Not livin’ “The Life”, and lovin’ it!

Dan Wood has written an interesting entry in his blog about how the logo for his company Karelia came to be. He uses this to dive into a history of Watson — probably the first Mac app to bring web services to the desktop — and his latest project, a WYSIWYG web site editor called ‘Sandvox’.

The Sandvox Story

The main motivation for the story was a rumor: someone spotted a link to a yet undisclosed piece of software on Apple’s web site called ‘iWeb’. Apparently it was posted by accident, and quickly pulled, but not before the damage was done. Dan is clearly worried that iWeb will be a direct competitor to Sandvox, and I’m afraid he is probably right.

As Dan explains, if iWeb is indeed a competitor to Sandvox, it is the second time he has been struck by Apple-flavored lightening: After establishing the market, Watson soon found itself in the ring with Sherlock 3, which bore an uncanny resemblance to Karelia’s application. Watson survived for a while longer, but eventually went the way of the dodo.

Karelia’s logo shows a small human-powered railway car; it was motivated, according to Dan, by a conversation he had with Steve Jobs just before Sherlock 3 was released. Jobs apparently told Dan that Karelia was a hand-powered rail car, and Apple was the locomotive that owned the track, and was bearing down fast. It’s a very amusing story.

Dan has since moved on, and is in the last stages of development on Sandvox. (Starting today you can download a public beta.) So the news that Apple may again be encroaching on his territory is undoubtedly a bit of shock.

Today I downloaded the Sandvox public beta, and played with it for a little while. It is a very nicely written piece of Cocoa software, and I have no doubt that it would do extremely well … if Apple were not to enter the race. If iWeb is similar in functionality — and worse still — bundled with iLife, Sandvox could be dead in the water before it even gets started.

To be honest, I don’t know how much it should really come as a shock. Sandvox reminds me a lot of Apple’s Pages and Keynote software, with the primary difference being that Sandvox is targeted at web site development. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Apple might consider developing a Pages-like app for creating web sites. Yes, Karelia may be about to be struck by lightening a second time, but that could have to do with the fact that they appear to be leaning against a flagpole in the middle of a golf course.

The Development Tightrope

If you are going to play with the big boys, there is always the risk of getting burned. It’s happened time and time again. The payoffs of writing mainstream apps are great, but the competition is high. Even if you have a unique idea, and have the market to yourself, its success may ultimately be its downfall, because it won’t go unnoticed. You had better make your money fast, because it won’t be long before you have company.

If you are really serious about making money writing Cocoa apps, I think you can learn a lot from guys like Wil Shipley. Delicious Library is mainstream enough to make a heap of cash for Mr Shipley, but perhaps not mainstream enough that it would be of interest to Apple. Apple are in the business of very high-volume software — stuff that everyone needs. Browsers, photo management software, digital duke boxes, etc, etc. Delicious Library is useful to many people, but not everyone. I don’t think it would make business sense for a company the size of Apple, but for a small company like Delicious Monster, it’s a cash cow.

The Life

Developers like Wil Shipley, Dan Wood, and Brent Simmons (of NetNewsWire fame) are highly respected members of the Cocoa development world. Cinderella stories of programmers that have developed killer apps in their spare time, quit the day job, and started living ‘The Life’, always make a great read for aspiring developers. In the beginning, I was no different, but my outlook has changed. I actually don’t want my software to be too successful.

See, the thing is, I like my day job. I don’t want to quit it, even if it meant I could develop Cocoa apps all day. I like working with Cocoa as a hobby, but I don’t think I would like it nearly as much if it dominated my every waking hour.

Not only that, but as your sales increase, the amount of time you have to spend on the business side of things increases. Eventually, you have to take on staff to help with administration and/or support, and that comes out of your income. With limited sales, you can do everything yourself, and the revenue goes straight into your personal bank account.

Niche Markets

The point is, there is a third way: writing niche software. It won’t make you rich, but you can make some nice pocket money without the stress of running a business. If you actually like your day job, this might be the way to go. Just make sure you don’t write anything that becomes too popular.

Trade Strategist is the Cocoa software that I develop and sell. It is financial modeling software for the stock market, and the potential market is actually very small. Nonetheless, I do make some reasonable pocket money out of it, ranging between $500 and $1500 a month, depending on the release schedule. I won’t be getting rich any time soon, but the $10000 or so I earn per year from Trade Strategist does come in handy. It’s just paid for my new bathroom, for example.

There is more than one way to skin a cat: You can take the high-risk, high-rewards route of Karelia, or you can just play in the minor leagues. You won’t ever be Donald Trump, but it can still be very rewarding, and you’ll even be able to sleep at night. Here’s to hoping Dan can get some sleep before tomorrow’s keynote.

2 Comments

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2 Responses to Not livin’ “The Life”, and lovin’ it!

  1. Nice post again, Drew. Interesting position, too. Maybe we will see more of this kind of posts on other blogs too!! With some variations maybe: “Not Livin’ the Life and Hating It”, “Almost Living the Life”, “Not Yet Living the Life”, “Not Living the Life Anymore”, “Living the Life and Hating it”, almost endless possibilities 😉

    It is also interesting to have an idea how much a “niche” app can make, in real money real numbers, which you rarely see anywhere.

    • info

      Hi Charles,

      Thanks for the feedback.
      I agree that you don’t see numbers published much. I don’t know why. Maybe its got to do with people not wanting to disclose their salary. Or maybe it is so as not to alert the tax department 😉

      Anyway, I have no problem telling people; it is useful info for those thinking about going down that route.

      Drew