Editor’s Note: This article is part of our Founders Series where we get insights and analysis from founders of various different companies. Ishmael ShaBazz is an indie iOS developer and creator of @UpNextApp and @StampPack. He’s also a lover of all things Apple.
…is the title of the blog I hope to be writing soon. For now, I’m going to tell you about my journey making Stamp Pack so far, and my plans for it for the future.
Here’s an app preview video I made for Stamp Pack for reference.
Like most great ideas, the idea for Stamp Pack came to me in the shower. All summer I was trying to think of a sticker pack idea and came up with nothing. Then, one morning in the shower, I had the idea of making stickers that look like rubber stamps.
For almost a year now, I’ve been working closely with Heidi, an Australian designer, on a secret project. I pitched her the idea for this as a quick side project and she was immediately smitten. We went from idea to 1.0 submission in a tad over 24 hours.
The Stamp Pack launch was really fantastic, largely in part to my fantastic Twitter friends who gave it a very warm welcome. I was holding out hope for a coveted App Store feature but it didn’t come. Well… it almost came.
Attack of the Clones
After the debut of Stamp Pack, several very similar themed apps could be found on the Store. Apple actually did a “Stamps” feature on the iMessage App Store. A few of the similar apps that were released a week or so after Stamp Pack were featured, but not Stamp Pack itself. This inspired me to find a way to differentiate from the competition.
Know your Audience
One of the unique things about Stamp Pack is the number of available options, allowing it to be useful to just about anyone in just about any conversation. As a nod to my Twitter followers, who are mostly developers, we added a specially-themed group of stamps for developers. This went over quite well and from what I hear even caught the attention of some Apple engineers.
More code, more bugs. No code, no bugs. Writing bug-free code is virtually impossible. One of the best things about sticker packs is that they don’t require any code. Since they have no code, they are completely free of bugs (at least ones that are my fault). Having a completely bug-free and future-proofed app is like having a pet unicorn. This basically never happens. There was a part of me that wanted to stay in that safe place forever. However, distinguishing Stamp Pack from the competition required giving up a bit of this safety in exchange for additional features. So I transformed it from sticker pack to an iMessage app. This basically required a brand new project with almost no resemblance behind the scenes to the 1.o version except the app icon. Wouldn’t you know it? The very first code-driven version of Stamp Pack shipped with minor bug. But alas, no risk, no reward.
The initial version of Stamp Pack had well over 100 stamps. By the third update (we’ve updated at least once a week), we had nearly 300 stamps. Three hundred stamps is a lot to scroll through, so it was clearly time for a search bar. So in the first code driven version of Stamp Pack, we included the addition of a search bar as well as a tidier layout than standard sticker packs offer, thanks to a custom UICollectionView.
Adding Dynamic Updates
Something we have done from the initial release of Stamp Pack is engage with our users and friends and add their suggestions as new stamps. This is part of the reason that the number of stamps grew so rapidly, over just a few weeks. As time went on, it became clear that there would be a large advantage in being able to add stamps on the fly. One way of doing this would be to let users create their own stamps. That functionality is something that we are still planning on implementing down the road, but for now we’re thrilled to engage with our users, which is a more personal experience.
In the current version of Stamp Pack, I implemented a dynamic backend. This allowed us to do things like have special “limited time” stamps. For example, our Halloween stamps will expire on November 1st. Our election-related stamps will be available until November 9th. It’s great to be able to offer this without requiring updates and having to go through app review. We also get to retain our reviews (which are organic and overwhelmingly 5 stars) instead of losing them every time we update.
In this version of Stamp Pack we brought in some great frameworks to help. Here are the three that we added:
Firebase from Google, is a super fast (<250ms) cloud-based database with automatic syncing.
IGListKit from Instagram, is what UICollectionView wants to be when it grows up. It’s fast with data refresh that actually works.
Realm from Realm Inc. has been recommended to me for years as a solution for implementing a simple and fast database. I wish I had listened. If anything, Realm is underrated. It’s my new goto local (and maybe soon remote) caching solution.
Adding Sticker Usage Metrics
I was very disappointed to find that Apple offers no analytics for stickers. Given that they’re stickers, complex analytics don’t make sense, but it would be nice to know which stickers are the most popular. For example, it’s nice to know if a sticker has little or no use, so it can be removed or replaced. While hunting for a way to keep track of which stickers are used more often, I found this on Stack Overflow.
That bit of code to gave me the ability to tell when a sticker was tapped or peeled. So when either of these occurs, I just increment a tally on Firebase. Voilà, utilization metrics.
Stamp Pack started as a simple idea I had in the shower for a sticker pack that required no code. It has since evolved into a full-on project utilizing frameworks like Firebase, Realm and IGListKit. We have even more planned for the future. Including a Stamp Pack keyboard, the ability for users to add their own stamps, and maybe even a photos extension.
Help me fund a new MacBook Pro
Believe it or not, it is my goal to fully fund a new MacBook Pro using only profits from Stamp Pack. What a fantastic indie developer story that would be. By my calculations, this will require about 3,700 more sales. Although, I’m taking donations. If you want to help me in this endeavor please pick up a copy of Stamp Pack. I promise it’s a fantastic app. If you already have Stamp Pack, or don’t have the means to get it, please share this post or the app with a friend. Thanks!