My journey developing a Mac app for managing GitHub notifications

$21
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
product
Lotus
from Khmelnytskyi, Khmelnytskyi Oblast, Ukraine
started October 2020
$21
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
5.91M
alexa rank
53
followers
market size
$4.03B
avg revenue (monthly)
$66.7K
starting costs
$21K
gross margin
76%
time to build
13 months
growth channels
Word of mouth
business model
Software
best tools
Twitter, Github, Instagram
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
34 Pros & Cons
tips
8 Tips
Discover what tools Vadim reccommends to grow your business!
email
social media
payments
analytics
Discover what books Vadim reccommends to grow your business!
Develop A Mac App

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hey, my name is Vadim, I’m a software engineer working at a valley startup. I’m creating Lotus - a Mac app for managing GitHub notifications without stress. Lotus is for open-source maintainers like myself, who struggle to keep up with a constant stream of notifications.

I launched Lotus last week and I’ve earned $261.74 so far! I know it’s not a lot, but this is my first money as an indie developer, so it feels big to me anyway!

my-journey-developing-a-mac-app-for-managing-github-notifications

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I’ve worked for various startups for the past 8 years, but I knew I would be much happier if I were independent and had my own thing going. Years went by and I just kept postponing this idea further and further, until October of 2020. I rented a cabin in the mountains and set a goal to build something during the 4 days that I was going to be there.

Even though I launched less than a week ago, I already feel that it changed me personally and for the better.

Of course, I didn’t end up finishing it and I drove back home.

Normally, I would start procrastinating, abandon that project and move on to the next idea. However, I stayed and kept working on it in my free time.

What kept me going is support from the developers I know and them saying that they also struggle with the same problem - being distracted by GitHub notifications and not keeping up. I didn’t even have to create a landing page, do any sort of research or other classic advice to validate it. People were messaging me and telling me that yes, we also experience that pain.

Another source of validation was coming from HEY - an email service from Basecamp. I signed up as soon as possible and I could see how it transformed the way I deal with email. My inbox is no longer full of unread emails because HEY gives me the tools to manage it efficiently. I can choose to reply later to an email, set it aside or even decide to never hear from them again.

HEY put me back in control of my inbox and I’d love to help GitHub developers by giving them similar tools. I thought if it can work with email, why not GitHub notifications?

Overall, I felt that I couldn’t just give this idea up, so here I am. Since October 8th, 2020 I’ve been sending a newsletter every Sunday about the development process and sharing everything along the way. This newsletter also keeps me accountable, because I know at least one person is looking forward to reading it and I don’t want to let them down.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

With Lotus, I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake of overthinking every single detail and dreaming about the perfect result. I’ve done that before and what happens is you start building it, get disappointed if it isn’t remotely as beautiful as it was in your head and it goes to the trash.

Instead, I create an interface around a feature that solves a problem I want to tackle. It may not be perfect in the beginning, but at least I can get the idea across and see how that feature works in the real world.

I start with a blank canvas on Excalidraw (the sketching tool I use) and just start freestyling. Here’s how the first sketch of Lotus looked like in the beginning:

my-journey-developing-a-mac-app-for-managing-github-notifications

And here’s how it looks 4 months later:

my-journey-developing-a-mac-app-for-managing-github-notifications

Then I keep iterating and polishing small details as I go. Sometimes I realize that a feature just doesn’t make sense, so I simply let it go and delete it. It feels good being able to do that when you’re solo because it’s not easy to get everyone on board when you're working in a team of product managers, engineers, designers, marketers, etc.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I’m really bad at marketing, so I’m definitely not the best person to give advice on this, but here’s what I’ve been doing to let people know about Lotus so far.

  1. Publish a weekly newsletter to give a “behind the scenes” look at the development process, new features, and challenges.
  2. Maintain a landing page with an overview of the main features.
  3. Re-publish newsletters on the website to let visitors read them without subscribing to the newsletter.
  4. Posting on Twitter when a newsletter is sent out, new features are added, or sharing GIFs of product features or neat animations, which people seem to enjoy the most!

During the beta phase, I was also chatting with every person directly instead of sending out mass updates. That way I could learn about the issues they were having with GitHub and what Lotus was doing wrong or right and iterate from there.

Don’t wait for the opportunity to present itself, start today.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Even though I launched less than a week ago, I already feel that it changed me personally and for the better.

The single most important thing I learned is to show up. Show up consistently, no matter what. Even if yesterday was my birthday and I’m having a huge hangover today, I know I have to send out a weekly newsletter, because consistency is key. That’s not a joke, that’s what actually happened this January!

I’m also happy that I made the right call to go with the technologies I know well, like JavaScript and Electron. I could’ve gone with SwiftUI, but I don’t know Swift. If I did, I’d probably spend most of my time figuring out how to send an HTTP request using Swift, when I can do the same task in 5 seconds with JavaScript.

New technologies are great, and I’m still going to try SwiftUI. However, stay with the tools you know, if you’re serious about your idea and want to see it cross the finish line.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

The tool I’m relying the most on is Buttondown for publishing my newsletter. Best thing is? It’s also made by an indie developer!

I use Vercel for hosting a website for Lotus and a server for auto-updating the app, which is powered by Electron. I use HEY for Work for @getlotus.app email and link it to my personal @hey.com email so that I have all email in one inbox, which is super convenient.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I absolutely love listening to the Indie Hackers podcast and learning about the life-changing stories of indie developers around the world. I like discovering various strategies to market and sell your product. There truly isn’t a single answer to success and guests on this podcast prove it.

I’m a huge fan of Basecamp and their books, I have all of them and I even have two copies of some, I don’t know why. HEY, an email service by the Basecamp team, was and is a huge influence for Lotus and me personally.

I’m also a mega fan of Offscreen magazine by Kai Brach. It’s about designers, developers, founders, and all kinds of creatives, who love their craft and are putting out spectacular work out there. It’s a print magazine (there’s no digital version) and there’s something magical waiting for every issue to arrive in my literal mailbox.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

Don’t wait for the opportunity to present itself, start today.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Vadim Demedes,   Founder of Lotus
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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