Marketing Driven vs. Product Driven Development ("Indie" Is Irrelevant)
🕓 Oct 21st 2011
Let me start this post with an anecdote in pictures:
To summarize what we are seeing above, a couple of mornings ago I awoke to find the #1 Paid App in the Canadian App Store is a scam suggesting that it gives you Android-like lock screens on your iPhone. Naturally, the reading impaired don't ever read the disclaimer that it is just wallpaper and angry reviews ensue. While I'm not sure if this hit #1 anywhere else, I saw it on several top 25s of the top grossing international App Stores
I'm not writing today to whine and gripe about the apps like these that we see every day tricking ignorant and impulsive users. I'm writing to criticize the term "Indie" for its lack of clarity and suggest what really defines us as developers.
Would you call effort this "Indie"?
I don't want to spend too much time defining and breaking down the term "Indie" because I think it is a waste. Rather I pose to you this question: Was the example above the effort of an Indie developer? By many definitions I see, the answer is 'yes'. At the same time though, isn't this sort of thing completely counter to what many of us consider the 'true spirit' of Indie? Thus, I am brought to a standstill where I don't feel the word "Indie" ever says enough about who we really are and how we do business.
There are two types of companies in this industry...
Long ago, while interviewing for a position at an investment firm, I asked the interviewer, "How do you position yourself against your competitors?" He told me (paraphrasing), "There are two types of companies in this industry. There are marketing-driven companies that release products when it is a good time to raise money. Secondly, there are product-driven companies that release products when it is a good time to release a product".
If you are familiar with finance at all, you understand how rare it is that the right time to market a new investment product (prosperity) is going to be in sync with when it is a good time for a product to start investing (recession). At its core, I feel that this is true for most industries including our own.
It's a good time to market when...
The reality is, our friend who developed "Unlock it" has picked an excellent time to release his scam app because iOS5 just released and most users don't understand all the new power they have been granted. Now is a great time to exploit user uncertainty about their own software.
There are a few things we know marketing-driven developers are going to keep their sights on - new software/hardware releases, holidays and pop-culture bombshells (Friday app, anyone?). These are times I always see the App Store get a little crazy with new weird scams and one-note flavours of the week.
It's a good time to release a product when...
If you are a product-driven developer - your product and its users are #1. It's a good time to release your product whenever you say so! Your product isn't bound to any artificial deadlines that time themselves with marketing opportunity - you release the product when it's ready.
This doesn't mean, however, that product driven developers should ignore the need for marketing - that is still a must. The point is for the core of your development not to be swayed by market trends. This is an important distinction. I know some developers loathe marketing and see it as a necessary evil - it is. You shouldn't feel ashamed though - you're doing the marketing your product deserves in the first place! You engage in marketing activities out of respect for your product that you want to give a fair shot at success.
What kind of developer are you?
I think that defining yourself or others by what truly drives their development at the root says a lot more than the ambiguity of "Indie". I'm not saying that when you're asked about your work, you inform them, "I'm a product driven developer", "indie" is still handy for the gist. However, what drives your development really does say a lot more about how you do business and make decisions.