Thought Starters

The highs and lows of building Astropad

Summer is practically here and there’s a lot of “newness” in the air! New iPads, new products in the works (😋), and a lot of new faces here in the Astropad community.

I thought it’d be a good time to reintroduce myself, the brand, and the humans behind Astropad. I’m quite proud of my team!

Over the years we’ve celebrated some big wins, but each of those wins is mirrored by epic failures too: We’ve launched products that flopped, been kicked off of the App Store, and seen our sales plummet to the point of almost no return (more on that below). 

The purpose of sharing our Astropad journey isn’t to be self-indulgent (although it is cathartic!). Instead, I think our story is relatable: 

There are a lot of creatives and entrepreneurial-minded folks in this crowd. And many of you have probably felt the grind of building, and failing, and getting up to rebuild. And then failing again! That’s what our journey has felt like. 👇

My cofounder and I were roommates as Apple interns 

In the summer of 2007, my cofounder Giovanni and I met for the first time as roommates during our internship at Apple; Giovanni traveled from Italy and I came from Illinois. Those were formative years for us as young software engineers working at Apple with Steve Jobs at the helm. It was a much smaller Apple then, just before the launch of the iPhone — in an era where the Mac and iPod (remember those!) reigned supreme. 

The iPad Nano was first released in 2006

In the years following, we went our separate ways: Giovanni stayed at Apple, while I went off to explore startups.

In 2013, Giovanni and I reconnected on Twitter with a crazy idea to turn the iPad into something like a Wacom tablet. We took a leap of faith, and after two years of development on nights and weekends, we launched our drawing software Astropad Studio

Building tech as a “bicycle of the mind”

During our time at Apple, Giovanni and I were inspired by Steve Jobs’ idea of the computer as a “bicycle of the mind.” This refers to a study that measured the efficiency of movement: Humans trailed behind species like condors and horses, but when you put a human on a bicycle, it greatly surpassed any other species. 🚲

Steve Jobs said in an interview:

“We humans are tool-builders. We can fashion tools that amplify our abilities to spectacular magnitudes. For me, a computer has always been a bicycle of the mind.” (Watch the interview on Youtube →)

This was always an inspiration to us, so fast forward to when the first iPads were released, and it didn’t sit right with us to see such powerful devices being used for time-wasting consumption. We made it our mission to build the kinds of products that encourage creativity. 

We almost didn’t survive getting “sherlocked” by Apple

By June 2019, Astropad Studio had taken off like a rocket, proving there was a real need for software that turned the iPad into a creative powerhouse. Artists from around the world were using Astropad Studio to design everything from 3D models to posters for Star Wars.

But it wasn’t just the creative professionals that noticed our success. That same year, Apple announced a new feature in macOS Catalina that closely copied our software. It’s called getting “sherlocked” — when Apple copies the product of a third-party developer and offers it as a free feature. There’s been an ongoing antitrust investigation into Apple by the U.S. government for sherlocking. 

To be honest, it was pretty devastating for us: Our revenue tanked, morale was low, and we thought it might be the end. But reflecting on it five years later, I can genuinely say that getting sherlocked was a blessing in disguise. It forced us to shore up our vulnerabilities and make some major changes to how we do business:

  • Cross-platform, always: To cover our bases, we brought Studio and Luna cross-platform to Windows. It was a big engineering effort, but we no longer rely solely on Apple’s platform. 
  • Doubling down on rich features: To differentiate from Apple, we focused on building new features and customizations for pro users, like Computer-to-Mac Mode in Luna Display and Custom Quick Keys in Studio.
  • Build, build, build: Perhaps this was our biggest takeaway. The tech landscape is constantly changing, so to keep up we always need to be working on the next innovation. Which leads me to where we are today… 

Mastering our ABCs: Always. Be. Creating.

Today, we’ve built an incredible culture of play and experimentation on the team. We’ve seen that as we take more risks, we uncover new product ideas to pursue. It’s a good lesson for anyone building or creating something new: Make time to play, because you never know what it will spark! 

We’ve dipped our toes into the accessories space with Rock Paper Pencil and Darkboard. We’re currently exploring a product concept for avid readers. And our software team is quietly hustling on a new collaboration tool. 👀 

The second half of 2024 should be pretty interesting!

Giovanni and me today… Dad-Mode ACTIVATED!

So for those of you in our community who have been along for the ride, thanks for sticking it out with us. 🫶 We couldn’t be where we are without you! 

And to all of the new faces here in the Astropad community, we’re so happy you’re here! 🤗