Finding Mountains That Don't Exist
Published 5 years ago
It can pay to be too early
My brother Ian and I have been making games and apps for Apple platforms since 1994. At our first company, Freeverse, we had ringside seats for a lot of history... We had neighboring booths with Bungie at MacWorld Expo when they were still a Mac company. We remember David Helgason sitting on the floor of another of our booths at MacWorld demoing a little program in beta called Unity 1.0. We had games for sale in the first Apple Stores, (including Big Bang Brain Games, the first retail boxed game made with Unity). We were there when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, and we had games on the App Store the day it launched. Yes, we're old. 
Eventually, we grew to a team of 30 based in Brooklyn before being aquired by ngmoco.
Now, we have Second Verse. It's a team of three and that's the way we like it.
We wanted a platform to pursue some app and other ideas, but didn't want the responsibility of large payrolls or even larger corporate ambitions. So we're keeping it small and lean. Sure, we want to make some money but we also want the freedom to make stuff we know won't "monetize" and that means staying small.
Since selling Freeverse, Ian and I have taken some time off, played with our assorted kids, and have watched the App ecosystem from our new position out of the trenches. 
When thinking about all the transformations that mobile devices have enabled in society and culture, we thought about how important the camera was in so many of those. From Selfies to Snapchat to civil unrest; the fact that everyone has a camera with them at all times is a new thing for humanity and is changing our interactions with each other. 
So we thought concentrating on the camera aspect of mobile devices would be an interesting area to explore.
Fotomoji is the first of two camera-centric apps we're making. It takes any photo and turns it into a mosaic made entirely from emojis. Its a simlple thing, and its not a game, but its a very cool effect.
We knew the camera was powerful, but we also saw how the modern hieroglyphics of emojis and texting/chatting was also transforming modern communications. WeChat, Slack, ChatBots... this is also an area where we're still in the Cambrian Explosion period of innovation. And that's where we really want to be as a company.
If you're making a dual-stick shooter, that's awesome, but you kind of have an idea what it will be and where it fits in to the grand scheme of things. But when you're playing at the rapidly transforming edges of technology and society, you never quite know what's going to happen, or what new insights will be gained.
This isn't to say that I think Fotomoji will remake society; its just a fun, viral, little app that does something kind of neat. But that's enough. From our perspective, just the process of thinking about these things and building while thinking, will inform what we do next and make us better and more consequential app developers. It also gives us the best chance for an asymetric success.
Our belief has always been that being too-early to market is actually a really good thing. You'll learn the important stuff before anyone else even realizes that there are lessons to be learned. A rising tide may lift all boats, but where the techtonic plates of technology and culture collide, anything can happen. You can get crushed but you can also find yourself on the summit of a mountain that didn't even exist the year before.
Fotomoji is a fun, viral little app that does something kind of neat. Our hope is that we learn something about photo apps, and sharing apps, and emoji apps. And that the knowledge we gain will be valuable to us and help us get to the right spot as new mountains are born.
Ian Lynch Smith