Indie Impostor Syndrome

It’s probably irrational to start an indie1 software company. The hours are long, the customers are fleeting, the competition is clever and better-funded, the pay is meager and may always be so. It’s only out of sheer joy and excitement for our work that we do it anyway.

With time, doubts grow. A friend of mine once told me that he wondered if something was wrong with him, wondered if he had some undetected fatal flaw that would prevent him from turning his vision into reality.

I said I could see no such flaw, but I knew his doubts well.

When I first started my company, I doubted whether anyone would care. When my first customers arrived and gave harsh feedback, I doubted whether I could make a product anyone truly wanted. When I first broke my service, I doubted my own skill-set and training. When I first turned a profit, I doubted whether I could make it meaningfully grow. When I first realized my competitors knew me and were gunning for me, I doubted whether I could hold my own.

Many of those doubts are gone now; settled. Now I have a daughter on the way. Now I doubt whether I can keep my family sheltered, and happy, and fed.

I’m lucky, though. I started my company with two stalwart comrades. On the days I doubt, they don’t. Somehow we keep the gears turning.

My friend, however? He’s a solo indie developer. It’s hard for him to spread his doubt around.

Sam Altman recently mentioned that all of Y Combinator’s outsize successes started with more than one founder. I’m sure there are many factors at play, and of course Sam is concerned with fast-growing venture-backed startups. But can there be any doubt that, for the solo startups, as for the indies, doubt itself is a great and crushing enemy?

[1] I’m not too worried about how we define “indie”. To crib from The Matrix, being indie is just like being in love: no one needs to tell you you’re in love. You just know it, through and through.

Indie iOS Developers

Brent Simmons writes:

There are a ton of Mac and iOS developers in the Seattle area — and almost all the iOS developers are making money either via a paycheck (they have a job) or through contracting.

The only local indie iOS-only developer I could think of was me — and even that won’t be true for much longer, as we’re working on Vesper for Mac.

I skimmed Brent’s post the first time I saw it1 and quickly chimed in on Twitter with “Hi, I’m an indie iOS developer in Seattle, too.”

Whoops! I’d missed the point. By Brent’s definition, I’m not an indie iOS developer… at least, not strictly. Cloak started life as a Mac app; only later did it find its way to iOS. Brent seems to be on to something: at least here in Seattle, iOS-only indies are few and far between.

That said, and in counterpoint to several interesting Twitter replies, Cloak didn’t really become a viable business until we shipped our iOS apps. Cloak usage is split roughly in half between OS X and iOS, but many more customers discover our iOS apps first.

Despite the importance of iOS to my current work, most of the projects I want to tackle next are either web-based or have a strong native desktop component. That might reflect my personal bias, but I’ve heard similar thoughts from several of my indie friends. This is surprising given mobile’s incredible growth… but perhaps not at all surprising given today’s App Store dynamics.

[1] A terrible habit when I’m scanning my too-many RSS feeds.

Coffee Walks

When we’re abroad, Amy and I tend to explore new cities by walking… and then walking some more, until our feet are sore.

The trick is to figure out where to walk. We want to visit tourist highlights, of course, but we also like to get off the beaten path. One of our favorite ways to do this is by stringing together visits to the city’s best coffee shops. We’ve noticed that better caffeine tends to be located in less-touristed, more-intriguing neighborhoods.

We just got back from a short visit to Europe. Here are some of our favorite Parisian discoveries:

And in Barcelona:

If you’re nearby, give these great venues a shot!

Cyclides of Dupin

My undergraduate math professor, Tom Banchoff, always loved using Dupin’s cyclides as geometric examples. When I was a student, we used a software package called Fnord to visualize the cyclides, amongst many other complex curves and surfaces.

Tom is retiring this year, so I thought it would be fun to revisit one of the “classic” Fnord demos. Below, you’ll see a simple striped cyclide rendered in much the same fashion as the original cyclide.fnorse. Like that demo, there’s a slider to manage rotation in the fourth dimension, around the XW-plane.

I’m always amazed by the march of technology. Work on Fnord began in 1990, before the web even existed. If Fnord were rebuilt today, the web would certainly be a natural (even phenomenal) fit.

XW: 0 π/2
Divisions: 21 61
view x: -π/2 π/2
view y: -π/2 π/2
view z: -π/2 π/2

The 2014 Indie Tech Summit

I’m looking forward to this weekend’s Indie Tech Summit in Brighton, UK; I can’t make it in person but I’ll be there in spirit.

Since the summit dovetails so nicely with my work on Cloak, I also wrote more about it on our security blog:

For many years, there’s been a growing consensus that digital privacy is an essential issue for our time, and a growing concern that, as a society, we are woefully far from an admirable state of affairs. Last year’s Snowden disclosures showed many of us just how deep the rabbit hole goes. More hopefully, Snowden’s disclosures also helped to focus and intensify efforts around the globe to set ourselves on a wiser path.

With that stage set, I think it’s worth watching Indie Tech impresario Aral Balkan’s recent talk, Free is a Lie. My reaction to Aral’s talk is complex: I’m not sure it chooses precisely the right targets, but it does provide an undeniably strong place to start the discussion.