Photo by Nicholas Morant
I really enjoy reading stories about people breaking out of the machine and becoming indie developers. In Windows Phone world a role model indie developer is Elbert Perez. He has developed more than 10 high quality Windows Phone games and was able to quit his day job to pursue independent game development fulltime. He is really open about his professional indie-dev life and regularly posts updates about his experience in his blog at occasionalgamer.com.
In his latest update Elbert writes (emphasis mine):
I have taken extra side projects to help keep the coffers full, which somewhat slowed down the cadence of which I release my games. My strategy for making games has not changed, but I have become more open minded about taking on work for other people as long as it has something to do with WP7 or games.
And he concludes with
I’ve been really busy with other projects, but I am still working on my games…
That really resonates with me.
I’ve always wanted to be a product(s) “company”. I’ve worked on several products over the years, but I never had a runway (as in cash) to support a year of product development without reasonable return. So I supported my “dream” by doing contract work.
Except providing services pays (relatively) instantly and risk-free. And it’s a hard drug. The one that you don’t even enjoy, but have to inject to avoid withdrawal pains. Combining “working for yourself” with working on a product is much harder than working for a man and working on a product in your off-the-clock time. You don’t have any off-the-clock time when you work for yourself.
I’ve had a product which at the time it was launched (2003) was definitely contending for No.1 spot in it’s category. One problem – it didn’t make enough money to fully support me. And I had no extra money to keep me afloat while I was improving, marketing and otherwise working on it. So I fooled myself that I can work on client projects to fund the development.
Fast forward 5 years and my product, which only got attention now and then, was no longer at the top of the list. It is still successfully used in projects and products but I’ve totally missed a perfect chance at establishing it as a market leader. And the money I made working on these side projects is just money paid in exchange for labor. Bitch work. Even if well paid. No longevity.
So I decided to get rid of all the “service” work and concentrate all of my attention on the “product” work. Unless you have a deep rainy day fund you can’t just do this overnight. So I’ve been launching various smaller sites and products here and there and was able to accumulate Ramen-level stream of repeating income to support my endeavors. I did it on my own for a couple of years, but if you want some guidance on how to achieve this, just read The 4-Hour Workweek book.
So now I’m fully invested in my current product and, even it fails, it won’t be because I neglected it to get some shrimp into my ramen. And that’s how I know it will succeed.
I guess the moral is – if you have a good and promising thing going you shouldn’t waste your time chasing some extra cash. A few extra dollars won’t affect your well-being in the future, but a successful product will. There’s a Lithuanian proverb “Nemesk kelio dėl takelio”. This could be literally translated as “don’t get off the road for a trail”. I bet there’s some English equivalent, but you get the point.