Codakuma
iOS apps and more

Going indie: 2020 in review

29 Dec 2020

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Introduction

Earlier this year I decided to learn iOS development. I’d been wanting to do it for some time, but the closest I’d gotten was using React Native at my day job.

Like many people, this year I found myself with a lot more free time as I couldn’t leave my home. Building an app seemed like a fun project I could work on during evenings and weekends. Plus, SwiftUI meant that even a React-obsessed web developer like me could make apps without worrying about delegate methods and the like.

I decided to make a HealthKit app, because I like working out, and I wouldn’t need to worry about anything server side or multi-platform support. On May 2nd, Personal Best was live on the App Store.

When I was starting out I wasn’t sure how successful my app would be. I knew that the gold rush of 2008-10 had long passed, but what did that actually mean in real terms? I follow a lot of indie developers on Twitter and they all seem to be doing alright, so is this something I could make a full-time living from?

To share my story and hopefully demystify things for other people starting out, in this post I’m going to talk about my initial downloads and how they changed over time, my attempts at making money, my marketing efforts, then my ideas for the future.

Downloads

Since launch, Personal Best has had around 7,000 downloads, which works out at roughly 875 per month, or just under 30 per day.

In the beginning, I was getting almost no downloads. From May to September I got just over 200 downloads. This isn’t surprising — I’d done zero marketing and was relying on word of mouth. Still, I was thrilled (and still am) that over 200 people had downloaded something I’d made.

In case you’re wondering, the big spike is from when indie developer Steve Troughton-Smith retweeted me. The iOS indie community is very welcoming and people often use their platforms to help others. I’m really grateful for this.

Personal Best's downloads from May to September 2020

After WWDC, I got to work building new features that might get my app featured on some blogs. On iOS 14’s launch day I was ready.

I was very lucky to see tweets from 9to5Mac’s Chance Miller and TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez asking people to share their app updates that included iOS 14 features like widgets or App Clips. Because of this, Personal Best made it into articles from both 9to5Mac and TechCrunch.

This had an enormous impact on my downloads. On September 17th I got 951 downloads in a single day, and I continued to get hundreds per day for a good few weeks.

It wasn’t until mid October that things levelled off, and now I’m at a baseline of 5-10 per day.

Personal Best's downloads in September 2020

Revenue

In June I decided to expand the app with an in-app purchase to unlock ‘Personal Best Pro’, which brings more advanced features. It’s currently a one-time purchase (i.e. not a subscription).

I’m not comfortable sharing exact revenue figures, but to date I’ve had around 300 purchases. The trend closely mirrors sales: very small amounts to begin with, an explosion in September and a slow recession going into October.

~300 purchases is brilliant! Over 300 people across the world have chosen to buy something that I made, which truly blows my mind. I’m not planning to leave my day job and go indie full time — I’d need to sell tens of thousands more copies for that to be viable — but it’s nice extra cash and a good foundation to go forward from.

Marketing

I keep avoiding putting effort into marketing, for a few reasons:

  1. I prefer doing development work.
  2. I feel awkward trying to sell my work to others and worry that I’m bothering them.
  3. I worry that my app isn’t good enough to be featured by a big-name website (hi impostor syndrome).

However, I know that I need to market it more. The huge spike in downloads in September proves that there is a market and it just needs to be put in front of people.

So far, this is what I’ve done towards marketing:

  • Made a press kit (zip download) so that I have nice screenshots and an app description to share with journalists.
  • Emailed a contact at the App Store I ‘met’ at WWDC, who forwarded on my spiel to somebody who works in editorial for Health and Fitness (nothing’s come of that so far).
  • Emailed a couple of blogs to see if they would like to write a post about my app (no responses so far).
  • Used my $100 credit for Apple Search Ads to advertise on the App Store for fitness-related keywords.
  • Posted on /r/apple’s ‘Self Promo Saturday’ exactly once. I’m scared to post it again as the mods are known for giving out bans for excessive self promotion like they’re going out of style.

I haven’t done any paid marketing so far, and I’m not sure I want to just yet. I’m quite averse to risk and I don’t like the idea of spending the little revenue I’ve made on ads that might not provide a return on investment.

Conclusion

A year ago I couldn’t have imagined that I’d have an app with over 7,000 downloads (there are a lot of things I couldn’t have imagined a year ago, but let’s not pull at that thread). I’m so happy with the progress Personal Best has made so far. In 2021 I’m planning to continue working on it until it’s among the best indie iPhone apps.

My dream wishlist for Personal Best in 2021:

If I can achieve half of the things on that list I’ll be very happy.

Here’s to 2021 🥂

Download Personal Best on the App Store