in Business, iDevBlogADay

Growing, Indie Style

The media have covered to death both sides of the coin: The stories of developers striking it big, and how the great majority of indies don’t recoup their costs. A few days ago, Markus looked at indie iPhone development and how there is a middle-ground group of developers that are able to make make a living at it without going broke but without getting that big hit. Let’s call them the developer’s middle class.

Markus suggested that about 20% of developers fall in that middle class, but my gut feeling, when it comes to iPhones and games, is that it’s more like 5-10%. But it’s just a made up number based on personal observation anyway. It would be very interesting to conduct some sort of survey (or analyze the App Store data), but I fear the results would get muddled up due to the differences between full time indies, hobbyists, and big companies.

Snappy Touch falls squarely in the developer’s middle class. I’ve been very lucky and Flower Garden’s sales have been remarkably stable, hovering at around $2,000 per week (and spiking up during promotions and new updates).

For the 90% of developers that don’t make their money back, their choices are limited to either stopping, or digging deeper in their pockets (or somebody else’s pockets) and try again. For the 0.1% that hit it out of the park, they bring in so much money they can pretty much choose to do anything they want without risking the company.

For us middle-class developers, things are tougher. We have two choices:

  • The first course of action is plodding along doing what we’re doing, making a reasonable living and putting some money aside. We can build our personal and business nest egg, and then a bit more. And we can love every minute of it.
  • Choice number two is to take any spare money and reinvest it in the company. And in the case of iPhone development, that can only mean getting more people involved creating the games.

time-vs-money.jpgThe first choice is nice and safe. We can keep doing what we love, making a living from it, and even saving some money. Assuming the App Store doesn’t collapse overnight, we might be able to pull that off for a few more years. But it has a horrible hidden cost: The opportunity cost.

Most long-term, successful apps will require a fair amount of updates. New content keeps users interested, and they also expect support for new hardware (iPad, iPhone 4, etc). All the time I spend creating updates for Flower Garden is time I don’t spend making a new game. At the top of my list of hundreds of game ideas, I have four or five that I know will be successful, but the bottleneck from making them happen is my bandwidth. I can only do so much by myself.

That’s why I’ve decided that Snappy Touch needs to grow. Mind you, I’m not talking big corporation, I don’t ever want to even get to 20 people. But I would love to eventually be able to have a small team working on a new project and a few other developers maintaining and updating existing projects. I envision it happening mostly as distributed development and not in a traditional office setting.

The problem is how to start. Going from one to two people is probably the hardest step in growing a company. It’s a 100% increase! That’s probably another reason why successful startups often have three people involved from the start: Adding a fourth person is “only” a 33% increase in size, which seems more manageable.

Adding another person is also scary from a money point of view. It’s going from saving just a bit of money, to potentially spending it all so that maybe we can produce more games and make more money in the end. That’s a lesson I learned very clearly in Dope Wars: You need money to make money. To get crazy scores in that game, you had to take a huge loan out from the start (and then be really lucky). Except that in this case there’re no loans (I’m totally self-funded). And it’s also not a game, it’s real life.

Having said all of that, I’m going to turn this post into a recruiting tool (which is great because it self-selects the target audience to people who read this blog or follow me on Twitter).

Position Description

[Edit: Thanks for the overwhelming response! I already have enough candidates and the tricky part is selecting just one! I’ll post again whenever a similar opportunity opens up. Thanks!]

I’m looking for an programmer intern/part-time entry level position. Later on, if things work out, it could become a full-time position. I’m looking for someone who can dive into the Flower Garden source code and quickly be able to start maintaining it and adding features. I’ll definitely remain involved with the project, but I’ll be mostly setting the direction and working on the harder bits. I expect us to be in contact on a daily basis, and set up a quick iChat call once or twice a week (or if you’re local we can work half a day a week together).


  • Very familiar with iPhone development (you should have some apps under your belt).
  • Very familiar with Objective C and the UIKit framework
  • Good knowledge of C (and a tiny bit of C++)
  • Available to work 10-20 hours per week. This is very flexible.
  • Bonus points for knowing Python or having used the Google App Engine.
  • I’d prefer someone who can work for several months (and maybe longer term).
  • Local to San Diego would be great, but not a requirement as long as we can voice chat easily.

Compensation is hourly and based on experience, but remember this is an intern/entry level position. Possible bonuses based on performance and sales. Sounds like something you’d be interested in? Drop me a note and convince me you’re the right person for the job..

This post is part of iDevBlogADay, a group of indie iPhone development blogs featuring two posts per day. You can keep up with iDevBlogADay through the web site, RSS feed, or Twitter.

    • @SnappyTouch Keeping my fingers crossed for you. I’d love to see follow-up posts how it works out – sort of like JoelOnSoftware did…

    • @SnappyTouch I would really like to join you, but first I will start my internship at Fishlabs. Greetings from Germany.

  1. I feel for you. I’m also firmly anchored in the developer’s middle class making around $1500 per week for the past year (While supporting my wife and trying to help pay her medical school tuition and debt). I have just found the guts to reduce my day job to part time to concentrate on my mobile apps business. I’ve been working 7 days a week for too long and I think more dedication to my apps may result in revenue growth. Reducing or eliminating my day job will help on both counts. On the other hand I’m somewhat dependent on having an income since my wife still has a year of school to complete. It feels a little risky.

    Good luck in finding the right developer.

  2. Nice, we too fall into the class of “middle class” developers, we’ve been slowly growing and are now up to 7 full time and staying strong. Best of luck with it!

  3. Awesome post. I love it when i see indie shops growing! Btw, you say you have a steady $2,000/week. Is that mainly steady downloads(sales) and/or in-app purchases?

    I’m still a bit far off from making my game (as i’m still getting versed in Open GL ES), but I have been thinking of going the purchase + IAP route.

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