Solving Problems on Systematic

If you need something to listen to this weekend or during your next commute, here's a link to me prattling on for forty-six minutes about how and why I build the software I do.

Systematic podcast logo

Brett Terpstra was kind enough to invite me on as the guest of his Systematic podcast this week. And when he says I'm "on about the same level of geek frequency as" he is, well, that's a heck of a compliment in my book.

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The App That Never Was

While using one of my favorite iOS Shortcuts the other day, it occurred to me how much things have changed in six years.

I say six years ago specifically because it was in 2014 that I made an iOS app called Upshot.

Sadly, Upshot never saw the light of day because I couldn't get it past App Review for very dumb reasons. Lucky for you though, after I show the ridiculously simple Shortcut that I now use instead, this gives me the opportunity to tell you my very favorite App Store rejection story.

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Listen Up

One of the best things that have come out of the pandemic for me has been my little Mac app, Ears. I had the idea for it and built it about a month into quarantine because I was in so many remote meetings throughout the day. And depending on the time of day, how much notice I had before the call, if my kids were around, all sorts of reasons - I found myself frequently switching my Mac’s audio between speakers, AirPods, headphones, etc. It was a pain, so I built Ears to make that easier.

Since that first release in June, I’ve been refining the app to fit my workflow even better. And tonight, I’m delighted to push out a new release with additional features for all the work-from-home-warriors out there jumping between calls.

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An Epic Blog Post

Oliver Reichenstein, founder of iA Writer, writes about Apple and modern software monopolies. The entire post is well worth reading. And whether you side with him and the $17.86 billion corporation or the $1.97 trillion corporation, you gotta admit it takes guts to lay out that argument on your company blog when the future of your business depends on the kind of day your next anonymous App Store reviewer is having.

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Categories
Apple Indie Business

DIY Video Hosting

I've been a paying customer of Vimeo since 2014 - specifically, their Pro plan. But when my renewal email arrived in April, myself and other small developers were seeing sales slow down as the pandemic worsened. Another $240/year was a tough sell for the small amount of video content I was hosting with them, and I wondered if there might be a cheaper alternative - either another service or by hosting videos myself.

So this is how I moved off Vimeo and started hosting my own video content.

On average, my bandwidth bill has dropped to $11/month - and that includes videos, static assets, and ALSO binary downloads for all of my Mac apps. Previously, I was paying $20/month just for video hosting on top of the rest of my bandwidth.

It's definitely a geekier solution that requires more work up front to setup, and I'm not sure I would recommend it for a "real" business, but for my needs it was a fun project and I'm happy to save $200 a year.

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Process

To keep myself sane while dealing with my work deadlines, I've found myself tinkering around with an idea I've wanted to try building for years now. Oddly enough, it's not yet-another-app, but a website (web service, maybe?). And it's actually something that's designed to be self-hosted. I haven't yet decided if it will (eventually) be open source, or if I might solicit feedback from friends (real and online) just in case it's more useful than I think.

Sometimes the idea for something new comes in a flash of inspiration. And other times (as in the current case) it meanders around in the back of my head for years - just waiting for the right moment or combination of external factors.

For this project, it's the result of the rebirth of the indie web movement, my long time interest in self-hosting and owning the tools and data I run my business with, and Apple's WWDC announcements about Safari and their OS's upcoming privacy improvements.

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Very Simple

I'll keep this post short because there's really nothing more of substance I can add to this argument that many developers and pundits way smarter than myself haven't already said.

But I suppose it's flaring up again in the community because of the hey.com controversy, the recent developer survey Apple sent out (my less polite response from last year), and WWDC looming next week.

From my point of view this is all very simple:

The App Store opened eleven years, eleven months, and seven days ago. It is not a game. It is literally the livelihood of millions of people.

The 30% shakedown has never been justified other than "we can".

The capricious and inconsistent review process has never been explained other than "no comment".

With all the awfulness and urgency in the world right now; and with all the good Apple truly is doing, it feels like a waste of precious attention and resources to complain about the App Store. But, hey, that's business.

Antitrust.

Now.

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Categories
Apple Indie Business

Do You Hear That?

Shortly into quarantine at the beginning of March, I realized I had a problem. My iMac has too many audio devices, and managing them was becoming a pain in the ass. And it was all because working full-time at home again, in this new age of frequent work video meetings, Slack and Discord calls, and dealing with two young, screaming kids with no school to attend, created a perfect storm of audio requirements.

So I did what I always end up doing, and wrote the app I wanted for myself.

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Fear and Light

It's remained that way because I've been afraid.

Always, always in the pit of my stomach, deep down in the back of my lizard brain, there's this nagging voice when it comes to the low-level work, the real work, the type of code that real developers write

You're not good enough. You can't make it work. You're not smart enough to figure it out.

So I keep punting on the work. I keep pushing that bug fix further and further out and just hope that my code keeps working and that a random macOS point release doesn't bring it all crashing down.

But two nights ago I sat down in my office. And just fucking did it. I told myself “no” was not an acceptable answer and dove into every arcane, unmaintained bit of Apple documentation I could find. Searched old Cocoa mailing lists for sample code, and finally, finally have a working solution.

After thirteen, years I finally got past my own shit and mental demons and made it happen. I guess I was just fed up with myself constantly ducking out of doing the hard work. That, plus a looming deadline I have to meet, finally held my feet to the fire on this particular feature in a way that has never been done before. So many features. So many bug fixes. Thousands of customer emails and replies. Brainstorming sessions. UI mockups on the back up napkins at bars or doodling on a notepad while at my real job. But this one damn bug was always out of reach. And now it’s done.

To my future self ten years from now: this post is for you.

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Three Things Today

Every task management app has a feature that will let you postpone, delay, or snooze a task. You can tell them to push a todo item out by a day or a week, etc. But I like to think Three Things is smarter than that. It's designed to be flexible and forgiving - pragmatic and realistic. When you defer a task, it won’t accidentally reschedule it for a day that’s already overflowing with commitments. It literally will not allow you to schedule more than three tasks per day.

It fits my brain. Maybe it’ll fit yours, too.

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DefaultApp

DefaultApp is an open source starting point – a template. I maintained it in Objective-C for over a decade before finally porting it to Swift in 2018. Anytime I start a new app – big or small, whether or not it’s something I plan on releasing publicly or if it’s just a small prototype or utility app I’m building for myself – I start with this project.

With DefaultApp I can go from initial idea to writing actual code in thirty seconds.

That said, I would't use this as the basis for a billion dollar corporation’s enterprise app. Or with a team of “100 engineers” “solving hard problems”. But if you’re a one-person development shop or a team of just two or three engineers building a typical macOS shoebox or document based app? Please take a look.

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The Patron Saint of Dumb Ideas

I'm going to try something new. And it's so far outside my wheelhouse and what I would normally be comfortable with that the only reason I'm doing this is due to encouragement from my wife and the assurances of a few friends who swear it's not a completely insane and arrogant idea.

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Rebudget

If you’ve been following along at home, you might remember that I started building a Mac app for managing my personal finances last April. Think of it as a powerful, privacy-focused, native alternative to Mint.com. Quicken, but not awful. Since then, I’ve helped shipped a huge redesign to the app at...

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Subscriptions or Bust

For a small software company whose product really is the app - as opposed to a SaaS with a companion app, or some other type of business that can bankroll an app by virtue of their real source of revenue - I don't see any other sustainable path forward than subscriptions.

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Categories
Indie Business Apple

A ridiculously dumb brute-force approach to getting around macOS's security UI and making my software a better experience for my customers

Until Apple gives 3rd party developers a way to properly request the permissions we need to build the apps our customers want, hacks like these are going to be the norm.

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Reviving an Old Mac App

A long time ago, on a Mac far, far away... In 2011 I had an idea for a tiny little Mac app called CommandQ. I'm a terrible touch-typist and it just so happens that on U.S. style keyboard layouts, the Q and W keys are right next to each other. That means...

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Apple Asked For Feedback

Apple asked for feedback from developers today in an email survey. I try to keep this blog positive and restrict most of my snark to Twitter, but I figured I might as well post it here, too. If you can't see that image for some reason, here's what I wrote: I'm a...

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Categories
Indie Business Apple

Why Many of my Apps Failed And What Comes Next

I've started building something new. I'm about four weeks in and already finding it incredibly useful in my day-to-day. I've built many different apps over the years, thrown them against the wall, and excitedly watched which ones developed a following and which ones failed miserably. Most of my apps have fallen into two...

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Creating New GitHub Issues From Drafts.app

After last week's post about how to create a GitHub issue with image attachments from an email, I thought I'd try and speed up how quickly / easily I'm able to create new issues that don't come from customer emails - i.e., the ones that just randomly occur to me. Drafts...

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Creating GitHub Issues (with image attachments!) From an Email

I'm very meticulous about logging all of the feedback I receive from my customers. Whether it's a bug report or a feature request, I want all of that information captured in a single place where I can plan and act on it. For me, that place is the Issues section...

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Categories
Indie Business PHP

Making Money Outside the Mac App Store

One of the themes of this blog is how I make money selling my own Mac apps on my website rather than through the Mac App Store. I truly believe it's the best way to go if you're serious about earning a living. That said, not everyone has time to...

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Categories
Indie Business

Wrapping up 2015

Last year, I wrote about my final sales numbers for 2014. Now that 2015 is wrapping up, it's time to do the same. I had very high expectations going into 2015. I released Hobo right at the start of the new year and planned a major update to VirtualHostX for the...

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Categories
Indie Business

I Will Not Use the Phrase "Growth Hacking"

But I will call it marketing. It's always something that I've been interested in, but it's also something I've always put off until "I have more time". Well, that time is now. I spent two days in December and did a thorough review of my little software business. The obvious take away...

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Categories
Indie Business

Even Panic is Having Trouble Making Money on iOS

(I hope the title of this post doesn't misrepresent what Cabel wrote.) The 2014 Panic Report is a wonderfully candid look into Panic's successes and struggles throughout 2014. Continuing in line with the trend of small developers finding it difficult to make money on iOS is this nugget... Wow! 51% of our...

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Categories
Indie Business

Benefits of Selling Outside the Mac App Store

Dan Counsell, founder of Realmac Software with an up-front and insightful post about the benefits of selling your software outside the Mac App Store. Imagine if your app made $30,000 in the first month it launched. That’s great, apart from the fact that you have to give Apple $9,000 of that....

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Categories
Indie Business

2014 Business Yearly Review

Inspired by this article on doing a year-end review of your indie business, I took a few minutes and calculated some stats and compiled my major accomplishments from 2014. The result was eye-opening and made me feel more than a little bit proud. I've made a conscious effort to be more...

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That Connection

I don't code every day. Even when my only job was running my little company, I never had enough work in the pipeline to keep me busy in Xcode five days a week. The actual programming part of my job comes in fits and spurts as I work on new...

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Categories
Indie Business

More App Rejections

From Cromulent Labs, whose app launching widget was initially approved by Apple and then removed from the App Store: But this time I decided to make a more concerted effort, start a company, and see if I could make some app (or apps) that could simply keep me employed and pay...

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Categories
Indie Business

Being an Indie is Hard

Zach Waugh of Giant Comet and Flint fame writes: But even after I released Flint for iOS in late 2013, I was only making about half of what I would need to go full-time comfortably. Building apps by yourself is a grind, and I was starting to wear thin, so I...

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Categories
Indie Business

Knowing When to Quit

I hate using the word "quit". Because it's not quitting. It's not even "giving up". Today, the prolific Manton Reece wrote a blog post announcing that he is sunsetting his Twitter apps. This, after a recent announcement that Twitter's (amazing!) new fully searchable tweet archives won't be made available to third-party...

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An Indie Mac Business - Breaking Down the Year

Back in July, for reasons outlined in these two posts, I wrote about the financials of my indie Mac software business. With the year coming to a close, and with the prodding of a few friends, I thought I'd share where the money from my total yearly sales actually goes. First,...

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Categories
Indie Business

My Checklist For Releasing a New Mac App

In my previous post about how I use OmniFocus, I made reference to an on-hold project template called "New App Release". Anytime I release an update to one of my Mac apps, I follow this checklist. In case it's useful to other developers, here's what it contains... Verify build with Deploymate...

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Categories
Indie Business

Delegating Tasks and Outsourcing Your Indie Business

A few weeks ago there was some discussion online about hiring virtual personal assistants to help offload non-essential business tasks. Around that same time a Twitter user messaged me (and quite a few other indie devs) asking what sort of business tasks we would consider outsourcing. I'm pretty sure this...

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Paul Kim on His Indie Journey

I want to give a big thumbs up and a hug to everything in this fabulous post by Paul Kim. I missed it back in August when this discussion was initially happening but came across it on Gus's blog this morning. Paul writes about his expectations starting out with Hazel...

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Categories
Indie Business

Marching Through the Wilderness

(How could I not title this post after one of my favorite David Byrne songs?) Gus has a terrific post on his blog about what he calls "the wilderness" - a period of time between major software releases "where I'm pretty lost, and I don't know what to do." His working...

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All The Services and Tools I Use to Run My Software Business

When I started selling my first Mac app in 2007, there was no App Store. I don't even think "app" was a word. And there certainly wasn't any ready-made infrastructure for selling software online that you could simply plug into. That meant, like every other independent developer, I had to...

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Categories
Indie Business

First Impressions of Using Drip for Email Marketing Automation

About six months ago I began collecting the email addresses of folks who downloaded my app, VirtualHostX. This was entirely opt-in. I simply placed a MailChimp signup form on my download page. I promised users who join a three email course introducing them to a few of the major VirtualHostX...

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Categories
Indie Business

Indie Developers are Stronger Together / Sharing Our Numbers

After publishing my Mac app financials last month, I received mostly positive comments. But a few people did share with me, over Twitter and email, their displeasure for what I wrote. They seemed to think that I was only writing to jump on Jared's bandwagon, to grab some cheap, easy...

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Categories
Indie Business

Mailing Lists Are Your Friend

In this post I thought I'd share my history maintaining mailing lists for my products, how I make the most of them, and what sort of success they have and haven't brought me. Near the bottom, I'm also going to share some real data about my open rates, etc. To begin...

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Categories
Indie Business

Marketing is just another stage in the development process

Despite spending three years working in the Yahoo! Marketing department, I'm a terrible marketer when it comes to my own company. I'll often be in the process of explaining to my wife some new marketing tactic I'm considering trying, when she'll stop me and say "You sound like you're apologizing...

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Categories
Indie Business

Encouraging Serendipity

One of the challenges of running a small software business is how to turn customers into advocates for your company and products. It's a challenge because unless there's a support exchange, it's entirely possible for your customer to go the entire lifetime of the app without ever having any direct...

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Categories
Indie Business

Zero Sales Days with a Little Impostor Syndrome Mixed In

Even after seven years of selling my software, there are still days when I feel like I'm a fraud and have no idea what I'm doing. Those feelings are never more real than on days when I don't make a sale. I'm lucky that they're now few and far between...

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Categories
Indie Business

Your First Success is a Trap

My good friend Mike and I have been discussing a theory about indie developers. I call it The Trap of Your First Success. Our idea is that while it's incredibly hard to build a successful indie product, it's even harder to repeat that success because of a trap indie developers...

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Categories
Indie Business

My App Strategy - Keep Trying New Things

One strategy I've tried throughout my software career is to fail often and fail fast. Any time one of my ideas reaches the point where I seriously consider building it, I immediately think about how much I could sell it for. (And for what it's worth, my second instinct, if...

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Categories
Indie Business

More Business Advice from Gus Mueller

Gus with his strategy for success: My basic strategy is to make a useful quality product, and sell it at a fair and sustainable price. If your app is quality, it will find customers. And then those customers will tell their friends, and the news sites will notice it. And since...

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Categories
Indie Business

Daniel Jalkut says, in a tweet, what I tried to say with 2,000 words

...

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Categories
Indie Business

A Candid Look at the Financial Side of Building Mac Apps on Your Own

Earlier today, my friend Jared Sinclair published an incredibly brave and candid blog post summarizing the financial earnings of his iOS app, Unread. To the extent that my wife is comfortable with, I'd like to share my own financial situation as another data point - but from the perspective of someone...

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Categories
Indie Business

A Happy Side-effect of Journaling Every Day

Back in October I wrote a post about how I've adopted a routine of journaling what I'm currently working on throughout the day in addition to a final recap of the whole day each night before bed. My one year anniversary of starting my journal passed back in February with...

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Minion for Mac

In case you missed it, I've been working on a new Mac app for the past month or so. I spent the last few days polishing things and getting it into an MVP state - not quite as full featured as I'd like, but complete enough that I felt comfortable...

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The Thrill

Yesterday, Daniel Jalkut tweeted The only things better than shipping an app are the thankless months of hard work that go into making it halfway presentable. Yep, it’s fun. — Daniel Jalkut (@danielpunkass) April 4, 2014 That's an apt way of describing the strange mix of joy and awe programmers feel when,...

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Pricing a New Mac App Without Competition

A few weeks ago, I started working on a new Mac app called Minion. It's nothing too big or complicated - just a quick project that I hope will be useful to Mac power users. My goal was to build the app and the accompanying web service in under six...

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Categories
Indie Business

One Concrete Action

Never underestimate how crazy busy your life will become when you have kids. Our first son, born this past New Year's Eve, hit us like a ton of bricks. Taking care of him, on top of a day job, has meant my side business has taken a backseat at times. Nonetheless,...

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Dealing with Asshole Customers

I've always taken great pains to be exceedingly fair, responsive, and back-bending in the way I interact with my customers. I firmly believe it's best for business long-term if you always give your customer the benefit of the doubt and treat them as you'd want to be treated. But recently, for...

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Categories
Indie Business

Experimenting with Piracy - An Indie Mac Developer's Perspective

For the last twelve months I've been keeping detailed records regarding the number of users pirating my Mac apps and toying with different ways of converting those users into paying customers. I'm not foolish enough to ever think I could actually eliminate the piracy — especially since I believe there...

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Categories
Indie Business

OpenFeedback Part Deux

A year and a half ago I wrote about OpenFeedback, an open source Cocoa framework for gathering feedback from your users. Initially, it was a sister project to Appcaster, my indie dashboard web app. Since then, Appcaster has grown up and morphed into Shine, but OpenFeedback remained unchanged. Tonight, though,...

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Switching From PayPal to FastSpring

I've been wanting to switch my online store away from PayPal for quite a while now. Although there are a bunch of PayPal horror stories floating around the web (here's a recent one), my main reason is to make my life simpler. As much as I like rolling my own...

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Categories
Indie Business

Shine - An Indie Mac Dashboard

Two years ago, shortly after I released VirtualHostX 1.0, I wrote about Appcaster - a web dashboard for Mac developers I built that manages my application updates, payment processing, etc. With the release of VHX 2.0 and Incoming!, I decided it was time to rewrite Appcaster as the original code...

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Introducing Appcaster + OpenFeedback

Today I'm proud to announce the release of two new open source projects: Appcaster and OpenFeedback. I've been working on them off and on for over nine months, so I'm very excited to finally see them out the door. Appcaster, which I've written about before, is a web-based dashboard for indie...

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Lessons From a First Time Mac Developer

I'm a web developer by trade. I've been programming for the web for over ten years - prior to that I was (god forgive me) a VisualBasic and then .NET developer. Ever since switching to Mac I've been interested in building software for OS X. Over the last few years I read up...

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Categories
Indie Business