Going Indie! (again)

November 16th, 2010
Spencer Nielsen Follow snielsen42 on Twitter

The entrepreneurial itch has gotten me once again! After nearly five years with Apple I have decided it is time for a new adventure! In many ways I think I prefer to be the big fish in the small pond. As far as the startup life is concerned, there has already been so much said by so many that I don’t think I have anything particularly insightful to add other than that it is indeed an absolute rush.

The first time I went out on my own was right after college. For two years I developed an extensible 3D interface framework and window server called Vision. It is no longer in development but you can still check out material on it in the Archives (I might get a patent out of it yet though). Even though things didn’t turn out like I had hoped, I still wouldn’t trade that time for anything! I learned a TON during that period of my life in all sorts of areas. The technical skills and business knowledge that I acquired during that time have proven to be invaluable in everything I have worked on since. The lessons I learned have also shaped my plans for this next go around.

The first thing I decided to do this time was to start small and build up. I am going to attack small problems/projects with the goal of getting some sort of sustainable revenue quickly. These small projects are the kind that one person can bring to market by themselves. Because of the small scale I also plan to not seek funding and bootstrap everything myself. That way there really is nothing standing in the way of getting a fully finished product out the door other than my own skill and effort. Hopefully I will be successful enough to bring others on board and attack progressively bigger problems.

I have already laid the plans out for my first project which will be introduced in a future post. I will say that it is an original iOS game like nothing currently in the App Store today. My plan is to take this first month to code up what I would comfortably call a playable alpha and start organizing a testing community around the game. Apple has made such compelling and easy to use development tools/frameworks that it is going to be a joy to dive headfirst into iOS development full-time.

I also plan to regularly document my progress and efforts here for anyone who has interest in independent software development. I know that I particularly enjoy reading about the experiences of other indie developers out there. Got any advice for me? Let me know in the comments!

4 Responses to “Going Indie! (again)”

  1. Bill Coderre Says:

    When I heard you were departing Apple, I was sad to see one of the few experts on installers go away, but knew it was the right time for you to do this.

    You asked for advice, so here’s one bit that I’m finding helpful at the moment — it’s Ze Frank on his “The Show” talking about Brain Crack: http://www.zefrank.com/theshow/archives/2006/07/071106.html (Note that it contains a song full of bad language at the end, so headphones are recommended!)

    “Brain Crack” is, as a friend pointed out, a new term for the old idea of “pipe dreams,” which I invite you to look up in Wikipedia because it has a lot of helpful explanation.

    Now as for my personal advice: The hardest thing in the world is wisdom — many people don’t even understand what the term means. Isn’t it just a kind of “meta knowledge”? Well, sorta. One kind of wisdom is the ability to choose a project that’s neither too big, nor too small. One that you can accomplish quickly, but not so simple that everyone else has done it.

    That being said, even if you start small, as long as you build up over time, you’ll be in good shape. In the worst case, having a string of shipping iPhone products that “fail to suck” will get you a good job, one you might even enjoy.

    In any case, your idea above sounds promising, and I encourage you to, as I said before, “WORK AS HARD AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN.” (Imagine me saying that in a ferocious, almost frightening way.)

  2. Mike Smith Says:


    I’m excited for you Spencer!

    As far as advice goes:

    – Quality of Game * Number of Eyeballs = Money Made (In other words, marketing is crucial–especially for indies)

    – Even though you’re indie, it still makes sense to have other people do stuff that you don’t enjoy doing. That way you can spend more of your time doing the thing that you went indie to do in the first place!

    – For indies–even more than mainstream games, community is VERY important. Also, maintaining your community can take a LOT of time. Plan on how you will deal with that. You may want to read about how 2D Boy did it (essentially went into hiding for a while to finish their game).

    – Projects almost always take longer than you think. Knowing that means you can actually do well at predicting when you’ll be done. For example, I’ll look at something that “COULD” take me a week to finish and then determine that it will probably take a 4 weeks given overhead and the need to polish the final experience etc.

    – Since you are your indie company, you have to be conscious of what you say on the Internet. It’s probably best to steer clear of political / social issues since anyone who buys your game will think that since they are supporting you they are supporting that political / social view as well.

    – Make sure to stay on top of all the legal stuff or get someone to do it for you (business licensing, taxes etc). It’s best not to be stressed about it.

    – Same goes with Royalties vs. one time payments. Unless you like writing checks every month or so, try to do a one time payment to people that help you on your projects. Or at least limit the time frame for the royalty checks etc. For example, royalties can be great for encouraging the best work, but I try to give a flat fee anyway and then pay a smaller royalty for a single year after the sale of the game.

    That’s all I can think of for now. I wish you the best!

  3. kalon Says:

    Alright, way to go! That’s really great that you learned so much from the first time. I’m sure I was partly to blame for you learning the lesson of starting with “small projects [that] are the kind that one person can bring to market by themselves.”. 😉 You’ve got the skills and the determination; If you don’t have to rely on anyone else then I know you’ll succeed.

  4. snielsen Says:

    kalon: I was thinking more along the lines of just not having to rely on outside funding and the easiest way to do that is to minimize expenses (and for startups that often means headcount). I still want to collaborate and get other people involved, I just don’t want to have to kiss the ring of the VCs to do it if I don’t have to. I just found that you can’t support families and feed mouths on sweat equity alone 😉

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