Citytalk #28 Mike Lee, Mayor of Appsterdam

A mutual friend suggested to me to meet up with Mike Lee (35 years old) and have a Citytalk with him about Amsterdam and his movement “Appsterdam”. Before our actual interview, I met Mike Lee at a D66 discussion evening about the 24/7-economy.

And we both were jury members at the Startup Weekend, organized by Don Ritzen, also interviewed in the Citytalk-series. Mike Lee came from San Francisco to Amsterdam and has been building the Appsterdam movement since coming here. He has worked in every segment of the app-making industry, from indies to start-ups, but also for a company like Apple. His goal with Appsterdam is to make the city the best place in the world to be an App Maker.



“If you want to make movies, you go to Hollywood. If you want to make apps, come to Appsterdam!”



Building Appsterdam

Creating the world’s most advanced infrastructure for App Makers, that’s what Appsterdam is about. “Phase one was all about building and organizing; that happened this summer. Now that we're set up to receive, we're expecting the steady stream of App Makers making their way to the city to become a torrent.”

But the first results of Appsterdam are already here: “People have come! Whether it be people visiting over here or moving and staying. Our biggest coup has been to get the Big Nerd Ranch to Amsterdam. Aaron Hillegass is the driving force behind this; he’s the guy who was the first trainer in Apple technology and many of the best App Makers on the platform have learned from his books and training courses. Now the Big Nerd Ranch is coming to Amsterdam. That is because of Appsterdam. People go where the jobs are, but the jobs go where the people are. You have to bring people together here in Amsterdam.“


Attracting smart boys and girls

The past year the Mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, has frequently mentioned his vision of “a new Golden Age for Amsterdam”, referring to the 17th century, when Amsterdam was the center of the world, trading globally and establishing the now world-renowned canals. One of the elements of this vision is that Amsterdam should attract the smart boys and girls of the world to Amsterdam. “That’s exactly what Appsterdam is about!”, Mike Lee states. “ I always say ‘If you want to make movies, you go to Hollywood. If you want to make apps, come to Appsterdam’. So we’re working hard at attracting these people to come over here. I notice people are fed up with the States and living there, you can see the creatives, the techies, the nerds, looking round for a better and nicer place to live and work. For all of them Amsterdam should be the number 1 place to come.“ We’re working on a meet-up between the two mayors of Amsterdam of Appsterdam so they can share their ideas.


So the mayors of Amsterdam and Appsterdam share the same goal, but what is necessary to become the most attractive place for all those smart and creative people? In Mike Lee’s opinion what’s missing in Amsterdam is affordable housing for the internationals. “We’re working on establishing a kind of landing pad for arriving App Makers until they can find their own housing, but the young, aspiring guys, they need a cheap place to live.”

Besides the housing, Mike Lee thinks Amsterdam is lacking a “one-stop shop with turn-key services”. We talk about the Amsterdam Expatcenter, that serves those needs, but only for people in the knowledge-migrant scheme and people working at companies who are partner of the Expatcenter. For other people there is the long way through the Immigration services. “The process for an international self-employed worker to work here is difficult, especially if you’re not from the EU or the States. Holland and the US have this thing “the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty”, which makes it easier. It’s a leftover from WWII. That should work for the whole world. We want the people to come here. Immigration laws are designed to keep out poor refugees, but in doing so, it also keeps out entrepreneurs.”


Valley vs Amsterdam

In this industry everybody looks at Silicon Valley as the place to be. Mike Lee has worked there and sees the attractions, but he’s adamant that Amsterdam has more to offer. “The way the Valley works is different from here. Over there the focus is on the big hit, the next Google. That’s what the venture-capitalists are looking for and that’s the whole spirit. Here we try to do it in another way, to make more companies successful, maybe not on the level of Google, but still successful.”

There are all kinds of workplaces in Amsterdam, from small shared spaces for the self-employed through start-ups right up to the big companies. Besides that there is the opportunity to meet each other. “What you need are nerd-bars, where nerds and techies can meet each other. Such a place wasn’t here, so we have organized it ourselves. Every Wednesday at 19:00 we meet at café Bax on Ten Katestraat.”

"Appsterdam recreates the camaraderie of Silicon Valley, but without all the nouveau riche pretension. Amsterdam is a place of humility, but also tolerance, where App Makers can come together regardless of platform and from every skill set, be it engineering, design, marketing, business, legal, or whatever you can do to contribute to the New Golden Age."


Better than the Valley

Not only does Amsterdam match Silicon Valley, it has even more to offer. “In Amsterdam there is a better work-life balance, there is also room for families. I have seen so many relationships suffer and end because of the work. We used to say ‘you go to work for a project and come home for a divorce’. These guys work for days on end and their families suffer. This is a problem for the industry as well, because it is not sustainable, people burn out. Here in Amsterdam, it is more family-friendly. As Appsterdam we organize a family-weekend every other week, exactly to combat this problem. Here in Amsterdam we can find a sustainable way to be more productive.”



Another advantage for the future could be that Europe, and Amsterdam at its center, develops as a “patent-haven”. “Patents are a huge burden on technology companies in the U.S.. What was meant to protect inventors is being used to extort so-called "licensing fees" for vaguely worded (one might say intentionally non-sensical) patents. If you don't pay up, you can get slapped with a lawsuit that will cost you untold millions if you win.

Individually, App Makers can't do anything against patent extortion. We are like so many ants to the Valley-backed lawyers we call 'patent trolls.' If we all swarm en masse like ants in anthill, maybe they'll leave us alone. That’s all we want, to be left alone.we can fight back. We call this ‘Operation Anthill’. We're having a whole corral of lawyers together in Appsterdam for a legal summit on Oct 3-4”


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