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What is the best process to work on an indie app?

Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.

How do you decide which indie app ideas you actually want to invest the time in to make a prototype, or even a full application?

Ish Shabazz: I go a lot by how excited I am about the idea – which ones are really like driving me. Then I also think about the future: Will future me, in three to five years, really still want this? If it's just for right now, do I really want to bring this into the world and then support it for years to come? That's one of the big ones.

I'm really huge on just scratching my own itch – I'm going to make this app, because it's something that I want, but does any other human want this? Or is it just something that's just for me? Sometimes it's just for me so I can just cobble it together and not worry too much about design. I also work with a designer in Australia, her name is Heidi.

"Sometimes it will start with something small, if it's just me, and then later on become something more useful to everyone else."

Paul Hudson: She's here right now on the stream – hello, Heidi!

Ish Shabazz: Oh, hello Heidi! Sometimes it will start with something small, if it's just me, and then later on become something more useful to everyone else.

Paul Hudson: So I think there are two key points you made there, both worth dwelling on slightly longer. One is yes, absolutely scratch your own itch, making the app that solves your problem. There are over 1 billion iOS users in the world – unless you are a beautiful and unique snowflake where everyone's completely unlike you, unless you've made a thoroughly obscure app idea, there'll be 10,000, 100,000, or maybe even a million people out there with a similar need. And that's only one out of a thousand of all users who will think, "I had the same itch. I want that same scratch, that same app on my phone."

I've said before, by the most popular app I've made was an app to scratch my own itch – I made it just for me. It was an app to study Latin on the move, to read Latin, because I studied Latin at university. It's made just for me, and it's paid my mortgage and more for the last decade, which is great.

Ish Shabazz: That's amazing, really awesome.

Paul Hudson: I never even thought that anyone else would want it. And then suddenly schools started buying it, and universities started buying it for their students, which is great. So that's the first thing: scratch your own itch. But the second thing, is think about future Ish, or though not obviously him, think about yourself.

Ish Shabazz: Please think about me.

Paul Hudson: Do you want to be maintaining this thing in three years? Because your killer app idea could be brilliant, but do you want to commit to making sure that carries on working for two years, three years, or four years? Because folks, even today, still expect the apps to work for a long time. They've paid a buck for it. That's at least seven, eight years of support right there, in their heads. So are you happy to commit to that? Are you happy to stick to that and stay with it and make it work for the future? And that's a big commitment.

"You have to have a little bit of investment, hopefully a lot of investment, into what you're building."

Ish Shabazz: For sure. And that again ties to scratching your own itch. This is going to be something, if you're going to be with for a while, you'll have ups and downs. In the down times, you want to still love it enough to still want to take care of it. If it's an app about something you have no interest in you're going to make yourself completely miserable. You're like, "I hate this thing, I don't understand what it does!” And that also makes it difficult to make a good experience with a customer.

If you don't really get it yourself, it's going to be really difficult to make that a satisfying experience for someone else. You have to have a little bit of investment, hopefully a lot of investment, into what you're building or I would just build something else.

I think the other thing is, sometimes folks are afraid they don't have a unique enough idea. And I think the reality is unique ideas are fun, but not as valuable as people think. The idea really isn't the thing, it's really the execution. Think about it in other fields – think about the movies that have completely unique storylines, the storyline has never been told before. There'll be very few movies, honestly, and very few books like this. Most stories are stories that have been told, but they're told in a new way. And honestly, one of my most popular apps is a simple to-do list app. At the time, there was already several thousand, maybe tens of thousands to-do list apps in the store, because everyone has one, right?

"There's always room to have something new, based on the new thing that Apple presents."

But honestly it's one of my favorite genres of apps, because there's always room for a unique spin and your own unique way of looking at it. Does that mean it's going to be the number one to-do list app in the store? Probably not. But there could very well be something that you need for yourself that is just not widely available, not widely done, or also maybe not using the latest and greatest thing.

Apple introduces new things every year, and not everyone that already exists is going to implement this new thing. You may make a to-do list app that has a feature where it just makes brilliant use of App Clips – how many apps are doing that? Not that many. So there's always room to have something new, based on the new thing that Apple presents.

Paul Hudson: Absolutely, and Apple feature it too. They want to promote the new stuff and say, "Look at this cool new iOS stuff your phone now does free of charge. These apps are showcasing it." And hopefully if you're there on day one, you can make some good money.

So when you’ve finally finished your app, you've done your best, you've got it out there, and you're quite pleased with it. That's only the first step, because then you've got to actually succeed somehow.

Ish Shabazz: Yeah, you've barely started!

Paul Hudson: Exactly, you've done the first 90%, now it's time for the second 90%. Actually making it succeed somehow because it's very easy, even with good quality apps, to just sink into oblivion on the App Store, because there are so many apps on there.

Ish Shabazz: There are millions.

This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.

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