Most MacStories readers are undoubtedly familiar with the story of David Smith’s app Widgetsmith, which took off last fall after going viral on TikTok. Yesterday, Jason Aten of Inc. published an interview with Smith about his career as an independent developer and how his 12 years of experience building 59 different apps prepared him for the unexpected success of Widgetsmith, which has been downloaded more than 50 million times.
Often, the simplest form of success is what happens when a stroke of good fortune meets years of hard work and preparation. Plenty of people work hard their whole lives but never come across the kind of luck associated with having your app go viral on TikTok. At the same time, plenty of viral social media stories flame out immediately. They never put in the work or preparation that would allow them to capitalize on the moment.
As MacStories readers know, Widgetsmith isn’t Smith’s first App Store success. We’ve covered many of his other apps over the years, but Widgetsmith is in an entirely different universe than anything that came before it. For example, Aten reveals that:
Smith told me that Widgetsmith had more downloads in a single day than Pedometer++ has had in the entire time since it launched in 2013.
That’s remarkable given that Pedometer++ was probably the first pedometer app on the App Store and has remained popular in the seven years since it was released.
There are many valuable lessons in the Inc. story that are broadly applicable beyond app development. Some lessons are as simple as the value of practice and becoming an expert in your field. As Smith explains:
All of those other apps that I built in the past helped. I need to, for example, get the user’s current calendar events so that I can put it in a widget. I know how to get calendar events and pull them into a widget. I’ve done this in another app before.
Smith’s story also shows how easy it is to misjudge demand for a product in advance too. Along with Smith and others who have followed his work, I didn’t expect Widgetsmith to be popular beyond iOS power-users. Widgetsmith is a terrific app, but I never imaged its audience would be bigger than Pedometer++, but as Smith says in his interview:
And it turned out that everybody is that power user who was very fiddly about what they want their Home Screen to look like. I just completely misjudged the size of the market that I was addressing. I thought I was targeting a very specific group of people. And it turned out that that very specific group of people was like everyone.
If there are MacStories readers who still haven’t tried Widgetsmith, do so because it’s fantastic. But, also, don’t miss Inc.’s interview with Smith, which is an excellent look at the combination of hard work and luck that lead to ‘overnight success.’