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Atlanta, GA

Playful Notes

The Hard Part

Owen Mathews

The journey of creating tapStory has been long and interesting. From concept to prototype to initial release in December 2013 (which was essentially a public beta), through to version 2.5 (my true 1.0, with a professional looking UI, a solid content library, and a mature feature set), I have learned a lot about developing and maintaining an iOS app.

Almost all of this work has been in a realm in which I am very comfortable. I earned a Masters degree in computer science and have a strong background in programming. I am also a good writer, a fair artist, and have a good eye and sense for quality, and I enjoy the creative process—all of which has made the process of creating a library of stories fun and exciting. I also worked at my own pace as my creativity and motivation ebbed and flowed.

Quitting

Then, on March 23rd of 2016, tapStory became my full time job. (Or, rather, I made it my full time job, after much deliberation and planning.) A job that made me essentially no income. I'm now at the point where I have to make money from all my hard work. When people ask me how it feels to be on my own, working for myself, doing something I'm passionate about, I answer truthfully that it's the pinnacle of my professional life. I also say, however, that I've done all the easy stuff.

I don't have any background in business, or in marketing. In tapStory, I have a product that I think is great. Unfortunately I can't rely on my opinion or those of my friends and acquaintances, who have unanimously pronounced it so (a bit of hubris I'll allow myself as a necessary measure of confidence for starting a new business). To date, word of mouth has not magically spread far and wide to give me the audience that I'll need in order to become viable. Every app developer wishes that this were the case, and I'm not any different.

The app has been downloaded a couple hundred times over its life (at a price of $0), and well less than $100 of stories have been purchased in-app. I've taken no investment capital, nor do I plan to. I have no interns and no employees. A more humble start is difficult to imagine. How can I possibly build from here to sustainability?

What I Know

First, it's obvious that there's no guarantee I'll succeed. Luckily I don't have much fear about trying, because iOS developers are in high demand right now. If I get to a point where I need income to survive, I'll be able to find contract work or even take a full-time job again. Of course, I hope I don't need to make such decisions.

Second, I try to remind myself that many people start from the same place, with an idea and nothing else. I have tons of examples to learn from, and I'm doing my best to make connections with peers who can give me guidance. I'm reading lots of blogs about the app business, attending conferences, listening to podcasts. I joined the Switchards Downtown Club here in Atlanta, a startup hub that specializes in consumer-oriented companies, and I've already benefited hugely from the educational and networking opportunities there.

And finally, I'm just having to learn by doing. I don't have the time to spend studying without acting. I try to do as much planning and thinking as possible before acting, but a lot of the time I'm winging it. Again, there are lots of people who have been here before, so I'm glad for being in good company. Some succeeded, even more failed, but all of them have interesting stories.

Stories

Luckily, I like stories! :-) This is the first of a series of blog posts about all of the things that I do that aren't related to coding or story development—marketing, business development, and anything else that doesn't directly contribute to the making of the products that I sell. So, no matter what happens, I'll have my own stories to add to the vast library of the ones that precede mine. I doubt that much of what I say here will be original, but I hope that at the very least my personality comes through in my writing, and that people who come after me will find camaraderie and kinship here.