Slopes Diaries #24: Second Guessing My Way To Success

Slopes Diaries is my ongoing journey to turn my indie app into a more sustainable part of my business. First time reading? Catch up on the journey so far.

What is Slopes? Think Nike+, Runkeeper, Strava, MapMyRun, etc for skiers and snowboarders.

In one of the latest episodes of Independence we spoke about the negative feedback that we get about our apps, both privately and through App Store reviews. Many listeners reached out about how helpful it was to know that they weren't alone in seeing their hard work ripped apart and scrutinized by users.

In that vein I wanted to share a bit about another thing that plagues many of us: self-doubt and second guessing. I've talked about tons of my approaches and thoughts behind how I'm running Slopes, and I know externally it might look like I know what I'm doing.

Oh you sweet summer child. 🤣🙃

For me running my own product is all about second-guessing my every move, but simultaneously finding a way to accept my best answer and move on even if it isn't perfect. Even though after five years when Slopes is finally doing really well (more on that in a bit), I can't escape that feeling that someone else could do this better than me.

For example...

Locking down the runs vs lifts screen for their second recording and beyond. "The first taste is free" is a generally sound move to demo the awesomeness of Slopes, I think, but the primary source of my (few) complaints is people who feel "swindled" after the first day despite the warnings and user eduction I have in place (or they feel I should be giving those stats away for free, like all other apps).

While I give a first taste for free, arguably my coolest feature, the 3d mountain, isn't demo'd for free. I give a "cheaper" 3d view of the run that doesn't rely on MapBox.

Giving everyone 3d mountains would greatly increase my MapBox fees, and I really don't have a gut feel if the increased "THIS IS AMAZING!" would lead to enough subscriptions to offset the cost.

I do include a free 3d share card, but I view the tradeoff of cost (since everyone doesn't share) worth the extra "this is awesome" social media.

Calling my yearly subscription a Season Pass, while resonating with users, does still lead to confusion if the pass lines up with a season or if it lasts for 365 days. I certainly lose sales due to this.

Most of my call-to-actions to buy a Slopes Pass are generally pretty shite. If there was any area I'd want to completely re-work in Slopes, this would be it. I've had some good a-ha's along the way, but I'm sure I'm doing all this pretty poorly.

My strategy for users outside of North America. More than 50% of my revenue comes from the US. Some countries, like France / Switzerland, which should be seeing high revenue because of the Alps, generate <2% of my revenue each.

Oh god, the bugs and errors. Sure, I've only gotten and average of 6 emails a day this season (and maybe 2 a day of those are hilarious feature requests or a simple "thanks for Slopes!"), with 120k monthly active users, but that logic can only make me feel so good in the face of customers I've let down somehow.

What should I work on next? Aside from some obvious things, like the rewrite of the Watch app (I knew the market would start demanding it soon if I didn't get there first), picking what to do next usually leaves me feeling locked in indecision. It is a tough balance between my vision for Slopes, customer requests, bugs, things to improve the health of the business (see: those shite call-to-actions), and more.

Not to mention server-side improvements and features, or starting to work on an Android port.

And the list goes on and on.

I'm really starting to feel this more and more these last two seasons as Slopes can justify taking so much of my attention. It was easy easier to accept compromise when I was only working part time, when I viewed it more as a hobby project, but now there is just so much to balance. So much to get wrong.

I constantly worry that in someone else's hands Slopes could be doing so much better. Maybe it would even already have a team behind it.

So, dear fellow indie app developer: you aren't alone in your second-guessing and self-doubt. I have huge doubts in Slopes and what I've done with it, but the best we can do is forge forward. We can't let second-guessing cripple us because then we're guaranteed to get nowhere.

🎶 Just keep shipping. 🎶

One thing I'm not second-guessing is going freemium + subscriptions and consumables. For Slopes and its market that was a perfect move, and really was a key factor in becoming sustainable.

Wait, I used sustainable in the past-tense? Yeah, after five years I think it is time to go full-time on this (I'll still do some consulting for the clients I like, but because I want to not out of obligation.)


No hockey sticks, but everything is moving in the right direction in a very healthy manner:

  • This fiscal year for Slopes (Nov 10, 2017 - Nov 9, 2018) looks like it'll settle on ~2.5x last year's revenue (so ~$95k).
  • That is consistent ~2.5x growth for the last 3 years.
  • The bulk of the revenue this year is coming from subscriptions (70/30 split). That means $74k from subs alone next year if everyone renews (based on today's subscriber numbers, not theoretical additional new ones in the next month).
  • I have a ~7% churn rate; not perfect but not too bad for a seasonal sport. So I can realistically bet on ~$69k next year before new subscribers and consumables.
  • Average revenue per user is up (despite being featured multiple times by Apple and really inflating my download numbers) too.

So I guess here's to 5 more years of constantly second-guessing myself. 🍻😅