Rest

Dino Angelov explains how he makes a few hundred dollars a month from a simple low-maintenance app that helps its users stay healthy.

Can you tell us about yourself and what you're working on?

I'm Dino Angelov — the developer of Rest. Rest is a no-frills break reminder app that also does coached exercises.

I made it after reading a whole lot of articles about the health problems that prolonged sitting can cause. It's perfect for people whose job is mostly sedentary — such as programmers, accountants, or designers — as it asks you to take a break once in a while. It's being used by the staff of a US university, in a productivity study at a London university, as well as by people in companies as large as HP. You should try it too :)

How'd you get started with Rest?

About 3 years ago I was learning Objective-C, when I noticed a steady stream of health articles about sitting and prolonged computer use. After trying an app or two and not being happy with them, I decided it would be the perfect little project to use my new programming skills. I had always wanted to make a Mac app, so it all came together nicely.

I decided to start very small and you can actually see v1 here. But even then, I submitted it to LifeHacker and they picked it up, which generated a nice buzz and sales for a few days, for a $0.99 Mac app. That was my validation for the idea and proof it could even bring in some extra cash.

Soon after, people started contacting me asking for new features, submitting bugs and ideas etc. I added everything I thought fits in nicely and raised the price once I had the updates out. I've steadily improved the app since, adding a Windows version, a non Mac App Store version and a companion iOS app.

How'd you find the time and funding to work?

Rest is very low maintenance. The initial version took no more than a couple of weekends to finish and I've been able to squeeze in a few hours per month since then, to provide bug fixes, new features and customer support. Since I've been programming for almost as long as I remember, I've been able to build all of Rest entirely by myself. I've never had to dip into my personal savings or the like, except for some marketing. For some icons, The Noun Project has been great. For sounds, I've used the excellent FreeSound.org.

How have you attracted users and grown your business?

Initially, I contacted some websites that write about Mac apps, and later Windows apps. Some of them, like LifeHacker and TUAW (now folded into Engadget) picked it up and wrote about it. Since they are big websites, they brought in a decent number of sales in a short period of time. From there, some other websites picked it up or people just wrote about it or mentioned it on their own.

I tried AdSense as well, but that was before I'd created the Windows version of Rest. Since you couldn't adjust the ads to only show to Mac users, 80-90% of the ad clicks were coming from Windows desktop computers, so it was a total bust.

Traffic nowadays comes mostly search engines and some app listing sites. Nearly 500 people use the app actively every month, and that's slowly growing.

How have you grown your revenue?

I haven't made a huge conscious effort to grow revenue (yet).

One thing I did do was increase the price once I had a few more features — that was probably the best decision I've made. At $0.99, you get a lot of impulse purchases from people that don't even bother reading the description and then leave negative ratings and feedback over "missing" features. At $4.99, people actually contact you if they have a problem. It's usually either just the UI to blame for the confusion, or a bug, which I make sure to fix in the next release. It works out better for everyone.

The app's peak profit was $250/mo, and averages about $150/mo throughout the year.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I'd probably do many things differently :)

But number 1 would be to start with a higher price and a slightly more polished product. The low price and impulse purchases I mentioned earlier, coupled with a very simple product really tanked my initial ratings, which took a while to recover from.

Number 2 might be not sinking money into advertising that doesn't work. For those interested in a much longer story about this, I wrote a "One Year Later" piece about Rest on my blog.

What have been your biggest advantages?

Being able to do everything myself has been great. I was in total control of the whole process and could time things the way I wanted them, barring the occasional App Store update hiccup. I've also been dogfooding every day, as I use the app myself.

What are your goals for the future?

To "wrap things up", I'd like to finish the Android companion app. I'd then have the full offering (Mac, Windows, iOS and Android), which should round things up nicely. Since I have near-zero Android and Java experience, I'll probably look into tech that allows me to write the app in something else. React Native and Xamarin are both good candidates.

Judging by demand, I'm not in a huge hurry to do this, though it would be nice to have it.

What's your advice for other aspiring indie hackers?

Go for it! You won't know if you can make it till you try. Get early feedback and validate. Improve and keep going.

Where can we learn more about you?

I have a blog, though I post very rarely. Some of the posts there are about Rest, so it might be worth a read for anyone interested. You can also get in touch on Twitter or via the comment section below.

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