Category Archives: Business

Thanks for using Searchpath

Today I sent the following email to everyone who has used my web app Searchpath. While I’m disappointed that I’ve neglected Searchpath, focusing everything on Micro.blog just makes the most sense right now.

Three years ago, I launched Searchpath to make it easy to embed a search box on any web site. Because you signed up to try it, either at the beginning or as a more recent paid subscriber, I wanted to thank you and let you know about the next steps for the service.

While I still love the idea behind Searchpath, I have not been able to give it the attention it deserves. Lately the service has been costing more to run than can be supported by subscription revenue. I’ve disabled new accounts and started migrating the data in an effort to keep the service running for active users.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • If you had an active paid subscription, it has been cancelled and you won’t be billed again. The service will continue to run while you look for a new search solution.
  • The current search index included many web sites that no longer use Searchpath. To save costs, I’ve reset the index. Active web sites using Searchpath will be automatically re-indexed.

I hope to return to Searchpath at some point in the future. For now, it will run in this limited mode for current customers. If you have any questions, please let me know via email at support@riverfold.com.

— Manton

P.S. One reason I can’t focus on Searchpath is I’m preparing to launch a new weblog service. It’s called Micro.blog.

Refocusing around Micro.blog

As I talked about on Timetable, now that I have the micro.blog domain I get to figure out what to do with it. And what I’m hearing from friends and listeners is clear: throw out my jumble of Snippets-related names and use Micro.blog as the brand for the platform. It’s obvious now.

Renaming a product before its official launch may not seem like a big deal, but in this case it gives the app a new importance. Just by renaming it, the app feels more ambitious. It forces me to devote more attention to it, which means saying goodbye to some of my other web apps that I can no longer focus on.

I have a difficult time shutting down failing products. Over the weekend, I took some much-needed steps to finish winding down Watermark and Searchpath. I’ll be sending an email this week to everyone who has used Searchpath with the details.

For Searchpath, I had procrastinated making a decision because even simple steps like closing new account registrations requires actually writing code and deploying changes. The index on my Elasticsearch server had grown to 90 GB, including Watermark as well. I needed a clean way to reset it and migrate the small number of active paid accounts somewhere else, to give customers time to find a new solution.

I’ve tried a few technologies for search over the years. The first version of Watermark used Sphinx, which I loved but became a scaling issue with its default need to completely reindex MySQL data. Eventually I moved to self-hosted Elasticsearch, but I had to keep feeding it RAM as the index grew. It was never stable enough with my limited skills.

As I noted in my post about Talkshow.im, there’s no perfect way to admit defeat and clean up the mess left by a web app. It’s always a balance of responsibilities — to your own business and to your customers.

But again, the way forward is clear. I should put everything into launching and growing my new microblog platform. It’s too much to maintain other web apps at the same time.

Kapeli’s suspension is a test for Apple

Since my post yesterday about what I viewed as the unwarranted smearing of Kapeli’s reputation, I’ve received a lot of good feedback. I’ve also seen many comments from developers who had an incomplete view of the facts. This isn’t surprising, since Apple’s own statement to the press seems to have left out details, either for privacy reasons or to make a stronger case.

I’m not an investigative journalist. I know a lot about what happened, but not everything. I’m not going to try to “get to the bottom” of the truth. Kapeli developer Bogdan Popescu emailed me yesterday after my post had been published, and as tempting as it might have been to ask him more questions, ultimately this is between him and Apple. I’m a blogger and podcaster, so I’d rather stick to the larger themes.

How do we move forward as a community? Two points:

  1. We must err on the side of defending indie developers, even when it looks bad. Apple’s a big corporation and they don’t need our help.
  2. We should hold Apple accountable when they overreach, even when they have the best intentions. I agree with Rene Ritchie’s post that despite such a bad situation, it’s still within Apple’s power to fix this.

Matt Drance had a series of tweets that get to the heart of how we react as a community. If it turns out that Bogdan did submit fraudulent reviews, then okay. But if Apple eventually reinstates his developer account, I want to be able to say I stood up for his side of the story, even if I risked being wrong.

It’s easy to defend someone who is obviously innocent. It’s harder when they make mistakes, but in areas unrelated to the crime. In that way, this App Store “rejection” is unique. It may be the most important test we’ve seen of Apple’s power in the store.

Kapeli’s reputation

I’ve been using Dash more and more over the last month, but I realized with all this controversy that I had never actually bothered to pay for the app. Whoops! The trial reminds you every once in a while, but otherwise it’s pretty usable without paying, and I’m lazy.

Kapeli’s iOS revenue has vanished, but the developer still has his direct Mac sales. So I set out to finally buy a copy of the Mac version.

And then during checkout, sending him my name and contact info, I hesitated. Do I trust this developer? Is he trying to do the right thing for customers, as every indication from his public blog posts and tweets about Dash show, or is he a scammer, conducting fraudulent activity in the App Store as Apple accuses?

That’s the damage Apple has done in going to the press and smearing him. They’ve destroyed the goodwill he had in the community from his well-respected app. I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt, yet I hesitated.

At the Çingleton conference in 2013, Christina Warren talked about building a reputation for herself. One of the slides will stick with me for a long time: “All I have is my name,” she said, so she couldn’t risk attaching her name to something she didn’t believe in.

Kapeli developer Bogdan Popescu has made some mistakes. There’s a lot of smoke, but I still believe there’s no fire, no actual fraudulent activity orchestrated by Bogdan himself. That hasn’t stopped Apple from burning his reputation to the ground.

As long as Apple has so much control over app distribution, so much power over an iOS developer’s business and reputation, then Apple’s treatment of and communication with developers has to be perfect. Michael Tsai covers some of the ways Apple mishandled this. The fallout in the developer community has been more severe than is warranted from the incomplete and misleading facts in Apple’s statement.

I finished checking out and paid for Dash. It’s a great app.

Apple apologists

The hardest transition for fans of Apple Computer from the 1990s is realizing that Apple no longer needs us to defend the company. If I’m sometimes critical of Apple, both here and on Core Intuition, it’s because they’re the largest tech company in the world.

I will always hold Apple to a very high standard of excellence. They’ve earned it. When airline flight attendants tell passengers to turn their Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones off along with the usual warnings about oxygen masks and life vests, we shrug and laugh because it’s Samsung. From Apple, we expect higher quality and attention to detail, not shortcuts.

Steve Jobs has been gone for 5 years, but the spirit of building insanely great products is well-rooted at Apple. Apple employees are doing incredible, passionate work.

And yet the company itself hardly resembles the struggling computer maker of 20 years ago. Apple is a giant corporation now. Unlike its employees, who have the best intentions, giant corporations are by default selfish, arrogant, and rarely courageous.

Apple does a lot of good for the world. I doubt there’s another company even approaching Apple’s size that does as much, from renewable energy to safer materials to workplace diversity. But that good doesn’t absolve them of criticism.

Red flags at the startup

Wild yet totally believable story from Penny Kim about how she moved from Texas to California to join a startup. It’s got mismanagement, office politics, money problems, lies, and even faked wire transfer receipts:

The scam artist sat there and concocted this in his head instead of telling us the truth that the money wasn’t there. He then weighed the pros and cons and decided it was worth it. Then he took the time to Photoshop in each of his 17 employees’ names (or he forced someone else to do his dirty work).

Although she tried to keep the company name hidden, it was revealed by others later. See this Hacker News thread and article at Business Insider.

It is hard to run a small company that isn’t quite profitable, balancing the ups and downs of revenue and the timing of new investments. When I was much younger, I could probably be sympathetic to a company that was honest and transparent about a rare late paycheck or reimbursement. But Penny Kim’s startup story is much worse than that; it’s a perfect example of how not to handle leadership mistakes.

Long vs. pure App Store names

David Smith has an analysis of long names in the App Store, as developers try to understand the scope of Apple’s upcoming cleanup changes. Don’t miss the text file of 255-character names he found, which are all ridiculous. I’d laugh if this kind of gaming of the store didn’t make me sad.

I’ve always thought that the title shown in the App Store should be the actual app name. Keyword spamming is clearly bad, but I personally don’t like even tag lines in the name. Of the 4 apps from my company Riverfold that have been in the App Store, the names in the store all exactly match what is shown on your home screen:

  • Sunlit
  • Tweet Library
  • Clipstart
  • Watermark Mobile

Maybe my sales suffered because of my refusal to add more words after the real name, but to me, these names are pure and gimmick-free. I don’t want my customers subjected to a truncated mess of words even before they use my app.

If tag lines and brief descriptions in the App Store name are so common (and they are), then Apple should complement the new 50-character limit by having a separate 1-line description field in search results. This was discussed on the latest episode of Release Notes. My worry is that Apple attempts to fight problems with new policy alone instead of also encouraging the right behavior with App Store features.

On this day, last year

One year ago today, I posted the first screenshots of Snippets.today for iPhone. I never would’ve guessed that a year later I’d still be working on the beta, still not quite ready to ship.

One theme from that post a year ago is even more true today, though. To succeed I need to not just announce and market the product, but tell a story about why it matters. This realization is what has held up the Kickstarter video for so long. It doesn’t need to be perfect — I’m sure it will be flawed in a few ways — but it needs to be right, in that it should frame the idea of independent microblogging correctly.

More from that post last year:

Earlier this year I gave a talk at CocoaConf about tips I’ve learned to be productive while juggling multiple projects. But as I worked on the talk, it turned out to be about something else. It was about Walt Disney moving from Kansas City to Hollywood. It was about crazy side projects that no one else believed in. It was about Texas Hold ‘Em poker and risking everything for an idea.

I still feel that risk. A long-overdue product is difficult to push forward, the weight starting to carry as much burden as potential. And everywhere I look there’s a new excuse to procrastinate.

1 year indie

One year ago, I celebrated my first day without a boss. I had just written 2 weeks of daily blog posts about wrapping up work after 14 years at the same company. Today, I’m wearing the same Mac t-shirt and working from Whole Foods again to mark the anniversary.

So how has it gone, a full year as an independent developer? It depends who you ask. While I was leaving the best day job I’ll ever have, there’s still no substitute for the flexibility and freedom to work on my own projects. From that perspective, the last year has been amazing, with some great success on new revenue from Core Intuition and contracting too.

And I made a few decisions early on with how to manage the business that have proven useful to smooth over the bumps. For example, I pay myself a fixed salary on the 1st day of each month, and for 12 months straight I’ve always met that goal. This month, I gave myself a small raise.

On the other hand, I’m still bringing in less money than when I had a real job, and my wife might say that there’s a fine line between being self-employed and unemployed. We’ve let our credit card debt go unchecked. There’s been no slack in the high monthly expenses of the house, car payments, business costs like hosting, and everything else. My income from Riverfold has grown significantly, but not significantly enough.

Yet, I’m upbeat. I’m upbeat because of the potential for what I set out to do a year ago: ship Snippets.today and help revolutionize independent microblogging. That’s still the plan. That’s still why this experiment of working for myself is in its very early stages, even a year later.

Summer co-working

I’ve settled into a new work routine this summer at a co-working place. But after working at home for over 15 years, spending time with family and enjoying a flexible schedule, I’m not going to completely throw that out for a daily commute. Also, despite trying several options for parking or taking the train, I seem unable to shake the extra cost of just being downtown.

For 2-3 days a week, it’s worth it. Whether half days or all day, this time away from the house lets me focus uninterrupted. It doesn’t hurt that they have cold-brew coffee on tap, either.

The right balance of working from home or out of the house is different for everyone. James Glazebrook, writing for Basecamp, says that co-working doesn’t work for him, but that it might for you:

“If this doesn’t describe you, by all means — consider coworking. Everyone is different and each person works differently. Maybe your job is isolating and you’re craving human interaction. Perhaps your projects would benefit from an outsider’s ideas or their complementary skills. You might not have space at home to dedicate to an office, or the desire to own a printer-scanner-fax. Or you just want to get out of the house more.”

I’d add to his list: you might have kids at home who open your office door whenever they want. My home office is currently shared with anyone who wants to use the extra iMac or printer, and the kids often need rides to appointments, camps, and friends. For me, summer is the most important time to get a more formal schedule.

Focusing in that way actually frees up the rest of the week, letting me spend time away from work without the nagging stress that I’m not being productive enough. It’s widely understand that no programmer can be productive 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Instead, limited runs of about 4 hours of work are perfect for me, and it doesn’t have to be every day. Co-working is just solid time that I can count on to move my projects forward.

Pre-announcing Snippets.today

Earlier this week I sent an email to subscribers of the announce list for my microblogging project. These are people who signed up, wanting to hear more about what the project was and when the beta would be available.

I talked about this on Core Intuition 241 today. Some people signed up a year ago, and the longer I went without sending an email, the more nervous I became that I was missing an opportunity to sustain interest in the project. I was stuck on the idea that the first email to the list had to be when there was a product to either test or pay for.

These decisions of when to release a product, what to write about, how to communicate new ideas without overwhelming potential customers — they seem so monumental, but the truth is it just doesn’t matter that much. When the feedback started rolling in over email, I quickly realized that I was worried for nothing. People were excited and supportive.

I have a lot of work to do over the next couple of weeks before it’s ready to open up to real users. As I’ve talked about a few times on my Timetable podcast, I’m planning a Kickstarter project to complement the web app. I’ll be sharing more soon.

Pinboard at 7 years

Maciej Cegłowski of Pinboard has always been open about his stats for the service. Now, on the 7th anniversary, he also shares that revenue has grown to well over $200k/year:

I’ve added revenue this year because I’m no longer afraid of competitors, and I’d like to encourage people who are considering doing their own one- or zero-person business. The site costs something like $17K/year to run, so you can make a good living at this artisanal SaaS stuff.

Congrats to Maciej on his success. I’ve been a happy Pinboard user for pretty much all of those 7 years, and — as someone who also aspires to build a profitable web platform — I’m inspired by Pinboard’s consistency and growth.

Speaking of 6-figure income, I’ve also just finished reading Shawn Blanc’s write-up about launching The Focus Course, which had first-week revenue of over $100k. He describes the planning process and his strategy for using a mailing list to build awareness about the product.

App maintenance and subscription rejections

Jason Snell closed his first take on App Store subscriptions with a question about iPhone app maintenance vs. web services maintenance:

Whether Apple would actually reject a subscription-based app that doesn’t offer any functionality outside of itself, I don’t know. It sure wouldn’t be the first time there was a baffling App Store rejection. But does Apple really want to take the position that ongoing maintenance of a web service has value, but ongoing maintenance and development of an app does not? I don’t think it does.

As I wrote about in my post yesterday, users can more easily see the hosting costs for a web service. They’ve been trained by a decade of paying for web subscriptions. Maintenance for the app itself has some differences.

Think about how costs scale if an app becomes popular. A web service becomes expensive to run, often thousands of dollars each month. You could say that a developer’s time for app maintenance is also thousands of dollars, but it’s essentially fixed. Outside of customer support costs, the incremental cost to a developer for an app doesn’t increase in the same way it does for scaling a backend service.

I hate that Apple has the power to reject our business model for a potential app. I’m now leaning more to the idea that Apple should approve nearly everything and let customers decide on the value. But there is a difference between maintenance of an app vs. a web service, and the services that are clearly appropriate for subscriptions will be the most successful apps using this new model.

Miitomo and Wii Transfer

On episode 18 of my Timetable podcast, which I just published this morning, I mention the new Nintendo game Miitomo. Federico Viticci also wrote about it today:

I’ve been keeping an eye on Miitomo – I still don’t completely understand it, but I’m intrigued by the premise of a friend-based network with mini-games and the ability to collect coins. Those coins can then be used to claim rewards and redeem other Nintendo-related content such as games and customizations. I’m curious to see how Miitomo will perform outside of Japan.

For a several years between 2006 and 2010, I sold and actively worked on a little Mac app called Wii Transfer. It was the first time I realized that I could make a living selling Mac software, even though it didn’t always have great sales consistently by itself. To this day, one of the features I’m most proud to have ever written is the Mii export, which could sync Mii data over Bluetooth from the Wii remotes and render it to let you save your Miis as PNG files on your Mac.

I’ve often mused on Core Intuition that I stopped selling the app too soon. At one point I worked on a companion app to the Nintendo DS with similar themes, but didn’t ship it. And I considered building a version for iOS just with the Mii functionality.

From a blog post in 2012, announcing that Wii Transfer would no longer be available:

I’m retiring Wii Transfer to focus on my other apps. It’s not that it doesn’t sell; it still does. It’s just that it’s not an app I actually use anymore. By officially shelving the whole project, I hope to remove a psychological burden of sorts — to no longer worry that I’m ignoring an active product.

I’ll never know if it was a missed opportunity — a mistake for the direction of my indie business to stop selling something that people liked — or the right call to refocus around what I actually cared about. In any case, I’m glad Nintendo is doing something new with Miis. As I play with Miitomo, there’s a part of me that regrets not doing more with Nintendo-compatible software while I had a competitive head start.

Getting press

As I mentioned when I first linked to Studio Neat’s Obi project on Kickstarter, I enjoyed the Thoroughly Considered podcast that came out of that endeavor. It’s now one of my favorites.

On the latest show, Dan and Tom and Myke talk about the press: getting press for your product, communicating with press folks, and the impact of being featured in the press. Because Studio Neat makes physical products and not just software, their take on these topics is always good.

While I’ve blogged from time to time about the press, there’s a lot that I get wrong or don’t make time for. I was impressed with David Barnard’s promotion for Rando, a new iPhone app that was a joint venture with David, designer Rick Messer, and Jonathan Hays and Ryan DeVore from Silverpine Software. The app got a lot of great press coverage. Even the reviewers who weren’t convinced they’d use the app couldn’t help but recommend that readers download it. Not just because of its novelty, but because David framed the app with such a clear story.

Self-promotion is hard for many of us. I try to remind myself that journalists want something interesting to write about. The community as a whole benefits when writers have good stories and developers have good traffic to their apps.

One of the approaches I’ve been trying with my upcoming microblog platform is to write about related topics for months before the project is officially announced. It’s great because these are things I would want to write about anyway, regardless of having an app to promote, and so the heightened level of interest from beta testers and bloggers is like a bonus. Now I just have to actually ship the product while the timing is right.

Typed.com progress updates

The folks at Realmac have been blogging about their progress with Typed.com, a new blogging platform that successfully raised $120k on Indiegogo last year. In the latest monthly report, they announce a new free tier:

“With this new free tier, people can sign-up, use the service, take their time. They can blog for free, for as long as they want, and when they need or want the extra features we offer they can upgrade to a paid account. We also think this will be free marketing for the service, the more blog out there that are hosted with Typed.com then more people will find out about the service.”

This blog is in the spirit of Buffer’s open blog or Ghost’s Baremetrics reports. It’s especially great to see a company sharing numbers when they know they still have a lot of growth ahead of them to get where they want to be.

If you’d like to start a new blog but aren’t sure where to host it, check it out. Typed.com has a well-designed admin UI that is refreshingly simple compared to much of the more bloated web software out there.

It’s also possible to use Typed.com as a microblog. I pointed to some tips for this last year. Since the title of a post can’t be blank on Typed.com, I suggest using a date/time for the title. My new microblog platform is smart about treating those kind of short posts correctly when reading from an RSS feed.

Panic 2015 updates

There’s a lot of great stuff in Panic’s 2015 report, but I’m especially struck with how well they executed on updates. This is something that successful companies get right, and which I still struggle with: continuing to make each app just a little better, with bug fixes throughout the year, instead of getting completely sidetracked with new projects. Cabel writes:

“Not only did we release great things, but I feel we demonstrated dramatic dedication to our apps — we released the most high-quality, bug-free updates in our history.”

The product update grid that accompanies the report really underscores this:

Panic versions

Congratulations, Panic. I’ve been using the new Coda for iOS on my iPad Pro and it’s excellent.

iAd setback

I was confused at first by Apple’s iAd announcement to developers. I read it as iAd completely shutting down, but apparently it’s just the “app network”. Still, it’s a welcome setback for those of us who were never fans of iAd.

John Gruber doesn’t think Apple’s heart is really in it:

“When iAd launched, its biggest advocate among Apple’s leadership was Scott Forstall. In some ways I’m surprised it took this long for them to pull the plug. After Forstall, I don’t think anyone’s heart was in this.”

I agree. Back in 2010, I said that I hope iAd fails. It seemed at odds with Apple’s focus as a product company, not to mention hypocritical for a company with ad-blocking APIs. Apple and third-party developers should be united in encouraging users to pay for apps; iAd is a distraction from that.

Too late to save the MAS?

You’ve probably heard the news about Sketch. I found this section of their announcement the most interesting, because it highlights that this isn’t just about technical and strategic problems with the Mac App Store, but also about having a direct relationship with the customer to provide the best experience:

“Over the last year, as we’ve made great progress with Sketch, the customer experience on the Mac App Store hasn’t evolved like its iOS counterpart. We want to continue to be a responsive, approachable, and easily-reached company, and selling Sketch directly allows us to give you a better experience.”

Of course, Sketch joins a growing list of apps unavailable in the store. From John Gruber:

“Sketch isn’t the first big name professional app to be pulled from the Mac App Store (Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit, Panic’s Coda, Quicken, just to name a few). But Sketch is the poster child for Mac App Store era professional Mac software. It’s the sort of app Apple might demo in a keynote — and the winner of an Apple Design Award.”

Federico Viticci writes that Apple has to do something:

“The simple reality is that, gradually, developers of the best apps for OS X are finding it increasingly hard to justify doing business on the Mac App Store. I hope Apple also sees this as a problem and starts doing something about it.”

Daniel and I talked about this on Core Intuition recently. Developers have been complaining about the Mac App Store for years without seeing any progress. It was over 3 years ago that I pulled my app Clipstart from the Mac App Store to sell direct-only instead, because of my concerns about adapting to sandboxing.

All this time, Apple could have been iterating on the Mac App Store, improving sandboxing entitlements, improving review times, customer interaction, and more. Yet they have not. At this point, Apple can’t just do “something”. They can’t just improve the Mac App Store a little. They have to significantly improve it, addressing many issues at once. And even then, some of these great apps — Sketch, BBEdit, Coda, RapidWeaver — may not come back.

A great developer can come from anywhere

It’s March 2009, the height of SXSW in Austin before the conference gets too big for itself. I’m hanging out downtown with tech folks from a blogging startup, having dinner and beers before we head to the party they’re putting on. The CTO, one of the first employees at the company, is talking about Memcache servers and MySQL scaling, and I’m hanging on every word. I love this stuff.

I’m a Mac and iOS developer, but I often take a break from native app development to work on server software. So I’m asking him about MySQL replication and what it’s like to run a schema migration without the database falling over. The conversation sometimes shifts back to Apple platforms, and he says he’s been thinking about going to WWDC. I had been attending WWDC for a while, so I say sure, it’s expensive but you should consider it. If you’re doing more web stuff, though, maybe it’s not as important that you attend.

We walk over to the party venue. It’s bigger and more crowded than he thought it would be. Their company has really taken off, growing well beyond the early days when it was just him and the founder trying to build something new. And it’s at this point that he turns to me and asks a question that brings us back to iOS development:

“So what do you think of my app, Instapaper?”

In answer to Marco Arment, at that time the CTO of Tumblr, I mutter something about liking it, but I haven’t really gotten it into my workflow yet. Hopefully whatever I said was encouraging. In subsequent years, of course, Instapaper would be one of my favorite apps.

Later, replaying these conversations, I realized that I asked the wrong questions and gave the wrong advice. About WWDC, I should have said “Yes, absolutely!” with an exclamation point. Buy a ticket. If you can’t afford it, go anyway because you need to be there.

But I didn’t say that because I wasn’t listening closely enough. I was so busy asking questions about Tumblr, that I wasn’t listening to the excitement in his voice about Instapaper. I was so busy thinking about server scaling and databases and all this other stuff that I could’ve learned from a book, that I didn’t hear what he was really saying.

I should have asked about iOS pricing, free versions, sales, UI design, who did the icon, what does the private API look like. But I didn’t ask those things because I missed the big picture, how dominant the App Store would become for distribution, and so I missed what mattered. I’d like to think that since then I’ve gotten better at listening.

Daniel Jalkut and I had Marco as a special guest on Core Intuition 200 not just because he’s a friend but also because he so well represents the goal that many of us have and our listeners have — to start our own company, to find success not just one time but again and again, and to have as thoughtful an approach as possible in the craft of software development.

This week I’m in Indianapolis for the Release Notes conference. While I will have some stickers for anyone interested in my new microblogging platform, and I’ll probably ramble about it at some length if asked, I’ll also be listening. I’ll be listening because you never know which random developer you just met will end up doing their best work in the years ahead, and you want to be as encouraging as possible, offer the right kind of feedback, and also learn from their perspective.

There’s a great line in the Pixar movie Ratatouille:

“Not everyone can become a great artist. But a great artist can come from anywhere.”

I believe that’s equally true for developers. We often see someone go from nothing to a top app in the App Store. We often see someone start without an audience and then make friends on Twitter and blogs through the quality of their writing alone. And so we welcome new voices all the time if they’re respectful.

There’s been some debate about Overcast 2.0’s patronage model. Some of the discussion is healthy — how does a successful business model for one developer apply to other apps? — and some of the discussion is divisive. Instead of asking the right questions, it’s easy to jump straight to a conclusion with the dismissive statement: “that’s fine for Marco, but his approach would never work for other developers”.

The “that’s fine for Marco” attitude is poison for our community because it takes the opposite approach as that Ratatouille quote above. It implies that some developers have such an advantage that the rest of us shouldn’t even bother, because it’s not a level playing field. It’s true that some developers today have an advantage, whether through good timing or just a long history of shipping apps, but the lesson isn’t to give up; it’s to instead learn from it, and look at our own strengths. What small head start do we have that could grow into a great success tomorrow, too?

Rewind a handful of years, back to that day at SXSW when I could name plenty of developers who had more attention and success in our community than Marco Arment. You can be damn sure that didn’t discourage him from taking Instapaper from an “in my spare time” niche app to the top of the News section on the App Store.

I’ll never accept the implied negativity in the “that’s fine for Marco” argument. I’ll never accept that we should be jealous of another developer’s success instead of inspired by it to do our best work.