Ever had a personal frustration send you on a wild, unexpected adventure? That's exactly what happened when a macOS update made one of my go-to apps obsolete. Unable to find a worthy replacement, I decided to create my own app, never guessing it'd bring in $10,000 in revenue. In this post, I'll share how I turned a hobby project into a successful indie app and the lessons I learned along the way.
My Frustration: The Catalyst
I'd been using Blotter, which placed a beautifully integrated calendar on my desktop background. As someone who's meticulous about my schedule, having an always-on calendar wallpaper is essential. But alas, all good things must come to an end.
After the macOS Big Sur rollout, Blotter bit the dust. It wouldn't start, and no matter what I tried, there were no updates in sight. Customer support was virtually non-existent. After concluding that reviving Blotter would be a dead end, I searched for alternatives. Though there were options, none of them were up to par. Either they lacked the features I loved in Blotter, or they were visually unappealing. That's when it hit me: why not create my own app? I'm a dev too, right? 😅
Diving In and the Unexpected Encounter
As an iOS programmer, transitioning to macOS development wasn't a massive leap. Nonetheless, I relied heavily on Google. I wanted to replicate all the features I missed in my own app and make it visually appealing, so there was plenty of work to do.
From start to finish, developing my own app took a staggering 8 months! With only an hour each day to work on my side project (plus a bit more on weekends), I took things slow to avoid burnout. I stayed motivated by envisioning the day my schedule timetable would return to my desktop background. 😌
During my app development, I came across an indie developer named Khoa Pham after attempting many queries on Google and stumbled upon one of his blog articles in the search result. I found out that he's also a Vietnamese like me, currently living abroad, holding a full-time job and a family as well. Despite seemingly being fully booked with a job and a family, he still has a portfolio full of self-made apps, which totally amazed me! In a moment, I felt like this guy could be my role model: someone who can balance between a job and a family, and still has time for hobbies.
I'd say meeting Khoa Pham on the internet was a decisive moment that got me into the indie development rabbit hole. I followed him on Twitter and found out a whole community of people like him there.
Finding the Indie Community
Through Khoa Pham and other indie hackers that I started following on Twitter, I came to know a method they used to gather early feedback and build attraction/momentum for their apps: #buildinpublic (I have never used this actual hashtag though 😬). Seeing many successful cases there encouraged me to imitate the method - that said, I only actually started being visible on public after publishing my app to the App Store 😅
I did reach out to Khoa Pham a few times as well, and was invited to a group of indie hackers who were also passionate about building apps to solve their own problems, and also Vietnamese like me 😄 We've been exchanging knowledge about indie hacking there from time to time, and some discussions were very vital to my project during its first days!
Launching the App
After 8 months of intermittent development, I took the plunge, paid $99 to Apple to get the eligibility to publish my app to the App Store, named my app “WallCal” and put it there! No fancy launch with applause, no announcement whatsoever, kinda lonely 😅 I started tweeting about my app on Twitter though, and this seemed to start attracting attention, mostly from other indie hackers.
I don't know whether it was thanks to Twitter or the App Store, but after a few days, sales started to pick up. I had been selling at least one copy every day, and after less than two weeks, I got back my Apple dev account fee of $99 🤯
If this seems too magical to you, I have a guess: Productivity is kind of a hot category on the App Store, and not many calendar apps do the same thing as WallCal does (besides Blotter probably). Since Blotter was dead, that left a void in the market which WallCal happened to fill in just fine. I also offered a free version for people to trial run the app before buying, and this helped with conversion (a whopping 10% which was not bad).
Also, I believe that there’s word of mouth running out there which keeps bringing new users every day. I’ve seen days where multiple users from a single country purchase WallCal almost within the same day, and that seems too good to be a coincidence 😅 My Twitter friends also helped a lot with interaction with my posts about WallCal, and this must have boosted visibility 🙏
Had Blotter not become a dead app, I would have never had to scratch my own itch, and as a result, never discovered the indie hacker community and earned some meaningful money on the internet.
I never thought that entrepreneurship could be anything other than founding a startup, raising funds, expanding, and exiting for millions of dollars. However, my indie hacker journey taught me that there's another way: to be a solopreneur, doing what we love and earning enough to maintain our preferred lifestyle. The journey is not easy, but it's fulfilling and rewarding. I recommend finding a problem you're passionate about solving and sharing your journey with others. You may just create the next big thing while enjoying the freedom and flexibility it provides, just like my Twitter indie hacker peers 😁
Also, thanks to this journey, I discovered Twitter which I'd say was one of my biggest discoveries in 2021! I have some insights on how to best utilize Twitter and come ahead of the large majority of other Twitter users, but let’s reserve this for another day!
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