The Selling Of Instapaper

Marco Arment sold Instapaper.

Boy, did that take me by surprise but since the news came out and I have had a chance to listen to Marco talk about it in his own words, I am less and less surprised. Instapaper, the read-it-later app, was an early mobile web pioneer. From the beginning is a web app that made the content fit the screen (not a desktop web app that could run on a mobile screen). Now we call this responsive design and it is everywhere. But back then a website designed for the smartphone screen was rare.

In 2008 when Apple opened up the iPhone for apps, Instapaper was there on day two or three. It was a huge success, as so many apps were back then. Six years later and the app is still strong but has some mighty powerful competitors, all free and backed by big money. (Instapaper is $3.99.)

As Marco explained, he was burned out and guilt-ridden. Every day he would wake up worried that a competitor had wiped out his business. Every night he stressed that a server would crash and he wouldn’t wake up to fix it. He was guilty about not getting updates done, guilty about angry customers, and even guilt about his own complaining when he was successful [1].

The good news for Marco is that he was clear about what he wanted: to run a small business, feed his family, and not have any employees. And it was clear to him that Instapaper required more than what he could provide. So he spent time and found Instapaper a home at Betaworks. There’s security here: Instapaper and its customers have found a home where the app won’t be sunset and Marco knows that the residuals from Instapaper, revenues from The Magazine, and income from his blog and podcast will help keep him and his young family afloat.

I hope he doesn’t regret this decision. It is painfully difficult to build an app with the success of Instapaper. I believe he owes his success with The Magazine to Instapaper. And I believe there was a clear road forward for Instapaper, one where subscription revenues could play a big part. Could he have found an independent non-employee employee to help with the next generation of Instapaper just like he found in Glenn Fleishman to help with The Magazine? I believe so, if he wanted to look.

Another thing to factor in is that Marco and his wife had their first baby within the last year. If I learned anything from having two kids, never ever ever make life changing decisions during that first year. The brain is just not right. The adjustment to parenthood, the sleepless nights, it just makes for some funny thinking. I hope Marco doesn’t regret the move later, when his brain returns from Fuzzyland.

I have more I want to write on this. Marco is so open with his thinking and feelings. Plus I think there is a clear path forward for the service, one that can generate the kinds of revenue security most people would die for. (Not most of us crazy entrepreneurs but most indie developers and normal human beings I know.) Those topics will have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, good luck Marco. I hope you find the next big thing for you. But it won’t be easy. As you said yourself, you couldn’t have done Instapaper today. The time to build from website to iPhone app to iPad app to Android app, the build up of services, just aren’t available to indie developers today. Today he would have needed money and staff, both of which are things Marco has no interest in dealing with.

This concludes Part 1. Part 2 | Part 3

[1] This is a Midwest thing. Like Marco, I too was born in Ohio and all too familiar with this feeling.

2 thoughts on “The Selling Of Instapaper

  1. Pingback: The Psychology Of Instapaper | Elia Insider

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