Dan Counsell is the founder and 'Big Chief' of Realmac Software; an independent software company based in Brighton, UK. Dan has built his team up for over a decade now, and has seen it grow into a company known for creating some of the best Mac and iPhone apps currently available; including the fantastic Clear, Analog and newly released Ember. Dan was kind enough to give us some time to question him about life at Realmac Software and what goes into creating their wonderful products.
Realmac Software has grown from a tiny operation to one of the most remarkable independent software companies, how did it begin and how were you able to achieve growth like that?
I started Realmac Software just over ten years ago in my spare time, back then it was just me working evenings and weekends learning how to build software, it was tough going. I didn't really set out to create a company, it was just a fun side project that eventually seemed to take on a life of its own.
The company grew pretty slowly for the first few years, and It's only in the last five years that things have really taken off. There's now ten of us full time and a host of freelancers. I'm really proud of the fact that we've never taken on any investment or let ourselves be acquired, we've had plenty of offers over the years but I've always turned them down in favour of being independent and staying in control of our own destiny.
Your team is evidently very talented, how do things work on a day to day basis at Realmac HQ?
On a Monday we have a quick team catchup where we'll chat about anything notewothy and then go round the team to see what we all accomplished the previous week. Throughout the rest of the week we'll have ad-hoc product discussions focusing on features or bugs and especially UI/UX issues. These discussions are very imporant as we always like to question everything we do to really make it the best it can be. This process can sometimes feel quite punishing, and I'm sure we throw away more than we ship, but the end result is always worth it.
We don't work in a typical looking office either, it's more like a home; sure we have desks and chairs but apart from that it pretty much looks like a house. This was done intentionally as we spend a lot of time here, so why not try and make it as comfortable as home? For example, we have a fully kitted out kitchen, a nice lounge area and there's not a fluorescent strip light or grey carpet tile in sight! We have monthly team lunches, hack days and the occasional team day out. It's honestly a great place to work and I couldn't imagine doing anything else.
Currently there are five apps that you are selling; Clear, Analog, Ember, RapidWeaver and Courier. What is the process like for deciding upon and developing an app idea?
It's often because we get annoyed with the current crop of apps in a certain category and think we can build something better and innovate. Over the last few years we've shipped a lot of new apps, and as we're only a small team we've actually decided to slim down our portfolio a little and focus on just three core apps; Clear, Ember and RapidWeaver.
Which is your favourite of your apps, and what are some of your favourite Mac apps from other developers?
That's a tough one and a little unfair. I love all our apps for different reasons. I use Clear and Ember on a daily basis so I guess they could be classed as my favourites. Having said that RapidWeaver has a special place in my heart as it's the app that has been around the longest and really helped get Realmac Software off the ground.
I find myself writing a lot of copy these days so I use Byword and love the simplicity of it. I also use Flint, Espresso, Pocket, and Cloudapp on a daily basis. One of my all time favourite apps that has sat in the dock of every Mac I've ever owned is Photoshop; I grew up with it and love it dearly. It seems trendy for people to moan about it on Twitter these days, but I've never found or used anything that comes close to it.
Your apps are primarily creation software and there's a lack of presence in the iPad, do you feel the iPad falls short when it comes to content creation?
That will change over time; if all goes to plan we'll end up with an even spread across the board.
What is your Mac hardware setup like and what do you plan on getting next?
I have the current generation 13" retina MacBook Pro, along with a 27 inch display, it's my perfect setup. The smaller MBP makes it great for commuting while still being powerful enough to be my main machine. I'd be really tempted to switch to a MacBook Air if it was retina. I'd also like a retina Cinema Display but I have a feeling we won't see those for a while.
What would be your ideal device and what do you think is the future of computing hardware?
For doing day to day work I'm totally happy with a desktop machine, it just feels solid and tactile, perfect for doing real work. For casual use, I'd love something wearable. I like the concept of Google Glass but it's far too dorky. Until the tech gets good enough that they can put it into something as small as a contact lens I think I'll be happy with an Apple iBand.
Stay focused on your goal, and work hard. Most people fail becuase they give up or get bored.
Can you reveal anything about any your upcoming products?
I can't talk about long term goals or projects as they have a habit of changing dramatically over time, and we don't like to pre-announce things too far in advance. However, right now we're busy adding iCloud support to Ember, finishing up Clear for iPad, and have also just gone live with a brand new store selling some lovely Realmac goodies. Everything on there is limited edition, including t-shirts, illustrated posters and some rather special Ember vinyl toys.
Finally, what advice do you have to those who want to do what you did and create their own company?
Stay focused on your goal, and work hard. Most people fail becuase they give up or get bored. Also, don't try to raise funding; build it in your spare time, be independant and most of all build something useful.
Thanks a lot for your time Dan!
It was fascinating to get an insight into Realmac HQ and how things run there, and I highly recommend you check out some of their apps.