Indie Hopes and Dreams

iOS launch days are always a little bit like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory contest. Millions of developers throw their apps—er—hats in the ring, hoping that some combination of skill and pure dumb luck will score them a golden ticket to the top of the charts. And just like in Willy Wonka, sometimes the App Store winners aren’t exactly the best apps (think scammy subscription apps that try to trick users, or casual games weighed down by IAPs, etc.).

This year, though, us indies got to see our very own Charlie Bucket—er—David Smith, find his golden ticket with his excellent widget-customizing app, Widgetsmith. A viral TikTok video showing how to make your iPhone home screen “aesthetic AF” catapulted Widgetsmith to the top of the Top Free chart.

Meanwhile, Brian Mueller, creator of everyone’s favorite snarky weather app, CARROT Weather, hit #1 on the Top Paid chart. Honestly, it was so much fun seeing everyone celebrating their well-deserved features on various App Store lists. In fact, for a moment, it almost felt like indie developers in general were on top of the world.

Of course, there’s another side to the whole iOS 14 launch story, and it’s one fraught with frustration, sadness, and disappointment. Despite submitting our apps the night before iOS 14 launched (with only a few hours’ notice!), developers like Charlie Chapman, Majid Jabrayilov, Arno Appenzeller and myself ended up stuck in a review queue nightmare that delayed our own launches.

Would I have made a lot of money if YarnBuddy had been featured? No, probably not. But it certainly would have been fun—something to celebrate and be proud of. And heck, maybe I’d even rake in enough to be able to upgrade a few of my devices this fall.

It was against this backdrop of emotions, and after seeing several frustrated tweets from my fellow developers, that I came across a short tweet by Matt Ronge.

Matt is absolutely right, of course. However, the unfortunate timing of his tweet appearing in my timeline made it feel a bit like a subtweet (even though I knew it wasn’t). I quoted his tweet and noted that while it was true, hope is all an indie developer has when their marketing budget is effectively zero dollars. This sparked some further conversation, which then led to the latest episode of Release Notes with Charles Perry and Joe Cieplinski. I listened to the episode on my drive to Costco this morning and really enjoyed it. In particular, I liked how Joe and Charles touched on the fact that not all indies are in the same situation or even have the same goals, so there isn’t really a “one-size-fits-all” marketing strategy.

I’ve listened to quite a few episodes of Release Notes and from what I’ve gathered, the most important part of marketing is finding your audience—like, literally figuring out where your audience hangs out, not just identifying who is a part of it. Charles markets his services to accountants and tax consultants, and he has found ways to get directly in touch with that audience.

My audience is knitters and crocheters. As the guys mentioned in the podcast, that’s actually a pretty enormous, sprawled out community. There are yarn shops, clubs, magazines, small blogs and YouTube channels, pattern creators, Etsy shops, and two major online communities: Ravelry and Reddit. I like to crochet, but I’ve never really felt the need to be a part of a community, so I don’t have a presence in either of those two main spaces. However, I now see that a presence is necessary in order for me to promote YarnBuddy without running afoul of community guidelines.

I don’t want my presence to be inauthentic, either. It has to be genuine. And so it will take time. I can’t afford to advertise anywhere, so I guess my next steps, aside from becoming a part of the communities, will be to continue trying to reach out to bloggers and other websites in the fiber arts space with promo codes. Any other suggestions are welcome!

One last thing I want to note is that for some developers, myself included, even this kind of “free” marketing is nearly unfeasible. For busy students, folks with demanding day jobs, stay-at-home parents (or PIPS: Parents in Pandemics)… there is just no time to become involved in communities or reach out to lists of bloggers and publications that will very likely ignore you. Advertising takes money, not time. Reaching out to folks takes time, not money. If you don’t have either, you hope for Apple to feature you. I think it was maybe Joe that said that hoping for a feature feels like desperation. It absolutely is. These are desperate times, y’all.

For now, my grand indie dreams for this fall have been dashed (that feels like too strong of a word…maybe “muted”?). However, my smaller, more reasonable goal of gaining 20 subscribers by the end of the year is going swimmingly. I’m currently at 17 subs and 11 lifetime purchases, and reviews are generally good.

If you’d like to help get me all the way to my goal, please let your knitting/crocheting friends know about YarnBuddy. It’s free to try, and I think they’ll like it. ?