Can you make money?

At the recent OS X conference, the question came up at the Innovators presentation whether it was possible to make money developing OS X applications.

Yes, it’s possible.

But, before you start, here’s some advice:

1. Don’t expect investment from VCs or Apple or anybody else.

You’ll need to fund development yourself. Folks developing for Windows or doing web applications may be able to find investment, but it’s been a long time since Mac development attracted investment.

2. You need to have a really good idea for an app that other people like.

It’s worthwhile to show a few people privately an early prototype. Choose people who won’t just say nice things because they like you. Your friends and family will be encouraging. You want honest opinions.

We originally had an app named MacNewsWire, the precursor to NetNewsWire, that didn’t catch fire. It had a fixed list of Mac news subscriptions. You couldn’t add or remove subscriptions. I thought it would be popular; it wasn’t.

Then I prototyped NetNewsWire and showed it to some people, and they liked it an awful lot. Had they not liked it, we would have done a different app.

3. Communicate. Be open. Most of all, listen.

If you don’t have a weblog, start one. Part of buying software from a small independent developer is knowing that you’re buying from people.

Put your bugs list on-line. Start a mailing list or two. You want to be open about your software and you want people to get to know you.

But the biggest part of this is listening to other people.

4. Don’t imitate Apple.

One of the things I see often is people name their apps iSomething; their apps use metal windows; their websites look like Apple’s website.

I think this is a mistake. I know these folks aren’t trying to fool people into thinking their apps are really made by Apple. However, the benefits of your own unique presence will outweigh any impression of a relationship to the iApps.

5. Be realistic. Work matters.

There’s no room for idealism of this sort: people should like your app, investors should provide funding.

What matters is what actually happens. When you concentrate on the shoulds you’re not working.

You need to work and keep working. There may be dinners and movies and even vacations, but then you come back to work.

06 Nov 2003