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22 Comments

I grew my revenue to $300,000 as a solo indie Mac developer. AMA!

Hi!
My name is Oskar (@OskarGroth on Twitter), and I’m the founder of Cindori – a company dedicated to enhancing the Mac experience. We make apps that serve to make your Mac experience more optimised and fun, while putting you more in control of your hardware and software.

Right now I’m working on Sensei, our latest flagship product. Sensei is a multi-tool for improving and monitoring your Mac performance, with features to clean your disk, uninstall apps (properly), view temperature sensors and much more. Sensei launched last year, and as of this year we are developing all new features in SwiftUI.

We're soon about to release our next big feature for Sensei called Monitor, which is a completely customisable performance monitor that lives in your status bar, and is completely written in SwiftUI.

AMA!

Sensei Monitor

  1. 5

    Congrats! How did you grow, distribute your software?

    What unseen/ignored opportunities are there in the desktop market?

    What surprised you the most while working on optimizing the Mac experience?

    1. 11

      I've grown organically by iterating on my product line and coming up with better features and design. I distribute the apps on their websites, using Paddle as a merchant platform for payments and license key delivery.

      I've never distributed through the Mac App Store, since the apps would have to drop a lot of functionality in order to comply with Sandboxing. Plus I'd rather not give up control of the distribution of my own product to Apple (along with 30% of the revenue).

      I think desktop development allows for much more creative digital products. Mobile apps are very limited in the type of UI/UX you can provide (it feels like every single app on my phone is just a differently styled table view) and the opportunity to self-distribute opens up for new products that wouldn't see the light of day under Apple's sandbox & development guidelines.

      Desktop is also a much less saturated market. Thought of a new iOS app? There's 10 of those already. If there isn't, you can bet there will be 9 clones of yours after releasing it. Users are also much more willing to pay money for desktop apps. Asking $0.99 up front for your iOS app that took 1 year to develop? Outrageous. Build the same thing for macOS and sell it for $9.99? No problem.

      The thing that surprised me the most was probably the demand for this type of product. Regardless of what you do – study, code, browse the web or run your company, your Mac is probably your most precious tool for doing so. And if you can make that experience just slightly better, or extend the lifetime of that device, it means a lot to not just Mac enthusiasts, but to the average user as well.

      1. 3

        Great points on the desktop market being less saturated with users that are more willing to pay and with more creative ways for designing UI/UX.

        Good luck with Sensei! (Looks great BTW)

  2. 4

    Wonderful post, this feels like the sort of thing that should be climbing to the top of IH, not all this “we raised a $20M series A” or “how i grow to $30M ARR and a team of 50” stuff we’ve been getting recently

    Congrats Oskar on well earned success 👍

  3. 1

    Congrats on your growth, Oscar!

    1. What is your main marketing strategy? How do you spread the word out about Sensei?
    2. There are so many payment solutions out there, I wonder which ones did you evaluate and what was the reason you went with Paddle? how's the experience so far?
    3. What would you consider your biggest challenge these days as a software maker?
  4. 1

    Your apps look amazing! Are you planning to bring them to Setapp? We recently launched Sizzy there and so far the experience is pretty positive.

  5. 1

    Hi Oskar,

    Thanks for this AMA and thanks for not going on the Electron path. My first app as IH is a Mac app 'Tealpod Image Compressor' ( I had lots of downloads not neglizible payments). I always wonder is there really market for Desktop Apps. I am truly happy to see your Mac App is doing well.

    Goodluck.

  6. 1

    Congrats on your success. Can you talk about how in the initial days you got your first 100 customers, how long did it take, what was your marketing, tools...etc

  7. 1

    Congrats Oskar!

    • Who do you send your press releases to? Do you have a list of contacts or websites?
    • From your experience, do mac users prefer a subscription model, or a buy once model?
    1. 3
      • I have a list of contacts, but major blog news sites like 9to5Mac and MacRumours are some of the most important ones.
      • Definitely a Buy Once model, but subscriptions are growing.
      1. 1

        Thank you for sharing!

  8. 1

    Great story, how do you see the market for mac apps over iOS apps? And how do you market your Mac apps?

    1. 1

      I see much more opportunity in the desktop market, and I elaborated on why in another answer here. Right now I don't do any marketing except for documenting development on Twitter, but I send out press releases to publishers and newsletters to a list of subscribers on major updates.

  9. 1

    Hi Oskar,
    Congrats!

    1. Did you ever use Vulkan for fast access to UI? If so, is it hard?
    2. What IDE do you use for development?
    1. 2
      1. Vulkan is only available on macOS through a portability layer called MoltenVK. The relevant low-level graphics API on macOS is Apple's own Metal API. Sensei employs Metal shaders to create abstract background visualisations for certain features. And I do happen to find shader programming to be quite hard.
      2. Xcode.
      1. 1

        Thanks!

        1. I delved a bit more into Vulkan - yeah, it's not really what I need. I will use SkiaSharp instead. And yeah, shader programming IS hard 😁
        2. Cool thanks!
  10. 1

    Hi Oskar - beautiful and useful app thanks for bringing to the world ! Interested in your tech stack - are you tempted to go down the electron route for cross platform apps ?

    1. 3

      Thanks!
      No, I have zero interest in Electron, or other platforms for that matter. My heart lies with the Mac platform, and I care deeply about application performance, responsiveness, and native design.

      Sensei was developed entirely in AppKit, and since the release of Big Sur I've switched to SwiftUI only. I think SwiftUI brings amazing value, and I'm adamant that it is indeed production ready. I talk more about the journey of developing with SwiftUI over on twitter:

  11. 1

    Congrats, Oskar! Very impressive. 👏👏

    1. How do you decide what features to work on?
    2. What part of being an indie would you say you excel at, and what do you wish to improve upon?
    3. Did you ever outsource any part of Sensei development/design/marketing/etc?
    4. If not a secret, through which channel(s) are you bringing in the most users/revenue?

    Thanks for taking the time to do this, and all the best going forward.

    1. 2
      1. I listen to suggestions by users to some degree, but mostly I try to identify where the currently market supply falls short or has grown outdated. I get extra excited about areas where UI design plays a heavy role, and where I can bring advanced concepts and features down to a level where they bring benefit to the average user, and not just Mac enthusiasts.

      2. I approach indie development as an entrepreneur, and I think I have a pretty good sense of smell for market needs and building successful products. Far too many developers approach indie development as a programmer – they just want to build their hobby project, selling it is an afterthought (and thus usually not very successful). I would love to improve on my marketing skills, unfortunately it's a process that tend to come last in priority when you are solo and already have to wear many hats.

      3. I've outsourced a couple of the sidebar icons, but otherwise no. I have pretty high standards and usually want to iterate many times on a task, which makes it hard to work with freelancers that are on the clock and are context-switching with other projects.

      4. Organic search.

  12. 1

    Congratulations 🎉 Oskar, and to your team.

    • What differentiates you from similar apps like "Clean My Mac"?
    • How did you find the right market-fit/customers and what channels did you leverage?
    • How long did it take to get to $300k ARR?
    1. 3
      • CleanMyMac boasts a large & advanced feature set, but in reality the app is pretty simple, and revolves around cleaning your Mac disk. Sensei has the same feature set here – scanning through Mail attachments, logs, large files, caches and so on to present options for deletion in a nice user interface (usually even faster than CleanMyMac). But Clean is just one feature in Sensei – its feature set spans across hardware and software, offering features in everything from SSD Benchmarks to Battery Health, and soon also a status bar performance monitor that will rival apps like iStat Menus. On a side note, I also highly disagree with the marketing practices of MacPaw, where they will use fear-mongering like this in their advertisements to scare Mac users into buying their product. I want to offer Mac users a better alternative.

      • I started out making these kinds of apps based on my own needs, and eventually people took notice and literally started donating money to support further development. That's when I realised the market need. Since then, it's been all about iterating on features and product line to find a good fit. I market my products mainly through press releases to news blogs and other publishers in the Mac/Apple space, as well as a list of newsletter subscribers. I currently don't spend any money on marketing.

      • I founded Cindori in 2013, so that would be 8 years. But I studied at university until 2016 and also attended another full-time role in 2017, so I've technically only been full-time now for 3 years.

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