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Different Approaches

Given the attention it started to receive it also became the target of a slew of copycat applications (my thoughts on which I discussed then on Developing Perspective). I wanted to try and make sure that I stayed ahead of these so I began working on another major update to the application that was a bit more thoughtful than the rush-job I’d done for v1.1.


This article from Underscore David Smith makes me so happy for so many reasons. Pedometer++ is an awesome app, and it demonstrates the Underscore methodology perfectly.

  • Read about a new feature that comes from Apple.
  • Think of an idea that takes advantage of that new feature.
  • Write a minimum viable app very quickly and get it on the App Store.
  • Wait and see if it gains any traction.
  • If it does, quickly iterate to fill out its feature set and differentiate from the competition. (If it doesn’t, move on.)
  • Once the app is sufficiently differentiated, don’t just keep adding features for no reason. Work on other things until you see a real opportunity to improve the app, perhaps when another new feature from Apple makes something new possible.[1]

This is so different from what has been my standard approach, and yet it works so well for David. It takes extreme discipline, I imagine, to a) keep the feature set in that initial app very tight so you can get the app out quickly, b) stop fiddling with the app once it’s sufficient, so that you can concentrate on other new ideas, and, of course, c) have the discipline to let the app go if it doesn’t do well. That last one has to be the most challenging.

Another thing that intrigues me about Pedometer++ is the business model. Pedometer++ is completely free to use, with no ads. There are three in-app-purchase options, but they do nothing to the app itself. They simply offer “tip jar” donations in three different amounts. But, and here’s the kicker, the in-app-purchases can be bought more than once. So particularly generous users can actually provide recurring revenue.

So while the app relies solely on the kindness of his users, which sounds insane, it’s actually working out. I imagine the vast majority of his over one million users has never paid David a cent, and yet there must be enough people like me giving him regular tips to make up for it.[2] Since the app is helping so many people strive for a regular exercise goal, perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising.

If I had come up with the idea for a pedometer app right after the M7 chip was announced, I would have dismissed the idea as unsustainable. First, there were bound to be hundreds of competitors in a matter of weeks. Second, while useful information, a daily step count isn’t solving a problem that costs people money, nor will it make people money. So few would see the value in paying for it.

Far from ignoring these facts, David chose to work around them, first by getting the app out extremely quickly, so that he’d be the first one many people tried, and then by coming up with a business model (free with tips) that got it onto as many phones as possible. He actually made what looked like an unsustainable idea work for him.

This is precisely why I always tell people to avoid the trap of thinking there’s only one way to make a living in software. No matter what other people have done to achieve success, chances are your path is going to require something different. That’s why it’s important to read about as many different approaches as possible and constantly keep an open mind.[3]

Update: It seems Pedometer++ does have ads now. At launch, the app didn’t contain any ads, but as of last fall, new users will see ads until they give at least one tip. Thanks to Paul Brown for the heads up, and to David Smith for the clarification.

  1. Like, perhaps, a new gadget for your wrist that makes for a perfect complement to your iPhone app. The Apple Watch extension for Pedometer++, by the way, is one of the few third-party apps I’ve seen that works really well. Loads super fast, and provides exactly the info I expect. And nothing more.  ↩
  2. As I’ve said on the podcast, I’ve tipped Pedometer++ every few months or so since I started using it. Why wouldn’t I? It’s one of my “1st and 20” apps, one of those chosen few that I actually use daily. How is that not worth $5 every couple of months? Since David seems happy with his income from this app, I imagine I’m not the only one tipping him more than once.  ↩
  3. There’s a good reason why we chose David Smith to be one of our speakers for Release Notes this October. I feel like I still have a lot to learn from him, and so do our guests.