Ryan Jones - Going All-In on Indie App Development

David Barnard
March 24, 2021
54
 MIN
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In This Episode

Our guest today is Ryan Jones, long-time indie developer of Flighty and Weather Line. Before going full-time on his apps in 2019, Ryan spent time in operations at Apple and as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at McGarrah Jessee, a full-service product marketing agency.

In this episode, you’ll hear about:

  • How to bootstrap a following for your app
  • The balance between ensuring user privacy and tracking customer behavior
  • Why user studies are so painful (and so valuable)

Follow Us:


David Barnard: https://twitter.com/drbarnard

Jacob Eiting: https://twitter.com/jeiting

Ryan Jones: https://twitter.com/rjonesy

Here’s the Outline of Our Interview with Ryan:


[0:43] How Ryan made the switch to full-time app developer; Flighty.


[3:10] Early flight-tracking apps: FlightTrack; TripIt; Expedia.


[3:53] Ryan’s background in mechanical engineering and the oil industry.


[4:59] Why Ryan made the switch to developing apps.


[6:35] Ryan’s first app, Weather Line, hit #12 in the App Store; John Gruber, Marco Arment, MG Siegler, Chris Dixon.


[9:35] How Ryan bootstrapped his two app companies.


[11:09] Weather Line’s Super Forecast; Weather Up; CARROT; AccuWeather, Dark Sky; WTForecast.


[16:21] Networking with famous app bloggers as a growth hack; the “reply guy”; Ed Zitron.


[21:50] Privacy and user data; Apple App Tracking Transparency; Signal, Telegram, DuckDuckGo.


[25:50] Ryan built Flighty’s subscription architecture from the ground up; RevenueCat.


[27:00] Apple’s privacy labels; WhatsApp; EULAs & Terms of Service.


[28:38] Many apps track and sell user location data; consumer information bandwidth; GDPR.


[31:30] Apple needs to shorten and simplify privacy labels.


[32:06] Ryan’s honest review of RevenueCat (spoiler alert: he’s a fan!).


[34:41] The fine line between zero tracking and anonymous tracking.


[35:51] New feature announcements; the Trough of Sorrow.


[37:39] How the Flighty team pivoted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic; product backlogs; Basecamp.


[41:00] Prioritizing new feature development: RICE and ICE vs. Post-It notes.


[44:31] Integrating customer feedback into your app; user studies; Lookback.


[45:45] Why user studies are so painful—and so valuable.


[46:22] Ryan’s controversial opinion on customer support.


[49:16] Aggregating user feedback in Slack; Front; Help Scout.


[54:01] Connect with Ryan on Twitter.


Quotes:


“When I talk to people about apps… the first thing that they say is, ‘What makes it different?’ And I have to answer that question. And in my head, I know all the tiny little things that add up to make it different. But [that question] really does cut through what users are trying to figure out… just tell me what makes it different.” - Jesse

“Being clear and clearly communicating that value prop is more important than it being clever or this, like, amazing brand.” - David

“If you’re helpful, people pay attention. If you’re not just… asking for stuff [and] saying stupid stuff… If you talk to press, if you talk to influential people, if you’re actually helpful and give helpful responses and [are] insightful and blog about things and talk about things—that’s how you get people’s attention.” - David

“A good way to bootstrap a following is to have something interesting to say.” - Jacob

“There is a niche market for privacy-centric digital products, and that niche will probably grow—but as a percentage of the entire market, it probably is a single digit-percentage. And maybe it’s going to grow… but I doubt we’re going to see half the market reading those things and picking apps based on privacy labels and stuff like that.” - David

“I was a pretty big [user tracking] naysayer before I had more experience. I was like, ‘You don’t really need that—just listen to your users, talk to them in customer support and Twitter, and do user studies. [But] you… can’t really get a replacement for [tracking customer behavior]… You just have to do it in a respectful way.” - Ryan

“User studies are key, and it’s a thing I constantly remind myself to do. And it’s freaking painful, if we’re being honest. It’s hard work. They just want to tell you the small little fix that they want you to do. But nine times out of ten, the reason that they want that small little fix is because you failed at something way upstream—and you have to keep digging at it to get it. And it’s hard.” - Ryan

“The people who email you and ask support questions, they’re the ones who care. They’re your real customers. The people who don’t care, they just stop using the app—they’re gone, they’re out.” - David

“It’s not a bad sign when you have lots of support [tickets]. That’s a good sign, actually.” - Jacob

“Who writes in? It’s folks that have found the edge of your product. And that’s super useful as a product creator. They have found where your product doesn’t quite meet their need, or they have been frustrated. Sometimes it’s a simple thing… and you answer that question, but you learn a little bit… It also gives you some data around the trade-offs you’ve made.” - Jacob

“You have to make a decision: Is support a cost center for your company? Or is it part of the product?” - Jacob

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Episode Transcript