Barback

Updated on October 3, 2020
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Barback was the first project I launched and the first (non-freelancing) project that I made money off of. It was janky; it was poorly prioritized; it was a mess of a time. I was flying by the seat of my pants, having learned iOS development from scratch. It was also a blast, and kindled in me the firm belief (one that I still hold, even stronger now) that it is pretty easy to find a useful niche and to charge money for software within that niche.

What Barback was

I’ll let the still present App Store detail page do the talking!

This is a basic app. There is nothing particularly interesting or fascinating about it: it reads from a normalized data store of recipes, ingredients, garnishes, and such, and displays a bunch of list and detail views. In many ways, it was a tutorial app: I wasn’t doing anything interesting with the iOS SDKs, but I was using them for the first time.

How much it made

Why I decided to build it

I wanted to learn iOS development, I was newly 21 years old (and thus wanted a socially acceptable reason to buy a whole bunch of liquor), and it seemed like a genuinely good idea.

Lessons learned

Why I stopped running Barback

There are projects that end because they fail spectacularly; there are projects that end they are finished; there are projects that end because they just sort of fizzle out.

Barback was somewhere in between the last two. I was at a point where Barback was certainly stable — it was making a couple hundred dollars every month, which is very nice for a first project, and it satisfied all of the things I wanted to do when I first set out to build it: I understood the world of iOS development, I had collected money, and it was feature-complete for my intentions.

But then along the way the long tail of stretch goals arrived. Adding a full-fledged web interface and learning how to do SEO; adding custom recipe & ingredient support; adding social elements or IAP. I took half-hearted stabs at all of these but my attention and verve was starting to wane, and I had another project that I was growing increasingly excited about, so I decided to call it quits.

“Calling it quits” is probably a bit of an oversell: I didn’t sit down and say “okay, I’m done with Barback now!” I just opened Xcode less and less frequently until it occurred to me that I hadn’t opened it in a month.

Barback X.0

The last major version of Barback was 3.0; it was, naturally, a from-the-ground-up rebuild. It is still alive on the App Store, and every week I get a couple of downloads. I don’t feel particularly guilty about this, even though the app has never been optimized for new iPhones and looks terrible — hey, at least the recipes are solid!

But I still find myself tempted to build another version of the app. I have largely divorced myself from the world of iOS development, but I miss it; SwiftUI looks pretty neat, and I still have some nostalgia around the joy of building a simple, pleasant app like Barback.

I don’t miss mucking around in Interface Builder; I don’t miss Xcode at all, which to this day is still the worst IDE I have ever used. But the sheer joy of running code and seeing it appear on your iPhone is hard to beat, and I think someday — a shining mirage of a future in which I have time to pick up a new side project — I might consider dusting off the proverbial toolbox and starting afresh. (This time there definitely will be iPad support.)