Developing Perspective

#203: Divided by One.


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

00:00:02   Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing news of note in iOS development, Apple and

00:00:07   the like.

00:00:08   I'm your host, David Smith.

00:00:09   I'm an independent iOS developer based in Herndon, Virginia.

00:00:12   This is show number 203.

00:00:14   Today is Friday, November 14th.

00:00:16   Developing Perspective is no longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:21   So yeah, so we're entering into kind of an interesting time in the, I guess, in the Apple

00:00:27   news, Apple developer, this little ecosystem timeline, because we're kind of heading into

00:00:33   a little bit of a lull in terms of news. I think Apple is, other than probably the release

00:00:38   of WatchKit sometime, I guess now has to be sort of next week, because it's Thanksgiving

00:00:44   the week after. Other than that, I don't expect to be, there'll be much news coming out, news

00:00:49   of new things, things going on. I think things tend to very quickly start shutting down this

00:00:53   time of year. And so, you know, as someone who's doing a show discussing news of note,

00:00:58   that is a bit interesting. And so I'll probably over the next few weeks be starting to unpack

00:01:03   a few of the topics and things that I have been thinking about, and have kind of have

00:01:08   on my list of things for show topics, but haven't really gotten around to doing. And

00:01:12   so they may be a bit more general and a bit less timely, which probably will work. And

00:01:17   today's show, I'm wondering if it's a topic or I guess a train of thought maybe is a better

00:01:23   way to say it is less than a topic even, that I've been thinking about for a while and that

00:01:27   I thought would make an interesting show. And it's to try and unpack in some ways the

00:01:31   differences and the advantages and some of the attributes of the difference between being

00:01:37   a sole developer on something and making something all by yourself versus making it in a team,

00:01:45   whether that be in a partnership, you know, one with you and one other person, maybe in

00:01:49   and sort of a small team, three or four people, five people, and how different those are.

00:01:57   And especially trying to unpack a little bit something that I observe that is a very strong

00:02:04   difference by being by yourself and being with other people.

00:02:09   And so at its first, something that was a lot of my experience recently is essentially

00:02:15   working by myself.

00:02:16   I have people who I employ to help me

00:02:19   with various parts of my business,

00:02:20   but the actual development, product design,

00:02:22   physical design, most of those types of things,

00:02:24   I'm just doing myself.

00:02:26   And that has pros and cons, as I'll unpack.

00:02:29   But it is something that I struggle with a lot,

00:02:33   and I've struggled with in varying degrees over the years,

00:02:36   about whether that's the right thing for me.

00:02:38   Because working by yourself, you're not necessarily

00:02:41   collaborating with somebody.

00:02:42   You don't have the opportunity to have the rich experience

00:02:47   that working with someone else can often lend,

00:02:49   where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

00:02:53   When I have an idea, someone else can come and refine it,

00:02:55   and we can riff and bounce off each other

00:02:58   and ultimately make something that's

00:03:00   really cool as a result.

00:03:02   When you're by yourself, you don't really

00:03:03   have that opportunity, certainly not in quite the same way.

00:03:07   And so it was something that I give a lot of thought to,

00:03:10   of like, should I get a partner?

00:03:11   Should I work with somebody else?

00:03:13   Should I hire a developer?

00:03:14   Should I go work for a bigger company?

00:03:17   There's all kinds of things that I'll think about.

00:03:19   But it's interesting from a development side,

00:03:22   because the more I think about it,

00:03:24   and the more I've unpacked it-- and I've

00:03:25   had some experiences doing collaborations with people.

00:03:28   But the more I think about it, the more

00:03:30   I start to see that there's an interesting discontinuity

00:03:36   in being one person and being anything

00:03:39   other than one person for the development of a product.

00:03:43   And I'm going to unpack a couple of different ways

00:03:45   that that's the case.

00:03:46   But it's something that I'm now fairly confident about.

00:03:49   That you either kind of want to be-- it's like being one

00:03:54   is so different than anything in any other situation.

00:03:57   And the first-- and this is the one that

00:03:59   is most interesting in some ways--

00:04:00   is if you work by yourself, you completely

00:04:05   own all the upside and the downside of what you're doing.

00:04:09   And maybe that's less obvious.

00:04:12   Yeah, if you make something and you sell it,

00:04:15   and you get 100% of the revenue, of course, that's great.

00:04:18   But what is interesting is if you start to think about it,

00:04:21   and not to be like, get all math,

00:04:24   but you add someone and say, for simplicity,

00:04:27   you're all doing even splits.

00:04:29   So you become a partnership.

00:04:30   Hey, me and Joe are going to make an app,

00:04:33   and we're going to go 50/50 split on it.

00:04:37   So now, for me to make the same amount of revenue

00:04:40   that I'm hoping for from this app-- say

00:04:43   I wanted to make $100 from it.

00:04:46   Now the app has to, rather than making $100, it has to make $200.

00:04:50   And that's the double, because I added one person.

00:04:54   And so then you get into, well, what happens if we do three?

00:04:57   What if we get three people working on this?

00:05:00   Say, hey, we get a designer and two developers working on it.

00:05:02   Great.

00:05:03   Now I need to make three times the amount of revenue

00:05:06   in order to end up at the same place.

00:05:08   And I'm sure it's a fairly simple equation, right?

00:05:13   You're going from one, and then you need two,

00:05:17   and you need three times, and then four times, and then five

00:05:19   times.

00:05:20   And it gets out of control pretty quickly,

00:05:22   because you start to think that the amount of revenue

00:05:26   that you can get from an app is in some ways capped

00:05:28   at some point.

00:05:29   It's not that it just sort of scales

00:05:31   with the amount of energy or effort that goes into something.

00:05:34   And so it's just something that I kind of ended up with,

00:05:37   is that in order for me to do what I do and make

00:05:39   a living from it, I kind of have to do it by myself.

00:05:42   Because I have no way that I'm going

00:05:43   to be able to make twice or three times the revenue,

00:05:46   more likely than not, from my applications.

00:05:49   And on the flip side, you end up with a really kind

00:05:52   of interesting other perspective of saying,

00:05:54   like, going from one person to a two person job,

00:05:57   you end up with a-- like, you're halving the-- I

00:06:02   have to give up half of the revenue

00:06:04   that I would have had otherwise.

00:06:06   And so a half is a pretty big number.

00:06:09   But going from a half to a--

00:06:10   like from two people to three people,

00:06:12   going from a half to a third, you only

00:06:14   have to give up essentially, what is it, a sixth

00:06:16   of the revenue?

00:06:17   And then you go from three to four,

00:06:18   you're giving up a 12th of the total revenue,

00:06:21   because that's just the way math infractions work.

00:06:25   And when you start to think about it in those terms,

00:06:27   it starts to be a really weird deal

00:06:30   when you start to think about, should I

00:06:31   work with somebody else on this because you have to make double three times, four times.

00:06:36   And the economics get really, really hard anytime your team grows beyond one.

00:06:42   Because the smallest divider that you could ever do is one, and so it kind of works.

00:06:49   But that's kind of sad in some ways.

00:06:53   That's an economic reality that I've kind of settled with and become comfortable with,

00:06:57   is that it is much easier to do this as a living

00:07:00   if I do it by myself, because I don't

00:07:02   have to make quite as much.

00:07:05   But it's also kind of depressing,

00:07:06   because I don't get to work with people.

00:07:08   I build things just by myself.

00:07:11   I have friends, and I have people who are beta testers,

00:07:14   or people I can bounce ideas off of and things.

00:07:16   But it's not the same.

00:07:18   And in some ways, it's kind of crazy when I think about it's,

00:07:21   for years now-- it's been years since I ever really shared

00:07:24   a code base with anybody.

00:07:26   That's kind of scary.

00:07:28   I imagine my code is terrible and horribly ugly.

00:07:32   I mean, empirically, one thing that I do know for sure

00:07:34   is that my source control is terrible,

00:07:36   because most of my commit messages

00:07:38   are just smashing on the keyboard.

00:07:40   It's like I'm a monkey typing and checking in code.

00:07:43   I just select all the files that I did, bang on the keyboard

00:07:47   a little bit, and hit commit, because no one's ever

00:07:49   going to read it.

00:07:50   I don't go back and read my old commit messages necessarily.

00:07:54   I have a few that are obviously more interesting and noteworthy

00:07:57   where I'll check in, like this was the submission I

00:08:01   made to the App Store.

00:08:02   But generally speaking, I'm just working by myself,

00:08:05   and I only have to worry about myself.

00:08:07   And so while I can divide by one on revenue,

00:08:12   I can also only multiply by one on development.

00:08:16   And that's kind of the sad part.

00:08:18   That's not just the tragedy, but that's

00:08:20   the thing that is most interesting,

00:08:22   that you have this weird bargain that you're making.

00:08:26   Like when I think about, hey, if I worked with somebody

00:08:29   on something, could we have double the output?

00:08:35   Could we, in that sense of, could we

00:08:37   have twice as good of a product or a product that would generate

00:08:40   twice as much revenue?

00:08:41   Maybe.

00:08:42   I don't know.

00:08:43   A lot of it seems, empirically, a lot

00:08:46   of the best, the most successful products and companies

00:08:52   in history, or even just in the history of the App Store,

00:08:54   are often teams, are often partnerships, especially.

00:08:59   I think of Supertop, the guys behind Castro and now Unread,

00:09:04   or the Tapots guys.

00:09:07   There's often you have these small teams

00:09:10   of two, three people who can do really, really amazing things.

00:09:14   You often especially have these great dynamics

00:09:16   where you have a designer and a developer working

00:09:18   kind of hand in hand to really get an incredibly polished result. And if you work by yourself,

00:09:24   you don't have that. You kind of have to make do. And so I don't know if that made sense,

00:09:30   but it's a thought process that I've been thinking about a lot, about the strange tension

00:09:36   between on the one hand having this really powerful lack of divide or like dividing by

00:09:43   one on revenue is incredibly powerful, not necessarily in an obvious way, but it is.

00:09:50   Any money I make I can hold onto, and that's really powerful because dividing by two is

00:09:56   really different than dividing by one, especially at the kind of level that we're talking about

00:10:01   where I think most people who kind of make their living in the app store, it's not like

00:10:06   you're dividing $10 million by two. Oh, no. Now you have $5 million. Okay, that wouldn't

00:10:13   really matter.

00:10:14   But the level of money that you're talking about for most people making just normal apps

00:10:17   in the app store, it's not measured in those terms.

00:10:20   Where dividing by two changes it in a pretty dramatic way from something that is like a

00:10:25   good solid living to something that's much more problematic.

00:10:28   And dividing by three, it's even crazier.

00:10:31   And so that's on the one side.

00:10:34   And then on the flip side, you have this awkward thing where it's like, well, you're just one

00:10:37   person.

00:10:38   I know what I'm making isn't as good as it could be as a result.

00:10:42   But I suppose I could also argue that the advantage of being by yourself is that you

00:10:46   can make all the decisions.

00:10:48   You don't get stuck.

00:10:50   You don't have to build things in place to keep, you know, like you don't have to have

00:10:55   a committee or a meeting to talk about something and decide something.

00:10:58   You just kind of go full steam ahead.

00:11:01   And that's probably also worth pointing out.

00:11:02   That's one of the things that has allowed me to develop so many products over the years

00:11:06   is that when it's just me by myself, if I have an idea, I open up Xcode, I hit new project,

00:11:11   and I go.

00:11:12   I don't have to get permission.

00:11:13   I don't have to have a conversation with somebody

00:11:15   about whether it's a good idea, what they think about it,

00:11:18   what direction they would take it in.

00:11:20   And that creates a lot of efficiency.

00:11:22   And that's a powerful thing.

00:11:24   But it's a weird tension.

00:11:27   And this is one of those episodes

00:11:28   where I'm not sure there's necessarily a conclusion.

00:11:30   It's just some interesting thoughts

00:11:33   that I've had over the last couple of weeks and months

00:11:35   about this strange tension about if you work by yourself,

00:11:39   you're getting this really powerful thing

00:11:41   on the business side, that your revenue can be so much lower

00:11:44   than it would be in another context.

00:11:47   But on the development and design side,

00:11:48   you're also limiting yourself.

00:11:50   You have this strange balance to strike.

00:11:55   And in my case, and what I've found,

00:11:56   is that it works pretty well.

00:11:58   That being by yourself, if you want to make your own apps,

00:12:02   work for yourself, be self-employed,

00:12:04   it works pretty well to have this as your balance.

00:12:08   Because the amount of revenue you have to make

00:12:10   isn't quite as crazy, isn't this insane number

00:12:13   that you need if you're trying to divide it by two or three.

00:12:16   It's just divided by one.

00:12:17   So whatever it is that you feel like you need to make

00:12:19   a living on, that's your goal.

00:12:22   And in general, that's a much more attainable thing.

00:12:25   Then you always worry about what could be,

00:12:29   what it would be like to work on a bigger team, what it would

00:12:32   be like to have collaborators.

00:12:33   And that's something I've explored, certainly.

00:12:35   But I don't worry about it quite as much as I used to,

00:12:37   where other than just kind of the emotional,

00:12:40   oh, it's a little lonely part, which is somewhat easily fixed

00:12:44   by just having friends and keeping in close contact

00:12:48   with people on a regular basis, working by yourself

00:12:50   could be kind of cool.

00:12:52   So like I said, it's not really a conclusion.

00:12:54   Unfortunately, hopefully that's not too dissatisfying

00:12:56   as a listener to this.

00:12:57   But it's something I've been thinking about.

00:12:59   And that's it probably for today's show.

00:13:02   So if you have any questions, comments, concerns,

00:13:04   or complaints, you can find me @_DavidSmith on Twitter

00:13:07   or email me, david@developingperspective.com.

00:13:10   See, I'm trying to think.

00:13:11   This next week's kind of exciting, because now that--

00:13:15   next week, we'll probably get WatchKit.

00:13:16   And I think there'll be some pretty cool things in it.

00:13:19   So I'm pretty excited to get started.

00:13:20   I did a post on my blog last week about expectations for it

00:13:25   that I think kind of outlines a lot of the things

00:13:27   that I think we're going to get next week.

00:13:29   And I think it's going to be pretty fun.

00:13:31   So I look forward to doing a few episodes about that

00:13:33   and talking to you about it then.

00:13:35   All right, have a good weekend.

00:13:36   Bye.