- What do you currently do?
I’m the CEO of Rogue Amoeba, a Mac audio software company I co-founded back in 2002 with my partners Quentin Carnicelli and Alex Lagutin.
- How did you get started in Mac and/or iOS programming?
It all started with writing, actually. Back in the late 90s, my friend Misha Sakellaropoulo got me set up writing software reviews for MacNN. I stumbled on a small tool called StripAmp. I wrote a positive review of the product, and before it was published, I contacted the author to suggest he should charge a few bucks for it, rather than giving it away. That author was the aforementioned Alex Lagutin. Well, back in the late 90s taking payments online was a bit tougher, particularly if you lived in Russia as Alex did. Casting aside all journalistic integrity, I offered to partner up with him to sell the app (hey, I’d already written the review!). He was amenable, and we started a tiny company called PK Industries (the domain is now owned by a janitorial company who kept our color scheme) to sell the app.
- What was the first app you created and what did it do?
The first tool we sold was StripAmp. It was a software remote control for one of the first MP3 players, MacAmp. It was a tiny app which sat in the Control Strip (the what?! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_strip), which was sort of like the menu bar is now – a place for fast access to all sorts of status information and controls. StripAmp provided a quick way to control MacAmp, the most popular MP3 player on the Mac at the time. It was small but elegant, and we sold it for a whopping $5.
- Where did you get the idea for the app?
When I stepped in we polished the app up together, but Alex gets all credit for the application idea itself, as he made it before we even met. He made it to scratch his own itch – he wanted an app which did what StripAmp did, so he made it. That said, it’s useful to talk about where ideas for our apps have come from in general. Scratching our own itches has often been the starting point for our apps. Then, once we’ve released a basic application, we’ll hear from customers who need a slightly different tool.
Customer feedback has led to the much of the stable of Rogue Amoeba products. We started with audio capture, because Alex wanted to add an Equalizer to movies played in other applications. After users saw that, they told us they wanted to be able to record audio, rather than just add effects, so we made Audio Hijack. Well, once audio capture and recording was out there, people told us they wanted to broadcast audio across the Internet, which led to Nicecast, our Internet radio tool. And when the AirPort Express debuted back in 2004, it could only receive audio from iTunes. People immediately came to us to help them send any audio to it, which resulted in Airfoil. Those are just a few examples, too. Literally dozens of additional features and even full-fledged products have been the result of customer requests and desires.
So, to sum all that up? Pay attention to what you want, and pay attention to what other people want. It’s a pretty good way to make products that will find an audience.
- What went well? What could have gone better?
Let’s start with what could have gone better: we could have sold more copies! At $5 a pop, it’s very difficult to make a sustainable business. That’s as true now as it was then – perhaps even more so, as there’s far more competition now. A low-volume, low-priced app is not a recipe for success, and most apps will be low volume.
As for what went well, our partnership certainly did. Jump ahead almost 15 years, and we’ve worked together at 4 different companies, including our current one for over a decade. It’s been a heck of a ride together, all because Alex made a great little app and I thought he should get paid for it.
- What is your favorite among the apps you’ve developed?
That’s a fascinating question, because it can be answered in so many different ways. Our audio streaming tool Airfoil is by far our most popular app, and it’s thrilling to know we’ve helped fill a hole for hundreds of thousands of users. But popularity isn’t the only factor in determining what my favorite will be. Really, I think the answer should usually be “our latest”, because we’re always improving and building off what we’ve learned. Fission 2 was our most recent major update, and it came together really well. Audio editing is often difficult, but Fission makes it easy for users to do what it promises. There are a whole lot of things it doesn’t do, and that’s part of its design as well, and part of why I like it. But hopefully in another 6 months or a year, we’ll have another major release and I’ll have a new favorite.
- What advice do you have for young people who want to make apps?
I generally encourage anyone getting started, young or old, to find a partner. Developing on your own can work out great, and I know plenty of successful one-man shops. Still, having a partner to work with is hugely beneficial. It means you have someone to share the workload with, someone to bounce ideas off of, and someone who can either reel in your crazy impulses, or encourage you to go even further.
Whether you go it alone or with a friend, the single most important thing is to actually GO! Ideas without implementation are nearly worthless. So get to it and get your app out there. Don’t be timid – learning by doing is practically required here, and the only real mistake is not trying at all. Your app may not be great, or successful, but it will teach you a great deal, and that experience and knowledge is invaluable. After you’ve developed software for a couple years, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of where you started.
Then come find me at Rogue Amoeba – we may just have a great job for you!
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