Getting punk rock on the "iPhone bubble" To hear iPhone-app developers tell it, VCs are circling and the end of days is nigh. Some developers can push out at an app in four months for less than $5,000, so why play with other people's money at all? "Fuck the VCs" says indie developer John Casasanta, of Tap Tap Tap. "What we’re about to experience in the iPhone world is going to be a bubble along the lines of the one in the late '90s/early 2000s." Echoing that is Mike Lee, cofounder of iPhone app development team Tapulous, who raised $1.8M in angel funding this summer. This week, Lee, one of Tapulous's nine employees, was told to exit his own company. Lee left a depressingly cocky send-off to his team in his wake. It's hardly the rallying cry to go it alone that he meant it to be.
When I spoke to each of you about Tapulous, whether I recruited you, or inherited you from GoGoApps, I spoke of an engineering paradise where smart people would come together to ship beautiful applications, to lead a computing revolution, and to become a real force for world change.
It's a blustery start, yes: app development is world-changingly romantic, but romance rarely pays the bills. Still, it's not as silly as when he starts to channel Steve Jobs:
So what now? I’m going to work on my autobiography and come to terms with being ejected from the company I helped build. I’m going to spend time with my wife, and continue to fret over Madagascar. Then, when the next interesting project comes along, you’ll hear about it here. So in closing, my team, my friends, I must leave you to the fight.
Who can resist a tease about their next act when they're headed out the door, right? But Lee doesn't stop there. No, his new project comes pitched in his very next post:
Yesterday I said I was going to hang out and write and figure out what I want to do, but it's kind of obvious what I want to do... Forget professional CEOs. I'm an engineer, and a company is a just a project with formal ownership. Let's engineer a better company... Here's an idea — I could take my newly minted Silicon Valley Veteran badge and appeal to investors who are personal heroes, like Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Guy Kawasaki, Paul Graham, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Alison Jolly, Richard Dawkins, and Wil Shipley.
As iPhone developer (and former Apple developer) Buzz Andersen points out as a friendly counterpoint, Lee isn't doing anything all that revolutionary by taking a comparatively stupid amount of money to make iPhone apps. But that's what developers really want, to be the celebrities in their own rockstar scene. And that requires the kind of ineffable "indie cred" taking VC cash could tarnish. But do they want to put out a good product, or just a product that makes themselves feel good? Maybe "doing it punk rock-style," as Andersen suggests, isn't just a glamorous way to frame bootstrapping. It also allows coders like Lee to pose as uncompromising revolutionaries. Right: Uncompromising revolutionaries who help Steve Jobs sell millions of iPhones out of the kindness of their hearts.