by Cesare Rocchi

Excess of focus

There’s plenty of books, podcasts, classes out there about staying focused: How to not waste a minute How to make most of your time How to get in the zone Mostly in response to the concerns that many of us have: I can’t focus I am busy I have so many things to do I’ll do this when I have time There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging a problem and looking a solution.

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Breezi is Back

It was 2012. Prince was still alive and iOS 6 was about to be released. There were rumors of a bigger iPhone. They’d have called it “iPhone 5”. At this point I had already built quite a lot of apps for clients and I wanted to take a stab at building AND selling an app. And so Breezi was born. I wanted it to be something unique and so I designed a fully gesture driven user interface.

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Bye bye white label apps

I listened to the last episode of Release Notes about the new App Store guidelines. There’s a new clause. 4.2.6 Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected. App Store guidelines source My first reaction was “finally!”. There’s too many clones in the App Store and it’s time to clean it up. So bravo Apple. But my thinking here is mostly based about clones of games.

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From Taxi to Cruise Ship

Remember that running a taxi is a fine sort of business, but don't expect to turn it into a cruise ship. And vice versa. Seth Godin source Going from freelancing/consulting to building and selling your products is a bit like becoming a cruise organizer after being a taxi driver. It’s quite a switch. You still build software but with a pretty different perspective.

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Stumbling

As adults we try to avoid it. Imagine yourself stumbling on a step and falling in the middle of a crowded square. Even if you didn’t do it on purpose you feel stupid, right? We (adults) probably forgot how we learned to walk. .. on the floor, every day, trying it out Seth Godin source And with no fear of feeling stupid. As a developer practicing the art of business, being of the floor and trying it out is the most important thing for me these days.

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Affiliator Private Beta

I am having a lot of fun building Affiliator. Today I released the Chrome extension. With three clicks you can enrich your blog post with affiliate links. It’s very easy. There are 5 slots available to join the private beta. Get in touch if you are interested.

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Winding down AppVersion

It’s been quite an adventure and I really enjoyed it. Yet, it’s time to wind down AppVersion. It was the first service that I built with a business mindset. It’s the first web app that I wrote after 8 years of mobile development. It was my emergency exit to escape the Indiepocalypse. It started as a playground, then graduated as a distraction from client work. Finally it became a real product.

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Solving the wrong problem

We live in times where many products/services promise to save you time/stress/money. This works most of the time, but sometimes it doesn’t. This post by Jason Fried tells an interesting story, in which car sales manager don’t want a software that saves them a bunch of trips a year. Those trips are not stressful to them, they are indeed a way to stay in touch with the community. Fascinating.

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Programming languages and clay

My bias first: I build (and ship) products. Anything that slows me down along the path of building is a hurdle to me. This list includes: my computer is broken my DSL doesn’t work I am sick the compiler I am using is excessively picky the mental model behind the programming language I am using forces me to think too long Also some context. I grew up working with Lisp.

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How was 2016

So how was my 2016? Rewarding I have learned a ton, especially how to pick the right tools for the job. Even more important I have learned how to quickly spot weaknesses in tools, so I am much more effective in making my decisions. I also consolidated my knowledge on a specific technological stack that I can use with confidence. So now I can easily focus on building products instead of pondering over tools.

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Let your customers judge your products

It’s inevitable. Every time I use something I made I see what it can be and how I can improve it. It’s a good attitude. I am all for small and frequent improvements. But sometimes that very same attitude obfuscates my judgement especially when it comes to shipping. Overthinking. It happens also to people making movies. And so when you are watching the movie, you can see all the flaws, and it isn’t until you see the faces of your friends and family that you start to forget them.

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Look at what you did

If you are running a business or planning to build one you might have noticed the generic tendency of “looking ahead”. Along the lines of: My Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) is satisfying but I am already planning the next steps. We need to change out stack on the back end because there’s this new thing that is magic. Our marketing uses old channels, there’s new ones that everybody is talking about.

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Vesper shutting down

A few weeks after Vesper launched I clearly remember I was in Union Square in San Francisco, talking to a friend. At some point of the conversation we agreed on the following thought: If they can’t pull it off, who can? “They” is a sort of dream team: Brent Simmons, Dave Wiskus and John Gruber. I didn’t even think it was possible for Vesper to fail. Not to belittle the skills of Brent and Dave but I thought the “marketing power” of Gruber was essentially endless.

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No specific goals

There are things I’ve wanted to do, but if I didn’t do them I’d be fine with that too. There are targets that would have been nice to hit, but if I didn’t hit them I wouldn’t look back and say I missed them. Jason Fried source Every time I set a specific goal I usually missed it and ended up thinking there was a conspiracy against me, or that I was unable to achieve my goals.

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Working part-time for a week

Last week I worked part-time. I went good. I ended up sleeping a bit more, thanks especially to the naps in the afternoon. Overall I felt more tired though. Here’s how I spent my time when I wasn’t working: family, helping my wife and playing with kids listening to jazz watching some interesting documentaries on the origins of jazz taking notes about new ideas visiting friends I didn’t meet in a while reflecting on myself and my life Here and there I had some very light headache.

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The Eternal Transition

Trying to recap how many transitions we (developers) went through in Apple land: from 32 to 64 bits from one resolution (and one form factor) to many from one pixel density to three. Back to 2 if you target iOS10+ on. Unless in September the announce something @4x. from Spring and Struts to Auto Layout. Fun fact: a small version of Spring and Struts is back into Xcode 8. a new design language in iOS7.

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Dismantling the Salon App idea

As I am looking for feedback on a protoype I went back to my ideas.txt file to tidy it up a bit. One entry I found is “system to allow customers of a salon to book services like haircut, pedicure, etc.”. My idea was to manage the scheduling using an application. I didn’t even think about the nature of the app, web, native, both. I just took that note. Sometimes I remember that I need something in the evening, and if that something (like a haircut) requires an appointment, I think it would be cool to do it right away using an app, instead of a creating a reminder to make a phone call the next day.

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Relevant Microdecisions

As I step outside of the world of code these days I am faced with many microdecisions about my services. Some are: Come up with a relevant subject for emails Require credit card upfront or not Format of tweets (and when to tweet) Format of blog posts (and when to post) When to announce a new feature, e.g. right away or wait for the next newsletter I call them micro because I tend to make those decisions pretty quickly, maybe by taking inspiration from some other popular service or product that I am using.

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App Quality and Target Audience

I am pretty critic against Facebook but I can’t deny that Paper was a gorgeous app. There are not many teams that can pull off a really well done app like Paper, and it’s a pity that it will be shut down. If it was that gorgeous why didn’t it have success? There are probably a million reasons, like: they didn’t push it enough “political” issues within Facebook teams change of priorities and many more.

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Acceptable Business Terms

"You can always get the player on the device. The question is, can you get it on there with acceptable business terms?" Jeff Bezos source The developer side of me leans towards the “it is technically doable, thus good” side of things. The business side of me tends to ask “Is it worth it? Does it make sense in business terms?”. I feel very lucky that these two personas have arguments pretty often in my mind.

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Old boring and battle tested tools

I have been listening to the Under the Radar podcast. More than once both Marco and David mentioned the phrase “old and boring” referring to the ideal tools to get a job done. I totally agree. I started prototyping AppVersion using MongoDB. Boy, upserting was fast! And so was I in writing code and adding features. Until it came time to deploy. I started having problems with random data losses and I was put off by the recommended setting to deploy at least 3 replica sets.

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Is it drying up?

Sarah Parmenter wrote an interesting blog post about work drying up for freelance web designers. It reminds me a lot of what happened in the Flash community almost ten years ago. The once great tool that saved us all from fighting against incompatibilities between browsers was not useful anymore. Developers began to progressively ditch it. Some went back to web technologies, others (like me) started working on mobile native applications.

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Atlas

Stripe has launched Atlas. With all the mess generated by the VAT MOSS in Europe, this is great news. They help to incorporate a company in Delaware, open a bank account and have support to deal with IRS. It won’t be paradise but I feel it’s better than the bureaucratic hell we are living in on the other side of the pond.

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Your business is about them

I am an avid listener of the Hack the Entrepreneur podcast hosted by Jon Nastor. A few weeks ago he interviewed Derek Sivers. There’s a quote still stuck in my head. The success of your business has nothing to do with you and what you want, your personal passions and preferences ... this isn't about you, your business is about them and their needs. Derek Sivers source Passion can be a driver, no doubt.

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Lock yourself in

No setting a deadline does not work for me. I mean it works for client projects but when I am building my products it just doesn’t work. Honestly I don’t why, I should take some time off to think about it. But not now, because I have locked myself in. With Podrover I am sponsoring the Release Notes Conference. Since we announced the sponsorship the progress has been huge, especially regarding the UX and anything that is user facing.

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KIVS: Keep it Very Simple

While I was building the landing page for Podrover I wanted a simple form to allow visitors to get in touch. I was already planning to host the page on Amazon S3, to keep the deployment as simple as possible. S3 is “just storage for files” and there’s no application server to execute php/ruby code. I could have used the newly introduced Lambda but it didn’t fit my definition of simple.

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The MAS Crusade

Everybody complains about it but the change didn’t happen yet. The Mac App Store (MAS) does not allow paid upgrades. Paid Upgrades are the Lifeblood for Indie Businesses Dan Counsell source Yes, they are. You can’t count only on big launch. I believe they are lifeblood also for customers. An up-to-date app tells me that behind it there’s somebody that cares. It’s easy to draw a parallel between our situation and Taylor Swift’s.

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Sandbox is bad sandbox is good

I love the Mac App Store, I hate the Mac App Store. The review system makes me angry, the review system makes my machines safer. I am a developer, I am a user, I am thorn. You might have read a lot of posts about how it’s hard to make a living in the App Store. The most common reasons are the usual ones: no paid upgrades long review times inconsistent rules no access to customers emails As a developer I perceive all these as obstacles to my business.

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Rob Napier on Taylor Swift and Apple

The web is full of unneeded and useless words about the “Taylor Swift convinced Apple with a blog post” episode. Among all the crap I found a gem, a post by Rob Napier The difference is that musicians had a money problem and devs have a not-money problem. ... The App Store is an engineering problem, not a money problem. Engineering problems are hard and messy. ... And that’s why one artist can move all of Apple.

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My plan for Twitter

Now that Dick Costolo stepped down, everybody has a plan for Twitter. So why should you read mine? Because it’s simple and effective. We (developers) made Twitter was it is because of its APIs. Remember when 80% of iOS demo apps were a Twitter client? Yes, that was PR, for free. Now Twitter does not need PR anymore but it needs tools so that people can use it in a meaningful way.

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On Forcing

“You have to wash your teeth”. “No”. If you are a parent this might be a common scene to you. This happens pretty often with my kids when I try to force them to do something. Usually my technique to persuade them is argumentative. “If you don’t floss daily you will probably have a bad tooth, that will hurt, and we’ll have to go to the dentist”. It takes a while but eventually they understand.

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The Unsustainability Pattern

New shiny service announced. “How much does it cost? Nothing? I am in!” We have seen this many times. The fact that you don’t pay doesn’t mean that there’s no cost. Somebody is paying, maybe you’ll never know who, but believe me somebody is taking money out of his pocket to put it in someone else’s wallet. It may look free to you, but somebody is paying for servers, electricity and bandwidth.

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Copy and paste mentality

Raise your hand if you remember which was the most difficult obstacle when you started programming. I do. It was the difference between ‘=’ and ‘==’. To me they were the same. I remember that to complete a homework I needed a function and it was like one that my mentor already shared with me. So I took his code and, on purpose, exchanged all the occurrences of ‘=’ with ‘==’ and then submitted.

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Where are not there (yet)

I was skimming Apple’s related announcements at CES and I stumbled upon Toshiba Transfer Jet. The fact that tools like this are still invented (and probably sold) makes me think we are not there yet. The dream of moving one file from a device to another is in fact still paved with complicated requirements. This led me to inspect the requirements to use AirDrop, which are pretty high, considering the following facts:

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Building a Business outside the App Store

Written by a solopreneur, this article is not just for solopreneurs, but for everybody noticing that something has changed in the App Store. Introduction I must say it’s easy to stare at a shelf and complain about the price of a product. I did it many times and I still do it sometimes. Whenever I see a high price it’s kinda hard to not think the producer is cheating on me and charging too much.

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On App.net Going Freemium

Yes, it happened. Dalton and colleagues did it: they went fremium. While I am not a huge fan of this business model I think it’s a huge step ahead. Here is why. We are used to free (and it’s wrong) Facebook free, Twitter free. All free. This is hugely misleading. Do you know how many people will quit using WhatsApp if they have to pay $0.99 (yes ONLY 0.99) a year?

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