Conversation with Mike Lee: iPhone Developer, Innovator, Rebel


mike lee iphone developer

We have covered the "Mike Lee Phenomenon" on this blog before. Mike is one of the co-founders of Tapulous (Tap Tap Revenge, Twinkle). Today, we finally caught up with him and got his views on the iPhone, funding for startups, and his latest project, United Lemur.

Let's start with the "FundWare" idea, that has been circulating on Mike's blog and elsewhere on the web. After talking with Mike, we now understand the concept. Essentially, United Lemur is going to endorse one app at a time, after having taken that app through a "vetting" process. In exchange for the endorsement, part of the proceeds for the sale for the first month will go back to United Lemur, with a part of that part going to an actual Lemur charity. Update: This appears to be a misunderstanding on my part. See Mike's comments to this post

Interesting idea, but will it work? Possibly. If it doesn't Mike is not opposed to traditional angel or even venture funding, but this is clearly not his preferred path. Right now United Lemur is a loose collaboration between 10 people, including artists ("I want passionate people, and art is not my personal passion"). The company has enough resources to create "four or five games", before seeking outside financing.

United Lemur is entirely focused on iPhone for the time being, and is wed to the paid model. Clearly, there was some friction with the other Tapulous members who were trying to recreate a more mass-market, "Slide/RockU" phenomenon on the iPhone. Mike is highly skeptical of the ad supported market in general, and iPhone in particular. "That has only worked for one company -- Google".

We'll review the first United Lemur app (which we have just got our hands on) soon. But regardless of what you think of Mike Lee, you have to admire his passion.

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  • Abbey

    Um, I'm not going to lie - "fundware" is a terrible idea and this guy is a jackass. Who gives a rat's ass about the "endorsement" of United Lemur. That said, he's right about paid vs. free apps.

  • Mike Lee

    While I would argue that jackass is too strong an appellation for anyone trying to help other people — however misguided — I take your greater point.

    From a consumer standpoint, Fundware is simply a review site that tells you about new companies and their App Store debuts, with a specific focus on quality and altruism.

    We feel qualified to make these judgments because of our experience building award-winning Mac and iPhone software. If this proves true, eventually you'll care about our endorsement because of our track record for good recommendations.

    Contrary to the article, United Lemur will not be taking a fee or requiring a donation for others' Fundware. We're providing this service in the interest of maintaining quality on the platform, but that gets me into what Fundware means for developers, which is much more complicated.

  • John

    Free has worked in creating alot of great companies. Yahoo for example..On the new side, two billion dollar revenue businesses built off free include MySpace and Skype. I will leave aside the entire radio business and most of the TV business.

    As usual, this guy is speaking about things he does not know anything about with a certainty that can only be created by having a big massive ego or being dilusional.

    He has told us a number of times that he has no ego.

  • Mike Lee

    If I had an ego, I would think I was smart enough to make money by giving my work away for free. I think most people would do better — and this true of any industry — to stick to a simple, tit-for-tat monetization model.

    As far what I know about, you're conjecturing rather negatively on something you know nothing about. Should we consider your comment "dilusional"?

  • Fred Krueger

    I would tend to side with Mike on the free versus paid, at least for now. While free web services like Yahoo and Google have been able to survive off of advertising, they exist on a much larger scale than iPhone apps (today).

    Let's take a hypothetical example: take a free game (like Tap Tap Revenge). Assume that the installed base is 1 million (very few apps have such an installed base at this point, but lets go with it). Now, of the 1 million, lets assume that about 5% use it monthly -- probably a high estimate, actually. That's 50,000 people, say 10 visits per person -- 500,000 visits per month.

    Now at a 2$ ecpm (note the e in ecpm) we get a grand total of $1000 a month in ad revenue.

    Now contrast that to the paid model. If 1Million people will download the free app, probably (although this is just a wild guess), 1% of those people would spend a few dollars for the app. Even at 1$, we get $10,000 in profits -- which will trump the subscription model unless you are looking for a multi-year return horizon.

  • Another John

    I gotta say... watching the Mike Lee meltdown as it happens is pretty entertaining. Hopefully this whole thing will be a humbling experience for him and he comes back with at least 10% less douchery for his next venture. Seeing how huge his ego currently is, that's probably the most we can hope for.

    Shipley taught the boy well. lol

  • Mike Lee

    Let's hope! If I wasn't able to learn from failure, I'd be half the douche bag I am today. ;^)

  • Tristan O’Tierney

    @John: Can you name a free service that doesn't use ads? A lot of people (me included, and so is Mike if you didn't guess) hate ads. They're useless and annoying and they force you to compromise your site for the sake of the advertisers. Some people, like Apple, don't compromise on quality and selling BETTER software for money than crap software for free is going to win over the quality segment which is clearly a profitable market.

  • wunderkind

    The best idea is a hybrid system. free for a trial -- open to everybody -- and then you pay.

    no doubt with the recession we need to move past "free forever" business models.


  • design

    Tap Tap is awesome. My daughter can't get enough of it.

  • Mike Lee

    Wunderkin, I agree with you. A demo model is a great model, at least until a company can establish itself as a known provider of quality software.

    Design, thank you. I'm glad your daughter loves TTR.

  • Bored

    i don't get it why is his blog called motherfucker