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This is a response to Rand Fishkin's blog post "24 things I know now that I wish I knew then" which is itself a response to Rae Hoffman's "Entrepreneurial Lessons: 48 Things I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then"

  1. "Premature optimisation" applies to nearly everything (automation, scale, others?). The famous Paul Graham adage "Do things that don't cale" is the same advice as "premature optimisation is the root of all evil". Think about it.
  2. No one cares what you do - they will all forget your embarrassing marketing gaffs or shitty 1st version of your software. Ship and self-promote fearlessly. You'll learn along the way how you should actually do it.
  3. Your business will take at least 5 years to do anything interesting.
  4. Don't pay attention to the tech press (and MOST OF ALL the "valuations and funding" press)
  5. You don't have to move as fast as you think you do (this is a lift from Mike McDermot, CEO Freshbooks from this post)
  6. Play life like a game of chess: look at the situation as it is now and ignore what you had planned up until this point (I learned this one by playing lots of games of chess simultaneously to the point that I was unable to remember individual game plans so I had to assess each board as it lay - very powerful stuff)
  7. Value your family and your friendships - celebrate what's amazing every day in your life and use it to give you perspective (and help keep you from the "deferred living" trap)
  8. Not everyone gets rich in their early 20s and you won't feel any less fantastic if you manage to "succeed" at any time in your life.
  9. VC funding works in a really specific set of circumstances and results in acqui-hires most of the time: it's NOT like being given money.
  10. You don't need funding yet.
  11. Your first business should not be a heavy technical investment even if you are a coder.
  12. Become profitable at anything that doesn't take up all your time, rinse, repeat.
  13. Don't invest in product, invest in outcomes.
  14. Don't write your own software, even if you're a coder, unless you want to go down the VC/YC acqui-hire route.
  15. The only thing that matters in a new business is sales. All activity should stem from that: marketing, customer service, development.
  16. The market is huge, and you can compete. There isn't only one dry cleaner in New York.
  17. First mover advantage is almost always bullshit.
  18. Frugality creates opportunity. Just because you're planning on being rich, doesn't mean you can spend like you already are.

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PickDrop is available for download free of charge. If you use and enjoy it, please feel free to donate via PayPal.

A couple of weeks ago, I created a command line bourne shell utility that let you "pick" files up from multiple locations on your computer then "drop" them all in one place. I uploaded it to GitHub (My First Project (TM)) and posted it on Hacker News (where it sailed off the "newest" page and into oblivion) and also on reddit, where some awesome shell scripting gurus contributed improvements to my crappy first version.

It was fun, and more than anything I now really understand what GitHub means when they say "social coding".

That day I was already using PickDrop quite a bit and finding it very handy. I thought it would be great if there were a Pick and Drop item in the Finder context menu on OSX. Since OSX is, after all, a Unix distribution, and since the original command line utility was written in the bourne shell it should be portable.

I did a bit of hunting around and found that I could create an Automator script pretty easily and call it a "Service" (in OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard) and have it just execute the scripts for me. After a couple of hours poking around with Automator I had PickDrop running in the Finder context menu and it was actually kind of cool.

So cool, in fact, that I thought "this might be a neat thing to put on the Mac App store". I did a quick search for some information about uploading to the app store but couldn't really find any detailed information. It looked as though I had to actually sign up with the Apple developer program (and pay them 120 semolians) before I found out any real information. I wasn't even sure I could make this really work as an installer yet so I decided to get a working installer before I shelled out the signup fee.

About 12 hours later, after praying to the Voodoo High Priestess that is PackageMaker and getting some friends to test the installer (seriously, PackageMaker is a dark art, I wouldn't wish that hell on anyone) I had a package that I thought I could upload to the Mac App store, so I went and joined up.

The signup process was relatively hassle free and the support team was responsive when I appealed their decision to require me to get a note from my doctor to verify my identity (because I had used my initials as they appear on my credit card in one place, and my full name in another). The process took about 48 hours to complete and then I had access to all the documentation and information about uploading.

One thing I notice on the "Submitting to the Mac App store page is":

Using the PackageMaker application to archive your application is not supported.

No wonder! It's a pretty lousy piece of software, that's for sure.

Of more concern, though, is that it states that an app should only install files to the following locations:

~/Library/Application Support/<app-identifier>
~/Library/<app-identifier>
~/Library/Caches/<app-identifier>

Since there's no way to make an item appear in the Finder context menu other than to install it to ~/Library/Services/ that means I can't distribute PickDrop via the Mac App store.

The first thing on the page regarding "Submitting to the Mac App Store" is a notice that says:

Important: This is a preliminary document. Although it has been reviewed for technical accuracy, it is not final...

So I figured maybe they just hadn't thought of the fact that someone might want to sell an Automator workflow as a service to add an item to the Finder context menu. It is, after all, a pretty dinky little "app" and possibly an edge case they had not considered.

I emailed developer support who replied within only a few hours (one thing is for sure: the developer support is responsive!) with the following:

Thank you for contacting Apple Developer Support regarding the Mac Developer Program. Developers should be testing and developing their apps in line with the Mac Developer Program License Agreement and the App Store Review Guidelines.

Fair enough. At this point I give up on the idea of distributing my package in the Mac App store and figure I'll just stick it online with a PayPal donate button instead and see what happens.

Something doesn't feel right ...

As dinky as this application is, this whole process really got me thinking about the Apple Developer program. The fact that they're expecting me to conform to their guidelines and use only their tools and submit applications in a very particular way makes me pretty uncomfortable.

Generally, I don't set out to build an application, then decide what to build. I generally come up with some idea or scratch my own itch and then decide that it's something I could monetise or that I'd like to share with others.

In his article "App is Crap (why Apple is bad for your health)" I think Mark Suster really hits the nail on the head when he says that the Apple App store is "... a channel disguised in business clothing."

I can't help but be reminded of Steve Ballmer frantically screaming "DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS!" and the countless thousands of windows only application boxes you see in bargain bins at your local Post Office.

It's not that one can categorically say that development and distribution using Apple's tools and channels is a Bad Thing(TM). Certainly many people are making a fine living from developing for the App Store(s), but to me the browser still feels like a much better place to do business.

Filed under: business | View Comments

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Building software in the real world - the Working Software blog

We write about our experiences, ideas and interests in business, software and the business of software. We also sometimes write about our own products (in order to promote them).