#AFtalks: Going Indie With Carlos Ribas

Welcome to our #AFtalks recap!

Our community is full of indie developers, all of them working hard to make great apps and to get them noticed in the stores. This week we’re taking a behind-the-scenes look at the life of an indie developer.

Our guest, Carlos Ribas, is an indie developer and designer of the HoursTracker app. We asked Carlos to share his insights on this topic with the questions below:

Q1: What inspired you to go indie?

A: Over the years I’ve worked for consulting companies (where my time is billed at a multiple of what I receive), as well as product companies (where I am paid a salary to help with building/improving a product that is then sold to customers). After moving back and forth between consulting and product companies several times, I’ve found I prefer product development. I’ve always dreamed of being in a position where I benefit more directly from my efforts. Instead of maybe hoping for a raise or a bonus, I really wanted to own something and be fully responsible for the ups and the downs of it.

The concept of the App Store Indie was instantly appealing to me. I could build a product, and if I did a good job and it sold well, the rewards stay with me. Plus, I didn’t have to seek out potential customers as much – they were looking in the store already.

Q2: What sort of challenges do you (battle) as an indie developer?

A: There’s always system framework redesigns and tooling updates to distract me from building new features. And the App Store is constantly changing (even when it doesn’t officially change!), meaning I need to monitor things like ASO and continually look for ways to “keep up” and make sure I’m doing what I can to capture attention and downloads.

In the beginning, one clear challenge was simply having enough time to get everything done. I had a full-time job to pay the bills, and all of my “indie” work was Nights and Weekends time. I was learning a new platform and part of a shift in the computing landscape from PCs to mobile, so it was new and exciting, but for sure it was hard to find enough hours in the day!

Followup: Did you expect these before making the decision to go indie?

A: I think maybe less on the framework redesign side of things, but I think anyone building mobile apps is dealing with these same challenges, indie or not.

Q3: What are some of the benefits going indie has afforded you?

A: Number 1: Passive Income. I’m always helping customers, planning and building new features, etc, but for me, the main difference between being an indie developer and working in the corporate world is that I am now paid for the things I’ve done, not the time I’m spending. That’s a double-edged sword, to be sure. Sometimes I can spend a month building a new feature that ends up making no difference to the bottom line. But, by far my favorite thing about indie life is that I don’t make my living by selling my time.

Number 2: Control. I’ve built a lot of bad ideas for other people over the years. Many of them never shipped or were canceled afterward. On some level, that’s frustrating, even if I still get my paycheck in the end. Nobody’s perfect, and I still build bad ideas sometimes, but it feels a lot less frustrating when I am in control of where to invest my time.

Number 3: Flexibility. I love that I set my own schedule and can spend more time with my family. This is especially great in the summers when the kids are out of school. I can spend the day at the waterpark with the kids and then get my work done in the evening.

Q4: How do you manage your time between the different business functions (development, marketing, support, etc.)?

A: I try to spend 80% of my time on Development/Marketing (more on that in a second) and 20% on support.

Development/Marketing: My app has a fairly low per-user lifetime value, so most traditional marketing ends up being too expensive and my efforts mostly consist of optimizing user retention to boost word-of-mouth. That means marketing and product development are tightly linked for me: I need to build the right features.

Support: I use HelpScout.net to manage support queues and generally try to empty the queue as the requests come in rather than letting it build up. This means I’m answering questions at least some part of every day. But, I think this really helps me stay in touch with my customers and understand their needs better. My favorite thing is when I am clearing out the queue right as someone emails a question, and they get a (shockingly) instant response. Everyone loves that.

Q5: If you could give one tip to someone who’s thinking about going indie, what would it be?

A: Focus on the customer.

Q6: How have changes to the app store helped you as an indie developer?

A: A few years after the App Store launched, Apple made it possible for apps to be “Free to download, with in-app purchases available.” That change made the biggest difference for me. This meant I could have a free app that anyone is able to install and try out. Only after someone knows the app is worth paying for, for their needs, do they agree to spend their hard earned money. This shift from Paid apps (where advertising and publicity is the name of the game), to Free apps (where the playing field is more level and apps succeed more on their merits) really helps little guys like me succeed. Before that, it was really hard to compete with larger budgets or those with connections at big sites/publishers.

Certainly, the App Store has a made a lot of changes I disagree with over the years (most recently search ads), but overall I have to appreciate the amazing opportunity Apple has created for individuals and small shops to build sustainable businesses on their platform.


Check out the full conversation on the #AFtalks hashtag.

Huge thanks to Carlos and to all those that were part of today’s discussion! Join us for our weekly Twitter chat every Tuesday at 1pm ET (bring your friends!). See you all next week where #AFtalks about User Acquistion.

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