A quick update on Hipster CEO 2

So you may or may not be aware: I built a tech startup sim for iPhone called Hipster CEO some time ago that proved quite successful and I’ve been working on the sequel for the past few months.

It was due to be released yesterday but unfortunately I missed the deadline (not for the first time).

As you can probably predict its because: the game isn’t ready yet.

However, let me get back to that point very shortly so that I can give you another reason: I need to look after my own personal finances.

Life as an indie games developer is tough and HCEO is 100% bootstrapped.  Whilst I have enough cash to last me a while, I need to make sure I don’t get caught short (and y’know, hungry and homeless). As a result, I have to look for contract work and permanent positions to make HCEO2 a reality. People are psyched for the game (I get mails, tweets, Facetime’s and iMessages asking for updates) and I understand that any delay comes as a disappointment (I remember when Zelda:OOT kept being delayed and it was gruelling).

I apologise for missed deadlines. I won’t apologise for making my personal wellbeing priority one.

However – some good news! The game is not hugely off from being ready for initial launch – we’re definitely talking weeks rather than months. I learnt a lot from the launch of the first game and I’ve spent quite some time tweaking the game mechanics to make sure that the general public’s first experience of the game is as good as possible.

To sum up: apologies for the delay, thank you for your interest and support. And please continue to spread the word of the good ship Hipster.

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Choosing the right SaaS tool for the job

“Choosing the right tool for the job” is solid advice but an incredibly difficult task when you’re looking for a SaaS app online. Unlike wandering into a physical store and picking between a handful of options, the possibilities are practically infinite on the web.

As a freelance programmer, there’s a host of software that I use in running my business. I need to think about document collaboration and storage, budgeting/invoicing, managing mailing lists etc – it’s a long list and crucial that I’m able to rely on each service.

Clayton Christensen (the chap who christened the term ‘disruptive innovation’) explains in The Innovator’s Dilemma’ that we ‘hire’ a product to do a job. Here’s some advice on how to most efficiently hire a product for your business.

1. Stop looking for all-in-one solutions

You’re not likely to come across a platform that can measure web traffic, keep your Twitter stream updated and feed your cat without spending big bucks. All-in-one solutions at generally aimed at the (very) large corporate world and, in my experience, aren’t as effective as “dedicated” solutions.

It’s the reason why DIY enthusiasts have toolboxes rather than a Swiss Army knife.

Examples:

– I use Buffer (www.bufferapp.com) to keep my social media accounts up to date. Such a simple service but one I gladly pay for.

– I use Rubberstamp (www.rubberstamp.io) to manage budgets, expenses and purchase orders – again, simple and effective.

2. Make proper use of trials

Pretty much every webapp out there will offer some trial for their product. Some require a credit card, some don’t. If they do and you’re not so sure about it then put a reminder in your phone to cancel the service, otherwise they’ll likely charge you for the first month once the deadline passes.

Do you have a large company which makes the trial hard to appraise (ie. the trial only works for a company with ten employees and becomes unlimited once you pay)? Try reaching out to the service providers directly and explain the situation – chances are they’d be happy to make an exception for you.

Of course, some services are free which brings me onto my next point.

3. BEWARE FREE SERVICES

If the product you’re using is free across the board (ie. there are no paid plans) then realise that this service could disappear the next time you go to login. Business is oftentimes simple and if a company makes zero money then they’re not going to be around terribly long. Failing that, you may fall prey to “customer lock-in” when they decide to start charging and you pay over the odds.

At the very least, make sure that you can export your data from the service in question.

4. Ask around

Most webapps will come with customer testimonies but you can’t beat a reference from someone you already know (possibly because they’re in an identical situation as you).

Reach out to your friends on social media (or, crazy thought here, real life) and see if they can suggest anything.

5. Keep an eye on cost of growth

Are you about to sign up for an app thats $10 a month for five employees but $200 for ten? Make sure that you’re costs don’t scale faster than you do.

Conclusion

The key points above should help guide you towards an online solution regardless of what exactly you’re looking for. Picking the right tool for the job online can be difficult but a little investment up front can save you hours of headache further down the road. Happy hunting!

Flappy Bird creator pulls app: some people don’t have the bottle

So, Dong Nguyen – the guy behind the insanely popular mobile game Flappy Bird, pulled the app which was reportedly making him $50,000 a day in advertising revenue.

It’s not totally clear why he took it down, he tweeted simply saying He “can’t take it anymore”. It would seem that the “it” he is referring to is severely negative feedback and even online death threats. For any budding app developer out there, or any creative for that matter, realise one thing:

Once you release something into the public domain, it’s not yours anymore. And people will be vicious.

I can’t claim to have had anywhere near the level of attention Flappy Bird has received but my app Hipster CEO has sold over 7,000 copies and I’ve received many, many angry emails about bugs and general game mechanics. Hell, in pre-launch marketing someone even told me that they “hope I die” when I pretended to give away the finale to Breaking Bad.

The web is a mean place and people generally type before they think. Best advice? Don’t pay attention. I don’t read reviews or news stories about Hipster CEO (and it’s not hugely popular anymore so that’s not difficult) and I like to think I’ve grown a skin thick enough to withstand any email abuse I may get.

If you don’t think you can do the same you need to seriously consider your future as a professional creative.

A Million Dollars Isn’t Cool. You Know What’s Cool? A THOUSAND Dollars.

How impolite.

The release of my latest app for iOS and Android has thought me just how much work goes into making a single dollar.

At the initiation of a startup, we are dazzled with the lure of big money buyouts, or creating a service that gives us license to print money. Experience has thought me to focus on two things:

  1. Making a profit
  2. Keeping your expenses down
When you focus on these two things, the conversations you have (either with yourself or a team) are very different. You stop worrying about stuff like Facebook integration, meaning you get to market faster. You consistently ask yourself “Do my customers want this and are they willing to pay more for it?” whilst stop asking yourself things like “How will this scale when we reach over ten thousand users?”.

Just like learning to crawl before being able to walk, you’ve got to learn how to make a single dollar before you can make a thousand. And it goes without saying that if you can’t make a thousand dollars, then chances are you probably can’t make a million.

Let’s ditch the term “startups”

Can we please get rid of the term “startup business”?

What separates a startup from a regular new business (lets say a corner shop). Development of a new service? Maybe – but surely a corner shop needs development too, like kitting out the store front. How about market research? I’m guessing that most people who set up corner shops check to see if theres any customers first.

An obvious point which us techies seems to forget in startups is that business is about making money. Making a profit is a skill – one which most coders don’t have. In its simplest form, this skill boils down to generating income that exceeds your costs. In a more detailed form it means investigating if theres a market for your product, solving an existing problem, generating interest in your product, marketing, keeping your customers happy, balancing costs – the list could go on for a while.

As developers we can have plenty of experience in developing scalable applications and developing intuitive UI interfaces but making profit? Nope. Marketing? No way. I guess the problem is that we live in the false assumption that if our product is good enough then it will sell itself.

I intended this post to be for investors and that a golden rule they should have before investing in someone is that they have been instrumental in a profit generating business (I guess that rules out pretty much everyone at Groupon). I do not mean someone who has worked for a profitable business but someone who was involved very directly with generating cash whether it by sales or marketing – I think startups solely comprised of developers are doomed to failure.

That said, there are developers out there who possess a business and technical mind but they just lack a little experience in the former. Incubation programmes such as the NDRC’s Launchpad Programme are excellent at nurturing people’s business acumen.

I’d venture to say that the lad selling burgers on Stephen’s Green on a Friday night has a better knowledge of business than about 70% of people out there running startups. So that’s why I want to ditch the term. By just adding the label of “startup” to a business it seems to create this misconception that its okay for it to go months and months without beginning to generate revenue, or indeed years and years without generating profit. How long do you think our imaginary corner shop would last without profit? A year, maximum?

My experience in the past few month’s working on my new X Factor app has taught me the importance (and complexities) of marketing, audience targeting and cost control. The fantastic thing about the app marketplace is that it allows us developers to get experience with the fundamental elements of business without having to invest a lot of cash. Any developers who want a break from the technical side of things and who want to be a bit more involved in business aspects should definitely try launching their own app.

Labeling new businesses as startups really doesn’t do us any favours because of the connotations it creates. Henry Ford once said that a business that makes nothing but money is a bad business but, as I see it, a business that doesn’t make any isn’t one.