John Gruber: “What went wrong was very simple. We never made enough money. Why we didn’t make enough money, what we should have done differently to make more money — those are complex questions (which I’ll tackle below). But what actually sunk Vesper was not complicated. Even as a relatively popular app at a relatively high price (for iOS), revenue was never high enough. Brent took a job at the excellent Omni Group in September 2014, and from that point onward the writing was on the wall. We could have, and probably should have, shut Vesper down a year ago. But we loved it too much. Or at least I did.”
Brent Simmons: “This is the last app on the App Store where I wrote all (or almost all) of the code. Odds are excellent that there will never be another app written largely by me on any app store.”
It’s hard to make decisions like this. Vesper was the result of a lot of hard work by a small group of dedicated people. Vesper will be missed, by them the most.
The most fascinating part of this entire post mortem from John and Brent is the belief that creating a Mac App first may have lead to success. Obviously these guys know their Mac brethren better than I, but I always thought a subscription model was a better option for them, and I wrote about it in 2015.
I think the idea of a sustainable business is the right way to look at this, but pricing an app at $9.99 isn’t the proper solution. The proper solution is to charge for their “fast, reliable, unlimited sync.” That’s the value, the app is just a way to get to your data.
Obviously there are a few really great companies out there making a go of it but the market has changed so dramatically from the time Brent started Ranchero. At the time the Mac wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today and the App Store model didn’t exist. Sure, you still needed a great product and had to work hard to get the word out, but people still understood the value of software. Today iOS and Mac Apps have been reduced to commodities and commodity pricing. Most people expect free and get it from companies that make their money other ways, including services, which is why I think the service is the most valuable component. Does it mean you should only do services and not native clients, no. The client side provides the great experience and the service opens the door to the magic of data flowing from one point to another. Without both sides you can still have a great experience but it may not be as great as it could be.
Thanks John, Brent, and Dave for giving us Vesper.