Pragmatic 43: It's The Best Thing For Everybody

1 November, 2014


When you create a product the time inevitably comes when you have to either hand it over or shut it down. Marco Arment joins John to look at how they have approached the problem of letting projects go.

Transcript available
Welcome to Pragmatic. Pragmatic is a weekly discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. Exploring the real world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems. This episode is sponsored by Wet Frog Studios. Visit to get in touch and take advantage of a special offer of the app, icon and logo design service exclusively for Pragmatic listeners. Also, sponsored this week by Audible. Visit for a free audiobook download. We'll talk more about our sponsors during the show. I'm your host John Chidjie and I'm joined once again today by my guest host Marco Arment. How are you doing Marco? Good, how are you? And thank you for coming to the rescue with the live stream too, by the way. Anytime. Okay, so once again, we are live streaming the show, although this time via Marco, and you can join in the chat room as well. It's now possible to see a list of topics that I'll be covering on the show in coming weeks on the website at If you're not a member, you'll be able to see the list, but if you sign up, you'll be able to vote on the existing list and it suggests whatever topic you'd like covered on the show in future. I'll be locking in episodes a week or two ahead of time. People can see the topic and co-host or guest host ahead of time. So you can tune in and you'll know what to expect. The new features are live on the site right now. And yes, the site's back up. Don't wait. Go check them out now. I've had quite a few really good suggestions already, including DRM, RFIDs, and also a few others. So go check them out. So, it's great to have you back, Marco, because last time we did talk about coffee, which is awesome, of course. of course and I got a lot of great feedback which we've already done. However, I really wanted to talk to you about an issue that I've come across and that I've seen other people come across and I know that you must have dealt with this at some point, several times in fact. And it's the idea of when you create something, being able to at some point let it go as in either handing it over to someone else or simply knowing when it's time to move on. I know that you've done this several times in your career. I guess just a bit of a recap for the people that don't know it. There was your involvement with Tumblr, then there was Instapaper, which I suppose was more entirely your baby, then the magazine. We should probably stop there because Overcast is still relatively new. Well, actually... No, just kidding. No announcement on the show. No. So I guess the, where I wanted to start is sort of set a little, a few, few little boundaries on this discussion. So I'm not talking about contract work clearly 'cause contract work, that's mainly what I've done. And it's pretty clear upfront when you create something, it's gonna be handed over to a client at the end of the contract. And sometimes you're handing over the finished product. Sometimes you're handing over the product plus all of the design documentation. In the case of software, that would include the source code, all the comments, all the design documentation as well. Depends on the contract, but generally in my wheelhouse anyway, in control systems engineering, we'll hand over the whole lot. And so I'm not talking about maintenance contracts necessarily or support contracts, you know, when your contractor creates something specifically and then hand over when you're done, talking primarily about areas where you are creating a product yourself. So I guess I just want to start with How has your view of this changed? Has it changed? Has it evolved since you started out developing Instapaper to where you are now? - Well, I think the biggest thing is when I started developing Instapaper and for most of the time that I was working on Instapaper, I never really knew, actually for all the time I was working on it, I never really knew what it was like to have a project that had a life that extended beyond my interest in it. Or to have a project that could continue if I stopped working on it. Before that I had basically little personal things, mostly little apps I wrote for myself or little stupid things that never went anywhere even when I was working on them. And I had Tumblr which was my full-time job, but that was, I was never the only person on Tumblr, So that could continue without me and did. And actually did quite well without me. And there's like a blog or personal web pages and stuff, but that's a little bit different. Web pages kinda, well, blogs and personal podcasts, anything that features you as the writer or speaker or otherwise the main or only creative voice, that pretty much can't continue without you. So InstaPaper was kind of the first thing that I worked on that really could continue without me that I also owned and that I was the only person running. So it was entirely new to me. Like when I started thinking that I wanted to get out of it, that whole concept of like, "Well, I could stop working on this." That was an unfamiliar concept to me, which is one of the reasons why, like I think I've said before, I probably should have sold it about a year earlier than I actually did. At that point I was already tired of working on it and I was already getting very overwhelmed with the amount of stuff that it needed to really keep up, to stay maintained, to stay competitive and to keep getting better. It was really not a one-person job for the entire year before I actually sold it. Okay, so when you did actually, when you did sell it and I guess this is one of the things I did based on because I've been listening to you for years and reading up on a little bit of refresher before we did this. So you sold a majority stake to Betaworks. Correct. Is that correct? Yeah. So do you still have a part stake in this and you can, if you don't want to answer that, that's fine. fine. Yeah, I do. Yeah. Okay. So, in terms of you actually being involved with any support for that, that ended long ago. Is that right? Yeah. I mean, really almost as soon as I sold it. I mean, like, you know, there was some time where I had to like transfer everything to them and stuff like that. But really, like, as soon as the code base and everything was in their hands, I was effectively done. I still go in there for occasional meetings, just like kind of like just a where they you know they basically keep me posted on you know, "Oh here's here's what we're doing and here's kind of where we're going next." And they will occasionally ask my opinion on something but it's it's very rare I mean because they don't need to it's it's theirs now it's not it's no longer mine. And so I'm very hands-off you know I gave I basically transferred as much of my knowledge and opinions as possible up front, and then they've been running with it and they've been doing a fantastic job. Okay, fair enough. So, it was... So, when you did actually hand it over, it was... I'm guessing based on what you're saying, it was more of a weight off your shoulders and a bit of a relief in the sounds of it then. Oh yeah, I mean, you know, as I said, like running it for the last year of it, it was just, I was just accumulating guilt basically because I knew that this service could be so much more. But you know, at that time, this was, oh geez, what was this, late 2012, early 2013, whenever this was, you know, this service obviously needed a lot of help. I was really only interested in working on the iOS app. The web app was always a mess because I just didn't care. See also the current Overcast web app. Yeah, I was about to. I was about to. Which also needs a lot of help. Yeah, because I'm looking at the sequence that you've ordered, the sequence that you've released things, then that is consistent. So you've put a lot of time and effort into the iOS app. And honestly, a lot of, I mean, most of that is just because I enjoy doing the iOS app more, and it's more interesting to me. Another part of that is that the iOS apps really have a much greater rate of return on investment of time. And so if I'm trying to figure out where to devote limited time, it's almost always a better idea to put it into the iOS app than the web app. Web apps can be just barely good enough, just barely functional, and that's good enough for most people. And the incremental value that you get out of press or increased sales or increased user happiness out of making the web app better is so much smaller than making the iOS app better. Well the primary window into the service, if you want to think of it as a service I suppose, is going to be through the iOS app. So I understand the reason to focus on that as well. And I mean from a control point of view as well, you have far more control over that than you do over the web because you know they could be, you know, who knows what they're running, what browser they're on, what machine they're running it on. Whereas with iOS you've got a minimum standard that you know that is going to be met. So it's I guess that's also maybe that's a consideration. Totally, but you know even beyond that, even beyond like basic web compatibility crap, there's just a lot more value in both customer happiness and in you know press and possible other income. There's so much more value in just making making the iOS app better. There's another thing that just occurred to me and what you've just said is that I thought for quite some time that you were a big proponent of PHP and now you're telling me you'd rather write in Objective-C. Is that what you're telling me? Oh yeah. One of the reasons why I write the web app in PHP is because I don't care about it. Because I know PHP very, very well and I know how to make a web app that I won't need to care about in PHP. By that I mean, like Overcast, the Overcast web service had its first downtime two days ago. Like it was literally a hundred percent uptime until two days ago and the only reason it wasn't two days ago is because lineout had a network issue on one of their switches. So the servers were all fine it was just literally you just couldn't reach them. Okay. And you know I I don't want you know I've been I've been in the position before of having to babysit servers and it's terrible. And so I architected my web services ever since then to need as little attention as possible. And so I know how to do that very well in PHP. I know very well how to make a web service that will not require babysitting, that will not wake me up in the middle of the night, that will almost never have random downtime because something weird crashed. And so that's what I do and PHP is really good for that. There's a lot of of problems with the language, certainly. It's not perfect. And if you think your language of choice is perfect, you don't know it well enough. But certainly PHP has a lot more flaws than many languages, but it is still, like, it is very possible to still write great code in PHP. The language will not prevent you from writing good code. And a "better" language won't prevent you from writing bad code either. There's a whole lot of terrible PHP code out there because the language is really easy to learn and so a lot of extreme newbies who don't know how to write good code yet write PHP code and so it gets a bad rap. Same thing happened with Visual Basic, another language I learned. Visual Basic had a similar reputation of just being a terrible language. And the fact is, you know, yeah, the language had some problems, but like that's not most of the problem. Like it's, the language was mostly fine and you could write good enough code on it, just fine. Like, you know, so anyway. - Yeah, I don't mind Visual Basic. I have a love/hate thing for it. I see its utility as a companion to things like Excel and Word, more so Excel, but you know, and a few of the Scatter packages that I've used also use Visual Basic as a scripting language, Which is kind of handy, I guess, but ultimately, I do think it has had a bit of a bad rap as well. I agree with that. Yeah, and the reality is, as I said, it's hard to make a return on investment on a web service. And so that's why I just go with the language that I already know very well. I don't think it would be productive of me to spend a whole bunch of time learning a new web language when my interest is not there. and the kind of products I make, the money's not there. Yeah, that's fair enough. OK, so I just want to sort of bring it back to where I was, where we sort of started, which is the... When you came to doing the magazine, did you approach it differently, even subtly differently, with more of an intention that at some point you would, you may hand this over to somebody else? Did you approach that any differently second time around, second major product? Not really. I mean with the magazine, so I launched it and pretty soon after launch I realized oh I've made a terrible mistake. Okay. Pretty soon after launch I realized oh okay this actually like most of the work of running an iOS magazine is not making the app good which is the part I enjoyed. It's you know all the editorial stuff of running a magazine. Getting stories, you know, working with the authors, all the paperwork, you know, that's all that stuff is by far the majority of the work of running a magazine even if it happens to be an app. So I realized very quickly I needed help because I couldn't keep doing that and also you know a magazine is like it's on a fixed schedule you know ours was every two weeks so it's like you have to do that every two weeks no matter what time of year it is, no matter how busy you are with your family stuff or your other work stuff, like that is a fixed schedule and like it is relentless like that that will not go away and so it's like every two weeks you have to be putting out X number of stories that you have to have you know bought and edited and dealt with and formatted and gotten photos for, you know, optionally. So the workload was was both substantial and and also relentless. So I immediately hired help. I hired Glenn Fleischman, who is the current editor. So I hired him to be the editor, and I basically was, we made up titles for ourselves, 'cause we didn't know. He basically told me, based on his knowledge of the actual magazine industry, like roughly what roles we were both doing, and he made up some titles for us. I don't even remember what they were. I think I was like, executive editor maybe? I don't know. Whatever it was, he was really the editor and I was doing final yes/no on pitches. And of course doing all the paperwork stuff. Anyway, so basically what happened was a few months into that arrangement, subscriber numbers were going down and the money was starting to get substantially reduced as a result. And I realized, I don't think I can make this work. It can break even for a while, but it's gonna be hard for me to make enough money on this to make it worth all this time that I'm putting into it, because I could be doing something else. And so I talked to Glenn about it, and he said he was interested in putting more time into it and continuing it and trying to expand it. He was interested in doing website improvements, which as you know I wasn't. And things like that. So he was interested in expanding it and so he said, "Hey, can we work out some arrangement "where I buy it from you through whatever we can afford "and agree to?" And I said, "Yeah, let's do that." And it was a no-brainer because I already wanted to be out of it. When I was first thinking about selling Instapaper, I called my friend Brent Simmons. You probably know him from Vesper and things like that, that news wire before that. 'Cause Brent has sold things before. And there aren't a lot of indie developers who have sold things so you can ask questions like this too. But I'm fortunate enough to be friends with Brent. So I called Brent and I said, hey, I'm thinking about selling Instapaper. What do you think? "Here's my fears and here's my guilt and what do you think?" And he gave me the best advice I had ever heard at the time which was, if you don't feel like working on it anymore, you should sell it. And it's the best thing for everybody, for you and for the users, that someone takes over who wants to work on it. 'Cause if you don't wanna work on it anymore, but you still do keep it, then it's gonna languish or you're gonna half-ass it. And that's no good for anybody. And so a lot of the guilt that I felt of, well, do I really wanna sell it? Are people gonna be mad? Are they gonna say I sold out? Are people gonna be upset that I don't own it anymore? Are they gonna be mad at me? All this stuff. A lot of that kinda washed away when I talked to Brent he was so right. And so I've applied that since then. So I sold a new paper when I didn't want to work on it anymore, and I sold the magazine when I didn't want to work on it anymore. And if I ever sell Overcast, the reason will either be that somebody offered me a billion dollars, which is unlikely, or that I didn't want to work on it anymore. Fair enough. All right, well before we go any further, a few more things I wanted to talk about, we'll talk a little bit about our first sponsor which is Wet Frog Studios. Selling a business or an app is a lot like selling a house. You can take a huge amount of time and money redecorating and bringing the house up to scratch and modernizing it. You can take great photos and build a website showing off the house but there's one missing piece that can stop buyers from ever walking through the door and that's curb appeal. The The old saying goes, "Don't judge a book by its cover," but frankly, most of us still do. And people do the same with business logos, app icons, and books. Or e-books these days. Without some curb appeal, people don't usually take the time to check out what's inside, and all of your hard work could go unnoticed. One great example of curb appeal done well is our Pragmatic Show Art. Well, I think so. I've had lots of great feedback about it. The artwork is a result of working with Aaron over at Wet Frog Studios, and I can't recommend him highly enough. Remember the awesome design icon that Drafts had for the first couple of years? Aaron designed that. He also designed the branding for several popular blogs including,, lots and lots of other recognizable apps, businesses, and websites. So if you're looking to add some curb appeal, Aaron can help. One of the things I really enjoyed about working with Aaron is that he was able to focus in very quickly on what I needed. He took what I wanted and came back with something that was practical and met all of my requirements and required very little rework. So it was fantastic because it actually went so much faster than I expected it to. It was efficient and I got a good result. So as a special offer just for Pragmatic listeners, Aaron is offering his app icon and logo design service for half the normal rate. Now that's an amazing deal to get access to a professional of Aaron's caliber and experience. There are plenty of other graphic designers out there that can give you something good, Aaron will take the time to make you something great. Visit to get in touch and take advantage of this amazing deal while it lasts. Thank you once again to Wet Frog Studios for sponsoring Pragmatic. The thing that I'm, the theme that I'm, that I'm hearing a lot there, Marco, is that when it reaches a point where you're, you no longer have the drive in a specific project, you're okay with, with, with bundling it up and handing it over for someone else to run with, which is fine. I guess what's interesting is that I've met a lot of people, quite a few people that have trouble letting go, and you don't seem to be one of them. - Well, I mentioned that I sold Instapaper like a year too late. It's because I did have trouble letting go. And I'm still not amazingly good at it, but I'm getting better over time, as I've done it more than zero times now, because I see what happens. You know, like people always, not always, most people overestimate their importance to a particular task. It's like, you know, people almost always think, like when they leave a job, like, oh, this place is gonna fall apart without me. You know, and it usually doesn't. You know, usually people pick up the slack and you aren't as irreplaceable as you assumed and everything just, it's fine. Everyone makes do. - The world keeps turning, yeah. - Exactly. And the same thing happens with apps and things you sell. As long as you leave it in the hands of somebody and as long as they have some kind of incentive to keep it going and to do well at it, it'll be fine. It's no big deal. And you know, you're not just handing it over for free. You are getting some amount of money for it, even if it's small. You're getting some amount of money for it, but also you are getting the freedom of not having, like, of all the work that that was, that's no longer your problem. That's no longer on you. And so you are then free to go do something else. And that's very valuable, especially if there's something else that you want to be working on. That's very valuable. So that I think if you're going to sell something or if you're thinking about selling something that should be a motivating factor that this won't be your problem anymore. You will get to work on something else. Now if that's scary sounding to you, like if you don't want someone else directing this thing, taking it over, bringing it in new places that maybe you necessarily wouldn't have or doing things differently from how you would do it. And if you don't want to be working on something else, then you shouldn't sell it. Then it's not the right time. As soon as the idea of not working on it feels like a relief to you, then I think you probably should consider selling it. But of course, that will come with a loss of control. If you're not ready to give up control, you're not ready to sell it. That's the part of the letting go that I've seen people struggle with, is because we build this emotional attachment. People say that that project is "your baby". You pour so much time and effort and care and attention into something, you become emotionally attached to it. to it. And that makes it more difficult to let it go. And it makes it difficult to let other people mess with your baby, as it were. And I absolutely agree with your with the sentiment, which is, you know, once letting it go is a relief, you know, it's time. I think that's a really good way of summarizing. And I think that ultimately, when people do start down the road on a project, they have to keep in mind that at some point, you know, a handover is going to happen inevitably. I mean, people move on from jobs, like you say, but if it's a project that you're building, no project is going to last forever. Nothing can be indefinite. I mean, if you're building on a platform, the platforms could become, will become obsolete. There is no platform still around today that was around 40 years ago. At least I'm reasonably sure there isn't. Let me think that through. I don't think so. I'm sure someone will have follow up and tell me that I'm wrong. but eventually, inevitably, you're going to have to hand it over at some point or it's going to have to be wrapped up. Either way, similar consequence but still. So, okay. One of the other things that you mentioned that I want to talk about is you said that you were concerned how people would perceive would perceive your handing over of some of the stuff and selling I think you used the expression that you may be selling out. Yep. One of the things that I've thought about a lot is why do people think that? Do you think it's a pervasive sort of feeling that large corporations from a corporate takeover point of view I'm going to go and I'm going to acquire this product and everyone loved this product and now I'm going to buy it bring it into the fold and it's going to get no care or attention, fall apart and within a year or two it'll disappear Do you think that's the reason why or do you think there's something more to it? I'm just trying to get my head around why people would just jump to that conclusion, "Oh, they're selling out." I don't know. I think a lot of it is that whole, "I had their album before they were cool" kind of thing. People want to hold on to that, but I don't know. I honestly have no idea. no idea. Well, see, I've been trying to understand it because to me it's, I mean, about that, I had this thing before they were famous or that before it was popular or whatever else. I mean, what value is that anyway? I mean, it's like saying first, like on the first blog post entry or something. I didn't get that either. But yeah, I think it's interesting that people would jump to that conclusion because there's so much more to it than simply selling out. And the connotation is that it's a bad thing. It's like, well, how do you know it's a bad thing? If you're going to go and do it like you said, let's say you've lost your interest, you do a half-assed job of it as a result, not because of any other reason other than you've just lost interest and it happens to everybody eventually. You lose interest in what you're doing. It's just, you know, just I think the nature of repetitive, well, some things I guess inevitably boil down to being repetitive tasks after a certain period of time, after that initial act of creation has passed and then you're into a maintenance sort of cycle, then things become more monotonous, more repetitive, more, you know, and less fun and less interesting. So that leads you to do a half-assed job. Then if you don't sell it, then you could actually be doing a disservice to it, more of a disservice to it by not selling it. So the practical conclusion is you have to have to think, well, okay, if I hang onto it, I make it worse. Selling it is the best option. And yet, hang on a minute. I'm being criticized for selling it. Like I'm not saying that you were, but I'm just saying, I've seen that happen where people say, oh, you, this is, this person sold out of whatever and I think that that is it's very dismissive and it doesn't really evaluate the real reality of the situation and yeah anyway not sure what else to say on that one. Well and you know I think you know there's a lot to be said for how you do it you know if you're going to sell something it matters a lot you know how you sell it who you sell it to you know whether you're staying or not you know, these things are all very important things, but it's, you know, how honest you are with the customers, whether anything will change. Like, if you're selling something to Google because you're going to work for Google on something else, chances are your product's going to die within a month. And so if you sell some like beloved project and it's immediately shut down as part of the deal, that's a very different scenario versus if you sell something to someone else who's going to keep it going indefinitely. So there's certainly that and not everybody can choose options there. Sometimes people are only given one option there. But if you can choose, generally speaking it's better for you to obviously keep your product going for people who want to use it. That being said, I also was... When I finally started the process of selling Instapaper, when it came time to announce the sale. I was extremely nervous about what the reaction would be. I thought there would be tons of people screaming at me and making me feel horrible about this because I had quotes sold out or whatever. In reality, I only had literally one person complain. It's a person who complains about everything. Not John Syracuse. A not-nice person who complains it everything. And literally like out of hundreds or thousands of responses I got on that one person had a problem with it. That's a remarkable ratio. I mean I could... there's nothing else that I could say or tweet or blog that would have that kind of ratio of positivity. I could say like coffee is good and I would get you know 20% of people telling me that I'm a complete idiot like there is yeah it's shocking like how how much positivity there was and and coming back to something that we said earlier there's a lot of people like most of its papers user base never knew who I was didn't even know it was a one-person product didn't care that it was a one-person product most of the user base didn't even realize when it was sold and many Many of them still haven't realized that. And so, you know, it's really, my personal involvement in it really mattered a lot less than I thought. Like it was a lot less essential that I be the one owning and running it than I thought. Because the reality is most people just got it on the App Store or whatever and they used it as part of their life and they never even knew who I was and they certainly didn't care. That's a very good point actually because a lot of people simply don't see the developer at all. It doesn't matter what the product is. All they see is the brand, the name, Instapaper. I say I use Instapaper, yeah, that's fantastic. Do you know the developer? What's a developer? I imagine a lot of people probably would even say that. Right. I mean, a lot of people probably thought that Apple made it because everyone thinks that every app is made by Apple. That's true. I've heard that one. I haven't met anyone that said that to me yet, but I don't think I've asked the question. Start telling people that you make iPhone apps and see what they say. I made a crummy little clock once. Yeah, I heard about that. It was terrible. It was so bad. Why is it everything that you look back at, no matter how proud of it you were at the time, looks terrible a year later? I don't get it. Because you care about getting better. That's true. I suppose that's true. I guess. You should be scared if you look back on code you wrote five years ago and you said, man, that was genius. That's when you should be scared. That's a work of art. That was, I did that five years ago. No, no. Okay. You're right. I think that's, that's my limit. New litmus test for if I've lost the plot. All right, cool. Well, there's, there is actually something else I just wanted to quickly talk about, but it's going to be a short show today, so that's okay. But I just want to quickly talk about our second sponsor and then we'll get to the last point, which is Audible. So Audible is a leading provider of premium spoken audio information and entertainment that allows listeners to choose the audio versions of their favorite books. Now, why would you want to do this? Well, a lot of our day-to-day activities, you need your eyes on the job. So when there's a book you really want to read and you're so busy with other things, you just can't find that time. And that's where audio books come in. It's much easier to multitask when you're listening to music, a podcast, or an audiobook. Whether you're driving, doing housework, yard work, with Audible you can still read your favourite book, quote unquote read your book, and not miss out. It's really cool. So you can buy books individually or you can sign up for the Audible listener program which gives you book credits each month for a low monthly fee. You can download your audiobook to your PC or your Mac or Windows, phone, Android, Apple, iOS device, and listen to it wherever you might be. Now I'm a huge Douglas Adams fan so I had a look to see what Audible had in the way of his books and audiobooks. And well there's about 20 of them in their library including all the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books and my favorites the two Dirk Gently books as well as two Doctor Who episodes he was involved with including the Unfinished Shader episode. That was the basis for the first Dirk Gently book if you're into that sort of history. Anyway, the best part though is that some of the books are read by Douglas Adams himself. Now I've been listening to, I've listened to Dirk Gently's list of agency twice now, it's fantastic. Anyway, if you're not into listening to the original author read their own books, sometimes they're not the best narrator, that's fine. Often there'll be other book versions, audiobooks with a different narrator. So there's lots of options to choose from. Now Audible have got books in business, classics, fiction, history, romance, mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, self-development, kids, young adult and lots more with over 150,000 titles. That's a lot. much every genre you can think of, you're going to find what you're looking for. And right now you can get a free audio book and a 30 day trial by signing up at Please make sure you use that specific URL, for your free audio book. I'd like to thank Audible once again for sponsoring Pragmatic. So the last little piece that I want to talk about, Marco, something you sort of mentioned before briefly, I want to expand on a little bit, which is it's about not just about how you sell it, but it's about who you sell it to and taking a bit of care about who specifically you sell it to. Now with the magazine, obviously, with Glenn, it was almost a natural progression because he'd already been involved with it up until that point for several months. So I think that sort of flowed naturally and made a lot of sense. With respect to Betaworks, I'm not sure how that sort of went down. Can you tell us a little bit about how you ended up with Betaworks specifically? Yeah sure, so I knew Betaworks from the Tumblr days. They were an early investor in Tumblr and they were in New York. We'd gone to their office a number of times for various events and stuff and I talked to them a lot before. They in fact had even offered to buy Instapaper really early on in its lifetime and so I talked to them about it then and it wasn't right at the time so I said no at the time. But I was already very familiar with them. They had also, at the time I decided to sell this to them, they had also recently acquired and turned around Digg. And so I knew at that point that, you know, they were getting into this kind of like, you know, web and iOS product space pretty aggressively. And, you know, I so I knew that they had talent. I already knew them. And so like I knew the people behind it. I knew, you know, roughly the people and the kind of people who would be working on it if I sold it to them. And I knew that they were also not into throwing a bunch of money at something and having none of it work and shutting things down. They don't really do that. If they're going to get into something, they care about it. And so I knew that if I just sold it to Google or whoever, and I didn't have any other offers at the time, so not to imply that I had a a lot of choices here but I wasn't seeking offers either. So if I had sold it to somebody else, some big company, you have to look at, okay, well what use does this big company have for the thing I'm selling them? And you know, part of the deal was, I'm not going to work for you. You know, you are buying this thing from me and you are taking it from me and I'm gonna go do something else. That's the whole point of me getting out of this. No free tech support afterwards? No, not really. I used to get into a lot of trouble for that but anyway. My bosses really didn't like it but that's okay. Sorry, continue. That's alright. So, you know, the big companies, I talked to a few of the big companies earlier on in the lifespan And I always thought they were interested in buying this paper, but in fact, they really weren't. They really just were trying to hire me and they wanted to do some kind of acqui-hire deal. And the price never worked out the way I wanted it. I never, if you only wanna hire somebody, then you're only gonna be willing to pay a certain price. How much is one employee worth? No matter what you think of them, it isn't a massive amount of money. That's why acqui-hire deals usually don't tell you how much they sold for, by the way, 'cause usually it isn't very much. But, so like, you know, like the really big companies, they don't have much use for this. Like, they have no interest in keeping the service going and making the apps better. And like, they have no interest in that. It does not fit into their large strategies at all. So I knew that if I sold it to somebody big, it would probably be shut down, you know, in short order. I also knew that Betaworks could use Instapapers. So, you know, not only had they just, not only do they try to be fiscally responsible with all their projects, and so I knew that they wouldn't just like, oh, just make everything free and we'll worry about money later, and then in 12 months when it doesn't work out, we'll shut it down. That isn't how they operate. You know, they do things to be sustainable really from the start. And so that was a big plus. I also knew that it was a similar size service than many of the other things that they had. I also knew that it worked out strategically with things like Digg. Like if they can use Instapaper's analytics data to know like, oh, a bunch of people are saving this one story, maybe we should look at that for Digg. There are some cross-promotional usefulness things here, or maybe we should promote DIG from Instapaper and vice versa. So there's all sorts of reasons why I knew that Betaworks would be interested in Instapaper and that they would have an incentive to keep it going and to not ruin it or shut it down. So I realized all this one night and I immediately just emailed, I ran down from bed, I was already in bed, I ran down from bed and emailed John Borthwick at Betaworks, who I knew, and I said, "Hey, I want to sell this and I think you are the right people to sell it to." I went in there a couple days later and we worked out a deal and that was it. I didn't shop it around to anybody else because I couldn't think of anyone else who both would be willing to buy it at that time, who I could convince to buy it, and who I would want to buy it. Well, you know what I like about that the most, as I like the fact that you've reached that conclusion through a series of, you know, they fit the bill. It was a good fit, as they say. And I think that's wonderful. And I hate the connotation, well, the suggestion that, I don't know, company X has product Y and they just sell out to the highest bidder and that's all the end of it. I'm sure or rather I like to think that a lot of places that the built products and then sell them and move on to the next one that they go through a similar process. I like to think that but for whatever reason the meme seems to prevail whereby, you know, this image of some guy in a suit walking up carrying two big bags of money with dollar sign on the front of each of them and you go, you know, I'm the highest bidder here. It just, I think that it's great that there's that, the same level of care and attention that you put into the app is you also put into handing it, picking who to hand it over to. I think that's wonderful. So I just wanted to quickly mention before we wrap this up about my issues with defect and liability periods. It's sort of tangentially related because when I deliver a product under a contract, there's a period of time in the contract called the defect and liability period or DNLP, is that how they tend to abbreviate it. And during the DNLP, you're supposed to rectify defects and that's fine so long as you can agree what constitutes a defect and what doesn't. Because of course, they'll sneak things in and say, "Oh, I said it's going to be a certain color and it's not that color, it's pretty black and white." But when you're dealing with software, it's like, "Well, this page doesn't load quite quickly enough." And you're looking at there and there's a bunch of scripts running and you're like, "Well, I guess I could probably do this, probably do that and you get a budget, $5000 let's say and once your budget's gone, it's gone. So if you go and spend all that money fixing a couple of slow loading scripts on one of the scatter pages and then something breaks on the other side of the plant and you need to go and replace a bunch of things that's going to cost you a lot more than that, people get angry. So there's a very big push in the industry, in my industry anyway, that when it comes to rectifying defects, you just do enough to get by. But I tended to get a little bit too emotionally attached to my stuff and to the customers sometimes. And I tended to, you know, they'd call me up and it might even be outside the defect liability period. And "Oh, can you just come out for like half an hour or whatever, or dial in remotely and fix this." And me being young and a sucker, or I guess, I don't know, I got emotionally involved. I guess that's the problem. And I said, "Yeah, sure. Why not?" Sometimes when bosses found out they weren't impressed. So yeah. So you were violating that old wisdom that your grandmother told you. Never get emotionally attacked to your controller software. Well, exactly. If only I'd listened to my grandmother. Exactly right. And here I am doing it again. But anyway, no. So I think ultimately, there wasn't too much else I wanted to add about this, but I guess the other thing that I know I sort of asked you early on, if you approach it differently from the point of view of handing over when you're done. And I guess my background is slightly different because most of what I produce is going to be handed over in some shape or form. And I found that doing a lot of the, like not being lazy with the code and commenting it well and structuring it well, it has all sorts of other benefits. But one of the other benefits is that when it comes time to hand over at some point in the future. It makes that transition easier and it means that you're going to get less support calls, you're going to get less drawn into when they take it over and they're working on it, you're going to get less of those, you know, "Oh, can you come over and just walk us through this bit or walk us through that bit?" Because if it's well-structured, well-documented and everything, then it's less of an issue when it comes time to hand over. So I guess that'd be my only other piece of advice to anyone in that situation, I guess. Anyway, the fact is like you are not your work. In general in life, you are not your work. And whatever you're working on, whatever project you're working on, will end. No matter how personal you think it is, no matter how much you think it defines your identity, the fact is that's all limited. And at some point, everything will end. You will move on from it. At some point you will die. Everything ends. So it's important to not attach your own identity too firmly to any one work project that you do. If you want to talk more about this, you can reach me on Twitter @johnchichy. If you'd like to send any feedback, please use the feedback form on the website and that's where you'll also find the show notes for this episode under podcasts pragmatic. And if there are any topics you want me to cover, we can suggest and vote on them at once you sign up for a free account at can follow Pragmatic Show on Twitter and to see show announcements and other show-related stuff. I'd also like to thank my guest host, Marco Arment, for coming back on the show. What's the best way for people to get in touch with you, Marco? Marco Arment Twitter, Marco Arment, or go to my site, Fantastic. Occasionally, you do this podcast as well. It was accidental. I heard about it. Yep, ATP.FM. That's the one. Fantastic. I'd also like to thank the two sponsors for this episode. Firstly, Wet Frog Studios. If you're looking to add a professional touch to your app, product, company, remember, specifically visit this URL, to get a great result at half the normal price. I'd also like to thank Audible for sponsoring the show. Please make sure you use this URL, for your free audio book. Check them out today. And thanks for listening everybody. Thanks again Marco. And also thank you for letting me use your live stream. Oh, anytime. [MUSIC] (upbeat music) [MUSIC] (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [MUSIC PLAYING] (upbeat music) [Music] There's a question from Vic. If not tips to stay focused on a project? I'm not sure if that's in keeping with the topic. I don't have any anyway. No tips for focus? No, I think if you need tips to keep you focused on a project, you don't want to work on it anymore. If you want to work on it, don't need that. Yeah, that is true. Yes. So, the tip is stay enthused. No, I mean, you can't. There's nothing you can do to make yourself be interested in something that you're losing interest in. Or, like, you know, like, I mean, this is like what half of Merlin's podcasts have been about. So, listen to Back to Work. That's it. But, like, you know, if you don't actually like working on something enough that you're motivated to do it, maybe you... maybe that's not for you. Like maybe that's not the kind of work you actually want to be doing. Like you know it's so easy to to say like, "Oh I want I want to write apps or I want to write a book or I want to you know like I want to do these I want to be a jogger or whatever." If you hate jogging and every time and if you need like tons of motivation to go jogging every morning maybe you're not really into jogging. Maybe you're not really a jogger. It's fine. Like, you know, if you find the work you're doing so tedious that you need tips and tricks to stay focused, that's probably not the kind of work you want to be doing. And if you have to be doing it, that's another situation. But if this is like a personal project and you're trying to find motivation or trying to stay focused on it, then that's a problem. So Vic Hudson clarified his question a little bit about needing motivation or focus. He said he apparently has multiple things he wants to work on. He said, "I want to work on all of them and can't stay focused on one for any real length of time." This sounds like a combination of my original answer, which is like, I bet many of these things maybe you don't have, maybe you aren't motivated enough to work on them, but it's a combination of that problem and secondarily you're probably starting too many things and I mean there's there are so many things I would love to be doing right now I have so many ideas I would love to be working on that I am motivated to work on but I have to say no to most of them because I only have a certain amount of time and and and a certain amount of energy and focus and attention so the solution to that problem is not to somehow generate more time or generate more energy for yourself or focus. The solution to that problem is to say no to most of those things and to only do a very small number of things and do them very well. And that's, I mean, there's no other answer. Like that's, that's it. Or you, you know, build a company and have a bunch of a bunch of divisions and have everybody work on your, the stuff for you. But then then it's a very different job. Yeah. And requires quite a bit of capital. So, so, So if what you're doing is not fitting into the amount of time you have, then you need to reduce the number of things you're doing. Absolutely agree with everything you just said. What I would suggest, Vic, is we have sort of talked about this a little bit previously, but it's more about, in my mind, it's great to have ideas. That's fantastic. Have lots and lots of ideas. That's great. you need to pick the leading idea that you want to run with, the one that you want to see through to fruition the most. And keep that end in mind, that is your goal. If other elements, other ideas you have can be funneled towards that same end goal, great, fantastic. But you are inevitably going to have to say no to a whole bunch of them that simply aren't in alignment with that direction. I mean, that would be my suggestion. You have to pick a winner. And I know that that's not easy, but you have to. And that's why choosing the one you're most passionate about is the best answer, because that will give you the most drive and therefore the best chance for success where success is measured by completion. I'll put it that way. Yeah, I mean, like I mean, there are so many like I would love to rewrite my blogging engine again. I would love to make a program to replace Logic as a podcast editor. A lot of people would love that. Yeah, almost everybody who uses Logic to edit podcasts would love that. Pretty much. You know, I would love to make effectively like the Tumblr of podcast hosting and you know, make it really easy to host podcast websites. Like there are so many of these things that I would love to do, that I would love to... I have motivation to work on them, but if I started working on them, it would become a problem because I would have too many things that I'm juggling. Yeah, because I need one marker. Yeah, and I'm not even that good of a worker. So, I, you know, I'm not even that efficient with my time and I'm not even very disciplined. So, I have to consider, like, not only how much time I have, but the kind of worker I actually am, the kind of person I actually am. And I know that whatever I choose to do, there is no way it is getting eight hours of work every weekday. Like that is not happening. Because that's just... I'm not that focused in general. Like I have my blog and my podcast and I like to dick around on my computer and read the internet and stuff. So like I know that, you know, and I also have a family and I have real-life distractions and so I'm very aware that I'm not going to be working eight hours a day on everything. And so, I have to choose my work accordingly. Yeah, it's funny, depending on who you talk to, this is the distraction. But that's what we do. Yeah, but yeah, it depends on how you want to think about it, I guess. But because, yeah, I've had gone through the same discussion with my wife. And it's interesting, because and I end up in a similar sort of a, it's a balance and yeah you got to be very careful there's only 24 hours in a day you can't manufacture more time so you got to be smart about how you do it and am I the only person whose mind is blown by how many projects underscore David Smith actually has running I mean he makes all of us look bad I mean that guy brain melts when I look at this I'm like how can you do all this at once man's a genius but anyhow yeah he I don't know how he does it I think the answer is that he is a really good worker. Like he is very diligent and very structured with his time. Like that's, I'm pretty sure that's how he does it because... and and he also he also is very good at allocating his time. I mean you should talk to him about this but but you know he said in a number of a number of occasions like his projects basically like earn his attention by how much interest there is, how much they bring in, like and and he splits his time between things very well. Whereas I can't do that and I'm also not as disciplined as he is with overall you know work time and so I have to choose accordingly. And to make this kind of decision for yourself you have to be pretty self-aware to know what your own limitations are and a lot of people just it's hard to face that. It's hard to know that and it's hard to admit that maybe you're not the most efficient worker in the world. Yeah it's about being honest and I've talked about this only a couple of episodes ago about being honest about how much time you actually do have and how you budget your time and how you figure out if you are even in a position to take on a new project of any kind. And it's the being honest bit that people struggle with. It's so easy for me to say, be honest, Marco, but it's like, I can't make someone be honest with themselves about themselves. That's something that has to come from inside that person. And I can't make someone be honest with themselves. Exactly. And people have said that to me in the past and I'm like, I am being honest with myself. Six months later, I think back, I really wasn't being honest with myself back six months ago. But it's a tough thing. It's easy to say and it's hard to do. [8-bit music] [BLANK_AUDIO]
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Marco Arment

Marco Arment

Marco writes at his site and has a podcast with friends called the Accidental Tech Podcast each week.

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.