Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! I’m Siddharth, an iOS engineer based in Singapore, and I just crossed $5000 in revenue from my first indie app DisplayBuddy, which I’ve been working on alongside my full-time job.
DisplayBuddy is a Mac app that lets you control external displays connected to your Mac directly from your menu bar - no need to touch those clunky monitor buttons! The app first shipped in Feb 2021 - 15 updates & zero advertising later, I'm at 900 happy customers.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
At the beginning of the pandemic when WFH was becoming a thing, everyone including my colleagues started investing in amazing desk setups, buying up fancy monitors and standing desks. One of these was a teammate of mine who bought a gigantic 49 inch Dell ultrawide monitor. He used this monitor with his work laptop and gaming PC and often used to talk about how painful it is to switch between his PC and the laptop on his monitor navigating through the monitor’s interface using that little joystick under it. I had a two-monitor setup at home and had a similar problem - during the day the monitors were too dim, and during the night they were too bright. I had to manually adjust these settings on both monitors every day - and that sucked.
There are so many people - that you’ll find someone who values the aspect that you focused on your product and will pay for it.
I remembered using some specific software provided by LG for one of its older monitors which were able to change the brightness directly from Windows - and always wondered how that worked. After a bit of research, I learned about DDC/CI - a common protocol most monitors support to allow controlling display settings from their input. I hacked up a quick script based on openly available protocol spec and a few examples on Github - and it worked! The tech almost seemed like magic - I was changing my monitor’s brightness and contrast directly from my Mac!
I quickly tried it out on another monitor from a different brand, and that worked just as well! This tech got me super excited, and I knew there was no way I was ever going to touch that tiny button under my monitor again.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I started work on the prototype of DisplayBuddy in November of 2020. The initial problem I wanted to solve was the one I faced the most - adjusting the brightness of both my monitors from my Mac. I remember naively thinking I would finish this up in a weekend - a weekend that lasted 3 months to give it the polish of something I could release out to users. And this was just my MVP - the simplest and most functional interface I could think of - an unobtrusive menu bar app that has 3 sliders - brightness, contrast, and volume (for monitors with built-in speakers).
Once you make the first dollar on the internet - there’s no going back. To see users use your product and appreciate it is a big motivation for what I do
Of course, I had a lot of ideas - Input switching, advanced display detection (to figure out which monitors had speakers), hotkeys, support for adjusting color gains, display calibration, and so many more. But keeping the MVP spirit, I focused on polishing the first version and getting it out to some of my first users (my friends who I knew used monitors) and getting feedback from them. I released the first beta of the app free literally as a reply to a tweet from @jpeguin who generously retweeted:
I kept it super simple to give feedback as well - I created a google form and linked it from inside the app. I had a total of 15 users give and most of them told me they loved the app and used it daily. This was my signal that the app was useful, and I decided to go ahead with further polishing the app for a public release. My goal was now to ship the first version publically as fast as possible, and then continue adding features later.
I kept the things on the server-side simple - I used webflow to make a website for DisplayBuddy and bought a paid plan to export it out and host it for free on GithubPages. For the actual payment - I used Gumroad, which easily allowed accepting payments from all over the world without worrying about the details. Another fantastic feature of Gumroad was that it generated a unique license key for each purchase - which was enough for me to set up licensing for the app without worrying about keeping a backend server running to manage user licenses.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After almost 8 weeks of building some of the required functionalities to the app (licensing, onboarding, tutorial, etc), and building the website and logo, I released the first version of DisplayBuddy on Twitter on 1st Feb 2021 for $3.99. My first paid customer was my dad.
Original Launch Tweet here.
I had a very small following on Twitter (~250), but it was the community I engaged with the most - I followed people who I’m constantly inspired by and learned from. The tweet got a little bit of traction, and I got my very first paid users from the platform.
I got extremely lucky in the sense that one of my beta users turned out to be someone from the press - Oliver from iMore - an amazing press publication focused on Apple users. Turns out, he faced the same problem of brightness with his monitors as I and loved using the app. I reached out to him the moment I launched my public version and asked him if he’d like to review the app. He agreed, and published a review of DisplayBuddy on iMore a few days later! This was my first big exposure and helped me get my first set of users to 50.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I’ve had a very unusual run of promoting DisplayBuddy to users. Instead of the general SEO or Ads route - I’ve found the maker community of Twitter to be extremely helpful. A lot of times, the indie developers and makers on Twitter I’m constantly inspired by giving back by asking about what other people are building - and they retweet the stuff they like. I luckily replied to some such posts, and people with 50k+ followers at times retweeted my product, which led to amazing spikes in getting the word out and sales of DisplayBuddy.
I also often enlisted the help of my brother @madebytushar (who’s luckily a designer) to build some marketing images and icons for DisplayBuddy, like the Apple style one we did to demonstrate the features in the 10th update to DisplayBuddy.
I’m still not a very regular poster on Twitter, which explains my low follower count. But Twitter is the most valuable social network I’m part of. If you follow the right people (other builders and makers for me) it’s a constant source of learning and inspiration.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
DisplayBuddy has now settled at an average MRR of $600, getting almost all sales from searches on Google and past reviews and features on press websites and podcasts. I’m also proud to announce that DisplayBuddy has become part of SetApp recently - a Netflix like collection of 200+ high-quality Mac and iOS apps for a flat monthly subscription, and has about 6000+ users on the platform.
It’s quite surprising to me that my most prominent traffic source is Google, considering I’ve never spent any time on SEO - but I guess that’s the benefit of making a super niche product with few competitors.
I still often use Twitter to get the word out about new features I’m building, and what the roadmap of the product looks like. I’ve since created an account for @DisplayBuddy on Twitter as well, where I tweet about offers and the latest updates to the app.
One thing that hasn’t worked great for me is reaching out to press publications. I’ve reached out to a lot of them, but have practically got no replies or features. I did get lucky with some podcasts, like MacBreakWeekly, which gave me a ton of users - but that happened organically.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
While DisplayBuddy is more of an indie app than a full-fledged business - It’s been an amazing experience for me running it solo, wearing multiple hats as a product manager, engineer, designer, and marketer.
The biggest thing I’ve learned is - once you make the first dollar on the internet - there’s no going back. To see users use your product and appreciate it is a big motivation for what I do. And it’s also a big boost in confidence - considering someone would pay their hard-earned cash for something I’ve built.
If you’re on the fence on starting anything, even on the side - my main advice would be to ship an MVP. Figure out how you can solve a problem or bring value to someone as soon as possible, and ship it. There will always be competition, and yes they might be better / cheaper than what you’re building. But if you know you can do even one aspect of that product better - it doesn’t hurt to try. There’s always a market, and there’s always someone who values the aspect you’re focusing on and is willing to pay more for it.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I’ve kept the stack for DisplayBuddy deliberately simple.
I created the website of DisplayBuddy on Webflow- and exported it using a paid plan to host it on GitHub Pages - which is hassle-free for hosting static websites and is free.
To sell the product and process customer payments, I use Gumroad. Another aspect that works super well for me on Gumroad is it makes it super easy to give out refunds - which I use because DisplayBuddy provides a 7-day no-questions-asked refund. Gumroad also generates a unique license key for each purchase (and they provide an API for it) - because of which I don’t need my server to manage user licenses and keep it up 24x7.
The app itself is a native Mac app and is built in Swift, Objective-C, and C on my Macbook Pro.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
This has been straight-up twitter for me. I've been following a lot of makers and people in the iOS / Apple developer community on the platform for a while - and everything they make and share with the community has been super inspiring for me. I’ve also tried being more active myself, often sharing my journey building DisplayBuddy in the hope it inspires someone else.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Ship your MVP and get user feedback early. Your first users will serve as the best guides for what feature or aspect of your product you should focus on and build on.
Don’t worry about competitors/pricing - no matter how saturated the market might feel - and this is something that has perpetually stopped me from shipping my projects - I’ve realized there’s always space for more. There are so many people - that you’ll find someone who values the aspect that you focused on your product and will pay for it. DisplayBuddy had free, open-source competitors, but I still managed to get a healthy amount of users because people value the aspects DisplayBuddy focused on (minimalist, functional)
Last but not the least, if you’re on the fence about starting something - JUST DO IT. Keep up the MVP spirit, and try to build a business with a smaller initial investment to validate and test your idea out. This applies everywhere, even for traditional businesses - want to start a boutique? Try selling a dress or two online to see if users are willing to pay for your work. Want to open a bookstore? Start with a temporary stall in a nearby fair to see demand (my wife did this with a bunch of jewellery she crafted!)
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
At the moment, DisplayBuddy is an indie app managed and built only by a team of one - me. But I’d love to see it grow enough so I need to hire someone else to work on it!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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