Happy Monday, everyone!
We made it to Issue #57! Thank you to everyone who read last week’s issue ❤️
Today’s Spotlighted Indie Devs
📆 Today I’m featuring Samuel Coe.
👉 Please make sure to follow them or support them anyway you can! 😇 I’m excited to share their indie dev stories.
1) What is your name? Where do you live (city or general area)?
My name is Sam Coe; I live in Missoula, Montana.
2) Introduce yourself. Education? Background? Main job? Interests outside of tech? Interests inside of tech?
I grew up near Carbondale, Illinois– way south of Chicago– and it’s there that I attended Southern Illinois University and received my B.S. in Computer Science. I had always kind of known that was the path I wanted to take because I had always enjoyed messing around with computers.
My dad is also a software engineer, but I was around ten when he decided to go to college (also SIU) to get his CS degree. Before that (and after, to an extent) he was an artist, painting mostly wildlife and nature murals for various museums and exhibits around the US. The work was a bit unstable and costly from a family perspective, so seeing him go back to school at that stage of life and do that while supporting us was pretty impactful to me. I think this also had a lot to do with my interest in computers and software development.
At one point, I did almost change my major and switch over to graphic design. I really hated the math portions of the CS degree track and wanted nothing to do with it. At the same time, graphic design is something I’ve always really enjoyed doing but never received any actual guidance on. Ultimately, I was convinced to continue on with CS. It was mostly for the “wrong” reasons (money), but I’m very happy about that decision.
I’ve always been a bit entrepreneurial, going through various phases as a teenager where I tried out some ventures that I won’t really get into. This is probably an important point about myself in regards to how and why I decided to get into mobile development.
I got my first career job in tech when I was in my second year of college. It was with a company that I would end up working for over the course of over seven years, fulfilling different technical analyst, lead, managerial, and engineering roles. When I left, I was one of only a few Engineers at the company working on some of our newer web applications. That’s when I moved to Missoula.
Today, I maintain my personal relationship tracking app, Relate, in the App Store and I’m also the Head of Mobile for a small Missoula-based growth-stage company.
Outside of my journey in tech and mobile development, my wife and I now have three kids, with our youngest and only daughter being three weeks old the day that this goes out. It’s generally enough work to keep my sanity with my two very young boys, but I still find room for other hobbies as well.
As somebody who likes to try different things, I tend to cycle through non-tech hobbies. I’ve made my rounds from woodworking to painting miniatures, to 3D printing, etc… My current hobby is artisan tabletop dice making. I plan on launching an online storefront for these in a couple of weeks; it’s been a really fun process and fulfilling to all of my creative and entrepreneurial tendencies.
I also love reading Fantasy and Sci-Fi books and I like to think that I enjoy playing video games, but these days I think I actually just like the idea of playing video games (I can never get invested).
I run a very small mobile developer group for Missoula on Meetup and would love to have visitors if anyone is ever passing through!
3) Have you ever considered yourself an indie developer?
I’m not sure if it was once my first app was available for sale or once I had my first paying customer (it took a while), but I considered myself an indie developer fairly quickly. It was just the engineer’s logic. I’ve independently made and sold my own iOS app; therefore, I’m an indie developer.
I definitely get the mental resistance we can put up to so generously applying these labels to ourselves. It feels gratuitous and like you’re just saying you’re something because you want to be, but that’s not the case. You just are what you are and if you’ve made your own app, independent of some larger entity, you’re an indie developer.
Maybe I’m missing some nuances, but hopefully, you all get the idea.
4) What got you started/interested in creating your own applications outside of your “normal” job?
Going back to my point about being entrepreneurial, when I was young I would spend a good amount of time trying to think up good ideas for some software product I could make. I would always struggle; however, with feeling like ideas weren’t novel or good enough and never made anything. That was before learning mobile development.
I decided to teach myself iOS development for a couple of reasons:
- I had always loved tinkering with my phone. When I was an Android user, I was constantly installing new ROMs on my phones and generally messing with the software.
- I love the idea of software on phones and making software that people (including myself) can keep in their pockets and interact with at any time.
- It occurred to me that this is something that I would never break into professionally if I just waited for some sort of junior role opportunity. I had to make it happen.
- I had started listening to the Accidental Tech Podcast and something about hearing Marco discuss Overcast development made me unable to shake the feeling that I wanted to explore that path.
I went through a Swift and iOS course on Udemy and, armed with my new “attack” vector of mobile delivery, came up with an app idea for something that I personally really wanted. That’s when I started work on my first app, Carte, with the primary intention of learning the process of shipping an app. Additionally, I just wanted to experience the feeling of having made my own software available to anyone with an iPhone; having something I made published in the App Store.
Coming from the web, I actually really struggled with creating a native Swift app at first, and coping with the (what I consider to be) clunky mechanisms for networking and UI/data parity were something that I struggled with. I never shipped that version of the app, but after starting another job with a company that used React Native, used it as an opportunity to learn that as well. I will not get into that can of worms here, but suffice it to say that it was a fantastic learning experience and I’m very happy about the choice I made.
After looking at another re-write for Carte (I don’t think RN is bad, but it wasn’t the right tool for my goals), I decided to sunset it in order to focus elsewhere. It was a meal planning app with some unique features, but ultimately some other apps had popped up that were doing most of it better.
I should mention that I also went through a stint as an Android developer when the need was presented by my employer. I love learning new things and mobile in general, so I enjoyed this experience.
5) How do you balance your time between friends/family, work, hobbies, and indie dev?
Just kidding. I mean, it helps–it’s why I made it– but balancing time is such a hard thing and I’ve spent so much time thinking about it in the last several years since having kids.
The most important thing is just getting your priorities straight and that should mean putting people first. My wife needs her husband, my kids need their dad, my friends need connection. I devote most of my time to being present to build relationships, to listening, and to caring. When mental energy and time allow, I move down the list to other priorities.
When I’m working on my own apps, I tend to take an hour or so in the mornings to get one or two things done– I find that I can’t do that work justice at night, I’m too mentally exhausted by that point.
My hobbies typically get attention after 9 or 10 at night, when everyone else is in bed. That’s probably the reason these things tend to be either artistic or consumption-related.
I struggle to reorient myself with regards to time and scheduling when life stages shift or there’s something new I want to pursue, but I think this is what ultimately works best for me.
6) Relate - I’m fairly confident that Relate was build exactly with me in mind 😛 I’ve had this installed on my phone for a while now and I absolutely love it. I love my friends but I’m highly introverted and I can go a long time without realizing I need to check in on them 🤷♂️ When and why did you create Relate? Were you having similar issues as me?
I was absolutely having similar issues.
Personally, I had the idea and desire for something like Relate for a couple of years, but it was the pandemic that pushed me to prioritize creating it. I just found myself in the middle of 2020 developing a sense of urgency for something that might help people stay connected and anchored to people that care about them.
My personal motivation is almost exactly what you described, Josh. I love my friends, my family, but I’m the absolute worst at remembering to contact them when I actually have a moment to do so. This has been a particularly big issue since having kids because I hit the ground rolling in the mornings and it’s going from one thing to the next until kids are in bed. It’s often too late at that point or I don’t have the emotional energy to reach out to people. Rinse and repeat.
I would find myself going weeks or months and having the same “I need to reach out to so-and-so” thought almost every single day. The problem is that I would have the thought while I’m at work doing something or in the morning while I’m making the kids breakfast. It was never a timely remembrance.
One of the biggest personal features of Relate is setting contact reminders and the idea of persistent reminders that keep bugging me until I actually have a moment to form a genuine text message or make a phone call.
7) Relate - Seeing the health status of all my important relationships on one screen is really great. I feel like I’ve even gotten ahead of some of my friendship interactions from checking in on this screen! How is the relationship health calculated? I have close friends, friends, and family relationships. Is the health calculation done differently for different relationship types?
My goal is to gradually make the health calculations more sophisticated over time and I’ve done this to some extent. Calculating based on relationship type/closeness is a good example of a way I would like to improve this. When the app first shipped, health was a very simple calculation: missing interactions reduced health and timely interactions improved health, albeit more slowly.
I’ve since done some work to make it a little more clever or reliable in doing so, but it’s generally still the same simplistic formula.
8) Relate - I was so happy to see that Relate allows me to adjust both the theme and layout 🙌 I totally didn’t mind the default layout but I love the minimal look. I think I’ve struggled with these in my apps but never thought about letting users decide what they want to see. How did these multiple themes and layout come to be? Could you not decided which one you liked best like me? 🙃 Or did you have users suggest new themes and layouts?
I did receive some requests for different themes and layouts, but ultimately implementing might have been me procrastinating on something else. I wanted everyone to feel really comfortable in the app so that they can focus on the relationships and feel perfectly at home in the UI, regardless of preferences. It’s probably just a can of worms that could have remained closed, but the nice thing about making a small app is getting to do things just because it might make one or two users happy. That’s enough for me.
9) Relate - Widgets might be one of my favorite ways to use Relate! There are so many apps that benefited from widgets but I feel like widgets were made for Relate. Not really a question but take this 🏆 Thank you for making the widgets!
Thanks! I actually experienced a bit of pain over the launch of Widgets, because I did the work of getting them ready for day one, but was unable to ship the app update because of a SwiftUI bug. It ended up getting some attention on Twitter and a workaround was identified that involved some swizzling. I missed day one and all the fun press, though.
10) Relate - One of my favorite parts of creating a new app is learning new things that I didn’t expect to learn. What have you learned while making, maintaining, and marketing Relate?
Where to start? The whole process has been such a learning experience that I struggle to decide what to pick out.
I think my favorite part about doing indie app development is what I get to learn and experience in wearing all the different hats that are necessary to ship a product and run a business. I think experimenting and finding out what works with business strategy is a really fun process, but I’ve probably learned more than anything about marketing. Mainly that it’s really hard and I don’t love it because I don’t have the mental bandwidth for it.
I think coming to learn that marketing could be a full-time job, even on a small-time app, was big for me, but it hasn’t really changed my behavior. It’s an incredibly intricate problem and one could throw countless hours at trying different strategies, creating content, and getting the word out. Frankly, I don’t love posting on social media (it takes a lot of intentional energy for me to actually engage with Twitter, for example) and that’s where the magic happens these days.
11) Relate - What’s next for Relate?! Do you have any future features that you can share with us? 😁
The most requested and highest priority feature for Relate is custom relationship tiers, so that will be the next big feature. It’s a change that seems simple on the surface, but directly affects a lot of other plans I have for automating based on tier so it’s actually fairly complex.
Another feature that I’m excited about is achievements. The biggest problem I’m facing here, though, is design. I want to really make people feel good about the work that they’ve put in and keep track of those accomplishments. I also want people to be able to share those achievements in a meaningful and tactful way (making it brag-worthy, but omitting personal info). At one point I was exploring ways to create Apple Health-like 3D badges but I have no idea what I’m doing with Blender and the like.
12) What’s been the hardest part of being an indie dev? What the most fun part of being an indie dev?
The hardest part for me has been time and mental energy. These things come in waves for me, especially as the parent of three kids under 5 (I’m writing this as my boys run around yelling and playing with LEGOs). It’s actually been several months since I’ve been able to get myself to commit to any meaningful work on Relate because of needing to commit a lot more energy elsewhere.
This is a fact that I’ve come to really embrace, though, and so I try to have some grace with myself. I’ve put in hundreds of hours working on this and I’ll put in hundreds or thousands more in my own time.
For me, the most fun part is the process of creation. I love creating things. It’s this whole cycle of learning, feedback, and trying new things– it’s really exciting. Having full creative control over everything from design and technologies to business strategies and cost is wild. It’s something that feels like it shouldn’t be possible because I’m just a guy. I’m making a thing, assigning value to it, and people are paying me to use it and are benefiting from it.
13) Is there anything else you’d like to tell the indie dev community about you?
I place a lot of emphasis on the importance of relationships and really, truly trying to know and empathize with people. I love having the privilege to hear somebody share a bit about their life with me and I’m happy to do the same in return. It helps us build “kindness muscles” that I think the world could use a lot more of these days.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via Twitter or email if you have questions you think I could help talk through; whether you’re a parent struggling to find time or a new indie developer hoping to understand the process better.
14) Do you have any other indie devs that readers should follow / lookout for?
I almost exclusively follow awesome indie developers on Twitter and I find it really hard to pick any of them out. Folks reading this are also incredibly likely to already be following most of them, but I would highly encourage anyone to go check all of them out! I keep a pretty tight list to avoid getting overwhelmed, so anyone on there who is active is likely worth a follow.
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 👀
Thank you to everybody who made it to this footer! You either spent the time to read or took the effort to scroll 😊
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