Wii Twitter account”:http://twitter.com/wii also doubled to about 300 followers.

Although sales were initially flat, both “TUAW”:http://www.tuaw.com/2007/12/05/wii-transfer-maker-giving-away-a-wii/ and “Ars Technica”:http://arstechnica.com/journals/apple.ars/2007/12/06/win-a-wii-to-go-with-your-wii-transfer-for-mac ran nice stories on the promotion. I also “wrote a press release”:http://riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/press/giveaway.html, with the idea of hitting some of the bigger gaming sites for the second week of the contest. In the end I decided not to, because I wanted to focus on Mac users, and because frankly there were plenty of submissions and I was burned out on the process.

The contest easily paid for itself, but the extra sales really weren’t that significant. I have a database that tracks referrers through to the actual purchase, so I noticed an increase of only about 10-20 copies out of the 100 sales for the month so far. Part of that is no doubt the catch-22 of giving away hardware that is required for your software product, but I know that long-term there will be a benefit to the wider exposure.

Mistakes? I should have made the whole promotion last just a day or two, and hyped it before launching instead. I also should have required that Twitter users follow Wii before entering, which would have boosted those followers and also greatly simplified tracking submissions (replies were spread over 3 RSS feeds and 33 iChat log transcripts). Relatively minor complaints, though, overall.

To everyone who provided feedback on the idea, thanks. Maybe next year I’ll implement some of the more interesting promotion ideas I heard.

Holiday Wii Giveaway and Twitter

A few months ago I was in Target and they had some Wiis in stock, so on an impulse I bought one. I’ve owned a Wii since launch day, but I had this idea to give one away for Christmas as an experiment to help promote Wii Transfer. I sat on the idea for a while, listened to feedback from others, and finally “rolled it out this morning”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/giveaway/ with two methods to enter: web form (with field to notify a friend about the giveaway) and via Twitter (by sending a reply to @wii).

Unfortunately there was a major snag with the Twitter idea. It turns out that @wii replies won’t show up in my Replies tab (or RSS feed) in Twitter unless the user posting the tweet is already following “twitter.com/wii”:http://twitter.com/wii. I now regret not making that a requirement, but I also know that it would have hurt the simplicity of entering via Twitter.

So what’s the solution? For now, a combination of things. I am now tracking every tweet that contains “wii” (try it, there are some fun ones), which I will aggregate with the standard replies as well as results from a search on “Terraminds”:http://terraminds.com/twitter/ to fill in any of the tweets I missed. It’s all a bit cumbersome because the tracking results come through IM (luckily iChat transcripts are XML now).

It feels very fragile, but hopefully I won’t miss any entries. There’s no cost to submitting multiple times, so consider sending another @wii tweet next week or entering with the web form to guarantee you’re in the drawing. If in doubt, re-read the “last line on the fine print”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/giveaway/.

Wii Transfer on macZOT

After I shipped Wii Transfer 2.5 I decided to start spending a little time promoting the product. Every month or so I’ll do some small thing to improve sales. Last month that was a “press release”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/press/2.5.html, followed by the “ad on The Talk Show”:http://www.manton.org/2007/10/the_talk_show.html, and next month I’ll be giving away a brand new Nintendo Wii as a holiday promotion.

Today Wii Transfer is on sale at “macZOT”:http://www.maczot.com/ for the incredibly low price of just $9 (half off!). To be honest I have mixed feelings about these kind of promotions, and the first time macZOT approached me about it I declined. I worry that it can reinforce a message that all software should be cheap — that even $19 is too expensive — but on the other hand it’s great exposure to an audience that might not otherwise hear about Wii Transfer.

Lisa at macZOT has been great to work with, letting me set the price (even though I get a small fraction of what a normal sale would be, I felt it was important to do the promotion to its fullest and go below $10), and making sure macZOT pings my backend script so that serial numbers go out to customers right away. I know people can be frustrated if they have to wait to receive the product, and I also have a new serial number lookup form on the site that ties into all of this quite nicely.

It’s a fun experiment. If you’ve been thinking about purchasing Wii Transfer but thought it was too expensive, head over to macZOT to pick up your copy. The “discussion page”:http://maczot.com/discuss/?p=563 will probably have some comments too.

First 75 days of Wii Transfer

In the tradition of other independent Mac developers such as “Mike Zornek”:http://clickablebliss.com/blog/2007/01/08/billable_the_first_100_days/, “Daniel Jalkut”:http://www.red-sweater.com/blog/191/lawful-prey, and “Gus Mueller”:http://www.gusmueller.com/blog/archives/2005/12/25.html, I’m going to share some sales information from the first 75 days of Wii Transfer.

The following chart shows daily sales (in units sold) for each day. I’ve also highlighted important milestones so you can see what affect they had on sales, such as shipping 2.0 (which brought many links) and increasing the price (from $9 to $14, which brought my first 2.0 day of no sales at all). Finally, there are a few spots where I show the average number of visitors.

Sales chart

(As an aside, I created this chart in Keynote. I love software that is simple and flexible enough to be used for purposes outside its original developer’s intentions. I wrote “more on this subject back in early 2006”:http://www.manton.org/2006/01/limitations_in_toys.html.)

It’s difficult to tell, but the numbers on the right side are on average a little bit higher than the left. Not by much though. Sales just trickle in again right now (a few a day).

So what does it all mean? Here is the basic take-away: Sales are much better than I thought they would be, but not nearly enough to live off of. That’s okay, because I happen to love “my day job”:http://www.vitalsource.com/ (also writing Mac software). However, I can definitely see how it would be possible to do this full time, with some real marketing and a collection of several additional applications. I have done zero marketing for Wii Transfer except listing it on MacUpdate, VersionTracker, and Apple’s download site (where it was featured in the video section).

As you can see, there was a big spike in sales when 2.0 was released. This is a direct result of links from Mac sites like The Unofficial Apple Weblog and Daring Fireball, and gaming sites like Jostiq and others. When traffic goes up, sales go up. This opened my eyes because it really is all about getting your app in front of other users. “As I blogged about previously”:http://www.manton.org/2007/01/wii_transfer_takes.html, I think I also missed some sales opportunities during this period because 2.0 was not very stable.

Other interesting stats: The conversion rate is between 2% and 5%. For every 100 downloads, a few people decide to purchase it. I think many active users probably end up paying for it. Instead of a trial demo period, some features are just crippled, and it isn’t very usable day-to-day without unlocking the full feature set (for example, with music sharing to the Wii, you can only play one song at a time — no iTunes playlists or shuffle).

There are at least a few pirates too. I’m not too worried about them because “you can’t stop pirating”:http://wilshipley.com/blog/2007/02/piracy-reduction-can-be-source-of.html, and most people are honest. One customer was even nice enough to tell me about a pirated serial number he found.

To everyone who purchased Wii Transfer, thanks! When I built 1.0, I wasn’t sure if I would work on it again. Now, several versions later at 2.2, I have a clear roadmap of features (and bugs!) to keep me busy.