Matthew: We know there are always unique challenges that founders face when they launch a company. What we’d kind of like to hear from you is whether there were specific obstacle you faced, that you had to overcome in launching GamesThatGive?
Adam: Yeah, a lot of them. We were climbing obstacles everyday. I think the first major obstacle was just funding. I mean, we launched the company at mid to end of 2008. The economy literally tanked the day we signed the paperwork to start the company. Three weeks earlier the stock market had lost, like, 30%. So, in terms of getting funding we pounded the pavement for months and months. We were really lucky to raise our Series A about a year later. We had a bootstrap of things with friends and family. So it was just a tremendous challenge to try and launch a company on such a small budget. It’s very trying.
Matthew: Is there something you know now about your customer, that you didn’t know before you started?
Adam: Yeah, a lot! That’s a great question. One thing with our model, is we find that people are incredibly excited about playing games for charity . . . any charity. They love playing for their particular charity. You probably have a certain cause, or series of causes, that means a lot to you. For me, it’s cancer research. I’ve had a couple of people in my family hit with cancer, so that’s the cause that hits me really deep. So, one of our theories was that people only really want to play games for the cause that means a lot to them. Of course, they love it. We’ve seen incredible engagement time in our Master Cards App, people play for over 40 minutes.
Adam: The truth is, it doesn’t have to be for the cause that means the most to them. As long as you’re letting them know they’re giving to charity, they’re giving to a wonderful cause, they play for a really long time and share with their friends. So that was an interesting thing for us to learn.
Matthew: We think there’s lots of myths about starting companies. For people who haven’t done it before, we think founders like you appear to make it look easy when we know it’s hard.
Matthew: We like to ask our founders, “What is it that you do well?” Everyone seems to have a certain skill they do well. What is something you do well that helped get Games That Give off the ground?
Adam: Yeah, that’s a great question. Doing the start-up thing was a lot harder than I’d anticipated. You look at all these guys and think, “Boy, it looks easy.” Though I think the number one thing I do that helps me through the process is . . . it’s like Woody Allen says, “90% of success is just showing up.” Literally, you get here early in the morning, no matter how bad your day, your week, your month has been for the company. Not just from a personal perspective it’s hard.
You’ll pitch these brands, you’ll pitch to different investors, and you just have all these challenges. You feel like the world is on your shoulders, you’ve got payroll you need to meet. The most important thing is to get here every single day. You give it your best shot, and you’re a professional.
So, it’s sort of like . . . I played a lot of sports. So, why are these sports guys so good? These guys, they come in and just kind of knock it out every single day. They have a short memory, right? So, a guy has a terrible day pitching. The next time he comes in, he pitches his heart out because he has a short memory. You have to have a short memory as a founder. You’ve got to come in every single day and bust your butt, no matter how bad it’s been, because ultimately you’re a professional.
Matthew: I like that. I’m going to keep that in my Rolodex. I’m going to keep the quotes. So, in terms of partnering, there are some founders who are solo founders, but it’s usually the exception.
Matthew: Can you tell me about your co-founder, how you met, and what kind of qualities were you looking for in a co-founder?
Adam: My co-founder, I’m incredibly lucky. He’s really like my best friend. We met college days, and we’ve been great friends ever since. He’s more technical than I am. You know, obviously I come from a software engineering background, but I’m running more the kind of day-to-day sales, operations, and business development, accounting, and things like that for the company. I help with the product management, but he’s more a technical co-founder. He’s our full-time engineer, leads our engineering team.
What I looked for was somebody who was incredibly technical. You have to constantly pivot as a start-up. Things are constantly changing every single day. This client want this, this client wants that, you’ve got to listen to your customers and your customer development.
So, you really want to have somebody on the technical side that is able to do it with you. Like, “Yeah, you’re right, let’s hack it out. Let’s go for it. Let’s put out a prototype, let’s see how it looks. Let’s see how this performs, let’s get it up.”
If you’ve got somebody who’s more into long-term timelines, they need to have clear requirements for what needs to be launched three months from now, it’s going to be very hard to make it work because you’ll constantly be pivoting. I mean, week to week it’s like, “Oh, we’ve got to pivot! We’ve got to do this, we’ve got to change this.” So, you’ve got to have a co-founder that flexes with you.
Matthew: And, what was his name?
Adam: Kris Goss.
Matthew: Kris Goss. Hopefully, we’ll bring him in as a guest in an interview.
Adam: You should. Not only is he one of the best technical people I’ve ever met, and I’ve worked with some great companies, he’s also one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet. So, you guys should have a good time.
Matthew: Nice, nice. A good sense of humor always goes far. So, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in launching and operating things?
Adam: There’s a couple big one’s. One is certainly co-location. I think it’s incredibly important. So, a lot of people have found a good co-founder, or they find a good contractor, somebody like that, but he’s on the other side of the planet . . . he’s on the other side of the country.
Co-location is huge to the extent you can sit in the same room, you get on the whiteboard, you talk about different things. One of the things that Chris and I always do is fly out to each other. Chris is in Maine, and it’s certainly been one of the challenges we’ve had to overcome.
We fly out every month, and we spend at least three or four days with each other white boarding, talking it up. We talk on Skype every single day, twice a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon so we’re on the same page. So, I’d say co-location is huge.
Matthew: So, basically I could also distill that and say co-location, or creating a sense of co-location, even if you’re remotely located.
Adam: One thing I want to add to that . . . the more spokes that you have of people that are remote, the more difficult it becomes. If you’ve got two hubs, that’s a lot easier than having five hubs.
Matthew: Right. Right. So, we found – even through my own personal life – I’ve had the great fortune of having great mentors.
Matthew: Can you speak to that? Who’s a mentor that you’ve had, maybe, throughout your life that’s helped you develop to this point? Who is there, or who is the mentor who helps you with GamesThatGive?
Adam: Yeah, it’s a great question. I have a lot to owe to both my personal mentors and my professional mentors, especially as it comes to start-ups. I have a big family, I’m one of eight children, so my older brothers have really been great mentors for me as I’ve grown up, educated myself and went out into the working world, my brothers David, Michael, and Seth have been just awesome. My whole family really is terrific . . . my sisters, my brothers. I should probably name everybody – my sisters Rebecca and Sarah . . . and Peter and Sammy, Donald, Lauren, my parents.
From a professional standpoint, there are really a couple of individuals that I sit down with twice a month, every month. They’re advisors and investors from the company – folks like, Mark Williamson, he’s just absolutely invaluable. I suggest you talk with him at some point, because he is just a total rock star. Russ Siegelman, who I meet with at least a couple times every month. He helps me, and we kind of build the vision of the company as we march forward.
I have a whole series of advisors, and I don’t want to leave any of them out, but I’m not going to ramble off names here. Those two folks help me a ton, but I have a series of advisors I talk to on a regular basis.
Matthew: Excellent. So, before we close, two more questions. One is, what do you think the key elements are to successfully launching a start-up?
Adam: Yeah, perseverance is the first thing. You’re going to high high’s and low low’s. You’ve probably heard that before, but it is. I think entrepreneurs, in general, kind of have that personality to begin with, but you have to stay even keel. That’s your job as a CEO. One of the things Mark Williamson told me is, “You kind of have to be bipolar as a CEO.” You’ve got to maniacally worried about every little detail, but at the same time you have to give off a level of confidence that, “Things seem to be going great, we’ve got the vision.”
That’s a bit of a challenge, but you’ve got to be even keel. You’ve got to be professional every single day, and you better surround yourself with great people, because at the end of the day it’s the people. It’s not the idea, it’s not anything else. It’s the people you surround yourself with.
Matthew: Excellent. So, before we close – this is the last question: Can you recap or give me your vision for GamesThatGive, and how you hope it will change the world?
Adam: Yeah, so quite frankly, we feel there’s a huge opportunity for gaming to help people. If we can change gaming, such that every game, or virtually every game is helping a cause or helping a charity. You have a choice between playing two games that are identical – one that helps people, one that doesn’t. Which one are you going to pick? We want to change gaming.
Matthew: Excellent, so Adam we really appreciate you being a guest here. Your story is incredible. When I met you, I heard this story and I felt more people needed to hear about GamesThatGive. For those in our audience who’d like to learn more about GamesThatGive, play some games, or if you’re a brand out there who’d like to partner with them, you can visit them at www.gamesthatgive.net. Again, this is with Matthew Wise with FounderLY, and we thank you for being here.
Adam: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.