United Lemur: App Store Idealists

We drove down to Palo Alto earlier today to attend Mac and iPhone developer United Lemur’s introductory press conference, hosted by notable Mac coder and United Lemur CEO Mike Lee. We came away impressed by Lee’s impassioned performance. He and his partners are setting out towards the App Store with a very different ethos than most other software startups; if one idea came across during the conference, it was that United Lemur’s whole existence is geared towards the fiscal and creative health of the collective, rather than the usual self-aggrandizement, because it is simply better business. We found this line of argument refreshing.

Lee, previously a co-founder at App Store superstar Tapulous (the makers of Tap Tap Revolution and Twinkle), began his presentation by telling the audience that United Lemur exists “to ship beautiful products and make a better world.” He wasn’t blowing smoke. Lee clearly believes in his many causes, and he is willing to put his money on the line to advance them. For one thing, 10% of all of United Lemur’s revenue from the App Store is going to charity–starting with the developer’s first game, Puzzllotto, which will be donating to the Madagascar Fauna Group.

For another, United Lemur is going well out of its way to help others “who are committed to helping others,” as Lee put it. The company is advising a couple other businesses that are trying to develop cool, socially responsible software for the iPhone: Carticipate, which leverages the device to facilitate carpooling and ridesharing, and MobClix, an analytics firm that helps iPhone devs track app usage and improve their software. This is all before United Lemur has released a product of its own, mind you!

Lee’s coup de gracie is a program he calls Fundware. In Silicon Valley, small developers with great ideas often have to give up large fractions of their companies to VCs to raise necessary operating capital; Fundware is designed to circumvent the usual soul-crushing funding process by allowing developers to go straight to the end user to raise money. The basic idea is to develop a small App that offers a “taste” of the developer’s ethos to the consumer, and then put it up on the App Store as a kind of charity solicitation. In theory, consumers that believe in the cause will be willing to pay more to get the venture started. We can’t speak to the effectiveness of this plan just yet, but Lee is betting big on it, as Puzzllotto is the first Fundware App.

Lee’s ultimate goal is to turn United Lemur into a sort of revolutionary vanguard on the App Store, and make a real difference in the world at large. As Lee put it, he wants United Lemur to have “the spirit of an Indie with the power of a corporation behind it.” The rhetoric and action behind United Lemur make for an effective marketing trope, to be sure–witness the Che Guevara imagery in United Lemur’s logo–but there is nothing cynical about Lee and company’s vision. These guys are true-blue altruists, and they are working in earnest. We’re excited to see what they come up with in the future.