Hall of Heroes

By Mike / On / In Appsterdam

In my head are many imaginary rooms, dreamed up for some unrealized future home or headquarters. Among them is the Hall of Heroes, where hangs large woodcut portraits almost exactly like the author portraits that used to hang in Barnes and Noble. I used to imagine sitting in the cafe at Barnes and Noble and writing a great novel, inspired by those portraits.

When they took those portraits down from my local store, the Stephen King portrait found its way onto my wall, where it hung for many years. When I started making software, I would look at that portrait and imagine the portraits I would hang to inspire me in my future career.

Steve Jobs, obviously, and Steve Wozniak. Linus Torvalds, and Bill Gates as well, as you can’t understand one without all. Alan Turing. MLK and Malcolm X. Che. Elizabeth Blackwell. Musashi Miyamoto. Alison Jolly, who began the study of lemurs, and John Cleese, who taught us all so much about nurturing a sense of humor. Both people, notably, who have recently had new species of lemur named after them.

And Tim Berners-Lee. It felt like a significant decision adding him, not for inventing the World Wide Web that underlies so much of what we’ve done since, but for giving it away. In his book, Weaving the Web, he argues that computer scientists have a moral responsibility as well as a technical responsibility. To me, that felt like a charge, and declaring him a hero felt like a statement of how I wanted to be.

Which brings me to Appsterdam. Appsterdam was conceived a year ago, at NSConference 2011. Taking stock of where we are now, looking back at all the dots connected across what seems at once like all the time in the world and no time at all, has been a heady and emotional experience.

It’s clear we’ve passed a certain threshold, that we’re at the point when things start accelerating, when things start growing faster and faster. When I think about what I’d like Appsterdam to be a year from now, I want to see it outgrow its founder.

I was recently introduced to a concept I like a lot: post-heroic leadership. It’s what every company has to achieve in order to retain everything good about its creator, without becoming mired in what was bad about them. It’s what Apple is going through right now. It’s what I want for Appsterdam.

I’ve given a year of my life back to the community. It’s been an amazing year, a successful year, but also an exhausting year. I’m ready for a break, and more than that, I’m ready to let go. It’s time for the movement to level up. It’s time to pass on the reins.

On April 13, Judy and I will be flying to Taipei, Taiwan, to visit her family there, and to celebrate our engagement. We’re going to take a month to disconnect, to quiet the mind, to eat fresh food and drink a lot of water, maybe see a doctor. Hike up a mountain to a temple or a tea plantation, where you can have the best cuppa conceivable. See the future on sale at the street markets there. Relax, recharge, repair.

While we’re away, Paul Darcey will be interim CEO. Paul moved here from Australia to be part of Appsterdam. I’ve been impressed by his travels, and with the broad, round view they have given him. He has a calmness and maturity that is such a complement to my own fiery passion. He has exactly the kind of “steady as she goes” leadership I feel the organization needs now.

If all goes well during my month abroad—and I have no reason to believe otherwise—we’ll make the change permanent, and I will further seek to leave the board of Appsterdam, leaving me with no official ties to the organization. I will continue to carry the honorary titles of Mayor and Founder, and evangelize the city and the community we’ve built here.

I will also continue to advise the now independent leadership of Appsterdam, unbounded by the political necessities of actually running the thing. I’ll be experiencing things from the customer side of the counter, and offering my feedback from a position of experience, rather than of power.

I hope this will also serve as an example to all those inspired by Appsterdam, and as a thorn in the side of any who would attempt to hijack our work by questioning the goals of our organization or the intent of its founder. It is only by selfless action that we disprove those who do not believe in the existence of selfless action.

My hope is that, in good time, we will be able to transition the organization into something that is truly owned and operated by the community of App Makers it serves. I would love to see the leadership positions in the foundation opened up to elections. Democracy is scary and messy, but it’s also the best way we have to give something to the people—for our community to manifest itself through our organization.

As for me, I am in the process of starting a new company, of assembling a new team. I plan to take advantage of the new ecosystem by founding my next startup right here in Amsterdam. As I mentioned before, I plan on making the world’s best educational games for kids.