The Long Play

By Mike / On / In Appsterdam

There’s a common misconception that, since Appsterdam is the world capital of App Makers, the Appsterdam foundation makes apps. We don’t. As a meta-organization, we don’t produce apps ourselves; we represent the interests of people who do. The inevitable next question is, “then how do you make money?”

It’s like the Egg Board or the Cheese Council. The individual for-profit producers pitch in a bit of money to support a non-profit organization that promotes the product, advises the government, and guides the industry. Their goal in doing so is not to make money themselves, but to increase the overall economy for the sake of their constituents.

We come up with solutions to problems our industry has. We have meetings with 40-60% female attendance. We teach people how to give better conference presentations. We’re building a better valley in the heart of Europe. We’re providing a destination for the world’s smartest people.

Individuals and organizations who appreciate what we do can support our work by donating money, time, and facilities to the foundation. We’ve been operating for the past year on almost zero budget. Imagine what we could do with money.

That inevitably leads to the question that must cut to the quick of every person who’s ever founded a non-profit: “How do you make money?” The logic goes something like, if you’re not paying yourself a huge salary, then you must be doing it for love, and nobody works for love, so you must be a fraud.

That kind of logic is not just insulting, it’s simplistic. The Appsterdam foundation does not have commercial goals. Personally, I do this for religious reasons, but if you are unable to see a world where people do things for reasons other than money, you will just have to look harder. The opportunity is not in the Appsterdam foundation itself, but in the ecosystem that the foundation is building.

This brings us to the parable of Steve Jobs. As CEO of Apple, he only paid himself a dollar a year. You can argue about whether he did it for love, but you can’t argue that he didn’t become a very, very rich man.

In lieu of salary, Steve took stock. Then he led the organization into a period of growth that saw it eventually become the world’s most valuable company. Not only can you make a lot more money with stock than a typical CEO salary, you pay a lower tax rate, and don’t look like you’re fleecing investors, since they’re getting rich, too.

We are App Makers. By contributing to the tech communities where we live, we can all benefit. As Appsterdam lives up to its potential, it will continue to attract top talent, investors, and opportunities, not just for the people of Appsterdam, but for everyone.

There are plenty of people around here content with a couple hundred thousand Euro from the government, but that’s chump change compared to the kind of money you can make in the long play.

I want to make the world’s best educational games, right here in Amsterdam, and I plan to make money by doing so. A lot of money. But to steal one from Carl Sagan, if you want to build apps, first you have to build Appsterdam.

Religious reasons

By Mike / On / In Personal

We are motivated by so much more than money.

The first job I ever had in college was taking notes for students whose challenges made it hard for them to do so themselves. As much as people make fun of community college, I’m glad I spent some time there, because it gave me a chance to meet the full spectrum of mankind. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without those introductions.

Take even just one example, like the deaf community. They don’t consider themselves disabled, just different. They communicate in the most beautiful way, creating physical poetry, like hula, for even the most mundane of topics. They do not envy us. If anything they pity us, trapped and deluded in our world of sound.

Sometimes I get anxious, thinking that I might get hit by a car or have a stroke and be left paralyzed, fully aware mentally, but trapped behind as little as a single, blinking eye. I see people like Christopher Hills, able to communicate, able to tell his story, as we are all compelled to do, with the help of technology.

The world inspires me to change it. I have as much choice in the matter as Van Gogh had to paint. “The sun compels me to paint,” he screamed, as it marked the inescapable flow of entropy by riding across the sky, unstoppable as the sand of our time spilling through the glass funnel of our lives.

I genuinely worry that at the rate we’re going, we may fall short of that threshold between evolving to the point where we make contact with the rest of the life that’s out there and using up our planet’s resources while destroying ourselves in the process.

I sincerely believe that we may not have 100 years on this planet. We’ve pumped so much CO2 into the atmosphere, we’ve set off a methane cycle that’s going to accelerate global warming and extinct us within three generations. I don’t know if it’s too late to fix, but I do think it’s worth trying. It might at least buy us some time.

Things are changing, and the changes are themselves accelerating. Whatever happens, if we have any chance of fixing it, escaping it, or adapting to it, it’s in getting the smartest people in the world together in one place. I spent a year looking for a place, and I chose the Netherlands. It’s pretty free, not too expensive, and solidly capitalist. It’s easy for Americans to get to, and everyone speaks English.

Once you believe something like this, money no longer becomes a motivating factor. You need enough to live, and enough for your team to live, but that’s about it. The material things that give most people pleasure are behind you, as your survival instinct takes over and you do what humans do: rage against the dying of the light.

I believe these things, and a whole lot of other things I don’t have the math to explain. Therefore I cannot prove them, but they are a model that seems to produce useful results. To me, that is the essential definition of religion.