The Indie Dev Diaries Presents A New Home for Spend Stack

// Written by Jordan Morgan // Dec 3rd, 2020 // Read it in about 6 minutes

So, where do I even start with this one?

Spend Stack, and my LLC which sells it (Dreaming In Binary LLC), has been acquired, effective today.

First things first. If you’re a Spend Stack user, this is a very, very good thing. Spend Stack now has an entire team dedicated to it. I’ve spent hours sharing my vision, feature roadmap, where it is now, where it needs to go and more with the people who will now be working on it and they’re pumped to get started.

I’ll get to how we got here in a second, but know this: Spend Stack finally has a group of talent to foster it which it so rightfully deserves. Engineers, a product manager, designers and more. I’m very excited for its future.

Further, now that the app is no longer mine I feel like I can be more blunt without sounding super self serving by saying this:

The app is great!

It is! It’s in a position to take that next leap. It’s well-built, easy to use and makes itself home on iOS. But none of that was ever the issue. Its biggest issue was, admittedly, well…me 😅.

I don’t think like a product owner most of the time with Spend Stack, by my own admittance. One of the core reasons I made it was to see if I could make something that would completely fulfill my Best in Class list. But it’s a product now, and it needs to be treated like one.

The Why

That said, for the past year Spend Stack has done something pesky on me; grown! Thousands use it daily to get things done in their financial life. I’d wager that it’s done, by any measure, what a lot of us want our side projects to do: Be used, liked by those use it all while increasing its user base.

Facing the music made me realize that in some ways, I was oddly being selfish. I released my toy pet project without much thought to the responsibility you have when you make something. It’s a wonderful arrangement, to give people something they find useful and then they pay you for that thing - but you need to meet your end of the bargain.

I want to honor that. So four months ago, I sat down and answered some questions like:

  • What does Spend Stack need to do to make more money to justify more work on it?
  • What features is it missing to compete on a larger scale? Of those, which make sense to do and further its mission statement?

Answering those was illuminating. I realized that making the “perfect” app, while a worthwhile mission that I still want to pursue, had to take a bit less of my time than making the app go towards its user’s needs more.

The long and short of it is - there is a mountain of work ahead of me. Worthwhile, good work - but a lot of it. Not a small feature. Not just a design tweak. More than that. Essentially, I’ve built a solid base of a product. Now, it needs to put on its grown up pants.

I accepted this and made up my mind to start breaking down these tasks to get on it. And then, life stuff happened:

  • We sold our house
  • We started building another one
  • COVID-19 happened, and complicated both of those things financially and logistically

…and through it all the unthinkable happened: my passion to keep this Spend Stack train chuggin’ started waning 🚃.

And I hated that. So much 😔. I wanted to want to complete that work I set out for myself, knowing the pay off would be worth it. But other competing thoughts came up when weighing the time investment. I can sum it up into two, distinct points:

  • I miss writing on this blog about not only indie stuff, but Apple APIs, Swift, etc.
  • I keep thinking about the apps I’m not making more than the one I was making.

Ah, but the App gods realized this too! Around this same time, a mutual connection introduced me to Spend Stack’s eventual acquirer.

The How

This is where things started to go off the rails a bit. I’ve never sold an app, let alone an entire LLC. After an introductory chat that was supposed to last 30 minutes go on for hours, I realized that Spend Stack had found a better place to grow - and it was no longer with me.

I adore this app, though. I would never, ever give it away. My name is on it, and I think that really means something. So I did my due diligence beforehand. I talked with close friends who had been through this, I found out what Spend Stack’s fair market value was and reached out to a few folks to get an idea of what I was in for.

let concatenatedThoughts = """

So I talk about being a best in class app quite a bit. And from a monetization standpoint, that literally paid off. Spend Stack was worth more than other apps with similar numbers due to its quality, and I was really proud of that. That's not me talking either, that's from a valuation from a third party and from getting the same feedback from suitors. So, work towards that mark! I know I always will with whatever I make.

"""

After a few weeks of this, I ended up with some clarity. I felt great, but only about one option. I don’t know if this is how things always work, but once I put a few feelers out some offers started cropping up. The dealings weren’t ever made public and the whole thing was behind closed doors.

From that, there were a few interesting roads to consider, but I never made an off the cuff decision. I slept on it. I declined to take on any sort of funding or acquihire opportunities. All of those were on the table, but in the end I didn’t think they were right for me. I’m 32, and while I feel all nice and young - I’m definitely not in my early 20s. Grinding it out on a start up does not sound as appealing to me as it once did. I love my day job at Buffer, and the people I work with. I’d much prefer lower risk, lower reward at this point in my life and more importantly when it comes to taking care of my family.

Thankfully, I found someone who thinks as much of Spend Stack as I do. So, if you’re looking for a post about how I sold my app for a gazillion dollars to a silicon valley titan, well - this is not that. This is about a well intentioned company taking over an app that’s simply outgrown its original developer.

And I am, in fact, putting my money where my mouth is quite literally. There were at least two other companies who wanted to acquire Spend Stack for more than what I sold it for, but the fit was best here. The future and nourishment of Spend Stack means more to me than making a lot of money - and I can’t prove it anymore than through the actions I’ve taken.

And Spend Stack Today

To most of you, Spend Stack is quite young - only releasing last July. For me, it’s much different. Spend Stack has been a big part of my life longer than my oldest child, who is about to turn 7!

I started on Spend Stack right out of college in 2013, and the first version (which was not a success) shipped that year. After I pulled it off the App Store, I started work and design on the version you see today - around 2015.

Put simply - Spend Stack has been what I’ve done for a long time. So, I don’t take any decision to part with it lightly. But I do want it to expand and grow. It feels good knowing it has the best chance to do that now.

And I do too, but just in new ways and different directions.

Quick Questions

What if they make a million dollars from it!?
This is one of the first things my sister said when I broke the news to her. My response?

I hope they do!

I hope Spend Stack becomes their (Prometheus Interactive) largest property and it takes over the entire world, nothing would make me happier.

Why?

Because I arrived at a genuine place where I gave Spend Stack all I had to give it. I feel accomplished, at peace with it - I did all I could for it.

It charts all the time, has hit and stayed at #1 several times, was part of the Apple Retail Demo program, had multiple banner features (and just got pinged from another huge one that I will unfortunately miss), written about and more. It’s kinda like if you lost a championship game, but knew you gave it all you had. Except, in this scenario - nobody is losing.

Wait, your entire LLC was sold? Why?
Ah, iCloud. You slick willy.

The fact that I use CloudKit to sync data in Spend Stack is the only reason why this happened. Spend Stack is glued to Dreaming In Binary LLC, and I can’t simply transfer the app to a new owner. So, the entire LLC was absorbed. It made the acquisition a bit trickier than it should’ve been, but we navigated it. It extended the process much longer than usual, and I so, so dearly hope Apple addresses this in the future.

Aside from the logistical hurdles - who doesn’t want to provide a good sync experience on Apple platforms? We all do. Their API is there to get it done. But we’re left with having to make an LLC per app if we do, which isn’t great. Further, indies (like myself) want to use the money we make from our apps getting acquired to invest back into the ecosystem with new apps, while the acquired ones get even more attention. It’s a win-win to fix, so here’s hoping.

Are you still going to make stuff?
1,000%, absolutely, without a doubt. As my wife Jansyn put it, “I think a piece of you would die inside if you weren’t making something” and she is absolutely right.

For now, I’m going to enjoy a nice break. I plan on taking a few months off from side projects of any kind to just relax a little bit. Then, I want to dust off some stuff I haven’t been able to do since I’ve always been working on Spend Stack. Here are some ideas:

  • Revamp my website design. Add in some tool tips.
  • Write more technical blog posts, as I used to before Spend Stack shipped.
  • Maybe do a book over Indie Development I’ve worked on off and on for the last few months.
  • Release a fully in-depth .pdf guide of my best in class post with code samples.

But hey, I was put on this earth to eat pizza, slam back espresso and write software. So when I do get back to apps, smaller utility based ones excite me. Spend Stack is simple on the surface, but the world of finances and the way people use software geared towards it are incredibly complex and require a lot of care. Doing something a bit “simpler” sounds like a lot of fun, and I want to ship more apps this time around too, whenever I get to that point.

That said, there are several “bigger” app ideas that I’m really excited to explore. What I’m finding is that I simply adore the Apple platforms indie space (no surprise if you follow me on Twitter or read this blog) and I want to do stuff for them. Be it writing, making software or something else.

In short, this is a new, exciting chapter for me. But in practice today, I’m just taking a breather for now and playing a lot of Call of Duty currently (MP5 still needs a nerf).

How much did it get acquired for?
That’s NDA’d 🤐. But, I’m very happy too 😄. My new house went from being a bit stressful to, well, not being stressful and I’m very thankful for that.

My Last Spend Stack Thoughts

This feels like a good time to close a chapter. It wasn’t easy to do, as many who go through this kind of thing typically say. You have some doubts and similar hesitations:

  • What if I just stick it out a bit and do what I need to do to monetize more?
  • What if I don’t make anything this good again?
  • What if I don’t find the time for another app?

You can what-if yourself to death or until Xcode finishes indexing your project, whichever comes first. The thing is, I’m happy. Really, the only thing I didn’t accomplish was winning and Apple Design Award and finishing out my Best in Class list. But there’s always tomorrow for that.

So now, I look back at it as a job well done. For a long time, it was a huge passion of mine. I couldn’t wait to wake up and work on it. Each new part that I finally got right after tweaking it over and over would make my heart sing.

People like to say that programming is very utilitarian- and in some ways, that’s true. But we forget the poetry in it too. It’s definitely there, if you look hard enough. We often tout artistic works and awe at their beauty when it comes to things like paintings or sculptures - why don’t we do the same with software?

That was Spend Stack for me. Each part I poured into to make happen, it all brought true joy to me. Because if we aren’t spending our days working on things that truly make us proud and reflect a little bit of who we are into the world, then really - what are we even doing?

Final Thoughts

It’s absolutely surreal to think that these very words are some of the last I’ll ever type about Spend Stack on this blog. I think it’s enough now. On to the next!

For everyone who followed along, from the bottom of my heart - thank you ❤️. It’s so stereotypical to say it, but this is also the start of a lot of new things from me too, so be on the lookout.

Oh, and here’s a picture we snapped of our new home. We’re excited:

Until next time ✌️.

If you liked this or another article of mine you can buy me a coffee. If you didn't well then just don't say anything ;)