My app business failed. What’s next?

I’ve avoided writing this for some time:

My app business failed and I’ve shut it down.

I avoided writing about it, heck – even talking about it, because it made me feel bad and I didn’t want to admit that I had failed. Being a solo iOS developer can be a lonely and isolating place, especially when things aren’t going well, which is why I think it’s important that I share my story.

So, how I did get here?

In January this year, it became clear there were problems. My apps had been getting killed in the App Store search rankings for some time, my download numbers were sliding lower as each week passed and it wasn’t long before my monthly revenue sunk below my monthly costs.

You might wonder, as a one man shop, what costs are there beyond a relatively inexpensive developer account renewal once a year?

In my case, I set up shop as a limited company and my monthly fixed costs went something like this:

  • Monthly fees to my accountant (~£60)
  • Web and email hosting (~£10)
  • Other online services (~£10)
  • Bank fees (~£5)

So, around £85 a month to keep a limited company afloat. Most of that is going straight my accountant, but frankly, the incorporation of a company and the filing of accounts fill me with pure dread, so despite the cost, it’s probably best I leave it to someone else! 

Would I go as a limited company if I were doing it again? Possibly…perhaps that’s a discussion worthy of its own post for another time.

Besides the monthly costs, there are some things that come up annually, such as domain name renewals and my Apple developer account, call those a “round £100” and we’re looking at a fixed operating costs of ~£1100 per year.

To be clear, I never made a fortune from my apps. Some months I would break even, others I would get some pizza money – some months, I wouldn’t even break even. In hindsight, I should have made the decision to close down way sooner than I actually did, but the thought of admitting failure and quitting felt crushing to me.

As the new year rolled in, I found myself in an awkward place where my current apps were stagnating, but worse still, I didn’t have an idea for my next app. I was lost, burnt out, and the idea of shutting things down felt awful. At the time, I  convinced myself that I needed to persevere and sort out this mess.

That was until March, when an idea for a new app came along…

I did the typical thing of getting super excited about the new idea, and before I knew it, I was sketching out design ideas, listing out potential features. Then it dawned on me, this is going to take a long time to make.

When I looked at my monthly costs and guesstimated how long this would take the build, with my company the way it was, suddenly, the development of this app had a pretty hefty price tag associated with it.

That’s when the conversation in my mind changed. Suddenly, shutting down seemed very appealing. I could take stock, learn from my past mistakes, take my time without worrying about monthly expenditure and make something awesome. Then, when the time is right, make a comeback. And that’s exactly what I plan on doing.

Speaking of learning from past mistakes, with my new app idea, currently going by the codename of “Project Synapse”, I’m doing things a little differently. I’m taking a marketing first approach.

I first heard about it through an episode of Release Notes. You should go and listen to the episode, but the general idea is that before starting work on a big project, you put out a preview in order to gauge levels of interest and try and get some early stage feedback and validation on your idea. To me, the idea makes a huge amount of sense as it’s proving in advance that I have the ability to reach and engage my target audience. If I can’t do it now, that’s unlikely to change once my app is finished. 

Sure, there are some risks to this approach, putting out a preview could put me at risk of being copied and beaten to market, but frankly, there are a tonne of decisions that need to be made in order to turn what I have now into the app I know it can be. Simply ripping off my screenshots won’t get anyone that far, so it’s a risk I’m willing to accept.

In short: It’s better to find out now if nobody cares about my app idea rather than finding out after I’ve spent months sweating over making it.

So that’s what I did. I put out a preview page for Project Synapse. If you like it, you can sign up to a mailing list to register your interest. If you don’t like it, I’d still love to hear from you to know why, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter, my DM’s are open.

There are still some questions I need to find answers for. The biggest, is working out how many people need to sign up to my mailing list before I consider this an idea worthy of going into full blown development. Fifty? One Hundred? Five Hundred? A Thousand? 

I don’t know what the answer is yet, but one of my hopes for this site is that it can allow me to document my journey in a way that might help others. So as I explore this question, and others like it, I’ll be sure to write about it here.

In the meantime, please do let me know your thoughts on Project Synapse. If you fancy getting a “directors commentary” on the app’s development, be sure to subscribe to Waiting for Review, a weekly podcast about iOS development which I co-host. No doubt it will be the topic of many a conversation!