How a Developer Learned to Think Business: Part 1

I had an interesting experience last week. I talked a potential client out of getting an app made. It was absolutely the right decision and I have Release Notes to thank for this.

Sounds odd, right? Let me try to explain in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a crazy person.

While I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago, a friend and former colleague sent me an email. He is starting a side business and wanted to have a companion app for it. The email was long and I was trying to avoid any and all work, so I marked it as unread and put it off until I got back.

Sunday night, I read the email and immediately responded with the suggestion we talk over the phone. I wanted to make sure I understood what kind of app he wanted and what features he imagined should be included. I wanted to remove any ambiguity.

I was excited. The project sounded super interesting. Additionally, I’ve mentioned that I want to start picking up freelance work to add some stability to my income. This just fell into my lap. I was feeling lucky.

Monday night, I called my friend and we started chatting. I wanted to find out more about his new business in order to make meaningful suggestions and contributions to what the app would look like. I asked questions. A lot of questions. Seriously. Lots.

About 15 minutes into our conversation, it dawned on me. Despite my really wanting to do this project and take him on as a client, an app is not what his business needs at this time.

My friend’s market is very niche, which, in itself, is not a bad thing. But having an app would not likely drive more customers to discover his business. The companion app he envisioned would be more of a convenience for existing, repeat customers.

I told him, as engineers, our first instinct is just to create something cool. Open up Xcode and run. We need, however, to consider if it makes business sense to create this cool thing.[1]

So instead, I started talking to him about more advantageous things, in which to invest time and money at this point. Driving traffic to his website through targeted and creative marketing, starting an email list and newsletter[2], and getting his first customer.

Many of these things are themes that have really been driven home for me through listening to the Release Notes podcast and attending the Release Notes conference last year.

Release Notes

Any regular reader of this blog knows I am a big fan of Release Notes. I’ve mentioned the podcast or the conference in quite a few posts. Just go up to the search bar and check for yourself.

But why?

There are tons of excellent podcasts, sites, newsletters, and blogs dedicated to the technical aspects of creating an app.[3] Unfortunately, there are not enough good and entertaining ones focused on running an app business.

This is what makes Release Notes stand out.

And while I generally do not have trouble on the programming side (thanks in part to being able to easily find the information I need online), I do need constant help on the business side of things. I need to frequently keep my engineering urges in check. I try to force myself to think more about the business of an app.

The podcast

Each Monday, the Release Notes podcast is prioritized to the top of my playlist. I usually listen to it within a day, if not a few hours.

It didn’t always used to be this way. But over time, I realized this is one of the podcasts I look forward to most. Almost every episode gives me something to think about and consider that I normally would not. Frequently, an episode topic will lead to a discussion with my partner, Alice, about what we could be doing better with our Gus on the Go business.

The podcast helps keep business at the front of my mind, while I’m working on my apps. I learn a lot from it. I really cannot emphasize this enough[4].

It is a big reason as to why I was able to steer my friend away from having an app made and make meaningful suggestions to help grow his business.

The conference

Last year, when Joe and Charles announced they would be putting on a Release Notes conference, I knew immediately I wanted to attend…

However, as this post is already getting long, let’s save that story for next week.

Until then, you can find me on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt.

Have a nice day,

  1. If you don’t want it to be a hobby.  ↩

  2. And using it!  ↩

  3. It’s one of the reasons I rarely feel the need to write technical blog posts.  ↩

  4. Maybe if I tried a bold font?  ↩