Hey everyone, I spent some time drafting this today for a project email update #14 to our ~25,000 mailing list. Will probably make some edits / add some graphics and mail it out on Monday.
There are a lot of you not on this list, which we don’t even have a way to sign up for right now. So for context, this is largely for the 1.x Clear fans who have been supporting this revival so far, though if any of you are new and loving Clear, you might find some of this interesting. Just be warned, it’s long.
I had promised you a post launch update.
A LOT has happened in the past in the first three weeks. I’ve taken a couple stabs at writing the whole thing out, and keep failing to make it more succinct… but felt I owed you an update sooner than later.
We totally failed on two major fronts.
- We should have tested Clear 1.x > Clear 2.0 one time migration at scale. While thousands of testers had been pounding away at the Clear 2 beta in some cases for years, we did not properly test this crucial final step, resulting in some serious bugs, confusion and panic for a meaningful amount of you, and most heartbreakingly, some real cases of data loss that while we were largely able to fix and recover, some cases we were not. This is fairly unforgivable… and we will be prioritizing redundant data backup in the early roadmap.
- Perhaps the biggest was a failure of communication. We failed to reach out to everyone directly through the 1.x app, with proper advance notice of the syncing sunsetting and major changes coming in the 2.0, along with the dire situation that necessitated this kind of a Hail Mary rescue attempt.
I believe we could’ve averted most of the disaster of this launch had we done our job on these two main points. And I also think it’s possible we may’ve, had we not put ourselves under a bit too much unhealthy pressure to finally ship this to the world after so many delays.
This was a terrible way to learn, but we have deeply internalized some lessons. Moving forward we cannot compromise on communicating to you all anything this important or possibly disruptive. And we must be less cavalier about ambitiously overloading our plates or juggling too many.
The Diastrously Turbulent Launch
Our first day was exciting! Some good launch press. Some very happy early fans. Shop humming to life. But then more ominous whispers began to grow to a murmur, then roar and things quickly took a turn.
It got quite dark a few days in, when we began to realize the scale of the data migration issues (seemingly closer to 10% than the <1% we initially suspected), comb through logs but did not yet have any theories to start working on fixes, and all the while buffeted by a storm of hundreds of 1 star reviews from angry and panicking longtime users.
I am someone who is happiest when my work is delighting people. I thought the toughest part would be the no’s that Clear’s initial revival would require. No sync, no Mac. No we can’t keep the design exactly the same, etc.
But to have failed and betrayed some of you so seriously with possible data loss, and all overnight at once. (And yes, frankly the amount of heckling about the design changes too.) It was devastating.
On Friday night the team latched onto two key possible fixes – a ‘legacy data’ store that we had missed in our data migration, that the app would create if its own internal data migration failed at some point in ~2014 to fallback to. And an initial basic crash fix to very long lists (many, many of you with ten years worth of checked off tasks uncleared etc.)
Notably, both of these key issues heavily targeted our most hardcore base who had been using the app the longest and relying on it the hardest, in a further cruel twist of the knife.
(BTW if you are experiencing sluggishness please reach out, we do have workarounds for a snappy experience until we can further optimize this.)
But with the 2.0.1 out, things began to turn for the better as the majority of those locked out, were now back to listing.
I think we all still felt shellshocked, but more hopeful now with some traction under our feet.
We’re Now Stabilizing
Going into this, we knew we would be losing some of you through this relaunch, especially the subset that relies on syncing, and to some extent a group of ‘traditionalists’ who flatteringly, but problematically consider Clear’s design frozen in 2014 as absolute perfection not to be touched. And of course, anyone who lost data… this was worst unexpected factor.
With the numbers settling some weeks in, we think we lost around 10% of you.
This sucks, and we do hope to win back a real chunk of you back over the next year or two… (P.S. if you are one of those who relied on sync, you can reply and ask for a refund and I will help. Same if we were unable to rescue your data.)
But thankfully… 90% of you have stuck with us, and the majority of you who did, seem generally assured in its direction(albeit with its bugs to work out and refinements and performance fixes to do) and heartened by a real signal that this app has a pulse and a future now.
Reviews are also starting to turn around since the 2.0.2. Thank you everyone who wrote in positively.
Phoenix from the Ashes
We had a number of key problems to solve with this revival (the ticking time bomb of an ancient codebase, the dusty design and years of no evolution to catch up on, etc.) but the existential one that was truly dooming Clear was a broken business.
Clear 1.x had been in the red for most of the past decade, and the trickle of $5 sales cut it off from reaching an entire generation.
We spent a lot of time puzzling over the proven business models in the industry, but had serious problems with all of them.
Generally they gate key functionality behind subscription, ads, or paywalls in hostile and desperate ways. And many of them put pressure on continuously selling new features, which would be death to Clear’s simplicity.
“The most important thing is we find a way for Clear to actually and sustainably bring in revenue to fund ongoing development in alignment with its principles.”
“Ahah, I got it! Let’s not gate any functionality and try to sell entirely optional cosmetics in a productivity app, one famous for its minimalism. I feel quite confident because nobody in this market category so far has ever proven this is possible.”
But it’s not a contrivance or lark. It was the best business model we could find (or really, design) after thorough and creative searching, that harmonizes with Clear’s unique strengths and principles.
It’s Clear’s commitment to minimalism that makes it so satisfying to transform with personalization, and its natural affinity to light game mechanics and the dopamine of the loop of getting things done, that has always made its secret unlocks etc. feel productive and fun.
We also felt it was important the update feel generous to you all, for having stuck with Clear all these years, and did not want to force some kind of upgrade pricing.
The strangest part? It is working so far:
$10.2K so far is quite encouraging in our humbler indie context. This funds real development which we hope will continue making Clear even more valuable to you.
Our first launch month of sales will cover the costs of the initial hot fix updates and the upcoming 2.1 with widgets returning. (Let’s forget the 2.0 sunk costs for now ) And roughly equal the entirety of revenue Clear 1.x sales brought in over 2023.
That’s a positive feedback loop breathing life back into Clear! It’s alive! And despite and after all this…? It honestly feels a little miraculous.
We Owe You
To our 1,100 shop patrons so far, and especially those who have been returning regularly to the shop and building a collection, you have been heroically funding our early updates so far through this year. We are particularly grateful to you for going out on this limb with us, early adopting the super experimental shop and proving it as a concept. As a business, you are the ones performing CPR right now and recovering this beating pulse and bringing Clear back to life.
And don’t worry, if you haven’t bought anything yet that’s OK too! We remain committed to the shop being entirely optional and believe in some kind of karmic longterm return there. Please continue enjoy the app, and one day when you’ve had a super productive week with it and something catches your eye, treat yourself!
(There are plenty of other ways to support us too, like spreading the word, converting a friend or family member to our little listing cult, writing a review, etc. which I know many of you have already been supporting us warmly and generously with )
Overall this relaunch has further articulated a sense that Clear will find its way and do its best by further delighting those of you who adore it the most. And that’s probably you if you signed up for these emails and have read this far.
A New Generation
Clear is now very ready to meet the world again, on our terms.
While the other todo apps furiously compete amongst themselves, we can credibly pitch Clear as:
- Uniquely beautiful, pristine, striking, colorful design
- Uniquely fluent listing on phone via trademark gestures etc.
- Uniquely personalizable, perhaps more than any other app on the store
- Uniquely fun and satisfying to use and even shop in, if you’d like!
- Uniquely free to use and generous with 0 functionality gated
Our strategy this year will be leaning into our unique strengths and further refining and distilling the best parts of the Clear iPhone experience that stands apart from every other app, to both further satisfy you all, and also begin connecting with a new generation.
We do not have the resources immediately to match their sync support with our own sync support. But we are bristling with unique angles we can work that no other todo app can even sanely consider tapping into.
The future is fun. Starting with widgets in 2.1.
We’re starting work on Clear 2.1 that we hope will feature the return of widgets along with other fixes and refinements. I’ll email you next when we have this ready for you!
If you made it to the end, thank you, and I hope you feel it didn’t waste your time. In meaningful ways you are a stakeholder in this project, and I felt you deserved a real report.
Phill & Team Clear