I was recently watching videos from Release Notes conference in 2015.
One of the speakers was John Saddington. If the name doesn't ring a bell, let me just remind you about Desk app, an award-winnig writing app. That's what he built and by my estimates made north of $500k with it. (Disclaimer: My buest guess.)
Here's video from Release Notes and be sure to check out other videos from that year too.
I just wanted to publish some of the notes I took while watching the video. I'm trying to share the key takeaways important for a starting indie developer. Keep in mind that this was 2015, and many things have changed since.
The 50/50 marketing theory
His whole talk is titled "the 50/50 rule". Theory is that as indie developer you should put 50% of your time into marketing efforts.
Now John is a writer, and he still publishes a new post every day. Writing a blog is part of his marketing efforts. For others it may be Tweeting or posting pictures on Instagram, as long as you're building a following.
Having a strong Twitter account and a strong blog readership, not to mention a mailing list - it can really help telling the world about your work. I must admit, I myself decided to start blogging regularly and to be more active on Twitter after learning about his story.
Also, Tweeting and blogging is easy. Being an indie developer means you're working on something that interests you. Why not write about it? That's nothing easier than telling others about your passion. You just have to put a little work into formatting those thoughts.
Spending money on advertising
What surprised me was that he spent $10k to sponsor Daring Fireball and still made about $35k as a result. Let's break up these numbers.
If he made $35k at $30 price point, we can guesstimate number of downloads to roughly 1,000. Daring Fireball has 200k feed subscribers. That gives us 0.5% conversion rate. (Disclaimer: Napkin math, likely to be wrong.)
Knowing the conversion rate for our app can help us estimate whether sponsoring a blog like that would pay off or not. It's easy math if you know conversion rate and the number of impressions.
Engineering as marketing: Fail story
One last thing that he mentions is his new photo resizing app.
He tried what we'd call "engineering as marketing". He built a website with free stock pictures, kinda like Unsplash. He's got a lot of traffic there. Mentions about million pageviews a month.
But the conversion rate was nonexistent. He made a lot more money on advertising that he would've on the app.
My interpretation is that his website didn't have much to do with the app. I had much more luck with launching Escape last year to promote FocusList. (Escape tracks distractions, FocusList helps you focus. Very related.)
Did he make half a million?
I have no idea. But he shared a few charts where you could see up to $40k/mo revenue. We can assume that was a high point. It's been around for quite a while and we can also assume with all this fame, he still gets a lot of downloads.
But it doesn't matter. The story proves you can make a good living with Xcode, blog and Twitter account.