Issue #52 - Russ Shanahan
Happy Monday, everyone!
We made it to Issue #52! Thank you to everyone who read last week’s issue ❤️
Newly Released and Updated Indie Apps
Here are some newly released and newly updated apps from this past week! If you would like to possibly see your app in this list, please submit your app to the look at me form 👀
Today’s Spotlighted Indie Devs
📆 Today I’m featuring Russ Shanahan.
👉 Please make sure to follow them or support them anyway you can! 😇 I’m excited to share their indie dev stories.
Full-time indie app developer and creator of Happy Scale
1) What is your name? Where do you live?
Russ Shanahan Reading, PA (an hour west of Philly)
2) Introduce yourself. Education? Background? Main job? Interests outside of tech? Interests inside of tech?
Hello! I’m a husband & father of 3 (6yo boy/girl twins, 5yo girl). I studied Computer Science at Penn State University. I’m a full-time indie app developer. I enjoy jigsaw puzzles, listening to jazz, and ambling around on my freshly mowed lawn, low-key fishing for compliments from passing neighbors.
3) Have you ever considered yourself an indie developer?
Yes. For a long time now. To me, an indie is anyone who is fed up with being told what to do. It’s anyone who has the quiet courage to click “New Project” and begin carving out their own little corner in the realm of digital creativity.
4) What got you started/interested in creating your own applications outside of your “normal” job?
When I was a kid, people would tell me I had “so much potential.” By the time I was 26, I had little to show for all that potential. I was spending every weekend in my room fixing the ID3 tags on my mp3 collection 😅
I felt like a pretty big failure at life. And also, I thought I knew it all. I could see all the mistakes my bosses were making. I believed I knew better. I had all the answers.
Then one day I read a quote that stuck with me: “the best way to complain is to make things.” Eureka! That was my problem!! I was spending all my time talking about what was wrong, and I was doing nothing about it.
That’s when I started making apps. I figured that if my bosses were making mistakes, I should put my money where my mouth is and learn how to do it better.
What I came to realize is: my bosses weren’t dumb people making mistakes. They were smart people with a lot more experience than me and trying their best. Business is really hard! Life is hard! It’s full of tough choices, difficult circumstances, incomplete information, limited time, unforeseen obstacles. I learned that I was foolish to judge their performance harshly, because I didn’t realize how hard their job was.
Building apps was a big part of how I learned to grow up.
5) How do you balance your time between friends/family, work, hobbies, and indie dev?
On weekdays, 9am to 7pm is my time for workout, shower, work, lunch, etc Any other time of day, before 9pm, is family time 9pm to midnight is my time for chores & hobbies I wish I had a bit more time for friends and hobbies! Occasionally I carve out some time from the work hours for friends or hobbies.
6) Happy Scale - I want to talk about Happy Scale’s onboarding screen before we get into anything! The first experience of an app is very important and Happy Scale’s is so 🔥 It tells me the value that Happy Scale provides in the most pleasant way possible. I almost didn’t want the onboarding to end 🙂 How did you come up with this idea for the onboarding? How did you design and implement it? What did Happy Scale’s first onboarding screen look like?
The original onboarding can still be seen in a critique video Matthew Bischoff graciously did in 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTIkHQ5Sd80
Matthew brought up great points in their critique. I really wanted to address those valid criticisms!
So I hired a fantastic graphic designer named Claire Dierksen. We talked extensively about the mood and “story” we wanted the onboarding to have, and she created that lovely sequence. I was blown away when I saw her idea of starting with mountains and converting them into rolling hills. Such a cool metaphor.
For the onboarding soundtrack, I hired the artist SymphonicRon. He is a master of creating loops. If you turn the sound on during onboarding, you will hear the looping soundtrack transform from a bleak sound in the beginning to an empowered one in the end. Working with him was a joy.
7) Happy Scale - I enjoy hearing the story how people come up with names for apps. My favorite are usually puns but I really love the name Happy Scale. I instantly know its an app that will be a positive experience in weight tracking ☺️ Was it difficult to come up with this name? Did you have any other names that you were playing around with?
I AGONIZED over the name. Six months in, these are the best ones I had:
I couldn’t decide which one to use. So I emailed that list to 30 friends and family for feedback. Many opinions were shared. The email thread has 60 replies 😂
At one point in the emails, I thought of “Happy Scale.” I liked it right away! I started telling everyone that was the name I was going with. Some wrote back to ask “You sure??” Some wrote back to tell me they didn’t like it 😅 But I knew it was the one.
8) Happy Scale - When did you start working on Happy Scale and what were your initial intentions? Did you make it for yourself or did you know you wanted to make a full-fledged product? And congrats on losing 106.3 lbs!! 🥳
My intention was to release the 1.0, sit back as the world basked in my incredible creation, become an overnight millionaire (though I figured anything within 1 month would be fine), quit my job and become a full-time app developer.
It didn’t quite work out that way. I was listing it for $0.99 up front, and it only got 17 downloads in the first five months.
After five months, I decided to make it free with no monetization. Then it was getting about 20 downloads a day. That felt incredible at the time. Progress!
In those early days, building it for myself was a big part of what kept me going. I was still very overweight then, I had ideas for making it fun to experience the thrill of progress.
9) Happy Scale - I am so amazed by the 4.9 rating with 32,000 reviews in the App Store 🤯 That is like the dream! Do you have any tips or tricks for the rest of us on how you achieved that? 😇
So regarding the 4.9, I’ll say this: If you go to audible, you can rank every single title by user review. If you go try it right now, you’ll find that the highest rated audiobooks are all “tools to help people” content. Spiritual help, diet help, fitness help, money management help. They get the highest ratings.
I believe that when you work on anything that tries to help and empower people, you get some of the highest ratings possible. I have speculations about why this phenomenon exists, but it seems to simply be true.
Now, I do work hard to make it a good app. But it’s certainly not perfect. Anyone out there who might have a lower rating, your app is probably really great too! Some great apps out there draw some really unfair bad ratings, but for whatever reason I never get many of them.
9.5) Also, do you get a lot of success stories from users about how Happy Scale has improved their lifestyle?
I get the sweetest emails. I’ve heard from people who have lost hundreds of pounds. I’ve heard from people who are experiencing incredibly painful medical conditions and struggle to eat. I’ve heard from people whose doctors told them they’d be dead in a few years if they didn’t do anything, and decided to completely turn their life around.
I’ve had times when I’m working through my customer support emails, and I’ll stumble upon a story from a user that brings me to tears.
10) Happy Scale - What is your favorite features in Happy Scale that you love to use as a user? What is your favorite feature in Happy Scale that you love being the developer?
I love the monthly reports and the predictive line on the chart that shows me where I’ll be if I keep up my current rate.
I’m proud of the chart feature. I put a lot of different gesture recognizers into it so it can be panned, zoomed, tapped and scrubbed in all kinds of ways. Like, you can tap the header labels (like 2021 or “March”) to zoom to that range. It look me months to do, and I remember times where I questioned if I’d be able to figure it all out. I’m so relieved that it’s complete 😅 It was my third time writing that component, and I’m finally happy with it.
11) Happy Scale - What’s next for Happy Scale?! Do you have any future features that you can share with us?
So. Many. Ideas!
I’d really like to add tagging. Women often write and say they wish they could highlight the area of their chart when they’re having their period so they can see their temporary weight gain within that context. I want to let users tag dates with things like “period”, “sick”, “fasting”, “traveling” so they can annotate their chart and get a deeper understanding of how different situations affect their weight.
12) What’s been the hardest part of being an indie dev?
In the early days especially, the hardest part has been loneliness. Over the years, I’ve made a lot of great friends, and I don’t feel very lonely anymore. I mean… when I tell my wife about my friends, she says “wait, is this a friend, or is this someone you know from twitter 😅” Many of what I call my friends are people I know from twitter. But they feel like friends to me!
12.5) What’s the most fun part of being an indie dev?
Joking around with other indie devs.
13) Is there anything else you’d like to tell the indie dev community about you?
I’m hiring! Looking for a senior iOS developer. Contracting to start, and hoping we can discuss it becoming a full-time thing if the contracting experience feels like a good experience for both of us.
I’m flexible, and I want to create a company where people can become their best selves. If your current gig doesn’t feel like the right fit for you, let’s talk.
14) Do you have any other indie devs that readers should follow / lookout for?
Keep an eye on Ghost Bunny Games (@GhostBunnyGame). She’s doing some really cool stuff. Lots of passion and creativity, works hard and experiments a lot. I’ve enjoyed her games and am really interested in watching her journey!
Ryan Ashcraft (@ryanashcraft) is a great person to follow. He’s done such a great job with FoodNoms, and he shares many valuable things on his twitter account.
I’m sure everyone knows Curtis Herbert, but you may not know that Curtis has been blogging about his journey since the early days in a series he calls “Slopes Diaries” (https://blog.curtisherbert.com/tag/slopes-diaries/). It has been absolutely fascinating to watch him tackle each leg of the journey in public. He’s super open and honest. Reading Slopes Diaries has helped me think about business in more pragmatic and disciplined ways.
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