A therapy session for Dave Nott as we discuss how he may shut up shop, calling it a day for Root Digital, and what his plans are for making a comeback!
So I suppose background.. Root digital, when did that start? … 2015. Crikey, over three years ago. And that was in January I think, I incorporated it . I think you would similar weren’t you with roboheadz?
I’m trying to think back now. It was the same time of year I think, I was a year later. Yeah/nah, and I was a year later, 2016 because I had actually been operating selling my apps as a sole trader for a few months before then and then transitioned into a limited business
So yeah, so I guess when I think about it like Root Digital was my kind of app development on the side vehicle. At the time I had, I had like a day job so that my life was kind of like the the main thing –
Yeah that’s just webdev for a local company so really like financially there wasn’t a huge amount of pressure on my Root Digital to really do very much. I mean you know it’s a limited company in its own right therefore it has its own set of books but the ability for me to be able to draw a salary from it made very little difference to my kind of personal finances because that was all taken care of through my day job, so, it wasn’t like I was desperate for it to quickly turn a profit and take a salary and everything else, it it wasn’t like that at all. So, yes slight bit of recap I’ve launched two apps through it around my sort of day job and life I suppose, my remote control for Kodi I would say is like what was the main app and Space Readers my second app that came some time after that has always kind of been sort of like the number two app. It’s kind of never done quite as well and it’s nowhere near as complex and took nowhere near as long to build, and so yeah the apps made you know a modest amount of money but by no means that allowed me to kind of quit the day job or anything like that. I guess what this is all leading to is over the last year or so Armchair in particular it’s begin is began to struggle like I said it’s always been my main app and it’s consistently outperformed Space Readers by by quite a margin. So as to why it started to struggle I suppose the jury’s still out in a way. I’ve got a few theories obviously the the app is a remote control for Kodi so it’s app in itself is kind of heavily reliant on Kodi to succeed. Part of me wonders if kind of the world of streaming media sort of Netflix and Amazon Prime video, given how well that doing, makes there less of a demand for Kodi?
Yeah and for me as well, I mean I think back to when i started when i launched Armchair I would use kodi intensively. I mean in my case I had my own sort of media collection that consisted of my blu-rays and DVDs that I would access through Kodi and now a surprisingly large amount of all of that can just basically be found on Netflix or Amazon. I guess than the need in my personal circumstances for Kodi has almost disappeared, especially so with the Apple TV where you’ve got nice little apps now for the Netflix and Amazon and YouTube and loads of other video sources that you might be interested in. Whereas Kodi, it’s not quite as straightforward. It’s always, there’s always a way to get Netflix working on it but it’s a real hack, and it’s the kind of thing that if I was to say to Heather I’ll have her just load up Netflix on Kodi she’d be like ‘what’s this?’. Give her the Apple TV and she’s away, so I think it’s it’s still got that element to it that it’s a bit of a geek toy in some ways. It’s fine for someone like me who’s into it, but then if you try and pass it to a family member, yeah you get some strange looks put it that way.
Yeah I mean relative to things like Netflix and yeah I mean Netflix is like mainstream isn’t it? You say the word Kodi to a lot of people you’ll just get a blank look. Sort of adding on to that is my kind of I got a lot of one-star reviews with without chair the overwhelming majority due to users not being able to connect the app up to their Kodi box. You’ll recall sort of in the last year I’ve added an onboarding wizard which seems to have sort of stemmed the flow a little bit of those. But perhaps the damage was already done, and as a result my search rankings on the App Store stunk. So if you search for search for me, you know you really don’t find me very well anymore. Still, you could say none of this really mattered because as as you recall about this time last year I I was kind of repurposing Root Digital to sort of become a a web consultancy so in the back of my mind I thought well yeah I mean the apps are fine they can carry on just making whatever they make because my focus now is gonna be sort of web consultancy. Quick 30 second re-cap on that, is kind of now that I’ve decided that that’s not going to be my route forward. It seemed like a great idea on paper but with sort of personal circumstances and life, it turned out that it probably wasn’t gonna work out in the long term. I think when was it? Maybe back in October or November last year we were talking and I just finished up on a project, and I was just so happy that I finished it so I could go an like work on my apps again I think it was probably -that was probably the moment where I kind of realized I was sort of over the web in a way. Yeah just the fact that I was just so pleased I didn’t have to work on any websites and I could work on my app, was like ‘Yeah okay buddy this is like, probably the signal that the writing’s on the wall now.’
Yeah and it’s it kind of, I felt a little bit silly as we discussed. But also I almost felt like to take on any more clients, given that I was kind of not really into it it was almost irresponsible in a way. Almost like I was just digging myself a hole for every new client that I took on and I didn’t particularly want to take on, but I thought I should because you know building a business and everything but that’s no way to build a business!
No, it’s not. It’s not, and I mean I’ve had similar experiences myself with sort of transitioning out of my my former career within data and analytics and that side of things over to iOS development. At one point I thought that I was going to have to go back to that sort of work, for us to do the immigration and for us to be here in New Zealand. And you know it turned out that that was a silly idea, because where my passion is, is for iOS development. So you know that was the best route for me go for being here. I had to go on a bit of a journey to sort of say goodbye to that way of thinking and I think there’s a bit of… it’s not quite the sunk cost fallacy I guess but I guess there’s an elements of that sort of you know, I’ve done this and this is how I think how I’ve defined myself sort of career-wise and working wise or whatever. You know for so long by that point, that is the way I’d thought myself. I guess I think you’ve had a similar thing going on here, you know like you said you set up the business originally for the apps but then you were looking at web development as sort of being the bread and butter after you’ve left your web development job. I guess you had to kind of go through a similar journey to sort of go “hang on a second actually, although I’ve thought this although this is what I plan to do the reality is that’s not where I need to be that’s not what I should be doing”
Yeah, and I think there was a couple of signals that I misread as well because when I left my my ‘jobby job’, I felt pretty bowed out by it all but I was convinced that was down to the way that my job was. I kind of thought well, when I’m doing it for myself I’ll be doing it differently and it’ll be you know I’ll be able to set things up so that I don’t feel this way. I think just the broader issue was, I was just kind of kind of over it. When I got my first client it kind of all felt like I was back at work again and it’s like kind of you know they’re like the grass is greener on the other side. P erhaps there’s a little bit of that where I thought, if I do it for me it will be different, and you kind of do it for yourself and it’s like not that different is it? So with that I guess we’re back to Root Digital sort of coming full circle and being back to my app-development-on-the-side-vehicle, except my day job is now sort of looking after a child and doing the app development around that as opposed to doing the app development around a sort of 9-5 web developer job. The thing is the business has costs, you know, not many costs but costs nevertheless. Things that come to mind are like accountancy fees, I’ve got my email hosting I’ve got web hosting I’ve got two mains but never nevertheless eat each month I’m yeah I’ve got costs going out so I’m in a bit of a dilemma as to whether to sort of wrap it up or to keep it going I think keeping it going in its current form isn’t sustainable because the way Arm-Chair’s suffered slash suffering that’s not going to be sustainable in the long term to keep that going. The argument for keeping it going is to use the company as a vehicle for sort of my new app I’ve got in the works the issue is is asking to take a while to build not least because the amount of time I’ve got available for its development but also sort of the scope of the app is it’s going to be a fairly meaty App and my experience of making apps/websites/anything in general is it always takes longer than think it’s gonna take anyway, and I’m already thinking it’s going to take a substantial amount of time, so it’s kind of substantial amount of time X2 probably it’s going to end up being. So sort of one, one possible way of going about it is to kind of just shut it all down, kind of go into going to retreat I guess. I’m planning to utilize cloud kit in a pretty heavy way with this new app so perhaps I’m thinking a route would be to sort of shut down the company, remove all of the costs, and set up a personal Apple Developer account so I can have access to cloud kit and all of those resources I’ll need, build the new app and then I guess sort of come back for a second act. There’s something something enticing oh yes about shutting it all down and having another go. There’s always something enticing about hitting the reset button isn’t there because you can kind of redo things you’ve done that you wouldn’t do, the thing that for me comes to mind is marketing like with Arm-Chair I was so bad at marketing I can’t even describe it. So that’s something I would look to tackle head-on next time, that would almost be like as important as the development of the app in that I sort of do them side-by-side, and take it way more seriously as opposed to just chucking a few emails out to some press at the end and hoping that they reply to me, which probably isn’t the way to do marketing! It also raises questions about how I might structure things differently, just from like a how I would operate a new company perhaps, it wasn’t that long ago we did an episode was it about setting up shop?
.. about getting accountant and setting up companies as vehicles for all this sort of stuff, but an idea rattling around my head recently is that if the company I set up was literally just doing App dev so no invoicing clients or you know any kind of traditional sort of “businessy stuff”. I mean like when I think of a traditional business I think of kind of like a brick and mortar business or a B2B business like a design agency or something where you’ve got suppliers and costs and you’re invoicing clients and you’ve probably got an Accounts Department chasing invoices and you know all that sort of stuff… If I’m literally just doing App development they start to think could I could I DIY-it? as in like the accounting side because if I have to look at my bank account there’s gonna be a transaction once a year to Apple for my developer account, there’s gonna be a payment hopefully it’s off every month or six weeks whenever they come in, possibly a little bit of web hosting, that’s not a lot to keep track of is it?
It’s really not, and I think there’s definitely a potential there to sort of DIY it I think if you’re trying to get complicated in terms of how you’re sort of claiming certain things as costs of the business or whatever then, you know you should probably get an accountant in for that. But, records-keeping wise and and generally sort of been able to tott everything up and file it – you know – which is all you really need to do, you need to fill out the forms to file an update, certainly in the UK to update Companies House and update HMRC and everything each year with, with with what you’ve made and everything. I think there’s a possibility there to DIY it provided you’re not trying to do anything that sort of benefits you too much I guess really
Yeah I mean I’m not really looking for any sort of like accountancy sorcery or anything at this stage. You know where you sort of go to see an accountant and everyone says ‘Oh you want to go and see an accountant cuz they’ll save you a fortune on your tax, and you can claim for this and claim for that and claim for everything else’, I mean as it stands at the minute I’ve not really had any of that through Root Digital to be perfectly honest via my accountant, so I think if it got to the point where I had an app that was bringing in like a decent amount of money or it got to the point where I came to do my first sort of filing for the year and I was like ‘Ah, okay this is too much like I don’t know what I’m doing I’m with depth all that sort of stuff’ yeah sure then I suppose I could just instruct an accountant then and be like this is my situation can you come in and sort wrap this up for and continue with me on an ongoing basis?
Yeah, yeah you could. There’d be nothing to stop you from shopping around at that time as well, you know and actually having that conversation with a couple of different accountants and sort of saying ‘okay, yeah this is where things are at, you know how how much could you did the first filing for, and what’s your ongoing kind of fee look like?’ and you know make an informed decision at that point. But you’d have a year and a bit wouldn’t you really before that was really a concern at that point, in terms of have you been up and running as a limited company and you know making sales and everything else, you’ve got quite a bit of lead time before the filings actually due.
Yeah and also there’s no real actual costs either until that point. Because I’ve always said apart from like say like a few pounds for some web hosting and a bit of email or whatever I mean I’ve quite often joked to my accountant that I have now, saying if it wasn’t for you it’d be profit all the way to the bank. He’s my biggest cost and, you know a nice guy and everything but I’m not 100 percent sure I’m getting value
I think it at that end of the scale they’re not necessarily motivated to provide a lot of value as well, you’re actually almost a loss leading customer if they start spending too much time on you
Exactly and when I first went to meet with him and kind of explained what I was doing and he was like well we’ve got these packages that are kind of like for, he didn’t say for like proper businesses but I could tell that’s kind of what he meant. You know, sort of like proper businesses like you know plumbers, electricians, you know businesses that have a high sort of cashflow turnover, and you know costs going out, costs coming in, and all that kind of stuff that you think of like a proper business. He clearly sort of saw that I wasn’t going to take a lot of work I think, but nevertheless the amounts I still have to pay him add up to quite a significant amount each year. I never hear from him all year thenm from what I can tell he quickly logs into the accountancy thing where I log all my bank statements, looks at the numbers in there dump them into the kind of forms that HMRC require makes me sign to say that I’ve understood it all and there are no mistakes, even though I don’t have a clue what I’m looking at and then I’ll I have never hear from him for another year so.
It’s a funny thing I think my situation with with mine back in the UK’s is kind of settling into a very similar sort of arrangement for what I have with Roboheadz and my apps, I think the only thing is is I’m really not sure what my legal status would be sort of bringing the apps to New Zealand.
Because I’m not here permanently yet, you know I’m on a temporary work visa that’s attached to my work at a PaperKite, and I guess my belief is that I couldn’t just incorporate a business here until I’m I’m here forever. So, there’s a sort of stage to these things happening for me where I’ve kind of got to keep the business back in the UK for now, and you know having the accounts, kind of keeps that ticking over without me having to sort of be be there in a lot of ways, you know that means they can do the filing for me as long as I send them that the books sort of thing that everything just keeps trucking for now. But value wise, yeah I don’t know I don’t think I’m seeing incredible amounts of value there, right now.
Yeah, yeah very much and I wouldn’t want to put anybody off you know using an accountant, whatever level they’re out with with their their business. I think in our previous episode when we discussed that side of things the advice I kind of wanted to impress upon people is you should have an accountant if you’re a limited company and you’re sort of feeling out of your depth with the filing because you know that is quite critical and quite crucial that you get that right, and so you know I do think that that is a good thing to do there. But, as we’re saying in this circumstance and in the frame of mind that you’ve got with sort of starting again, you’ve got quite a lot of lead time before you really need to do that, and paying an accountants sort of from day one for a brand new business when you’re not sure whether you know you even going to turn any sort of profit or anything like that… it’s probably just wasting money because really if you got to a year and a bit out and you needed to file or you needed to just you know close the company you could probably file that yourself and it would be perfectly fine, if your outgoings and income are all digitally tracked it’s just iTunes payments and things like that going in and out, you know you don’t need an accountant to sort that out for you if the business has gone nowhere, and if it’s gone somewhere and you’ve made a reasonable amount of money then you’ve got the cash to afford the accountant.
Yeah and it’s just like not even an issue at that point is it? It’s just like, get the accountant whatever. Yeah, part of me worries that became calling back to a previous episode when we spoke about like web hosting and infrastructure sort of putting a ‘someone else’s problem field’ around it whether I’m sort of diving into a rabbit hole I should avoid. You know how we thought if we can just host a podcast on on Linode and sort of manage all ourselves do all the server upgrades ourselves, and then like you said, I think you put it quite well on the podcast, at that point you’re no longer running a podcast you sort of become a server admin and this and that and everything else. So I need to be mindful of that I think, I need to, especially being sort of the type of personality I am, I kind of look at things and go oh yeah I could do that and it won’t take much and I’ll just do this not do that and then it’d be done and I’ve saved all this money not thinking I’ve actually probably wasted 40 hours on it or something crazy, so I think I make super aware of that just to make sure I don’t fall down this trap.
I think you’ll be fine though to be honest with you, I think that there is a, as I said there’s this point where you can start again. You can have that period of time without that cost, as long as you’re keeping track of everything you know if you get to that moment where you need to file you can pay somebody else, you can wrap it into ‘somebody else’s problem’ field at that point you know you don’t need to immediately meet with an accountant when you’re starting up you’ve got that sort of lead time
Yeah, yeah absolutely I’d have lost the protection of having a limited company and I think that there’s a lot of benefits to having that. But the only reason I actually incorporated for Roboheadz was because I was going to sort of start ups meetings at the time, and the sort wisdom of the crowd of people around me was you should incorporate you know it’s a good idea go do that. Register on Companies House and off you go, and I thought well I want this to be a real thing in a real business and that kind of felt like I was making it real business by doing that, and then the reality was you know I kept track of all the books and kept things running and it’s simple costs like you say when you’re when you’re just you know making money on the Aoo store and spending out on digital costs, it’s easy to track back and find where these things are. And I got sort of filing filing records for the first time and kind of went ‘oh okay, I I need a bit help here!’ Yeah I mean I don’t know what to say there really other than I think in some ways it was a limited company by not by mistake, but certainly without as much consideration as it should have been at the start and then now in the situation that I’m in at this moment in time it’s actually been quite a good position because that limited company exists and remains in the UK and I’ve not needed to sort worry about what’s going on there, you know everything’s all in is its own little bubble even though I’m here
Yeah there is something nice about that mentally for me, the fact that it’s all separate, it’s, it’s like you say it’s wrapped up in its own little bubble and everything that goes on in there, sort of stays in there and there’s no kind of no kind of crossover between like that and my personal finances, like it’s got its own bank account, it’s its own legal entity it’s everything it’s it’s own everything. I find that quite quite nice in my head to kind of pigeon-hole, I guess but maybe I shouldn’t rule out going as a sole trader again, I don’t know just in the nature of what we’re doing on the App Store you’re kind of opening yourself up to the whole world, just sort basically instantly, which therefore makes you exposed to the whole world if you look at it in that sense as well. So sort of wrapping a limited company around it by incorporating, that’s why it appeals to me so much I think and like you said that your startup group that’s like common wisdom there as well, I guess so there is obviously something to it
Yes, yeah and I think that was where people were coming from there as well, was that sort of idea of well it protects you there as an individual as you sort of start out, limits liabilities and that sort of thing and you know there’s a lot to be said for that there really is
Yeah I just realised you said you’re going to be using CloudKit, so you’re also dealing with one of the other potential heart problems there which is syncing I mean CloudKit will probably solve a lot of that for you to some degree but yeah the hard problems you’ve got naming things and synchronization those are both traditionally very hard
I think so I think I’m I’m not 100%… 90% there, if you see what I mean. So yeah, yeah I think if I’m gonna do it it’s gonna be pretty soon. Just get it wrapped up, yeah there’s things that I’ll need to to sort out, sort of within that, yeah just shut it down and get it sorted, get it sort of wrapped up and behind me I guess
My theory, sort of knowing you now for as long as I have, I think that when you’ve done this, it will actually be something that you feel quite positive about, because at the moment sort of management of the Apps that you’ve got already, in kind of where they’re going in terms of like the income sort of not coming through for them and that sort of stuff… it’s kind of like a background hum of sort of stress, almost like not necessarily stressing you out a major amount but it’s it’s there and it’s a potential blocker for you in terms of moving on to the new project.
I started out feeling, and we’re only talking like weeks ago here not very long at all, I kind of started out thinking about maybe I should shut it down and my instant reaction was like no don’t be so silly you need to persevere and you know, and and beat this, and I was like yeah I’m gonna beat this and that’s when I sort of came up with a bit of a game plan on how to do it, and actually as times gone on, as those costs keep going out every month it’s like this is not good. It’s kind of got to the point now where I’m almost happy that I’m going to shut it down.
At first I was really quite sad about it I was like oh no I can’t even think about it, like this represents such a failure, I kind of wanted to avoid it on that basis. But now I’m thinking actually, now I’ve got this, that was the key I think is that I didn’t have a new idea for a new app and that kind of worried me quite a lot and it’s kind of like what I’ve got isn’t working, and I haven’t got the next idea and I’ve got this money going out every month and I’m just kind of sat here like kind of like bleeding money, and it’s like no real kind of even potential solution.
So yeah that was when I was kind of like I need to persevere with Arm Chair and sort of get it up the search rankings and get thousands of downloads and all that sort of stuff and the rest will take care of itself. But once I kind of concluded on this new app idea, I was just like yeah this is it, this is what I want to work on and I didn’t really want to work on anything else.
I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, but then I was like damn it’s going to take so long to make, and then I sort of sort of ran out how long it would take to make and I’m thinking oh how much is that gonna cost then? If I was to run like that for every month I take making, it’s gonna cost this amount to keep the company running just so I’ve got the company there to launch the app through when it’s done. That was kind of when I was like oh maybe it would be a good idea to shut it down then I can work on this for as long as I want, and then when it’s ready I can just launch new company and then wallop, done.
That put a whole new spin on it for me so that’s kind of where I’m at I’m feeling pretty good about it it’s not actually a thing I feel bad about right now I kind of feel kind of optimistic if you can even say that!
Okay we’ll call that a wrap, if you’ve enjoyed today’s show it’d be great if you could leave us a review on iTunes or if you could and leave us a recommendation in Overcast by hitting that star button that will help us reach even more like-minded people. Also we have our Slack channel we’d love to invite you to join, our hope is it can be a really great place for fellow developers to come and hang, out if you’d like to join just leave us a message on twitter @WFRPodcast and we’ll get you signed up. So, Dave before we run off, where can people find you?