Tapulous, The early days
In October of 2007, Steve Jobs announced that the iPhone would open up to third party developers that coming February. I got a little excited and reached out to a couple of people, including Sean Heber, who was active in the jailbreak community. Sean had just wrapped a crazy sprint called “iApp-A-Day" where he created 30 apps in as many days. I asked Sean him if he could do some prototyping on an app idea. The app needed a backend and I came across a talented web developer, Sean Fannan, who had built a couple of Facebook apps for some friends. Sean had some spare time and lent a hand. I reconnected with an old friend, Bryan Bell, and asked him if he could do some graphic design for us. Over the course of a month or so, we hacked some cool prototype apps together.
GoGo AppsBy early January, 2008, I felt about ready to start a company, and connected with Rob Theis, Ben Smith and several other friends who, along with me, became the first investors in the company. They had one big question: what’s holding us up from starting a company? The answer was that I needed a partner in crime, someone crazy enough to want to work with me, and sane enough to complement me. No problem, said Mike Brown, meet Andrew Lacy. Andrew had just returned from a two-year stint at McKinsey in Europe and was also looking for the Next Big Thing. And while I’d been busy prototyping iPhone apps, Andrew had been doing business research around big new trends in mobile and had also concluded that the iPhone was going to be Big. We got together for dinner, and that was that. Tapulous was born in late January, 2008. Well, Gogo Apps was born. We created the company literally overnight and picked the first available domain name we thought of. A few months later, when we got more organized, we decided to re-christen the company Tapulous. Since then, we’ve spent a good chunk of our time every week trying to convince various people at Apple to let us rename that Seller field you see when you look for Tap Tap Revenge on the App Store.
Early jailbreak days
As Andrew and I set out to create the company, we circled back with Sean Heber, who agreed to join us full-time and transfer over his iApp-A-Day apps. We also talked Sean Fannan into working with us. One day in February, Andrew got sick of watching me play Tap Tap Revolution on a jailbroken iPhone and telling him how brilliant the game was so he reached out to Nate True, the creator of the game. Nate, an extremely talented inventor and coder, wasn’t really looking for a job (he’s not that kind of guy), but he was happy to lend us a hand and also agreed to let us take over the game from him.
Our “grand plan” was to offer a family of lightweight fun and social apps, tied together in a common backend, and so we set about building applications that would do things that we believed people wanted to do on the go. We released Streetflow, a location-based restaurant reviews app. We joined with Pradeepta Dash and took over iFlickr, a simple Flickr uploader. We re-released Wallpaper, a popular iPhone wallpaper sharing application. And we needed one more app: a “people app”. For that, we settled on the idea of building a simple Twitter client for the iPhone. We reached out to Layton Duncan who agreed to help us build that app, again using designs by Bryan Bell. Thus was born the first release of Twinkle, which was a bit of a hit in the Jailbreak world when it came out in April of 2008. And so it was that, before the App Store even launched, we had millions of users across, literally, more than 30 iPhone apps.
Getting ready to launch on the App Store
There we were: Andrew, Sean Heber, Sean Fannan, Sean Heber’s friend Thomas Muldowney (Thomas stayed with us for just a few months, when he left to help his brother start a company) and myself, as the core crew, with help from Bryan Bell, Nate True and Layton Duncan. But we needed one or two more key team members, including a head of engineering. In early April, I reached out to Mike Lee. Mike was excited about our vision, and agreed to move down to the Valley from Seattle, but he insisted on having a full seat at the table, including playing a leadership role in our engineering org and getting credit as a co-founder in the company. Even though he joined quite a bit after the company got started, Andrew and I agreed to give him that title, since he would play a very important role in the company.
Once Mike joined the company in early May, he helped recruit a number of other folks, including Tristan O’Tierney. Mike also introduced us to Guy English, who would play a critical role in getting Tap Tap Revenge to the App Store. Louie Mantia, a very talented young designer who I’d met a year or two earlier, also agreed to join our team full-time. For the next four months, Mike lead our client engineering crew. Tristan joined Layton in getting Twinkle ready to launch on the App Store. Louie took over much of the design work from Bryan, who wasn’t ready to join us full-time just yet. Nate True and Guy English worked together on what would become Tap Tap Revenge 1.0. Mike, in addition to managing the engineering team, took the lead on developing what would become FriendBook. Bryan Bell and Louie Mantia designed and helped define much of the product experience for Tap Tap Revenge and Twinkle. Bart and Andrew oversaw the key product and business decisions for Tap Tap Revenge and Twinkle.
Since people care a lot about making sure credit goes where it is due, here’s the best way I can articulate it: Tap Tap Revenge was created by Nate True and the 1.0 release was coded by Nate True and Guy English. The design for Tap Tap Revenge 1 was done by Louie Mantia. The product definition largely came from Nate, with contributions by Louie, Guy and myself. Twinkle is a Tapulous product conceived by Andrew and myself, designed by Louie and Bryan, and coded by Layton and Tristan, with a lot of credit owed to Sean Fannan for all the backend work. Mike Lee created FriendBook and headed Tapulous’ engineering organization from May until August, 2008.
On July 11, 2008, the App Store launched. Tap Tap Revenge was there on launch day and shot straight to #1. Twinkle and FriendBook followed in short order and were, on the whole, quite well received, although they didn’t shoot to the top of the charts in the way that Tap Tap Revenge did (but then, the same could be said about any other app on the App Store). As we grappled to come to terms with how to build on the success of Tap Tap Revenge, and how to evolve the company beyond the adrenaline of the first few months, it became clear that we didn’t all share the same vision for the company and, in late August and September, Mike Lee left the company to start United Lemur and created Puzzllotto. Sean Heber and Louie Mantia also left the company shortly thereafter. Bryan Bell was ready to commit full-time and took over as chief designer. A few weeks later, Jessica Kahn took over the management of our engineering organization, and we embarked on the next phase of the company. The rest is history.