Local photographer and app developer Tyson Crosbie recently teamed up with Curtis Miller of Flatterline to create an app that would take the hassle out of saving. According to the website, Control is "the simplest budgeting tool since cash."
The claim isn't very far off. The app allows you to set budget goals for either a week or a month, and then you can monitor your progress as you enter in transactions over time. The app is formatted incredibly simply: it's black and white and oh-so-user-friendly. It lacks many of the bells and whistles of other finance apps -- there are no categorized purchase views or colorful pie charts -- but this is an intentional part of the app's design.
We caught up with Crosbie to talk about why the app was designed this way, and to discuss what it's like working as a creative in Phoenix.
How did you get into the "field" of developing apps? Was it like you just woke up one day and decided "oh hey... I think I want to make an app"?
I actually do that most days, just most days aren't always build an app. Mostly it's how to build something to take over the world or make my life more functional and/or interesting. With this app it was just a tool that I needed at the time.
I was lucky this time because I was able to drag an experienced developer into my project to help make this a reality. Otherwise I'd have probably spent the next year learning Objective C. I can be a little obsessive when it comes to building out my cocktail napkin ideas.
More specifically, with this project I was on a cash budget but needed/wanted a tool that would keep count for me without having to go to the ATM every week or carry cash around.
Speaking of, word on the street is that you were homeless for a year. Is it true? Did it play into the creation of the app?
I was homeless for a year but it was more like I was backpacking through the west coast for a year staying with friends and visiting all the coffee shops I could find. The year following that was more where the need for a tool like this was born. When I returned from my trip I spent a year living on $20 a week here in Phoenix.
Can you describe what you really hoped to achieve with Control (given that there are also other apps out there for budgeting)?
There are a million apps out there for budgeting. I hated them all. I wanted something really clean and simple but it seems when developers go to build an app they keep asking themselves: What more can we cram into this for users?, and it becomes a mess.
Who wants to spend so much time training an app what category each purchase goes into? or spend even more time managing their money than they already do? I just wanted what I had with cash. I wanted something that got out of my way and just let me have control of the decisions about what and where to spend. I'm an adult after all.
The other annoying thing the other budgeting apps do is they forget how powerful the phone has become. They treat the phone like a checkbook that will keep track of your money like a ledger -- entering every number by hand and keeping a transaction list and graphs and a bunch of bullshit that my bank already does for me. We used the touch interface to make transactions super simple and we used whole dollar amounts because it just makes sense in the context of keeping a spending budget. When you use whole dollar amounts and round up you can save money without even thinking about it.
Was it hard to find collaborators who felt the same way about all of these ideas in terms of simplicity and accessibility?
Building simple tools is way harder than I thought it would be. Curtis Miller and I spent the majority of out time just talking about how to build as much value as we could into the final product with the end goal being something you could use without even thinking about how much it was actually doing.
I'm glad Curtis was there to temper my minimalism or it could have been way too simple in the end. He was able to build things into the app that I didn't think would be needed and that I really like now that I'm using it. And we have a good development schedule of updates to the app planned already based on the feedback we've gotten back.
With this idea it was really fortunate that I was hanging out at CoHoots at the same time as Curtis was thinking about building apps for the iPhone. His goal was to build a few products and get them out into the store and see what the market would do. My idea was to build a simple tool that would benefit users by staying out of their way. It was just good timing for both of us.
That sort of speaks to another question we had: There are a lot of naysayers out there about Phoenix culture -- for tech stuff, "it's no San Francisco" for instance -- but did you feel like this city was a good place to be to doing this sort of thing?
Sigh... This is the big question for Phoenix and it never seems to go away.
I've always been a builder that didn't care about much more than getting ideas out of the idea pile and into the world. A lot of the attitude in Phoenix that I've run into is an "Eat their own" type competitiveness that has been frustrating at times.
I've found a good core group of people that have the same values as I do but it certainly isn't the norm here. There isn't money here for tech so you need pioneers that will just build amazing stuff because we can. When that starts to happen more I think there will be a better environment for making bigger more expensive endeavors. But without that I feel like it's cart before the horse. It's exhausting but I find value in building outside of money, which is a huge privilege that not everyone can claim.
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Do you feel like your work as a developer has been influenced by your work as an artist?
It'd be impossible to separate any of this from the other. All of this talk about ideas, experiments and building is informed by my experience as an artist. It's those ideas that I have in the middle of the night that I have to pursue no matter what, that I have to make happen.
The same values apply: excellence in craft, clear concept, refinement, production, and sharing/selling. Creating products out of concept that facilitate a new or better experience for an audience, what's more artistic than that?