What’s Interesting These Days?

There’s only a few things holding my interest these days. Family, of course. Sailboats. I love sailboats. In fact, if it wasn’t for the next thing, I’m pretty sure all I would be thinking about is sailing.

However, I’m fascinated by the business of apps. For the past decade I’ve been building the apps themselves, but the really interesting part for me is the business part. How does someone build an app and sell it in the modern marketplace? And not just sell it, but sell it enough that it maintains the business. Is it even still possible? Lots of people say no, but I think they’re wrong.

Don’t get me wrong here, it’s not easy. But business never is. And mobile apps are a mature marketplace now, and just like any other mature marketplace, there’s things that work and things that don’t. I’ve spent lots of time reading, researching, taking notes, and I think I’ve put together some interesting ideas.

In the next few months, I’ll be launching my new consulting company, Starbright, where I’ll help people build sustainable mobile app businesses. I’m also beginning work on my very first book, tentatively (and creatively) titled “Sustainable App Business”, that will serve as the reference for all the material I’ve learned about how to make sustainable apps. And finally, I’m working on some tools to support some of the ideas I’m basing the company on.

If you want me to help with your app business, I’m doing a number of trial runs at no cost to prove out my concepts, so please get in touch via email, mike@starbright.io. Otherwise, watch this space for more. And if you want to talk sailboats, I’m always down for that.

Brightwork

Considering that I went a little heavy on the boat metaphors in the last post, I figure it wouldn’t hurt to keep it going in this one, especially since the topics go together.

In Trimming Sails, I talked about intentionality being the key to accomplishing goals. The other side of the intentionality coin though is discipline. Doing things with intentionality gets you going, doing things with discipline keeps you going.

My boaty metaphor for this one is maintaining brightwork. Brightwork is essentially exposed metal and wood on a boat; on a modern sailboat, you’ll mostly see it in wood toerails, handholds, companionways, and other trim. Maintaining all this wood that’s exposed to the elements all the time isn’t fun or easy work, but it’s the difference between a boat that looks good and a boat that looks disused.

It’s not easy to stay on top of it. It’s far easier to let it go for a day, week, month longer than you should. But when you grab a handrail in high winds and come back with a massive splinter, you’ll wish you’d had the discipline.

Do things with intentionality and discipline, and that’s how you win.

Trimming Sails

I think that intentionality is the most important factor in actually accomplishing anything in life. I  have been trying to pay attention to how I do things lately, and I have noticed that when I sit back, relax, and let things go on their own, nothing happens. When I’m intentional, taking deliberate steps to accomplish a goal, any goal, including writing blog posts, that’s when things happen.

It reminds me of sailing. With your hand on the tiller, your sails trimmed, that’s when you get where you’re going. Sometimes slowly, but you’ll get there. If you don’t pay attention, you let the wind and currents take you where they go, and chances are it’s not where you want to be.

Too much, I’m letting the wind and currents take me. I’m not moving as fast as I want to, so I let frustration hold the tiller. But intentionality will get me there, and my favorite part of sailing has always been the relaxing journey. So this is my reminder to myself to keep control and stay on course. Not only will I get to my port of call, but I’ll probably have a pretty nice tan.

Cynicism in Tech

I am still surprised at the level of cynicism I see from people in technology. During the Apple event that just finished, where they announced the 4-inch iPhone SE and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, my Twitter stream was filled with snark, doubt, anger and attitude about every product, service and initiative they announced. Including, at the beginning, as they talked about the environmental and recycling initiatives, and the health initiatives, ResearchKit and CareKit, the complaints were about being bored, why aren’t they talking about new products, and so on. Of course, as soon as they did move on to new products, none of them were good enough either. The watch bands are nice, but nothing special. The watch price drop is cool, but what it REALLY needs is thinner faster better hardware and software. iOS 9.3, no mention of the developer that they “sherlocked” Night Shift from. iPhone SE, too expensive, still starts at 16gb, people have been begging for a 4-inch iPhone 6s but they just took the 6s and shrunk it down. iPad Pro, camera bump, so expensive, nobody uses iPads. And so on.

I shouldn’t be surprised by the cynicism anymore, but I still am, and I’m not sure why. People seem to want to be blown away by every announcement these days, and that’s simply not the way things work. It actually never was anyway. For me, technology is a tool, a means to an end. It helps you achieve your goals, but it isn’t a goal for its own sake. I’m a pragmatist, while it seems many of my friends, and many of the people reacting to Apple events on Twitter, are futurists. Tech for tech’s sake. If it’s not making revolutionary jumps, what’s the point of it?

For me, I like the incremental upgrades. I like making software for devices people use. I like the steady, predictable, business-supporting path that we’re on right now. Cynicism doesn’t do much. Maybe it makes you look snarky and cool to other cynical people on the internet. Maybe everyone is just trying to get a laugh. But I think the attitude you put on reflects on who you are, and just ripping on everything doesn’t feel very good to me.

Apps are a business

If you have any interest at all in mobile apps, you should read this: http://insights.pollen.vc/millionaires-index/the-millionaires-index

I’ve said for a long time that if you treat your business like a business, you can be successful in any market. The mobile app market isn’t a gold rush, the way it was in 2008 or 2009. You can’t just put any old app up on the store and expect the world to beat a golden path to your door. You have to market it, the same as you would in any other mature market.

There’s more to “marketing” than just advertising, of course. You need to make an app that people want to use. That accomplishes what it’s supposed to. That fits into the user’s life in a meaningful way. If you make something, get the attention on it, and it still doesn’t do well, you might have to accept that you didn’t make something people want.

I know this won’t be the end of the “you can’t make money in the app store” meme. But at this point, that attitude is an opportunity for you. The people saying that won’t try. If you choose your market, choose your strategy, and build something people want, you can build a real business in this industry.

Planning

It turns out I’m a planner. I feel like I probably knew that, but I’ve never really admitted it as a driving part of my personality before today.

Here’s the story. I hate the carpet in my living room. It’s original to the house, which is about 12 years old right now, so it’s “builder quality”. Which means, not great. It wasn’t in the best quality when we moved in two years ago; now add three cats and a four year old half-daughter/half-tornado, and it’s essentially ruined.

The living room has been making me uncomfortable for a while now, and I never really tied it to the carpet in there before. I just didn’t want to use the room for some reason. While doing a family clean the house day last weekend, I started picking up in there and realized just how awful the carpet had really gotten. So I started thinking about what would be better.

Nicole and I had talked about putting wood floors in “someday”. I started researching. I pulled up a little corner to see what was underneath: concrete, of course. #floridahouse. I sure can’t afford to redo the whole open plan main floor anytime soon, so whatever I do will have to go with the tile for now. Maybe once the kid had gotten a little older, I’ll do the whole place, but for now I want something that would look good, not cost too much, and something that I could ideally do myself over a weekend. I decided on a laminate floor.

Here’s the interesting part though. Once I made the decision, I started loving the room again. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t actually done anything, I had a plan. Maybe not even a plan, just a direction to go in. I don’t know the first thing about installing floors, I don’t know what color or style will look best in the house. But I know that the clock has started on the horrible carpet, and now all I see in there is potential.

It didn’t hit me until driving into the office this morning that it was the plan that made the room livable again. Instead of letting the problem overwhelm me, I can start sorting through the options for the solution. Now that I realize that about myself, maybe I can use it.