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 and what he's discovered looking back on his success. This portion specifically speaks to my (moderate) success and what I've learned:
But it wasn't easy and it wasn't overnight. A common sentiment I see among a lot of new devs is that if they aren't living full-time off their app in the first year, it's a failure. I know when starting out there is the hope that your app will be an immediate success. It's fine to hope that; after all, its our dreams that drive us to succeed. But you shouldn't expect it. I would say it took about three years before I could be comfortable living off of it full-time.
That's exactly one of the points I was trying to make when I wrote about my own journey. My initial expectations for VirtualHostX were very tempered - I just wanted to earn enough money over the lifetime of the app to install hardwood floors in our tiny house. But, as the app and my audience grew, I would occasionally readjust my expectations - eventually to the point where I could financially sustain myself by my app revenue alone.
Jalkut says the same thing in a tweet from July:
If you release your 1.0 with awareness that you may not succeed until 5.0, you're in good shape.
Paul's other point about luck is also worth keeping in mind:
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....That doesn't mean you sit back and just let fate decide; you still need to work to improve your chances. Just realize that there's a big chunk you can't control and that on some level, you need to be ok with that.
While I've poured a lot of time, energy, and work into my apps, I'm very much aware that a lot of their success is just dumb luck. Case in point: I was extremely fortunate that of all the apps I could have built, I happened to pick a niche market without any serious competitors. Not only did that make me the only game in town, but it also allowed me time to breathe and let my app grow organically to meet my ever growing list feature requests from my customers. Sure, picking a niche in an underserved market is business school 101, but for the dumb twenty-four year-old that I was, that was a supremely lucky break.
In any case, if you have any interest in a successful indie journey, give Paul's post a read.