The Mike Lee Phenomenon: TapTap Revenge, Lemurs and "FundWare"


If you have been peripherally following the iPhone app development scene, you undoubtedly have heard of Mike Lee, the self described "world's toughest programmer", lead developer of "Tap Tap Revenge" and now the founder of "" an unlikely project that involves iPhone gaming, a new model for angel capitalism and saving the Madagascar Lemur.

We haven't yet reached out to Mr Lee, but we can report a chronology of "the facts" as they have gelled into a new form of internet "meme".

Mike was one of the founders of Tapulous, one of the first companies to focus entirely on the iPhone as a development plaform. News about the company's plans were leaked to the world in June 2008; the company promised to bring a new "ecosystem" to the iPhone, and raised $1.8 million from leading angel investors such as Andy Bechtolsheim and Jeff Clavier. One month later, the company followed through with their Twitter Client and Twinkle and a "Guitar Hero" type game called Tap Tap Revenge, the later reaching over one million downloads in an astonishing three weeks.

The launch of Tapulous coincided with the wall of hype that surrounded the launch of the iPhone. Hundreds (if not more) blogs followed the "Tap Tap Revenge" story intensely, as if history was being made. Mike Lee, in his blog, refers to it with terms that might make you think he had created the next Photoshop "congratulations kid, you are the king of graphics". Then, one month later, it all blew apart, and Mike was forced out of the company, an event that was as well covered in the blogosphere as if Steve Jobs had left Apple.

Now, quoting Che Guevara, and pontificating on his blog about a new model for angel capital, Mike is launching "something" that is hard for us to get our arms around. It involves somehow saving the Madagascar Lemur, raising money from "the community" for iPhone games, and a Myst like game called PuzzleLotto, which is in the pre-release stage.

We want to be believers, but honestly, it appears that the success of Tap Tap Revenge has gotten to Mike's head, and that statements like "This is my masterpiece, my game-changer, my coup d’état. This is my theory of relativity, my 747, my Macintosh" can make you look pretty ridiculous in a place like Silicon Valley if they are not backed up by real creativity.

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  • Rick

    Hopefully he'll reach out to you and clarify some of the items you mention above. He seems like a brilliant developer and has the ability to take a trusted team with him. I believe a few others left shortly after his departure and are heading over to rise the Lemur.

  • JD

    Found this writeup via your comment on Heh, I thought it was just me scratching my head.

    This is some bullshit.

    The guy worked on Delicious Library, moved on to make a Guitar Hero-like iPhone game, and now… what? A puzzle game on the iPhone with part of the proceeds going to charity. That's revolutionary how, exactly?

    The "Fundware" thing… I don't get it. Maybe there's just not enough background information yet. Is United Lemur going to be redistributing funds to *other* developers? Or is this just a fancy word for "bootstrapping our own projects"… which, unless I'm on a different planet, is exactly how most businesses get started. You work hard to release a product, then use the proceeds for another product.

    I don't doubt that the guy is a talented engineer. But from everything I've seen thus far, there's a *lot* of jerking off going on, and it seems like no one wants to open their mouth and ask, "What about everything that you've done thus far, is actually revolutionary rather than *slightly evolutionary,* in any way? (Did you forget that say, the Product Red campaign was doing this for a while now?)"

  • Konstantin

    Huh? Lemurs? I thought we had to worry about more important things like the war and the economy. This mike guy is some pompous %^%^

  • Mike Lee

    You should try reaching out to me sometime. You'll find I'm friendly and eager to talk about my team's projects.

    I can help clear up some confusion. I wasn't telling Tap Tap Revenge "congratulations kid, you are the king of graphics." I was telling Louie that because the hi-res TTR screenshot he made was on the stage with Steve Jobs. It's a reference to Titanic, the whole king of the world thing. A bit hyperbolic, but life is short and words are fun.

    I know I am annoyingly self-amazed sometimes. It's a bad habit that comes from years of hard living suddenly turned around. At the end of the day, I just want to do good work that people enjoy, and if I can help people doing it, all the better.

    Whether I'm a pompous ass, lemurs, war, the economy — all these things are related. The world is a complicated place. I'm trying to figure it all out, just like everyone else.

    In the end, Puzzllotto will be a hit or it will flop. United Lemur will change the world, or be a cautionary tale. In the end, there's little need to speculate.

  • Tucker E.

    Why are you the worlds toughest programmer? I know you have some ties to Hawaii where I'm from...but I've never met you at any local martial arts matches or the Navy seals invitaional brawl that I used to help orgamize here on Oahu every year...I'm just curious where the worlds toughest programmer comes from....perhaps your fights were outside Hawaii?

  • Mike Lee

    So the story goes that I was reaching the point in my apprenticeship that I had to start considering my own personal brand. Which aspect of mine could I legitimately claim to be most competitive at?

    As I was considering this, I was struck — literally — by a Buick. Despite the rather dramatic scene, I was able to walk away.

    It occurred to me that I'd been through more, physically and mentally, than most people could even imagine — especially in my line of work.

    Hence the appelation. The mistake most people make is thinking tough suggests meanness. It's tough like an old boot. It's not going to fight you, but you're not going to win against it either.

  • Tucker E.

    Ahh..ok...well, you have to admit, from the pictures I've seen of you on Wil's site and whatnot you look like a pretty big dude, so you can see where people get that impression...

  • Mike Lee

    You're right, I'm huge. 6'3", 300#, 3 years of strength training.

    But I was pretty malnourished when I was kid. I was one of the smallest kids in school and got bullied and teased mercilessly. I had a massive height spurt before senior year (RHS '94) and gained 100# over the next year.

    I'm a small kid in a bully's body; I never developed the disposition.

  • Fred Krueger

    what is "wills site" ?