The ups and downs of making something

When I started building my app five years ago I thought it would be easy. I mean, how hard could it be to build a simple app? Well, pretty hard if you haven’t done it before. Not only did I have a lot to learn the techniques (structuring databases, how the App Store works, the real reason design patterns are important) but I also came face-to-face with my personal blind spots and weaknesses which would actually be the biggest barriers.

From the start of this project I kept detailed journals (nearly 2500 and counting). These now provide a fascinating time machine into the process. It’s one thing to reminisce about how something was, and another to see the raw words you wrote or hear your voice in the moments when things were going well or falling apart. It often made for uncomfortable listening.

I recently read through them to see what I could learn. I wrote down the milestones, the learnings, and the mistakes. I also gave an “emotional score” (between 1-10) to each entry so I could chart the emotional rollercoaster ride it was. Then I created the graphic above. It's an interesting snapshot of what it took to go from zero to an App Store featured app. In summary: 5 years, 3 tries, 4343 total working hours, 395 good days, 233 bad days, and one near lawsuit (that was one of those bad days).

There’s something striking about seeing the raw ‘footage’ of a journey. Seeing the first sketches and feeling their excitement; then the eventual setbacks and difficulties; hearing self-doubt creep in and maybe even thoughts of quitting. That kind of window into someone's process is rare. What we usually get are ‘struggle stories’ told after the fact from a keynote stage, once the billion dollar business has been built. But it’s hard to relate to that if you’re early in your journey or have less than billion dollar ambitions like I do.

What I want to share are the early days, when there’s no money but lots of excitement… when you’re muddling along and figuring stuff out… when times get dark times and you’re doubting whether it’s worth it... and also the confidence that comes with learning, successes, and experience. These stories in raw form makes the journey less lonely and lets you know you’re not totally crazy for doing this. Basically what I’m doing is writing the blog for “5 years ago Mark” – the one he would’ve appreciated having.