This episode we talk with Gus Mueller, founder of Flying Meat Software and creator of Acorn, the image editor for humans, built for Macs. Gus covers why you should still sell direct, his thoughts on sales, how he handles competition, why he wishes he’d focused on documentation earlier, and much more.
- Gus Mueller: Twitter, Blog
- Flying Meat Software: Website, Twitter
- Acorn: Website, Twitter
- Audio Hijack
Alexis: Gus, thanks for coming on the podcast!
Gus: No problem!
Alexis: Now, before we get to Flying Meat and Acorn, tell us a bit about your background.
Gus: I’m a programmer. I went to college at the University of Missouri, Columbia. I basically ended up getting a general studies degree by combining three minors together to get a single major. I basically studied Art, Art History and Computer Science and I took them all together and sort of made my own degree. So that’s sort of where my art background comes from when I do image editors and stuff like that. Add in the Computer Science and that’s what’s going to happen. And I’m mostly just self-taught.
Alexis: Now why did you combine those three minors or your interests? Was it because, “Well it’s just what I’m interested in so it’s going to happen” or was it more of a calculated, “Well I think these could go well together,” like the Steve Jobs intersection of technology and liberal arts kind of thing?
Gus: No, it wasn’t really planned. I just always grew up with computers. I had an Apple IIc growing up; it was my first computer. I was just playing games on it and I would write little basic programs, and I also liked drawing.
So when I went to college, I just took a bunch of art classes just because it was fun; I really enjoyed it. Computer science, I just kind of enjoyed too.
I didn’t take very many hardcore Computer Science classes; I actually worked for the Campus Computing – as it was called there. It’s the central IT department for the university and some of my co-workers were actually professors.
I would create my own little Computer Science classes, which were basically projects I was working on at work anyway, and they would sign off on it and I would get credit for it. That’s how I got the Computer Science stuff. I wasn’t very good at algorithms and stuff like that, and actually the only class I ever flunked was a Computer Science class – go figure.
That’s just two interests of mine that just sort of fell together. It wasn’t planned at all; it just happened that way.
The Art History happened because I was going to be an art major for a while, and you needed a lot of Art History credits. I hated Art History, but I had all those credits so I just turned it into a general studies degree that way.
Alexis: Now we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, or at least I am, because I’m curious – you mentioned not being very good at algorithms and that kind of stuff. I imagine when it comes to image editing and all these kinds of effects that you have to work with in Acorn, there’s a fair amount of algorithms involved. How do you deal with that nowadays? Do you hire it out or do you go, “Damn it, I’m going to take this book and I’m going to absorb it and whether I learn by osmosis or otherwise, I’m going to figure it out”?
Gus: It’s mostly I like to do all the work myself. There’s been a couple of things that I’ve hired people for, but for the most part, it’s all just me. Once you get into it, the algorithms for graphics aren’t too hard.
It goes very deep, but it’s easy to get a good, broad overview of how to manage pixels, basically. It’s also probably a lot less that you need to know for algorithms and stuff like that than you would think. It’s more about being able to push the pixels around fast.
Alexis: So you had your Apple computer back in the day. How did you learn to program? Did you get started with it or did it take a while and maybe several other computers before you dipped your toes in the pool of programming?
Gus: A long time ago, they used to publish little BASIC books. They were little programming books with the program all written out and you would basically copy that into a new text file on your Apple IIc and eventually run it, find your errors. That’s basically how I learned how to program –just copying programs out of books. The rest of it, it was all just self-taught.
Alexis: Yeah, for nowadays, it’s kids looking at GitHub instead of books.
Alexis: So which came first – this is a question that humanity has asked itself for a millennia – the flying meat or the acorn?
Gus: The Flying Meat, definitely. Flying meat is named after a rock climb; I’m an avid rock climber. Acorn was just kind of an accident.
I had another application called FlySketch, which was used for taking screenshots and marking them up so you could draw little arrows and highlight text and stuff like that.
My users would send a request like they want layers or they want bitmap editing and I was like, “I’ll see if I can do that” and all of a sudden it turned into a whole new application. That’s how Acorn got started.
Alexis: Was Flying Meat kind of like a consultancy that you started out or did you start it for this kind of screenshot application?
Gus: I had another application called VoodooPad even before that, which was a desktop wiki. I started writing – which came first, VoodooPad or Flying Meat? I think Flying Meat came before that, and then I started writing VoodooPad, and that’s actually what got my company started.
It just started on the side. I was working a full-time job for a while and I would work on the VoodooPad at nights. Eventually – this was when I was in St. Louis, Missouri – I got married and moved out to Washington, and when I did that, I just didn’t get another job. I just did the independent stuff full time. And then I designed FlySketch and Acorn while I was out here.
Alexis: So this transition time, when people go from their side gigs to making it their full-time thing, it’s interesting. How did you make sure that you could push it over the line? Did you spend more time in marketing or did you just – how did it become possible for you to focus on this full-time? Did you make the leap before it was financially stable, or did you kind of wait until it was?
Gus: No, I waited until I knew I could support myself. I think it was about three years that I did it on the side before I jumped full-time. I’m pretty conservative when it comes to things like that; I wanted to make sure I had a big nest egg in my bank just in case something didn’t work out, I wanted to be able to last for a while.
I think I had six months to a year of salary savings, extra money saved up in the bank. And then when I jumped ship, I never really needed to use that.
When I first started out, my salary was half of what I was making at my full-time job, but eventually that grew and grew and grew and grew, and eventually doubled and even tripled what I was making at my previous job.
Alexis: I’m curious – did VoodooPad and your early projects start out as “I want to make money with this”, or were you just simply scratching your own itch?
Gus: It was definitely scratching an itch. I like wikis; wikis were nice and new at the time I wrote them. I liked it, but I didn’t like how you had to hit edit in a web view. VoodooPad was nice because it was like TextEdit – you could just type and then if it noticed a wiki link it would just automatically link up. You wouldn’t have to do anything special. That was just a great way to keep notes and stuff like that, so that was definitely scratching my own itch.
And same with Acorn. The reason why I wrote FlySketch originally was because I wanted an app that would allow me to keep on drawing. I figured, basically I’ll write an app that I’ll use and that sort of turned into Acorn that way too. There’s lots of stuff in Acorn that are, I guess, pet features – just things that I want. I’m sure other people find them useful too, but they’re mostly useful for me.
Alexis: So what made you think, “You know, I can charge for these things?”
Gus: VoodooPad, early on, it was free and I just figured, “I’ll just see if anybody else would use it.” And then I started getting users and they seemed like they would pay for it and I originally just charged $10 for it.
The original idea was just to sell enough copies to get a new cinema display that Apple was selling at the time, and I ended up making that and it just kept on growing and growing and growing.
Alexis: An interesting note about VoodooPad: it is now done by Plausible – the folks at Plausible, right?
Gus: Yeah, Plausible Apps.
Alexis: I’m interested in how that happened, if you sold it or how you figured out who’s the team to take this on and what made you realize it’s time to move on – that kind of thing.
Gus: Acorn, its users – I have a whole lot more users for Acorn than I do VoodooPad. At some point, I just didn’t have enough time to work on both as much as I wanted to and I didn’t think it was fair to VoodooPad. It hadn’t seen any good updates for a while.
I had a friend, Mike Ash, who had been a VoodooPad user for almost ten years. I said, “Hey, do you want to take over VoodooPad by any chance?” He said, “I would love to, but I also think this will be a great fit for my company.” That was Plausible Labs. We just sort of negotiated the deal and they took over development. I was able to focus all my energy on Acorn and they would take over and do stuff with VoodooPad.
I should also note, there’s probably going to be some VoodooPad fans who are listening to this. They haven’t put out an update for quite some time. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I think they’re just really, really working on it and that’s what’s going on.
Alexis: Alright. I’m curious what you do now to make Flying Meat sustainable, and especially in the early days when it was a more tenuous situation.
Gus: I just try and write an app that people will use. Again, we have a bunch of money saved away just in case. There’s ups and downs. Usually when we release a major update, there’ll be big ups and then time goes on between releases and sales go down, so we just save up a lot of money to make that even out.
I don’t really do any specific marketing or anything other than trying to make a good product that people will want and tell their friends about.
Alexis: So no marketing even in the early days?
Gus: No, not really. I won some awards early on. VoodooPad won at the time, it was an OSX Innovators award. That sort of thing shut down a while ago. Acorn also won an Eddy from Macworld and it’s been featured by Apple a number of times in the App Store.
People would just tell their friends and it would show up in magazines and stuff like that and people would find out about it that way.
Alexis: Now what were some of the first growing pains that you had, especially as a one-man band? I think the folks who are both doing the programming and the art side of things, they tend to feel the growing pains more quickly than a small group does, because they can shift responsibilities around.
Gus: When Acorn really started getting big, there was a lot of support. That kind of hurt, because it was taking away from development time.
Basically, what we ended up doing was beefing up the documentation. My wife started working or me part-time, so then she would do a lot of the support that she could, so that was an interesting growing pain, I guess.
It wasn’t until we got really good documentation up that people would stop writing in so much. That’s probably the biggest growing pain I can think of.
We’ve also hired people in the past and I thought that would be nice. But it turns out, I don’t like being a boss and managing people is not something that I would ever want to do again.
We had a couple of employees and now it’s just me and my wife, so I’m going to keep it that way.
Alexis: Alright. You gave some hints into your monetization model earlier when you said something about releasing a brand new version, like a 2.0 or 3.0. What’s your strategy for pricing and monetization as a whole?
Gus: It really just depends on, I guess, the time period. VoodooPad started out at $10 and a friend was like, “You know, you should just double your price and you’ll end up getting more customers anyway.” People read into price, the value of something. I thought it was crazy, but I did it anyway and he was right. I ended up making twice as much money, and then I just kept raising the price for VoodooPad up over the years.
It eventually got up to $50 – I had a pro version for a while. And then I eventually brought it down to $35, I think.
But Acorn 1.0 started out at $50 and then over time, I brought that price down to – right now it’s $29. I went in the opposite direction, I think that was –.
Well VoodooPad, I could raise it because there were competitors, but there’s nobody in its league, so I could do that. Acorn – there’s a bunch of image editors out there now, and they’re all going for the lower prices as well.
I found that once I brought it down to $29, that seems to be the sweet spot right now. I’m making just as much money as I was when it was higher, and maybe even a bit more. And price-matching other image editors, people would just go on price. They’ll take a little bit more longer look at Acorn and obviously make the right decision and buy it.
Alexis: That’s actually one thing that I’m really wondering about – competition, especially on the Mac side. Sorry, I was beginning to bring in a second question that’s somewhat related to this. I’ll hold on to –. But on the Mac, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of independent image editors and graphics software, not so much on Windows. Again, I’ll go back to that a bit later.
There’s Pixelmator, there’s Sketch – less so for image editing and a lot better for vector stuff and prototyping, I guess.
Gus: Yeah, let’s talk about Sketch for a second though. They started out at, I want to say $50 or $40 and they keep on raising their price too. They’re up to $100 and they’re always showing up on the top ten grossing in the Mac App Store and they also sell direct. I think they’ve got a really good strategy for what they’re doing, which is basically, they’ve got a tool – again, there’s nothing else quite like it.
There’s Illustrator and there’s Photoshop, but their app is [crosstalk] there’s nobody as specific for doing UIs and stuff like that as Sketch on the Mac, so I think they’ve got a pretty good strategy as well. Since they’re unique, they can raise their price.
Alexis: I’m curious how you deal with the competition, both in terms of sales and features and defining your niche, and also either keeping onto the niche that you already have and/or growing it.
Gus: Obviously, Pixelmator is probably what people consider as my biggest competitor, and I pay attention to what they’re doing, but I try not to obsess about it. One thing that I noticed is, people either like Acorn or they like Pixelmator, and I can’t figure out what really draws one person to the other.
I always try and differentiate Acorn from other image editors, and then I would also throw Adobe Photoshop elements in there because they’re huge. You don’t hear about it as much, but they are pretty huge.
So I just want to try and listen to feedback from my customers. “What do you need?” and I’d ask them, “What are you trying to do?” not so much “What feature are you asking for?” and just try and help out people that way.
Because of they tell me what they’re trying to do, then I can maybe come up with a better way to do it than my competitors and that’s how I try and differentiate myself from them.
Alexis: And I love the tagline, “The Image Editor for Humans” because some of them are – I might choose what words I use carefully, mostly because I was already headed into the land of profanity here – are an enormous headache.
Gus: Yeah, that was one of the other reasons I wrote Acorn, and this was before Pixelmator was announced as well. I was basically going off of Photoshop – everyone hated Photoshop. Well, I guess they didn’t hate it, but they were intimidated by it. There were just so many palettes.
When Acorn came out, it just had one palette, and people just really liked that. I wanted to bring image editing to everyone without the intimidation; you wouldn’t have to be a PhD to be able to figure out what all these bells and whistles are for. And I think that helped out a lot too, early on.
Alexis: And another thing, at least nowadays, it’s not just that Photoshop and all these Adobe apps are intimidating – I mean, they still are. But for me at least, the big sticking point is the price. It’s a recurring monthly or yearly fee, and that can drain your bank account pretty quickly.
Gus: Yeah, that was actually pretty good for Acorn. When Adobe announced that they were going to subscription, people got pissed and I got so many people writing in. They were like, “Is there a subscription with Acorn?” “No.” “Okay, awesome! I’ll use it.”
And I was like, “No, you buy it and you own it for however long you want. You get a license, you get to keep it.” I do charge for major upgrades, but people are still using Acorn 2.0 and Acorn 3.0, so. Adobe has sent so many customers my way when they did that.
Alexis: Going to sales and discounts, there’s often a lot of talk about “Sales are bad and discounts are bad” because then your customers or potential customers will wait until there’s another sale, and then you’ll wind up losing money. And then there are people that are on the other side of the fence that say, “No you need these because those people won’t buy anyway.”
Where do you fall into this argument?
Gus: We do sales – I’m never going to do it more than once a year. Ideally, once every two years is what I would go for because there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing, right?
Sales are awesome because you get a big infusion of money, but at the same time, your customers come to expect that “Hey, I’m just going to buy it next time it’s on sale.” If you’re always doing sales, people are going to hold out for that.
Plus, it’s not really what I want to do. I want to price Acorn fairly, and I think at $29 it’s a pretty darn fair price for what you’re getting. Years ago, this software would have cost – I’m thinking 10 or 20 years ago – hundreds and hundreds of dollars because of its capabilities.
I just feel like having sales too much, it just cheapens the product, and so I try and stay away from them.
Plus, the other thing that I’ve noticed with sales is you get a whole big influx of users for the cheaper price, and they’re usually people who don’t know what they’re doing, and you will be inundated with support, and that can be a time sink as well. I’d rather have fewer customers at a higher price than lots of customers at a lower price.
Alexis: You mentioned timing. What time of the year is usually best for that time of thing? Is it the holiday season, or sometimes Spring?
Gus: I don’t know. I’ve done a holiday sale before with some friends and it did okay – not amazing. I don’t think it really matters. I think it’s really more about execution than it is the time of the year.
Alexis: Was that a bundle sale that you did with friends, or was it just coordinated “Everybody’s going to have their sale at the same time”?
Gus: Actually, we’ve done both. In the past, there was something called MacSanta where a bunch of indie developers would go out and on their own stores, they would have discounts. I’ve also done a bundle around Christmas time with, I believe, it was six other apps with Wil Shipley from Delicious Monster.
That worked out alright. Not as much money was made, I think, as the organizers wanted to, but I was happy with what it was. But then I’ve also been in a – was it VoodooPad? No, it was Acorn 1.0 that was in MacHeist. That worked out pretty good. That also gave me a ton of new users, which was great for a 1.0 because then I had a nice email list that I could tell people about future updates and I got so many good reoccurring customers that way.
But it’s not something that I would – I don’t want to do bundles anymore. It’s not really part of my philosophy at this point. I just want to keep it simple. Here’s a product that’s sold for this price – here you go. No gimmicks.
Alexis: Right. Is it also because it wasn’t as good as just a regular sale in terms of profitability?
Gus: No, they’re always profitable. It’s just – I don’t know. There’s a level of stress with it and I just don’t like dealing with stress anymore. I mean, I’ve got a lot of users and –.
Alexis: That’s stress enough.
Gus: We’re comfortable with it, with what we have, and I just kind of keep it the way it is.
Alexis: Actually, you touched upon something – what I had mentioned earlier, a question I wanted to circle back to was that the Mac seems to have a lot of cottage software development. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Mac user and I tend to see more Mac software than I do Windows software.
It just seems, to me at least – again this might be a lack of information – that this community is thriving more on the Mac side than on the Windows. Do you get that sense as well, or am I just biased?
Gus: I don’t know enough about Windows, but this is certainly something that I thought quite a bit about. Occasionally I think, “Oh, maybe I’ll just write a little Windows app.” But I think Windows has the same problem that iOS has, and that is, there’s too many users, there’s too many applications out there and there’s enough out there that are free that your potential customers are going to click between something that’s going to cost money and something that doesn’t, and just automatically choose what doesn’t.
That kills any professional, independent development for that platform. Whereas the Mac, it’s small enough that the users that are on the Mac, they’re passionate about the applications. They’re using the Mac because they like it, and so they’re kind of going to want to support the folks that are writing applications.
And it’s a small enough community where I don’t know everybody, but – I don’t know. I think the users realize that it’s a smaller community and they know if they want the Mac to stay alive, that they’re going to have to support these developers. And I think that sort of plays into it there.
I don’t know if that makes sense or not. On iOS, it was this whole, huge race to the bottom, sort of like what I think is going on with Windows as well. People aren’t paying for apps anymore, and they just don’t care. I guess that’s what’s going on with the Mac; it’s not a huge base and people are willing to pay for stuff.
Alexis: And again, I hesitate to say this so as to suppress the Mac fanboy in me, because it seems when I use the software built for Mac, it is more humanistic, in a way. You can tell that there are people behind it, whereas on other platforms it’s – I don’t know. At least on Windows, to me, it feels like there’s a bigger team, maybe sometimes there’s less feeling involved in the making of the thing.
Gus: Right. The bigger the team is, the less personality your app is going to have, right?
Gus: Whereas on the Mac, I see small teams and the personality really comes through in applications because it’s a smaller team, and I think you can do that. I think that’s what you’re seeing there.
Alexis: One of these days, I just need to stop using the Mac Cold Turkey and use Linux for a couple of months or a year or so just so I could say, “Hey, I’m not a Mac fanboy! I’ve used Linux before.”
Gus: Just install it into VMware and use it that way.
Alexis: Yeah, I guess so [chuckling].
Gus: I don’t know why you would want to torture yourself. I’ve got friends who would use Linux in the past, but it seems like everyone’s gone to OSX.
Alexis: You’ve mentioned listening to your users’ feedback and also to your internal “These are the features that I’d want.” But when it comes to incorporating feedback and sticking to the roadmap or the vision that you have for Acorn, how do you make sure that you pick and choose the right piece of feedback to incorporate?
Gus: I use Fogbugz to track everything and whenever I’m on a release, I sort of push things into basically a new project milestone and I just try and whittle down those features one by one.
Now there are some huge features that are going to take a lot longer than others and I just usually put those off until I have breaks and I develop my schedule or I can spend maybe a month and work on a single feature.
A big one was reading Photoshop documents, and I think I took a month off basically to understand and implement a parser for .psd files and then adding that support to Acorn. Things like that.
I hate spending that much time on a single feature, but sometimes you just have to. Whereas other features that people want might only take half a day, and sometimes it’s kind of hard to tell what’s going to do.
Alexis: One or the other.
Gus: Yeah. I just play it by feeling as to what’s going to go into the next big release or to a point update or whatever. It also really depends on what people are asking for. For years, people were asking for curve support in Acorn and I just never used it, personally, so I didn’t see what the point was. But then I just finally implemented it and everyone shut up, which was kind of awesome.
I actually use it these days more than levels now. Now I kind of want to take away levels, but I know people are going to flip out if I do that.
Basically, I listen to feedback to figure out what to do next and balance that with what I want to do as well.
Alexis: Which brings me to another question. How do you consider long-term strategy and goals while also working on the day-to-day of “This feature needs to get built” or “I just need to finish fixing this kind of bug”? Changing scope back and forth can be a big headache, to say the least.
Gus: Yeah. Obviously the long-term goal is to stay in business, right?
Gus: Beyond that, you sort of have to look at, “Okay, what’s going to help us stay in business? Writing an iOS app? Is that going to help us stay in business? I don’t know. We’re not going to make any money off it; I can tell you that. But it might be a long-term strategy thing.”
I’m not saying I’m doing that; in fact, I’m not, just because there’s no money there. I want to stay in business.
You just play it by ear, I guess. The long-term goal is just I want to write an application that I want to use and that I think people would be happy with and that I can be proud of too, because this is my craft and hopefully I can make something that people will like.
Alexis: So Acorn 4.0 – or Acorn in general – is your bread and butter. How do you reel in your itch to build side projects or “maybe I could work on this app and maybe I could sell it or maybe I just want to make it because it would be fun.”
Gus: I’ve got lots of “side projects.” I’ve got a set of database classes called FMDB, which is pretty popularly used by thousands of applications, mostly iOS these days for reading SQLite databases. That’s kind of a side project.
I’ve also recently written a little internal application for writing documentation, which may be, in a few years I’ll turn that into an application. But basically if I’m working on Acorn and I start to get a little bit burnt out, I’ll just work on something else for a few days maybe, and that’ll sort of reignite my fires for programming.
It’s easy enough to just focus on Acorn for making money. I don’t think I would want to add another paid product for a while, because if you’re going to have a paid product, that means you’re going to have to use support for it as well. And splitting your brain up every day between all these different applications can be pretty taxing on me.
I’ll still do side projects and stuff like that, but I won’t want to support them or charge money for them. Or tell a whole bunch of people about it because they’re really just for me, and if I get more users that means I’ve got to do support.
Alexis: Right. So it sounds like the majority of your side projects are open source, which, I really should have checked your GitHub profile before I started the interview.
Gus: Yeah, even the .psd classes I wrote are open source as well, because I don’t want to anyone else to go through the pain that I did.
Alexis: It’s probably a very unique and burning pain.
Alexis: So speaking of burning, how do you manage burnout? How do you keep yourself from going, “I don’t want to look at all this anymore”?
Gus: Generally, you have to enjoy what you’re working on. If you don’t, you’re going to get burnt out faster. It doesn’t mean that you still aren’t going to get burnt out; I’ve been burnt out from Acorn a couple of times.
Basically when that happens, I just find working on minor bugs to help, because those are easy. You just find a bug, reproduce it and figure out what a solution would be to implement a fix, add a test and then you implement it. You don’t really have to think.
Alexis: And it makes you feel productive, too.
Gus: Yeah, and those are little things that need to be done anyway. The problem is you do too much of that and the burnout is still going to be there.
I find that adding pet features, things that maybe a few users want but you think would be really interesting and fun to do, is something you can add to an application. It works around burnout, but at the same time, you can’t just get completely burnt out from an application. I find working on another little side project, maybe for a couple of days or a week or whatever, will sort of help me – it’s enough time away from Acorn to where I can come back and be excited about it again.
I don’t know if you can do that in a corporation job or something like that, but obviously as an indie shop I can do whatever the heck I want, and I find that that will work out well.
And vacation doesn’t even work for that – that I’ve noticed too. I used to think doing a vacation would help me from burnout.
Gus: Yeah, it doesn’t really. Everything’s still there – it floods right back at you when you come back. So I think it’s just, my brain needs something else to work on for a little while and then I can come back to pushing pixels.
Alexis: [Chuckles] So what are some open source projects that you’re currently into?
Gus: Besides my own?
Gus: I can’t really think of any. I don’t really use too much open source stuff, except for my own crap, I guess.
Alexis: Scratching your own itch.
Gus: Yeah. I don’t really contribute to anything these days; can’t think of anything I’ve done in the past either. Sorry. [Chuckling] I’ve got no answer for that one.
Alexis: That’s alright. So you sell Acorn through the Mac App Store and directly through your own website, right?
Alexis: What’s the reason behind that?
Gus: Acorn was around before the Mac App Store, obviously, so it was great. I could charge customers and then get their emails and stuff like that to be able to communicate with them in the future. And then the App Store came out and I’d be an idiot not to get on there.
It’s funny, I’ve got some customers who are – when the Mac App Store first came out, they were so thankful that I still sold direct. I don’t remember all their reasons, but I think some of them just get angry at Apple sometimes; they don’t want to support them because they take 30%.
I kept my direct sales up for that, and plus, I could do multi-purchase discounts and stuff like that, so if a university wants to buy a ton of copies then I can give them a nice deep discount with that, whereas I can’t do that with the App Store.
I still want to be on the App Store though, because customers just want that. I think it would be silly for a Mac app to be App Store only, because we’ve all heard stories of Apple just killing your app – just taking it away. I would not want to put all my eggs in one basket that way.
Plus, one of the problems with the App Store is upgrades – not knowing who your customers are, to be able to tell them, “Hey, there’s a new version out. You might want to check it out.” I can do that with direct folks, which is very nice.
Alexis: Now if you’re willing to share, what’s the kind of breakdown between direct sales versus the Mac App Store?
Gus: For years, it used to be 50-50. Recently I’d say, over the past year it’s probably been 70, maybe even 80 some days in favor of the App Store, but some days it’ll just flip back over. I would say, on average, probably 70% of my revenue’s coming from the App Store.
It’s just so easy to buy applications today, you know. But when big releases come out, I get a ton of money through upgrades, and I would get – what do I do now? I would just lower the price since there’s no upgrades on the App Store. But when direct sales happen, there would be a huge bump on my own store just because I could send those emails out and they would all see it. “Hey! I want to get the new version [crosstalk]”
Alexis: “There’s a new version out!”
Alexis: So what’s one mistake you’d rather not repeat?
Gus: Not having good documentation. God, I can’t believe – just a pain point from people, “How do I do this? How do I do that?” and I just spend all my time answering emails.
Once we got good documentation out, support went down so drastically. I wish I had done that so much sooner on – that, and I wish I had embraced OpenGL a little bit sooner. Acorn 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 didn’t use OpenGL for pushing the pixels through, but it made Acorn a lot faster. I wish I’d done that sooner.
Alexis: Let’s see – on the flip side, what’s a decision that you’re pretty proud of?
Gus: I guess going with OpenGL – I don’t know. I try to keep things kind of humble. I don’t know. I think probably sticking with direct sales would probably be something I’m happy I did. It’s great if Apple would feature you all the time, but you can’t really depend on them. I guess it’s not really something to be proud of, but I think it was a good decision.
How about that, I flipped your question around.
Alexis: Yeah, that works [chuckles]. Very resourceful.
Now if there’s a question that I didn’t ask or something that would help indie developers who are trying to make a living on their own software, like some advice or some tips that I didn’t cover, what would it be?
Gus: I can give a little bit of advice. For years and years I used to think that you could just put stuff out there and it would be picked up.
Looking back on it now, I don’t think you can just do that. I thought I was doing that, and I wasn’t. Because I had a blog early on and I had friends who worked on newsreaders. You know Brent Simmons, NetNewsWire? He put my blog in there as one of the default blogs a long time ago. We talk but VoodooPad or Acorn and people would just read about it.
I think it helps to – you need to write. You need to have a blog if you’re an indie developer. You also need to just keep on working and working and working, because there’s a lot of luck that comes along in this that you need too, so you can work your butt off and make a great app but it just doesn’t seem to gain traction and I think you just need to keep trying.
It isn’t always fair why one crappier app will get more attention than your awesome wiki or whatever, but sometimes it’s just a matter of luck and you’re not going to be lucky if you don’t try.
So I would just say, keep on plugging away and just don’t give up hope.
And of course, write a good app. You can’t write a crappy app, an app nobody will pay for. That’s one thing that I used to see people do all the time. It’s like, “I’ve got this idea for an app and it’s not making any money.” I’m like, “Your app is kind of crappy and nobody will pay money for this anyway. It’s not useful.”
Make sure what you’re writing is useful for people; it’s solving a problem that they have and they’re willing to pay money for.
Alexis: Yeah. Honestly, I hear people talk about “Oh yeah, I want to make an Android for x and y and I want to make a living on it.” I’m like, “Well, the app that you’ve made isn’t all that great, and also mobile’s a tough gig so you’re up against some big challenges here.”
Gus: Yeah, mobile is a lottery. You want to talk about luck – yeah, some people are doing great, most people are not. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve stayed away from it as well. It’s a big time sink.
And I’m not EA. I don’t have a big budget where I can just throw money into and then Apple will just automatically feature me for whatever it is I write. I have to work at it, and that’s a lot of time that I could be working on other stuff that people would pay real money for. Or pay what it’s worth.
Alexis: Right. I’m curious – what are some of the independent Mac apps, or independently-developed I should say, that you tend to use every day?
Gus: Right now I’m using Audio Hijack. I also use Versions from Black Pixel, and also their riffing tool, Kaleidoscope. Let’s see – I use NetNewsWire all the time, still. Another Black Pixel app.
On the iPhone, what do I use a lot? I use Slack. I guess that’s not an indie app though. Oh, I use BBEdit every single day.
Alexis: That’s actually my next question.
Gus: Oh, what text editor do I use?
Gus: Yeah, BBEdit. I’ve been using BBEdit since Mac OS 8 or 7 or whatever it was. I have been using that for a long time.
It’s nice for a text editor. Hey, it still gets updated.
For editing websites, I’ll used Coda sometimes. Or I’ll use Transmit with BBEdit – those are from Panic and BBEdit’s from Barebones.
Alexis: And Rogue Amoeba for Hijack.
Alexis: So is there anything that I should have asked that I didn’t?
Gus: I don’t know, what’s my website? FlyingMeat.com.
Alexis: You’re a psychic! That was my next question. Yeah, where can people find you?
Gus: My company’s website is FlyingMeat.com. I have a personal blog at shapeof.com or you can just search for Gus Mueller and you’re going to find me.
I’m pretty much everywhere. I’m ccgus – I’m @ccgus on Twitter and anywhere else. App.net – remember app.net? I’m ccgus there.
Alexis: Do you still use it?
Gus: No, everyone left.
Alexis: If you would like to find out how the name Flying Meat came about, we’ll direct you to Flying Meat’s About page, get some people out there.
Gus: Spoiler – it’s a little bit of a sad story.
Alexis: Well –.
Gus: Sad for a deer.
Alexis: Yeah, and depending on your sense of humor, somewhat entertaining.
Alexis: At least I find it entertaining. Anyway, now that we know we can find you @ccgus on Twitter and pretty much everywhere else, go follow Gus. And for us, you can find us @Binpress and myself, @alexissantos.
And that makes this episode 30-something. I’m really not sure, which – I think it’s episode 35, yeah. We’ve done 30-something of these, man.
Gus, thanks for coming on the show!
Gus: No problem, thanks for having me.
Alexis: Yeah, and we hope to have you on maybe when Acorn 5.0 is out.
Gus: That sounds foreboding.
Alexis: No scoops here as to when it’ll release.
Gus: Nope, there will be an Acorn 5.0, I can’t tell you when. That’s pretty awesome, though.
Alexis: And for the listeners, we’ll catch you next week.
Author: Alexis Santos