Why I Haven't Turned Our Planners into an App
[Note: You might be aware that I've changed my mind some about converting Momentum Planners into an app, and that we released said app, Momentum, in June 2022. After you read this article about why we didn't make an app before now, you can read about what changed our minds in this post.]
Another planner fan wrote in today and asked if I had ever considered making an app from our planners. I've answered this question a few hundred times since I started making the planners, but I don't think I've done so publicly.
Let's change that today.
There are three main reasons I haven't converted the planners into an app, with the most important reason being the last one.
Reason #1: App-making Is an Entirely Different Business
I've had the great fortune of working with clients who needed help managing their old business and the app business they accidentally started, and I've had many friends end up in the same situation. App-making is an entirely different business model, unlike complementary offers like courses, books, speaking, events, and so on.
All of a sudden, you need to keep up not just with the IP you're creating, but also with hosting, changing technology, scaling woes, customer-side problems that become your problem, churn, and channeling code monkeys' attention away from bright shiny objects and toward making or fixing stuff that customers want and need.
I'm not saying it's impossible to do; I'm saying just that I know those aren't the types of things I feel like dealing with every day right now, especially when I already have unfinished projects that are in my wheelhouse and that people are waiting on me to create.
That's a cash problem, you say, because I could do a Kickstarter or get funding to create it. But that leads me to the second reason...
Reason #2: It's a Very Crowded Marketplace
The productivity marketplace is very, very crowded. I'd be turning apps that I love and recommend into competitors and they've got a lot of head-start on me. Additionally, while there's not quite a race to the bottom going on, I'd be in the position of selling a lot of apps for <$3 in the app marketplaces or ~$6--$12 per month if I made a SaaS version.
Given that I'm not a developer myself, my last scoping of the cost of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) was $60k. Assuming I could get the top-tier prices for the app, I'd need 20,000 customers for a single-point purchase or 417 annual subscribers just to break even.
That doesn't count the disruption to my main business. And honestly, it's hard enough to get our current planners out the door and bought as is; I'd then be in the position of either trying to manage both or killing one so that the other could grow.
I'll pause here: I've had investor-types let me know that I could get seed money based on the demand we currently have, so I could conceivably go that route and pay a project or operations manager whose sole job is to manage the app business. But that also means that I'd need to get more money to pay them, and I know myself well enough to know that I'd be heavily involved in the growth of that company because that job is actually in my genius zone. The explorations in 2014 nailed home that hiring someone to do something that falls within your genius zone doesn't work out, and the last thing I want to do is take debt or give equity to do that all over again.
So, I'd be taking a $60k+ gamble to start what amounts to another business in a very crowded marketplace. I'd need to commit at least three years to growing it to be profitable enough to compete with the business I'm currently in, but fundamentally, it's not at all clear to me that that's the type of business I want to be in.
Which leads me to what gives me the most pause about it...
Reason #3: It May Make You Worse Off
I've long suspected that the physical act of writing in the planners - yes, with all of its inefficiencies - actually increases retention, comprehension, and awareness compared to using digital productivity systems. There's starting to be research (Digitizing Literacy: Reflections on the Haptics of Writing) that draws a link between increased cognitive performance and handwriting, compared to mechanized writing.
The science is a long way off from "proving" it, but my hypothesis is that handwriting increases cognitive performance because of the amount of focus required, as well as the fact that we recruit more of our senses in the process. Handwriting may be inefficient because it's slower, requires manual duplication, and makes us carry around physical objects, but it may be more effective for those very reasons. We can't just flippantly type an action item into a program with practically infinite room for us to drop stuff into it. If you've ever had to declare bankruptcy on your digital system or spend a few days cleaning it out, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
So, maybe wanting to create planners, aids, and tools that exist in your physical world is retro, low-tech, or just plain stubborn, but it may also be the very best way to help you finish the stuff that matters.
We Need Both Digital and Physical Tools
We live in an AND world when it comes to digital and paper productivity systems. Sticky notes, whiteboards, and notecards still have a place, just as project management tools like Basecamp, Asana, and OmniFocus have their place. I had this in mind during the creation of the Essential Daily Planner. Rather than creating something that made us choose between digital and physical, I wanted to make sure we made a product that bridged the gap between these two worlds.
My goal is to make solutions that are based on the way we actually work, live, and thrive and that people will use (when they're free) and buy (when they're not). In 2008, there weren't planners that do what our planners do and it was a problem. In 2015, I more often hear about people drowning in their digital productivity systems.
The door isn't forever closed on a digital app for the planners. As Productive Flourishing grows, the downsides of Reason #1 and #2 become less weighty, and as we ship products that help address #3, it also becomes less weighty.
But for now, we have our hands plenty full with our current goals, products, and projects.