Ninety Days for Evening Indies
Justin Williams posted a great essay a few months ago where he shares a good bit of advice:
"Do not spend more than ninety days on your 1.0"
Justin's reasoning is simple: it's enough time to get something decent built, but short enough to keep you focused on critical features. Ideally, you ship and follow-up with other great features. Worst case, you regroup and try again.
However, his advice is specifically aimed at folks who are gambling on a full-time project. What about Evening Indies?
I'm not an indie developer; I've had full-time work since college. The places I've worked have all compensated me fairly, and I've been blessed to have challenging, enjoyable work. In addition to providing for my family, these jobs have also helped bootstrap my entrepreneurial ventures. I've recognized my entrepreneurial spirit for over a decade, and I've kept it safely satisfied with side projects and hobbies. Sound familiar? That list of app ideas you keep stashed in Evernote is a pretty good hint, especially if you find yourself thinking about it during work.
I'm not a full-time indie. I'm an Evening Indie.
Even Less Time
Ninety Days is perfectly applicable to the Evening Indie, even though you're dealing with significantly less time. Software markets (especially mobile) can change dramatically in three months. It's possible you will have built the wrong app by the time you're done. If you do manage to hold on to a market opportunity longer than that, you still have to compete with your own fatigue and real-life commitments.
It's incredibly difficult to build a sustainable business <del>independently</del>. Even with his past experience, large user base, and beloved app, Justin couldn't make Glassboard work.
Realistically, it's impossible to build something that can sustain an individual (never mind a family) with 3-4 hours of work per day. What's left is to build something fun and interesting, and to do so pragmatically. With even fewer hours to spend than a full-time indie, you have to be even more diligent to protect your time. Ship something nice and simple. If the idea is solid, your customers will ask for the 1.1 features. Move quickly with them and adapt with the market.
I checked last night - my current side project is 68 days old.
CommitDate: Wed Aug 6 02:32:52 2014 -0500— Thaddeus Ternes (@thaddeus) October 14, 2014
Feels perfect. Beta soon. Ship in November. Keep my day job.
10-14 hours a day seems pretty normal for the indies I know. I'm lucky to muster 3-4 in an evening ↩