10 Years of Lickability
An indie app studio retrospective
Wow! Time flies when you’re having fun and making apps. Our company turned 10 this year, so we figured it’d be good to look back over everything we’ve accomplished together over the last decade. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?
Launching in stealth mode.— Lickability (@lickability) May 25, 2009
In 2009, Brian Capps and I were friends about to graduate high school together in Philadelphia. That year, I had gotten obsessed with the incredible indie apps that were being released on the year-old App Store, and decided I wanted to try my hand at making one. After convincing Brian to work with me, we started Lickability from my parents’ kitchen table in Sicklerville, NJ. We named the company after a Steve Jobs quote that continues to inspire us to this day.
Our summer consisted of late-night iChat AV calls pair programming, watching Evan Doll teach the first section of CS 193P at Stanford, and finishing a 0.9 version of our first app, Broadway. The app never (officially) got released, and if you’re curious why, we wrote the lessons we learned here.
Interested in beta testing a new iPhone app I'm working on?— Matthew Bischoff (@mb) November 25, 2010
Brian and I both went off to college — him to the University of Miami and me to New Jersey Institute of Technology, where I met the mysterious third Lickability Partner: Andrew Harrison, who has become our engineering lead. Andrew and I stayed up late in our sixth-floor dorm room working on an “unfinished idea” that Alex Payne had posted online some years earlier called Quotidian. Once we had something that vaguely worked, we called Brian and showed him a demo. This prototype became one of our most well-known and successful apps of all time, Quotebook.
Quotebook was an app you could use to store, sort, and share the quotes that matter to you. And we worked on it through most of 2010 to make sure it worked as well as it could for 1.0. Afternoons spent on importing and exporting code, building performant search, and following Ray Wenderlich tutorials to create a rating view are the memories that stick with me almost a decade later.
“Real artists ship.” –Steve Jobs— Quotebook (@quotebookapp) February 25, 2011
We shipped! After tons of beta testing, we released Quotebook on the App Store! And people loved it. Pastors, parents, and book-lovers wrote to us in droves with their feedback and feature requests. Reviews went up on all of our favorite websites, and the app got featured on the front page of the App Store as a Staff Pick. We quickly got to work on point releases and plans for a sequel.
And then: The Gray Lady, baby! I was offered a full-time job on the iOS team at The New York Times and dropped out of college to take it. My mission from the beginning was for us to use what I learned there to make Lickability even better, and that’s exactly what we did.
Quotebook 2.0. http://t.co/wIybzijj.— Quotebook (@quotebookapp) May 31, 2012
iPad, iCloud, and so much more.
The iPad had been out for a few years and folks were clamoring for Quotebook on iPad. But we knew that in order to do it right, we needed it to be a Universal app, and quotes had to sync seamlessly across devices. Quotebook 2.0 shipped after many weekends spent testing and debugging Apple’s nascent (and, in hindsight, totally broken) iCloud Core Data syncing system. Many radars were filed.
Lickability needed a logo, so we commissioned Aaron Mahnke, now the famous podcaster of the Lore universe, to design one. By this point, all three of us were living together in an apartment in Newark, NJ that we affectionally called Lickability HQ. Brian had moved up from Miami to join me at NYTimes by day and continue building the Lickability empire at night. This was also the year of our first WWDC, where I spent the 5-hour wait for the keynote in line with the hosts of ATP, which wouldn’t launch until the following year.
Velocity is the only speed reading app designed for iOS 7. Read faster, one word at a time.— Accelerator (@acceleratorapp) September 20, 2013
Download it now. https://t.co/eX93eIcyqA
On the product front, Brian and Andrew took an offhanded comment about an idea for a speed reading app I had and turned it into a functional app prototype. After working on the app for months, with the help of Marcelo Marfil for design and Talos Tsui at Iconfactory for the icon, we launched Velocity (now Acceleator), a speed reading app with support for Instapaper and Pocket. We also brought on Bryarly Bishop part-time to help us with customer support and worked with Grant Butler on a prototype for a Reddit app we never shipped, called Antenna.
This was also the first year we took on clients (now a majority of our business). In 2013, we were lucky to work with the folks at Pocket Bracket and Grouper to apply our Objective-C knowledge and make their apps look, feel, and function better. We also attended and spoke at more conferences, like Çingleton in Montreal, SecondConf, and WWDC for a second time.
We released Quotebook 3, a complete redesign and rewrite of the app, and people loved the new look. We continued to write and give interviews about iCloud Core Data in the hopes that Apple would get its act together.
We also did lots of experimentation in 2014. We tried (and failed) to port Velocity to both Android and Windows phone and found out that we’re strongest when we work on platforms we use every day. We also rebranded Velocity to Accelerator after selling the domain to a startup, which allowed us to turn Lickability into more than a side-project. And Accelerator was the most upvoted product of the year on ProductHunt! 😸
I am "Going Indie" today: https://t.co/y4Z83gdpBe— Brian Capps (@bcapps) April 7, 2015
In 2015, we set aside some money and we took the biggest risk we’ve ever taken: going indie. Brian quit his day job to focus on Lickability full time. And it worked! His first project was a Swift collaboration with Caleb Davenport to rewrite and re-release Bugshot as Pinpoint, after we acquired the app from Marco Arment. That landed us a spot in Daring Fireball’s Linked List.
We also took on Meetup as a client and figured out lawyers, accountants, invoicing, bookkeeping, and all that fun business-y stuff. I attended Layers in San Francisco and then I talked about management at CocoaLove in Philly before also joining Brian as a full-time Lickability employee.
In 2016, we moved into our first office space and added two new team members: Andrew, and our first purely engineering hire, Michael Liberatore. We also released our first open-source project, PinpointKit, a framework for developers to collect feedback from their beta testers that’s now used in apps around the world. We also made the hard decision to shut down Quotebook. And finally, I spoke at Release Notes in Chicago about how we use writing as a system for solving big and complex problems.
Two major client projects that we’re really proud of shipped in 2016. We helped Meetup redesign and rewrite their entire iOS app from the ground up in Swift. And we helped build a brand new news app for a prestigious publication, The New Yorker Today.
Our biggest launch in 2017 was a redesign and rewrite of an app for one of our favorite publications, The Atlantic. The app was featured on Beautiful Pixels and readers were impressed with the new look and feel and iPad support. We also added clients like Mimeo, Houseparty, and Jet to our roster.
Our team grew by two engineers, Grant Butler (joining us full-time) and Michael Amundsen, our first junior iOS engineer. After WWDC, we thought about what we could build with the new iOS 11 APIs and prototyped an app called Shelf. While we ultimately decided not to ship it, we all learned a lot building the first version.
🏠 We have a new office! Take a look inside the new Lickability HQ in our latest blog post.https://t.co/SLxuQV646O— Lickability (@lickability) November 2, 2018
It was time. We had outgrown our coworking space and “minimalist” website. So we worked with our friends at Pickaxe to design a snazzy new site and Megan Leet at Perf to help us decorate our brand new office in Chelsea. Also, Jillian Meehan joined to help us get our operations act together and Marc Aupont came aboard as our seventh engineer.
It was also a year of close collaborations with clients. We spent months working with Amber Discko on their Kickstarted self-care app called Aloe Bud. After a successful launch, both Aloe Bud and Houseparty were featured on the App Store as App of the Day.
This year is only halfway done, but so far we’ve brought on Ashli Rankin with the launch of our iOS Apprenticeship and Thomas DeVuono, our first Account Manager. Also, we appeared in a five-minute television spot on CBS’s Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca!
We continued to grow our studio, expand our WWDC presence, and got started on a new app. 🤫 I got onstage at NSNorth in Montreal to talk about 10 of the lessons we learned over the last decade. And we’ve got plenty more in store for the next 6 months…
Thank You for Everything 🙏
We wouldn’t be where we are today without the help of so many people. We want to offer a heartfelt thanks to everyone that helped along the way.
Thank you to our team, families, testers, contractors, customers, and clients. And special thanks to Aaron Mahnke, Alex Cox, Alex Hardiman, Alex Payne, Allen Pike, Andrew Carroll, Annie Maguire, Ben Brooks, Ben Scheirman, Brian Murphy, Bryan Irace, Caleb Davenport, Carly Occhifinto, Casey Liss, Chris Eidof, Christina Warren, Christine Chan, Craig Hockenberry, Daniel Pasco, David Barnard, DJ Brinkerhoff, Federico Viticci, Fiona Spruill, Greg Mavronicolas, Guy English, Jason Brennan, Jeff Grossman, Jeremy Swinnen, Jessie Char, Joe Cieplinski, Joe Fiore, John August, John Gruber, John Voorhees, Jon Mitchell, Kate Sloan, Kathy Campbell, Kelly Capps, Ken Ackerson, Maja Henderson, Marco Arment, Mark Kawano, Matt Alexander, Megan Leet, Merlin Mann, Michael Jurewitz, Mohit Pandey, Myke Hurley, Patrick Gibson, Patrick Rhone, Paul Bruneau, Paul Rehkugler, Peter Vidani, Rachel Viniar, Ricky Mondello, Rob Rhyne, Rob Rix, Sam Soffes, Shawn Blanc, Sid O’Neill, Soroush Khanlou, Stephen Hackett, Steve Matthews, Tara Mann, and Zack Sultan.