Something is amiss at Tapulous, the popular iPhone developer behind the mega-hit application Tap Tap Revenge. In the past week, the still-fledgling company has lost three key employees: Sean Heber, the company’s first employee, Tristan O’Tierney, a senior iPhone engineer, and Louie Mantia, a designer. Together the employees constituted a large fraction of the company’s full-time workforce.
The company has everything going for it – Tap Tap Revenge is prominently featured on Apple’s homepage, and has consistently remained among the top 50 free applications on the store since its debut in July. And the company claims to have nearly two million users across all of its available applications. So why is everyone jumping ship?
The answer is that Tapulous is about to become an entirely different company. A month ago Co-Founder and Chief Architect Mike Lee was forced out of Tapulous, mostly due to the company’s shifting goals under CEO Bart Decrem. When the company was forming, Tapulous was supposed to be a development house for highly polished, useful apps, which is what drew Lee to the project in the first place. Over the last few months Decrem has adopted the view that apps should be simple and easy to produce – he thinks Tapulous should become the Slide of iPhone Apps.
Decrem says that Tapulous’s original engineering team (nearly all of whom have left at this point) thought that the company would be a place for the “independent developer spirit.” But in his mind this isn’t the way to build a successful business. Now that the old team is largely gone, Decrem says that the company is making the transition from an “indie mac” studio to a scalable business, and is hiring a new team of developers.
Decrem may be right to some extent. Building a highly useful program is resource consuming and a risky investment – it could easily go unnoticed amid the countless new applications on the App Store. But Apple’s user base is one that thrives on polished, functional design (there’s a reason the iPhone is popular in the first place), and would gladly pay for applications that are a step above the rest. Tapulous may well wind up making money, but here’s to hoping that its former engineers can find success building something that’s actually useful.
Thanks to Jeff Scott at 148apps for the tip.