A bit of a start

My back story as an indie iOS developer

GoVJ advert, via Youtube

Right now

I’m nearly two months into this ‘going indie’ / quitting-my-full-time-job-business and I feel the need to explain myself a little.

Right now, I am not fully ‘independent’ in the strictest sense of the word. My apps are selling, but that is not providing enough for an income. I’m working some freelance work, but some days of the week are committed to developing my own products and applications under  roboheadz .

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of ‘indies’ are in this kind of position in one form or another. I don’t believe it is a bad place to be, either. Right now I am working on things that excite and interest me. Some of which pays me now, and some of which I’m hoping will pay me later on.


How did I get here? Over the last three years I have been building up to this point.

From the age of nineteen, I was successfully employed with the same company. A very big corporate. I had progressed from an entry-level position inputting data all the way through to a Customer Insight manager. My successes were in being able to analyse and work with data quickly and efficiently, build and design data warehouses for analytics, and communicate key insights to senior management. I had a lot of good years there and made some lasting friendships. It was not, however, where I had expected to land forever. The industry that the company was in was not one I felt fully enthusiastic for.

Late-2012, I turned thirty. Ten years service had been and gone. Reaching the end of my twenties made me realise if I was going to do something else then I needed to get on with it.

I had a burning desire to create iPhone applications. In particular I wanted to create an app that would enable me to mix video in real-time on my phone. I used to perform as a  VJ and I don’t think it has ever fully left my interests.

At this point in my life, I am married to a beautiful woman and we have two brilliant children. Time is scarce. I had also had two unsuccessful attempts to teach myself iPhone programming before, never managing to fully ‘get’ the concepts very well. The last non-database or scripting orientated programming I had done was hacking the doom engine source code in C back in 1998-1999.

So I applied a strategy. Every morning at 5 am, I would get up and put in between one and two hours teaching myself. I picked out the  Big Nerd Ranch Guide and started at the beginning.

Six weeks later, things were clicking into place quite well. I started prototyping my own apps.

The road to shipping is long and winding

I came through the initial barriers in understanding and now I was capable of building applications. It was time to start building that real-time video mixing application!

… Wait. That’s kind of hard as a first app. There’s still a massive gap between knowing the basics and being able to build something that works well enough.

I’d like to chronicle the development of what became  GoVJ  in another post but things went kind of like this for over a year:

- Build some prototype apps with some of the required functionality
- Life gets in the way 
- Build some more prototypes that progress a little further
- Hit some blocks in understanding/code/functionality
- Loop Repeat ...

My goals and hopes were feeling out of sight, despite the iterative learning / R&D that I had been doing.

Easter 2015 I went back to early mornings again, I organised myself on what the app’s requirement for shipping needed to be (applying a ‘minimum viable product’ perspective ). A task-list was worked through, I brought friends and people from the wider VJ community in to beta-test. Things got that little bit more serious.

In September 2015 I released GoVJ.

As a niche app, and a first app, I feel it has been a pretty good success. I was never under any illusion it would make me loads of cash, but I wanted it to exist. I was just happy that it had sold to actual customers and it continued selling.

One app is never enough

Enthused by some basic success, I started work on  HoloVid .

HoloVid allows people to project any video or photo as ‘holograms’ on their phone, using a four-sided projector. There have been many viral videos on making these projectors out of thick clear plastic or cutting up CD cases. There are not many decent apps that enable you to use your own videos though, and most people end up just using demo videos from Youtube. In February 2016, HoloVid was launched.

Whereas GoVJ had a scheduled launch date with a whole marketing campaign and activities to engage the online VJ community, HoloVid was a soft-launch. It has been an interesting learning curve with each.

Deciding to go indie

We had made concerted efforts to eliminate our debts over several years before, and to start saving money as a family. We had reached a stage where I could work full-time on my own products for 6 months without income if necessary. I had known for a while that a leap into the unknown might be likely and had been trying to align things towards that.

Meanwhile, my full-time job had been under threat of redundancy for several months. In the end my job was safe, but that disruption had cemented my desire to try to move into app development full time.

I started putting plans into motion, and set about quitting my job. It was nerve-wracking, scary even with a ‘safety net’, but ultimately a step I felt I needed to make.

Since then

After fourteen years at the same company, with no more than a block of two weeks or so leave in that time, I needed to decompress.

We have spent quality time as a family, taken a trip away, and I’ve attended to various DIY tasks around the house. I’ve been getting things in order. I managed around three weeks of “no-work” before I started to get twitchy. So during July I have come back to working ‘normal’ weeks but working on my own projects for roboheadz.

This has been a learning curve in a short space of time. Already I feel like I have experienced some of the highs and lows that can come with a more flexible way of working. There have been moments where I have been unable to switch off, and blocks or problems in my coding work have invaded my home life in the evenings. I suspect that will be a negative I shall need to keep a close eye on.

On the positive end of the scales there have a couple of days where being flexible enough to say “it’s a beautiful day, lets go out as a family and code this evening” has worked out really well.

What next?

It will take some time before my own solo efforts produce an income that we can solely survive on as a family. I know I have a lot to learn still in terms of what it means to serve a broad customer base and to build a fully functioning business. This is still a learning period, and I suspect each month, each quarter an each year will be.

I have been fortunate enough to find good part-time work, that will help support our income whilst still providing me solid blocks of time to focus on my own thing.

There is still a burning need to get things off the ground sooner rather than later. If by 2017 things are not looking viable or successful in some way there are other decisions I may need to make such as contracting full-time, or returning back to the corporate world.

I plan on documenting this journey here as things progress.