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.

Last November, as I was furiously wrapping up work on VirtualHostX Pro, I started thinking about the future of my little software business and my own personal goals. I’ve written candidly about the success (if you want to call it that) of my apps previously. What started out as a $2,000 goal in 2007 eventually turned into a full-time job from 2012 to 2014. And when our kids were born, it was what allowed my wife to stay at home full-time.

But I’ve also been candid about how much sales have declined in recent years. Part of that is surely due to web developers (my primary target audience) and the industry in general moving away from a traditional server-side Apache + PHP stack with the rise of JAVASCRIPT ALL THE THINGS!. And VirtualHostX has been left behind in that new world. Another piece of the sales puzzle is also that there’s been a sea change in how people perceive and pay for software. In-app purchases and subscriptions are eating the world alive. And moving VHX to a new, Sketch-like subscription model was a big focus of my new Pro version release.

I hope the new subscription model will get revenue moving in the right direction again, but I’m not overly confident. I think the pace of web development is simply working against me. And so if I’m going to continue to provide for my family, I need to start looking at ways to diversify away from thirteen years of primarily building apps for web developers.

As I looked to 2020, I also considered my personal goals beyond becoming fabulously wealthy selling niche Mac apps. After a lost 2018, last year felt amazing as I became re-engaged with building fun side projects and writing on this blog. I have a Computer Science degree, but I also have one in English, too. And I pursued that in college because I simply love to write. I don’t claim to be any good at it (I do have three failed novels to my name), but I can certainly churn out a bunch of words when the time comes. Most importantly though, it just makes me happy to hit that “Publish” button.

So I set a goal for myself: publish 50 “significant” blog posts this calendar year. What does “significant” mean? Stuff that’s way too long to ever fit into a tweet or even a tweet storm. And just posting a link to another website along with a few sentences of commentary doesn’t count either. I can crank out a 2,000 word first draft in about ninety minutes. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to commit to posting something along those lines at least once a week.

The Dumb Idea

Here’s where the title of this blog post comes into play…

I’ve setup a Patreon to help me achieve my two goals for 2020:

  • Publish more content
  • Build more apps

You may notice that “make tons of cash” isn’t one of them. That’s because becoming filthy rich is a long-term strategy and not necessarily the point of my Patreon itself. Instead, what I want to get out of it are readers who can hold me accountable and provide feedback.

Accountability

If you’ve ever looked into the Weight Watchers program or talked to folks who’ve been successful using it, you’ll know that it’s not about what they eat or how well made the mobile app is that keeps them on track and staying healthy. The difference maker is showing up the same time every week and standing on a scale in front of a stranger who tells you how much you lost or gained.

If any of you are kind enough to chip in a few bucks a month to support my writing, then not only is that incredibly encouraging, but it’s also an incredibly effective and instant way to put pressure on myself to meet my goal of publishing something of quality every week (if not more!).

Feedback

I got really, really lucky with my first app in 2007. I’ve built and released twelve different apps in the past thirteen years. (Not counting new major versions of existing apps.) And, yeah, just looked this up, VirtualHostX accounts for 78% of my all-time revenue.

To say I got lucky with my first idea is an understatement, and I think there’s a main reason for that which I write about here. But basically it’s because so many of the other things I’ve built were done so in isolation. They were all clever ideas that pretty much only appealed to me.

So if I’m going to get my business back to where it once was or even exceed that, I need feedback. Better yet, quality feedback.

So, instead of toiling away on a new idea by myself and then letting a few close friends kick the tires, I’m going to start demoing early versions of the ideas I’m working on to the people who join the Patreon. My assumption is that if they’re willing to pay a few dollars a month, then hopefully they’ll also be invested enough to provide genuinely constructive feedback about what works, what doesn’t, and help shape the direction of the software I’m building.

And from that I hope to learn what ideas are worth pursuing and what should just be scrapped.

Let’s do this

So that’s the idea, and here are the details.

Pledge $2/month and I’ll list you as a supporter and add a link back to your website, app, company, Twitter, etc. from the thank-you page on this website. You’ll also get to see sneak peeks at the new Mac and iOS apps I’m working on. Follow along from idea to prototype and learn what it’s like to build apps as development progresses towards a final product.

Pledge $5/month and you’ll also get to choose one unreleased Mac or iOS app to download, use, and help test and follow along with. Most of my finished products typically cost between $9 and $49 depending on the app. Whatever total amount you’ve pledged via Patreon, you’ll receive off the final price of the app if/when it’s released.

Pledge $9/month and you’ll get access to every unreleased Mac or iOS app to download, use, and help test and follow along with. And, again, the total amount you pledge through Patreon can be credited towards future app purchases.

Pledge $15/month gets all of the above plus you’ll receive a free license for all of my existing commercial apps and any future apps I release as long as your Patreon subscription is active. Currently, that includes VirtualHostX Pro, Hostbuddy, Hobo, CommandQ, Triage, and Rebudget.

Pledge $150/month for everything above plus you can book two hours of my time every month to consult about the Mac or iOS app you or your company are working on. It could be a phone call, video chat, Skype, screen share, etc. I’ll help with an architecture question or tricky bug, discuss your UI/UX, or even review code. It can be whatever you need help with.

A note about my unreleased apps

If you’re curious what I mean when I say “unreleased”, take a look at Rebudget and Voxmail. Those are the high and low end of the spectrum of what I have in mind. Rebudget is a full-fledged Mac app that I built for myself and tinkered with for months. Voxmail is a crazy open-source hack I put together over a weekend to make my life easier.

I currently have two more Mac apps more ambitious than Rebudget that I’m working on and that are already at a similar level of fit + finish + usefulness. There’s also an iPhone app currently in TestFlight that does some (I think) interesting things with your location. And odd projects like Voxmail tend to just kind of happen when I least expect them. In either case, Patreon subscribers will get to see what I’m working on first.

Anyway

To be clear, I’m not going to suddenly turn this blog into a subscriber only website. That’s stupid. I’m aiming for 50 new posts this year, and they’ll all be available here just like normal. The difference is that any of them that have a script, open source project, or some other kind of software component will make their debut on Patreon. My subscribers will hear about them first as I build them.

With your generous support, I’m going to try and publish 100,000 words in 2020 and release a new app or two (or three). Maybe we can have fun along the way, as well.

Thanks to everyone who has ever bought one of my apps or read the articles I’ve posted here. I appreciate it.