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Mike Lee on why he can charge $1,000/hr for iPhone development (mu.rs)
109 points by adamhowell on June 25, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 146 comments

That’s a little like hearing what Brad Pitt got paid for his last movie and wondering why the producer didn’t instead hire Brad Pitman for scale.

Oh you’ve never heard of Brad Pitman? You’re not familiar with his work? But you are familiar with Brad Pitt’s work, right? After all, he’s an experienced actor and producer with not one, but two, Academy Award nominations and a portfolio full of household names.

Bzzzt. Horrible analogy. Brad Pitt isn't worth what he's worth because of his portfolio full of household names. He commands his rates because he is a household name. People will go see movies just because he's in them. He's not getting paid for talent, experience, or attractiveness. He's getting paid for his personal brand. That brand all but guarantees that the filmmakers will earn a handsome return on their investment.

You, however, are an iPhone app developer. App purchasers have never heard of you. They will not turn out in droves to buy an app just because you worked on it.

He commands his rates because he is a household name. [..] You, however, are an iPhone app developer. App purchasers have never heard of you. They will not turn out in droves to buy an app just because you worked on it.

I think his conclusion is wrong but the analogy is good. It's unnecessary to be literal with the term "household." Most of the world's top scientists, lawyers, and bankers aren't household names, yet they can command extremely high levels of respect and, often, grants or income due to being a "household name" in their field.

I'm not arguing Mike is a "household name" amongst developers - he's not, IMHO - but there's no reason why a "household name" developer couldn't get the Brad Pitt treatment. John Carmack would have his arm bitten off if he were available at $1000/hr. Is Mike Lee the iPhone equivalent of John Carmack? No. If he were? His analogy seems OK to me.

The analogy is good because Brad Pitt's value comes from people value him for other people's opinions. The pull for going to see a movie star come because you believe that his fame has value for itself.

If Mike can just make one employer think that other people want to hire him, he can command these otherwise absurd rates. It's a sort-of mirror world.

Prestige, log-rolling, extended-Ponzi scheme. It's all representation chasing more representation.

Interesting comparison you made too. Because for me, I respect Carmack a hell of a lot more than Mike Lee. And I suspect he's a much better programmer as well. And human being.

Was that last part necessary? I think it's a bad idea to declare someone not a good human being based on the one blog post you read.

(Especially since he wrote a few others about saving endangered species and homeless people.)

You're totally right. I have never met either man in person. I only said I suspected that, based on the personal behavior I've seen expressed in both cases. I've never seen Carmack behave badly. What I read in the Lee post constitutes bad behavior, in my ethical system. YMMV.

What part do you deem unethical? I am conflicted about the ethics of driving high speed sports cars myself :-)

I didn't say he was unethical. I said he did something that constitutes what I consider to be bad behavior. Publically announcing one's $1000/hr pay rate to the entire world, and writing a post using the particular language and attitude shown in it. That struck me as bad behavior, applying the same standards I'd expect out of anybody else. Is it like robbing a bank? Heck no. Obnoxious? In my book, yep. And look, I'm clearly not the only one who had the same reaction, as evidenced by what others have said in this article's discussion area.

As long as no bunnies were made to cry during the production of a Tesla Roadster, I'm confident I wouldn't feel conflicted about driving one. :)

I've had a client once tell me that my rate was outrageously high (it was average, but anyway). Since then I have come to the conclusion that basically, it is impossible to have an outrageously high rate. My rate is not the value I assign to a particular task (ie solving the clients problem). My rate is the value I assign to my own time. How can anybody else besides me judge the "fair" value I assign to my own time?

There are exceptions, of course - I guess if I was a surgeon and I would refuse to operate on somebody because they can't afford me, the ethics would be very questionable.

We agree that rates are weird and relativistic. Myself I've seen $50/hour described as too high, and $100 as too low (head explodes), and I've been treated alternately as both overqualified and underqualified for doing some technical thing that I know I could certainly do. Also seen and heard that bidding low will increase the chance of getting a gig as well as decrease the chance (for some clients), and, and, and... It's just crazy inconsistent and relative.

There's also the "all developers are the same, therefore commodity pricing is in effect" phenomenon which is annoying to encounter. And the "just tell me rate, because I know exactly how many hours this will take, and no other factor matters" phenomenon. Crazy stuff.

One good takeaway from the Lee article I had was that if you set a really high rate, even if you scare away a lot of people, all it takes is 1 client to agree to that, billing anywhere from 1 to a few hours in a given month, and you're in the holy "Ramen profitable" zone. Well, able to cover food and shelter anyway. But then you'll have tons of free time and energy leftover for other activities.

I find it more interesting that you're using a blog post to judge the author's quality as a human being.

To be fair, there's a long history of self-aggrandizing blog posts with which to judge him by.

That still seems like an curious criterion with which to judge someone's humanity. Gary Vaynerchuk, DHH, Zed Shaw, and a lot of the people admired by many HNers are very self-aggrandizing.

Sidenote: It seems that people like this have to deal with a trough on their way up where a lot of judgment gets thrown their way for their outgoing manner. If they hit it big, though, that seems to be quickly forgotten and everyone loves them. We've seen it with all of the above. Those who fail to cross the trough, end up forgotten.

Zed, for example, is very much like that. In the other hand he produces lots if great code and ideas. That is why he earned respect.

Writing things on the Internet is part of human behavior.

What a person says reveals aspects of who they are. The Internet is not some special place that is exempt from all normal expectations of conduct that otherwise hold in meatspace. Just as simply being part of a business enterprise does not exempt one from being judged as a human based on your behavior.

Also note I said "suspect" not "knew for certain" or anything as extreme or decisive as that. Important distinction, and one I chose intentionally when picking that word. :P :)

What a person says reveals aspects of who they are.


I agree.

Brad Pitt earns what he does because of the amount of money his movies bring in. If Mike Lee can bring in enough monies for his clients to recoup his exorbitant hourly rate, more power to him.

He should definitely tone down the ego and rhetoric a bit though.


If you are marketing to business people, it seems to be best to puff yourself up as much as possible. they eat that shit up, as far as I can tell. I bet his massive ego gets him some work.

When marketing to technical people, the opposite seems to be the case. In my experience, it's best to say "Oh, I'm nothing" and then proceed to show or do something pretty cool. Adding in a few words like 'perhaps' or "I believe" can make your message come across much more positively when dealing with the technically focused, and can do the opposite when dealing with the business focused.

(note, while "I think" or "some people believe" adds a touch of humility, "In my experience" can go either way. It can imply that you feel you have a great deal more experience in this area than the other people in the room, adding to confidence/arrogance, but it can also imply that what works for you might not work for others, making you seem less confrontational.)

This is one of the things I find interesting about hacker news; it seems to be populated by people who are halfway between those two worldviews.

Why should he?

Are you earning more / more successfully than him? No? Then why would you think your advice would be helpful?

You shouldn't conflate "what I like" with "what works."

Perhaps because the post is off putting to readers and makes the guy come across like an asshole? Do not be an asshole is one of the first lessons of social interaction. It's a shame some people confuse confidence with being an asshole.

Secondly, one need not be in a better position to make value judgements. I don't necessarily need to have ever played a game of basketball to tell you that Steve Nash is a better free throw shooter than Dennis Rodman. Just like I can tell you that being an asshole may discourage potential clients (i.e. readers).

If you think it's just me that feels this way, I invite you to read the rest of the comments in this thread.

Furthermore, I never qualified my statements to be indicative of what I like or what would work globally.

Troll better please.

The analogy may not be exactly right, but your explanation also went off on a tangent. It is not the app purchasers who matter here -- it is the people who want to make apps (or finance the making of apps if you will). Just like the movie producers who will pay top-dollar for actors/directors/etc. if they are proven to make a product (the movie) that is successful (like he has been according to what he says).

By claiming that he is charging a ridiculous per-hour rate, he is actually adding to this "stardom" :-).

Would having "From the developer of Tap Tap Revenge and Delicious Monster" help sell additional copies on the App Store? Would it help get blog coverage within the tightly nit mac elites?

I believe so.

Agreed. It's why they always start trailers with "From the people who brought you 'Knocked Up' and 'Get Him to the Greek'..."

They might turn out in droves because he offered a $30,000 dollar prize for solving a puzzle in his app "Puzzlloto". Which has been pulled from the app store...


But... he's a household name for some reason, right?

There was some original core non-meta reason he became famous.

I suspect the reason had to do with some combination of the following: women find him attractive, men admire him and/or want to be as cool as him, PLUS arguably he's actually a pretty decent actor given the right role/script.

Up until halfway into the third sentence I thought you were still talking about Mike Lee. My bad.

Good feedback! Rereading it I realize it may not have been clear I was referring to Brad Pitt. Too late for me to edit it though. My bad, actually. :)

You can't beat Mickey O'Neil in Snatch.

Wow, he might be good at programming, but from his writing, he sure seems like a jerk (Zed Shaw's long lost twin?). I've known many professionals who, being very good at what they do, charge both less and more than $1k/hour, but none of them would ever mention their rate in public, much less feel the need to explain why they deserve it.

On the other hand, this is great PR for software engineers: a couple more posts like this, and I'll be able to double my rate and still seem like a deal by comparison :)

I am sort of torn. Lets not be the bucket of crabs, who have to pull down anyone threatening to leave the bucket.

Engineers need to learn to be comfortable with business. Part of that is professionalism, which cuts against talking rates too loudly. Part of it is being uttetly unembarrassed to say that, yes, you are priced at what the market will bear and the market will bear an awful lot.

Another reason not to be the bucket of crabs, guided strictly by self-interest, is that if one person declares that he's charging a big sum for doing something and consistently getting paid, it will raise the bar for the entire industry.

In other words, if you're a good iPhone developer, you can also raise your rates while still giving your customers a discount compared to that Mike Lee guy.

I'll agree with the bucket of crabs comment, as we all tend to do this.

However, I'm not going to hire this guy not because he is too expensive, but because he has no problem branding himself as a douche.

I really don't get why it's generally assumed that Zed is an asshole.

I exchanged a few technical emails with him when he was just getting started on Mongrel (v1) and his replies were always friendly (as well as being relevant).

He's put a lot of code out there and the parts that I have used have been great.

Remember when Bear Stearns fell? He was leading some Rails project there at the time (IIRC) and he used his hacker media fame to get his team members new jobs before himself. No idea how that panned out, but that doesn't exactly sound like asshole behavior to me.

Yes I know he puts out rants from time to time. They make for fun and educational reading. As far as I'm concerned a good cathartic rant every now and again speaks for a person, though I wouldn't recommend everybody to go out and put it all online. (It seems to have worked wonders for Zed, though :).

Because most of us don't know him and his online persona is pure asshole. It's that simple. I've read that he's a nice guy in person all over the place and that's great, good for him. He writes like a spoiled, attention-grabbing 15 year old, and he's very insulting and arrogant. Then we have to read about it on news.yc and reddit for a week after every rant. I mean look at this thread, one mention of the guy and all of us are talking about him instead of the topic at hand. Someone described him as poison and I agree 100% with that assessment.

From memory, I think it says somewhere on his blog that the whole tone is just an act. It gets him a lot of publicity, and sometimes he says some interesting things. I'd be willing to bet he's a really nice guy. In my book, it takes a lot of nice to take yourself so lightly.

Tangential, but I feel compelled to note that:

* I have never met Zed * Like many others I have heard all sorts of stories about him * People are capable of change * In my recent experience Zed has always seemed civil, thoughtful and passionate about code

He may have been a jerk in the past, I can't speak to that, but he seems like a decent guy now.

Yours, the anti-pigeonholing squad

Err, I meant to make it clear that I'm comparing their public writing style, not how they are in person.

He's always been 98% civil, thoughtful and friendly in person. That doesn't mean he won't point out if you or somebody else is being a moron or a dickhead, but he does it judiciously.

Zed, like so many other successful writers (e.g. Mark Twain, Churchill, every famous playwright people quote on their blogs) has made a career out of being a sharp-witted asshole in print.

I'm not so sure I would want to work with this guy, Zed Shaw on the other hand was one of the nicest people I've ever gotten an e-mail from

I met Zed in person a few months ago at a meetup. I had an awesome 45 min chat about everything technology. What a nice guy. I wish him all the best.

Mike Lee's blog title is "motherfucker". From that alone you can derive what type of person you're about to do business with. Theres no question his experience and skills are incredible. Fact of the matter is there are other successful app developers who likely have a resume that is comparable.

Think of it like dating. Would you date the hottest girl if she had a shitty personality? Maybe :)

I believe the title of his blog is (indirectly) explained in this post (as well as 'world's toughest programmer'):


Do you really think you can derive the character of a person based on the title of their blog?

Seems pretty damned shallow to me.

Life is full of uncertainties. Our job is to assign probabilities to outcomes and use those probabilities to make choices. I don't think it's unreasonable for that piece of evidence to increase the probability of his disagreeableness in someone's mind.

Why is it shallow? It's a facade he has deliberately chosen to present to the world. That choice implies things, and he's either aware of that fact or utterly clueless.

Note that I'm not saying anything about what conclusion I draw from that fact, just that it's a fact.

Because that line of thinking implies there is a link between style of expression (external presentation) and character values (morals etc).

It's like judging someone's character by how they dress (e.g. suit == good, dependable etc).

I'd date her for an hour, tops. And I bet she'd charge me $1000 for it. (Discounts for repeat customers.) Wait a minute.

I've met Mike Lee, and he really is an all round top bloke. Would I want to work with this guy? You bet.

Don't be too quick to judge character based on what is clearly a marketing blog post.

To everyone who thinks he's crazy, a single, solitary counter that is in no way indicative of a trend or a pattern: when it comes time to have someone build our iPhone app, I know who my first e-mail will be.

You wanna know why? I know his rate without having to fill out a goddamn "contact me" form and his portfolio signals that he's worth the rate. Now, I have no idea how many hours it would take to build our app, but you're damn well sure I'm going to ask him to tell me.

You not making as much? You hurting for clients? Well, maybe you should publish a rate and have an up-to-date portfolio on your website, not on Carbonmade or Forrst or Dribbble or wherever the hell the cool kids are these days.

Cause I'll tell you: I've got cash to burn and I'm in the market for great developers and designers right now, and they're impossible to find, vet, and hire.

Really? It's that problematic to go talk to someone who'll want to talk to you about your needs and see what works out for both of you? You'd prefer the guy with that vague portfolio and a flat published rate instead? I don't publish my rate (let's just say it's not even half of $1k/hr except in extraordinary circumstances, like most developers I know consulting on non-specialized stuff), but I am at no shortage of clients right now. If I could actually slow my flow of emails from interested individuals, businesses, and recruiters for consulting and jobs, I'd be so happy...

Anyway, I'm not denying Mike's claim to fame, and other than some of his nuttier blog posts/tweets he seems like a reasonable guy the few times I've met him in passing. But I'd want to do a little more research into a person's background before jumping on the bandwagon and assuming what he's done in the past is going to help you towards whatever goal you might have. And this is why I call his portfolio vague. While it might work for the kind of work he's looking to do right now because his expertise as being part of the teams behind so many hits is exactly what he's selling, I'm not about to work with/hire someone as an actual developer (and not just consulting on The Big Picture of things) without more info on what exactly he did on those apps. (Though I'm sure if he ever did consider doing that that he'll kindly provide it to interested parties.)

BTW, his $1k/hr rate blog post was originally about his plans to travel worldwide and to use limited consulting hours at that rate to help fund it. I don't think he's the one you're looking for to send your first email to if you need a talented developer to work longer term. If you are looking for long term work, @schwa, the guy that wrote that tweet that Mike screenshotted and included at the top of this blog post, maintains a list of experienced developers looking for work (http://toxicsoftware.com/i-wouldnt-hire-an-iphone-developer-...). Big Nerd Ranch, the company founded by Aaron Hillegass, the person that wrote the book on Cocoa Programming, also does consulting (http://www.bignerdranch.com/consulting). Iconfactory does UI/design work (http://iconfactory.com/design). The list goes on and on.

I don't publish my rate (let's just say it's not even half of $1k/hr except in extraordinary circumstances, like most developers I know consulting on non-specialized stuff), but I am at no shortage of clients right now. If I could actually slow my flow of emails from interested individuals, businesses, and recruiters for consulting and jobs, I'd be so happy...

This is a signal from the market that you're not charging enough. What if you could get fewer emails and calls, work half as much, and make more money?

You do have a good point, but as I've learned to raise my rates without feeling ridiculous about it, I've gotten more and more emails and calls. I also don't have the balls or the experience to demand a regular $1k/hour rate, or even half that at this point. I suspect if I had both the courage and the appropriate experience/knowledge I could demand that and more easily, and still have the same problem...just with lots more money involved. I have charged clients close to $1k/hour occasionally during emergencies and with specialized work, but I can't deal with constant stress from trying to deliver my idea of what $1k/hr consulting should be, even with fewer hours. I usually don't have the experience or knowledge to do so :)

Interestingly enough, most of the criticism I've read about Mike and this whole thing from other iPhone devs and such is not focusing around the rate. They're more focused on whether or not he'd actually be able to deliver something worth justifying that rate. Alas, that question will only be answered by whether or not Mike is successful in securing enough hours with clients that will pay that.

Really? We don't have a consulting page up at all, and we get contacted all the time for people looking to build navigation apps. If you look at similar apps in the app store, it's really easy to contact the developers. And it seems most developers charge between 75 and 250/hour. A wide range, yes, but certainly less than this guy.

I'm sorry but that makes you bit of a sucker. If his rate was a few hundred I could buy that the added cost was worth the convenience; but at over six times the going rate it isn't really worth it.

Even if he doesn't get $1000/hr in the end, his statement is likely to be already doing some work in the form of anchoring. That is, $1000/hr seems ridiculous but you might now, as a client, feel like $250/hr isn't ridiculous.. yet if he'd said $250/hr at the start, that would have also seemed as crazy as $1000.

This effect of price anchoring has been demonstrated a lot and it works, sadly.

That's a great point, and makes even more sense when you consider the examples he provides for why someone should contact him for an hour of his time. If he can really do everything he listed in one hour per task, he deserves the $1,000. On the other hand, if he spends 2-4 hours on it but "only" bills the client for 1, he seems like both a rockstar and a value.

He's claiming his role in Tap Tap Revenge as justifying that rate. If all you know about his role at Tapulous is what's been written at TechCrunch that probably sounds impressive. Of course if you know some of the guys there who don't have a soapbox and a sycophantic following that's a pretty hilarious opener.

can you elaborate?

I'm not involved with Tapulous and therefore I'm not really at liberty to say. Actually I probably should have kept my mouth shut on this thread, because I despise when people do what I just did, but I just could not sit by while that credential got thrown out there as if Tap Tap Revenge was his brainchild or something.

I don't know anyone inside Tapulous personally, so this is pure hearsay. Take it as you will.

What I've heard is Mike thought Tap Tap was too low brow and that by focusing on that app to the exclusion of their other apps at the time (Twitterific and FriendBook) they were betraying his vision for the company.

After he expressed his opinion about this he was asked to leave.

Did you mean Tweetsville or really, Twitterrific?

Sorry I meant Twinkle. Whatever Tapulous' Twitter client was.

I'm not going to contribute to the snowballing of this particular thread by adding what I know of what he did on some of those teams and companies he lists, but...exactly. It's his ego that rubs me the wrong way the most. The way he writes like he was instrumental in the creation, development and/or success of the apps he was involved in, when there's, oh, many other people that've worked with him that could list their credentials the way he does, except...wait. They don't. And there's more than one person on a team that makes things happen. sigh :(

The "motherfucker" page doesn't load, maybe I can help him with some web development at only $1,000/hr

He clearly could benefit from my CSS consultation, offered at only $200 an hour.

Loads instantly here, but is completely blank with javascript blocked. That's how you know he's a true professional.

Coral cache: http://le.mu.rs.nyud.net/motherfucker/Index/Entries/2010/6/2...

Still takes forever to load, but you can speed up the process using Readability.

Maybe he should make his blog an iphone app instead, the root URL took me 5 minutes to load

I'm guessing this is more of a flat fee structure, and he's optimistically expecting it to work out to $1k/hour.

   You can write to my former coworkers in Apple’s 
   Developer Technical Support, and they will point you 
   toward a solution within three days. Or you can just 
   call me and have it ready to resubmit by morning.
. . . so what happens if it's not ready by morning?

Is there a scenario where I'm dinged for $24k in a day while he's mainlining coffee & trying to debug my app?

One day, Mr. Lee is going to feel deeply embarrassed that he wrote, and published that piece.

Until then, I imagine he's going to get four or five clients a year, bill them 50,000 each, and laugh his way around Costa Rica.

Neil Gaiman also took a lot of flack when it was revealed how much he charged for speaking engagements. But when he explained his reasoning, I came to see how his high fee rate was justified.


Similarly, if Mike is entertaining a lot of contracting requests, a surefire way to filter out the wheat from the chaff is to set a high contracting fee rate.

I'd be curious if he actually can charge $1,000/hr for iPhone development. It sounds like it's deliberately less than his time-filling rate: he doesn't get fully booked weeks at that rate. In fact he seems to imply that his schedule is so empty that he's likely to be free on any given day to start working on a new project immediately. That's certainly a reasonable strategy, since sometimes the money-maximizing rate is not the same as the one that fills your schedule. But, how empty exactly is his schedule? Are we talking 10 hours/wk billed on average? Or are we talking no work most weeks, with the occasional job every few months?

Working 10 hrs a week at 1k/hr would be awesome. Saving time is better than maximizing money.

Sure, but that's the part I'm wondering about. 10 hrs/wk at $1k/hr would be great (~$500k/yr for part-time work!), but, say, 1hr/wk on average wouldn't be too good, even at that rate. And I read his post as having an undercurrent of being more, "I'm trying to convince you paying me $1k/hr is a good idea" rather than "there are actually a lot of people already paying me $1k/hr". Has he gotten dozens of contracts at that rate? A few? One?

A few? One?

I'd venture the guess the number is very small or perhaps even zero.

At that rate he'd burn through a reasonable budget for an iPhone app within weeks. And I mean the entire budget, which would normally include graphics design and backend work.

I have no doubts he could get an app off the ground faster than most teams - given he lives up to his bold claims, which is entirely possible.

But as with every software project that's only a very small part of the story. The elephant in the room is maintenance and ongoing development.

If you have $500k and were to launch a business around an iPhone app what would you rather do? Give most of that money to a single person, get your app in 8 weeks and call it a day?

Or would you rather hire a team, pay significantly less for the initial launch, get it in perhaps 16 weeks, but then still have money in the bank and a committed team for further steps?

Hiring this guy at that rate just seems like a bad business decision for pretty much any project. If anyone does then, well, kudos to him for parting the dumb from their money.

I don't think you're supposed to hire him to build a whole app.

You hire him to give advice for an hour or two so you get pointed in the right direction, or review some code, or fix one bug your team is stuck on, or he can help you find the right cheaper person to hire.

He should say he's offering iPhone consultancy then.

The list of options he offers does look like consultancy.

iPhone consultancy can be had for much cheaper, though.

I have worked with contractors from eastern europe that work an entire week for the amount he asks for an hour. And despite the cliches their performance was absolutely okay. Not mindblowing, but as solid as it gets within the constraints of the iPhone platform. It's not exactly rocket science.

I'm entirely okay with people charging what they're worth. But I don't believe someone can be worth an order of magnitude above average in iPhone-land.

Well, "charging what the market will bear". And why couldn't he be an order of magnitude above average? The "good coders are ten times as productive" meme is alive and well on HN.

(Note that "ten times as productive" depends a lot on what you are doing. I concur that one of these "wrap an RSS feed" apps probably does not significantly benefit from hiring a truly excellent coder versus a competent one.)

I don't know him, so I can only go by what he wrote there. So all I see are two things he cites as accomplishments, yet with that, he is nearly guaranteeing a hit. I don't know of anyone -- writer, filmmaker, etc -- who'd base any sort of track record on just two outings. Hell, even Spielberg had a bomb when he was hot: 1941.

Here is Steve Jobs on designer Paul Rand, who Jobs wooed from IBM to have him design the NeXT logo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xb8idEf-Iak

So ask yourself, would Steve Jobs think the guy who wrote this post was worth the money he was asking?

Oh man, thanks for that link. Submitted: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1463114

Seems to me the promise here isn't just "I'll build you a great app" but "I'll get your app in the Apple Store" (hence mentions of the author's positive record and connections with Apple) - in essence, it's a combination of a lobbyist/developer, and lobbyists do charge $1000/hr.

Apple has an approval process reminiscent of a third world beaurocracy, decisions are unpredictable, timelines unknown and the entire process is completely opaque to the outsider. Around such systems you often find people with good connections offering their services in ensuring proper treatment, for a handsome fee.

It also sounds like he can convince you that if you don't go with him you are going to have problems and then you are going to have to hire him eventually anyway. Being able to convince people not to look around at other options is a very good way to drive your price up.

I'm surprised he didn't make that point in the article; it certainly is related to why he can charge so much...

If the best are 10x as productive as the mediocre, I don't see a problem with this. Of course, you might say that the $120 bulk of freelance programmers are already a notch above mediocre and maybe $500/hr is more reasonable, but whatever the market will bear.

It's a good argument to cut top marginal tax rate so that he has an incentive to take more work than he's willing to at $500/hr after taxes (assuming he's in the US).

You Laffer curve types never seem to be very good at math. Explain to me, using math, how much the 35% tax rate needs to be lowered to incentivize this guy to work at $500.

Once you figure out the math we can move on to psychology.

The Laffer curve is not quantitative model or approach, it's a qualitative explanation or argument. Thus expecting maths is kind of pointless.

Marginal tax rates being high is a great idea. I'd be with you if people with high salaries spent all, or virtually all, of their salary. But they don't.

In this economy we need more money being spent. When things are doing well again, you could try to make a case for the rich being richer, but it's a strange cause to take up.

They're also exceptionally low, currently. There are no rates above 35%, whereas they used to be above 70% back in the Eisenhower/Kennedy/Johnson/Ford/Carter/early-Reagan days. But I suppose which rates and which kinds of incentives count as too high / too low is always relative and subjective...

Actually, under Eisenhower and Kennedy the top marginal rate was always between 91% and 95%. Then it was 70% until the early 1980s when it went down to 50%.

That's just federal, not including state and city income taxes.

I found this list of the historical tax rates fascinating: http://www.taxfoundation.org/taxdata/show/151.html

(Why they have to use "Macromedia Flash Paper " to show a list of numbers is beyond me.)

> In this economy we need more money being spent.

Economic activity is not economic productivity. Spending money doesn't make us richer. Producing does.

Encouraging people to work more would help the economy; encouraging to people to spend more would only help to the extent that it stimulates people to produce stuff for sale.

Actually, you are both wrong. Production and consumption by themselves do not yield productivity. Both producers and consumers play equal roles in economic productivity. Without active consumption, producers would be completely unproductive, regardless of efficiency. Productivity comes when people are able to increase their economic leverage through efficiencies, but also able to complete transactions in the market. For instance, despite all of the hate of partial-reserve fiat banking systems by pseudo-economists, they are extremely efficient at getting the most productive value out of the money supply. This is also why the Internet creates economic value, because it's able to more efficiently pair producers and consumers.

I'm down with what you suggest. The problem with the economy now though is that we have excess capacity. I'm down with going around and blow up factories to solve this (only kidding fbi) but I think it would be easier if we could stimulate demand.

>This is also why the Internet creates economic value, because it's able to more efficiently pair producers and consumers.

I would say that is one reason why but I whole heartily agree.

> Spending money doesn't make us richer.

Sure it does. If I buy good A for $X, I must value having good A a least _slightly_ more than having $X in my pocket. Similarly, the seller values $X in his pocket more than having good A in his inventory.

Hence, we have completed a transaction where the wealth of both parties has increased. This is the essence of why capitalism works.

Trade makes us richer if it's motivated by both parties coming out ahead in their judgment. Spending for the sake of spending, or for the sake of "stimulating the economy", doesn't help anything.

People who say "In this economy we need more money being spent" are not capitalists advocating efficient trade, they're Keynesians or something.

If someone thought he would benefit from a purchase, he would do it without encouragement. So what meaning can the encouragement to spend have...?

Conceivably it could mean (but this guy did not mean) that there's lower hanging fruit to be found by looking for more trades that should happen but aren't than by producing more. But it's far from obvious how/why that would be true "in this economy". In economic slowdowns, you need to make more stuff, not divvy up the too-little stuff more perfectly. It's when the economy is booming and production is very high that there might more plausibly be a neglect of the efficiency of trading.

>not capitalists advocating efficient trade, they're Keynesians or something.

Keynesians are capitalists and I've never heard of them being opposed to efficient trade.

One thing that inspires people to spend money is feeling that they won't be laid off. People do not have that feeling right now. Should we just wait for that to happen? Producing while people aren't buying leads to inventory gluts which leads to deflation.

Fascinating definitions but this has more than a whiff of crack pottery. Few things encourage economic activity (and productivity) like a rich person coming with an open wallet.

How are people to work more when there's not money to pay them?

You are ignorant of libertarian economic views. You are also ignorant that they are common place here, and held by Paul Graham. It's rude to intrude on a community and call status quo views "crack pottery" just because you've never learned anything about them.

It is your view that people can't produce things of value unless there's enough money being spent that is truly bizarre. New markets can be created. Value drives circulation of money, not vice versa. Money is just pieces of paper or numbers in a computer for the purpose of conveniently facilitating trade.

Ultimately I'm going to produce value in order to use it myself, for fun, or in some way get something useful for it (i.e., I don't want pieces of paper -- those are just temporary -- I want someone to make something useful for me like an iPhone. The more useful products there are, the more I will want to work hard, and the more money I will spend).


Libertarians are here, sure. However, I'd love to see how many people would really march in lockstep with doctrinaire libertarianism.

I'm not ignorant of libertarian views. Nor, am I unused to tantrums such as your own. I'll leave the vocabulary boot camps to you and Richard Stallman. I have that freedom.

Could you try saying something substantive instead of following your crack pot insult with a tantrum insult?

Societies don't get wealthy by consuming. They do by producing. As a rule, if something is taxed there will be less of it. High marginal taxes decreases high value work. It is a terrible idea. Immoral too.

>Immoral too.

Classic. Moral claims don't get you too far. I could start going on about gentiles eating shellfish, but I'm one of those gentiles.

>They do by producing

Sometimes. These things are complicated. But if you've already got it figured out, no need to discuss it I guess.

> Classic. Moral claims don't get you too far.

I think it's immoral to steal and kill etc., but that won't get me far arguing with you I guess?

> These things are complicated. But if you've already got it figured out, no need to discuss it I guess.

It's not just something I have figured out, there are economists that have thought about it. If you can explain how societies get wealthy by consuming more and producing less I would like to know.

Bringing murder up to justify a moral scheme that few subscribe to is a bit silly. Everyone finds murder wrong, in most circumstances, hardly everyone finds taxing the rich immoral.

These things are complicated. Wealth can be generated in a variety to ways. The Phoenicians were quite wealthy for their time for establishing a trade network in the Mediterranean.

Apple produces virtually nothing (okay they make software but lets pretend for a minute that we are talking about the hardware. People do rave about the aesthetics of the devices). However, they have plenty of 'wealth' to capture than the manufacturers do for their charging price. They having marketing savvy and they are able to get large numbers of people excited about what they think of.

Facilitating transactions and applying knowledge are not exactly producing but doing these tasks can provide a decent living. If you want to extend 'producing' to mean anything that makes people money, your statement could be a truism but it seems you are using produce in a more traditional sense.

This PG essay is a good refutation of the notion that (progressive or, at least, non-regressive) taxes are a "win" for the poor in a zero sum game:

"The Pie Fallacy

A surprising number of people retain from childhood the idea that there is a fixed amount of wealth in the world. There is, in any normal family, a fixed amount of money at any moment. But that's not the same thing.

When wealth is talked about in this context, it is often described as a pie. "You can't make the pie larger," say politicians. When you're talking about the amount of money in one family's bank account, or the amount available to a government from one year's tax revenue, this is true. If one person gets more, someone else has to get less.

I can remember believing, as a child, that if a few rich people had all the money, it left less for everyone else. Many people seem to continue to believe something like this well into adulthood. This fallacy is usually there in the background when you hear someone talking about how x percent of the population have y percent of the wealth. If you plan to start a startup, then whether you realize it or not, you're planning to disprove the Pie Fallacy.

What leads people astray here is the abstraction of money. Money is not wealth. It's just something we use to move wealth around. So although there may be, in certain specific moments (like your family, this month) a fixed amount of money available to trade with other people for things you want, there is not a fixed amount of wealth in the world. You can make more wealth. Wealth has been getting created and destroyed (but on balance, created) for all of human history.

Suppose you own a beat-up old car. Instead of sitting on your butt next summer, you could spend the time restoring your car to pristine condition. In doing so you create wealth. The world is-- and you specifically are-- one pristine old car the richer. And not just in some metaphorical way. If you sell your car, you'll get more for it.

In restoring your old car you have made yourself richer. You haven't made anyone else poorer. So there is obviously not a fixed pie. And in fact, when you look at it this way, you wonder why anyone would think there was. [5]

Kids know, without knowing they know, that they can create wealth. If you need to give someone a present and don't have any money, you make one. But kids are so bad at making things that they consider home-made presents to be a distinct, inferior, sort of thing to store-bought ones-- a mere expression of the proverbial thought that counts. And indeed, the lumpy ashtrays we made for our parents did not have much of a resale market."


Taxes on wealth creation discourages it. (It may still, at least in the short term, be good for revenue)*


>This PG essay is a good refutation of the notion that (progressive or, at least, non-regressive) taxes are a "win" for the poor in a zero sum game:

This is a straw man. I cannot think of anyone (and I'd love to see you find a progressive or anyone) that would say that economics is a zero sum game.

A lot of this community did form around pg's essays. However, it's a little sickening to think that anyone would take them as gospel. Since the early days of reddit and hn these things have been vigorously debated. pg is at his best when talking about start ups and I think the way he conveys how founders should think is good stuff. However, please do not expect, or treat his writing, like he will win a nobel prize in economics.

However, please do not expect, or treat his writing, like he will win a nobel prize in economics.

Well, here's a somewhat relevant quote from someone who did win a Nobel Prize in economics:

"Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another." ~Milton Friedman

Sounds familiar, no? And while you might not be able to find someone who says that economics is a zero sum game, you can't throw a rock in any direction without hitting someone who is pushing an agenda or ideology that acts as if it is.


>Milton Friedman played three roles in the intellectual life of the twentieth century. There was Friedman the economist’s economist, who wrote technical, more or less apolitical analyses of consumer behavior and inflation. There was Friedman the policy entrepreneur, who spent decades campaigning on behalf of the policy known as monetarism—finally seeing the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England adopt his doctrine at the end of the 1970s, only to abandon it as unworkable a few years later. Finally, there was Friedman the ideologue, the great popularizer of free-market doctrine.

I'd have to suggest that this statement came from the 3rd Friedman. There is sort of an irony here. Friedman saw monetary policy as a zero sum game. I think that was a fallacy.

He isn't talking about charging $1,000/hr for coding. Rather, he is doing technical consulting. This means he should be able to deliver high value in a short time, and he'll only ever bill clients a couple hours at a time.

I think this guy can have a positive impact on our industry if he reports back in a month or two and tell the world that he actually worked at that rate. The value of IT consultants could be perceive differently.

Say what you want about his ego, but this article will stick.

When some biz guy or PM has his back against the wall with a horrible, failing project that just won't work, calling in the 1k an hour iPhone guy won't sound like a bad idea.

Assuming 1K per hour iPhone guy is willing to take on your failing horrible project.... which of course he may since 1k per hour iPhone guy probably doesn't get a lot of contracts anyway... :)

The Dunning–Kruger effect at work.

You can say a lot of things about the guy, but I don't think you can call him incompetent without at least a little justification.

I think the Dunning–Kruger effect/paper is one the most abusively reposted things on HN and Reddit.

The Dunning-Kruger effect: If you aren't practicing it, start.

Who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who hires him?

This is coming from the dude who used to work for free and live in Wil Shipley's basement? Wow.

Does anyone here really know if the author is serious? I honestly can't tell, having never heard of this guy, if this is an instance of Poe's Law or Stephen Wolfram-style megalomania (well, at least Wolfram has more to show than "not one, but two number one titles on the App Store").

gracious |ˈgrā sh əs|


1 courteous, kind, and pleasant : smiling and gracious in defeat.

* pleasantly indulgent, esp. toward an inferior.

* elegant and tasteful, esp. as exhibiting wealth or high social status

I'd like to hear from him in a month or so how it worked out.

I'm pretty sure the real drawback of coding for $1000 an hour is you're never actually allowed to shut up it.

tldr: Mike Lee is the Brad Pitt of programmers. :/

No, it's even better: he's the Brad Pitt and the Wolf (from Pulp Fiction) of iProgrammers. I always thought being the Wolf would be an interesting job; certainly stressful but never a dull moment.

Not to diss your comment, because I don't intend that, but it got me to thinking. I hereby propose we all stop using this "tldr" or "TL;DR" meme that keeps popping up on every other web posting lately because it's an unnecessarily opaque code, and not very readable, in my opinion.

Instead, how about instead we start doing something like this:

summary: <whatever>

tldr: stop using tldr

Of course he can charge $1,000/hr.

So can I, or so can any man; but will clients come when he advertises it?

Interesting approach to customer acquisition. After taxes he'd be sitting on just over a million a year without working much more than 40 hours a week.

But maybe his pricing is predicated on the desire to not work 40 hour weeks?

You don't get 1k an hour without high high availability

I'm guessing the latter. You sort of win either way with that approach:

1. seek $1000/hour and actually end up billing 40+ hrs/week at that rate: WIN all the way to the bank

2. seek $1000/hour, but then end up billing a few hours/month at that rate: still WIN because you can cover your cost of living and still have lots of free time and energy for other things

simple supply and demand issue that he's taking advantage of. the iphone is a fairly new platform and i'd say the number of true "platform experts" is very small so anything you can point to that differentiates is a reason to charge a crapton. haven't you seen all those crappy corporate apps? some companies will pay for a track record, and good for them/him.

Can someone please explain why when I zoom in with Chrome on this page the text size remains the same? I've never seen anything like it.

It's not about how much you can or will charge, it's about how much you've actually sold.

"im so great at coding because i've spent so little of my life doing it! that makes me better, qed"


I don't think he's claiming to be a great coder, but rather a great app designer. And he's right, life experience can come in handy in that area.

i consider myself more right-brain leaning than many in this field, but i still consider this nonsense. wtf does, for example, knocking about on foreign adventures have anything to do with making a great app? ok great, resourcefulness, but show me something relevant if you want $1k an hour

if he has some experience other than coding that makes him so fit, he should mention it, but this is pure bravado, and that doesn't sit well with me

Slightly O/T, but can someone explain why with JavaScript disabled this blog post is completely invisible?

I can't see any technical reason or understand why one would penalize NoScript users (like me).

what a douche

Well, aren't we a feisty bucket of crabs. (patio11 brought up this metaphor - and it's perfect.)

People, if you're here on HN, you spend a lot of time devoted to reading about the importance of confidence. That it's the entrepreneur's stock in trade. Hell, maybe you even write your own blog posts about the importance of confidence & post them here, hoping for attention.

But what do you do when the chips are down and you come across somebody who truly embodies them? Clatter your claws and try to pull them back in:

"HA HA" "Oh so he's like Brad Pitt now?" "Wow, 2 app store hits, whatever" "Hope he likes having no clients!" "I would never hire him" "DOUCHE!" "What a jerk" "I'm gonna judge him just by this essay and assume that he has none of the actual qualifications or experience he mentions"

The power of belief-action congruity at work. Or not.

If you want to be successful, and you believe having confidence is part of that, then you better figure out of your words and your deeds line up. Because if they don't, you are never going to get what _you_ want.

Now, I've never charged $1k/hr... but almost. And if you return true business value, that is totally a reasonable number. Remember - it's all about the value returned. That's another HN belief, isn't it?

When I returned to consulting after two years in traditional employment, after many years of lackluster freelancing, I raised my rates from $80 to $200 to $250 to $300 to $400 and beyond. My last project came damn close to $1k/hr after all said & done.

And you know what? My clients loved it. They kept coming back for more. They loved my work and thought the prices were reasonable, because there's nobody out there doing what I do in that price point.

(My only true competition in that space was Stamen - a mid-sized agency compared to little old me and my husband, an intimate 2-person team. Who competes with Mike Lee on what he offers in that blog post?)

I would keep raising my rates and I would have started talking about it, too, except that I don't want to consult any more. The more you charge, the more people need you, the harder it is to say no to projects that promise to put a quick $40k in your pocket.

The moral of the story is: most freelancers are lazy, unprofessional, with their interests completely divided, and have little to no real-life experience to back up their years spent coding in the basement. They undercharge, take on too much, and then produce merely mediocre work. They have no true value proposition other than a body that types the special arcane symbols, and asks the client the occasional question. They have no connections.

Believe it or not, there are many companies out there who will gladly pay for an experience that is entirely the opposite of that.

There are no testimonials on his website. Just saying.

He worked for Delicious Monster and Tapulous, well-known names in the Mac/iPhone dev community. Also, Apple hired him to build their Mobile Store app, which is pretty significant because I'm sure they have a lot of talented developers already.

He was already working for Apple before moving teams internally, probably because his DTS job wasn't working out or the perks of switching were too great, i.e. he started at DTS a year ago, and before that year was up he switched teams and then presumably quit altogether. He wasn't hired by Apple expressly to come impart his wisdom onto the team working on the app.

Fair enough then. I only came across the post through this site & couldn't see anything to substantiate his claims, but I guess they're a given.

I like how I have to allow his domain in NoScript just to see the page text. Not that the site actually does anything in javascript, as far as I can tell, besides pointlessly slow down page rendering.

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