Life as an Indie Developer

As I’m sitting here writing this blog post I think back to when Edwin and I started our grand adventure in forming our company and becoming indie developers. I can remember thinking to myself “man I can’t wait to make a game!”. But you have to learn to walk before you can run, right? So we started out with our first app, SleepLab (available on iOS and Android).

As Edwin and I discovered making our first app was very challenging and not as easy as it sounds. We both had to become familiar with new programming languages and each platform’s respective SDKs. Doing so took quite a bit of time, but it was very rewarding.

We’ve seen many people want to get into making apps/games thinking that it would make them a lot of money immediately. However this is rarely the case. It seems as if you’ll either become an indie superstar or fall by the wayside and all of your apps are “failures”.

Failure is a GOOD thing believe it or not! Failure can teach you lessons that no success will ever teach you. We at Bromance Labs truly believe in our ability to take these risks,“fail” and learn that will result in the innovations that the mobile development industry needs in order to grow.

New indies coming into this need to know the realities of this business. Therefore I want to present a constructive and honest view of the indie mobile development business from what I’ve learned over the last 3 years.

Wearing Many Hats

Indie development is different than working for a traditional company. Indie developers have to be good at a little of everything as we are constantly learning. Edwin and I had to do much more than just program. We’ve had to become knowledgeable in areas such as:  social media, marketing, artwork, forming a business, etc. It’s amazing to think that so much of your time can potentially get taken up by each of these “jobs”.

I’d estimate about 30% of your time is spent during development while the other 70% is spent doing all of the above “jobs”.

We don’t know what the future holds, what the major OS platforms will be in the next 2-5 years, or how technology will change. These are things that we figure as we go along on this journey.

We’re also prepared to change direction quickly as things come up. There have been countless apps/ideas that we’d had along the years that we scrapped because….(insert reason here)

Making Money

It’s often been quoted that most businesses don’t see a profit in the first 3-5 years! (and that’s just the average). If you aren’t in it for the long haul you most likely will fail.

Each app/game you make is a huge gamble. There are very few people whose first app/game will make them a lot of money. However even if you do make a lot of money you’ll often want to re-invest the money into the business to make it grow.

Edwin and I have talked at length about the following topics: getting our apps/games onto as many platforms as possible, having our apps be seen by more people on the different app stores, and travelling to different development conferences. There’s also the following expenses that you have to be aware of: marketing, software, hardware, and whatever else it takes to get the business to the next level. All of this costs a lot of money and your wages will be the last thing you will want to pay.

Luckily today there are several ways today in which you can try and accomplish this: getting investors, grants, taking out a small business loan, running a Kickstarter, or just doing it in your spare time.

Making a Reputation

The mobile development world of today is so much different than when we first set out to do this. Before there weren’t nearly as many mobile app developers as there are now and the app stores weren’t as saturated. Today there are literally thousands of apps released on a daily basis so it’s very hard to get noticed. So in short – NO ONE KNOWS WHO YOU ARE! There are 2 sides to this:

  1. The bad news: You have to build your reputation from nothing and do a lot to grab people’s attention. It may sound silly but getting someone to drop 99 cents on an app takes a lot of time and effort. You want to give your customers something to care about and an experience that they’ll want to share with other people.
  2. The good news: FREEDOM! (insert Braveheart audio clip here)….As an indie developer you have the freedom to try out many different ideas. So feel free to experiment and learn to see if your ideas get noticed by other people. If no one likes your idea and your app “fails” then it won’t be noticed by the masses.

Being Your Own Best Boss

In any industry you’re going to see people working so much that they are drained all of the time. This impacts their relationships and they are always stressed. Or you may see people who have forgotten why they started out doing their job in the first place. They end up chasing money rather than their dreams. In the end they feel like they sold out.

Edwin and I established some rules from the start:

  • “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life” – Dolly Parton
  • Work with people who understand you and have the same values
  • Don’t compromise your values

If you are running your own company it’s your responsibility to create an environment that YOU enjoy working in. It needs to be an environment where you can learn and innovate, and enjoy your life. You need to believe in your purpose. Even if you never plan on getting any future employees, the culture of your company and the way you work is entirely up to you to establish.

It’s the journey that is the most important thing, not the destination. You can aspire to have a successful app/game, but if you don’t enjoy getting there then it’s not worth it.

Development Sucks, like a Roomba and Hoover had a baby

You may think you know how hard this is journey is, but it’ll end up harder than what you think it will be. No matter how prepared you think you are, you can’t prepare for every outcome.

This all takes a tremendous amount of time – A LOT longer than you expected.

It’s the most scary, stressful, exciting, fun, fulfilling ride of our lives and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

You’ll have to dig deep and find ways of pushing through all of the bad that you come across during this journey because you may end up quitting and it will have all been for nothing.

Do This Because You Love It

Don’t do this for the money and success. You have to have faith that by continuing to hone your craft that you’ll get better and it will all pay off in the end.

All anyone can ever do it get started at something. Just keep practicing and don’t be afraid to try new things. You will get better. Just believe that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The ones who succeed are the ones that never give up!

Good luck future developers!

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