Kids, how many times do you need to be told to do your homework? Not only is there a lot to learn, but you never know how those tedious hours of hitting the books might pay off. For Justin Beck and a small group of students at the University of Madison, Wisconsin, a late night study session turned into startup inspiration. Bored by linear circuit analysis, Beck and co. began to dream a social gaming company into existence.
A year later, PerBlue launched Parallel Kingdom, a game that the team declares as one of the first mobile, location-based role playing games. The game has been evolving and growing more social since 2008, and now has over a million players worldwide. In 2010 the dorm room fantasy received $800k in Series A real-world funding. Here, Co-founder and CEO Justin Beck takes KillerStartups aboard for a flying lesson (not what you think).
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
I’m really particular about naming a company or product. We have a large list of criteria and go through several rounds of revisions. What it comes down to is — is the name memorable? Tell seven people the name of your startup. Check back in a week later to see if they can remember the name. If the majority of them can recall the name, you’re golden. If not, it’s time to hit the drawing board again.
What’s the very first thing you do at work everyday?
Make a list of things that need to be done, in order of priority. Then cross off all but three things. Accomplish those things. Be reasonable in your expectations for the day–but be sure to get the most important stuff done.
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
We started with a core team of six, squeezed into my tiny college apartment. We were a really tight-knit team back then, working late nights and skipping class to ship our flagship product. Three years later, we strive to instill that family feel with 40 full-time employees.
Remember the early days starting up? Maybe you can share one anecdote that describe the struggle you went through?
Find the one thing you’re really good at, and absolutely kick ass at it. For us, it was finding our niche and dominating the space. Being first is important, but being the best never hurt either.
How do you handle frustration? When/how was the last time you dealt with frustration?
Recently I’ve been taking flying lessons. It’s something that gets my adrenaline pumping and makes me forget about anything that has been bothering me. When you’re flying up in the air, you literally see how small problems are back down on earth. Flying helps me put things into perspective.
What’s your office environment like?
We work hard to have an awesome work environment and culture. With 35 employees squeezed into 3,000 sq/ft, there’s not a lot of privacy or leg space. We’re all good friends, we work and hang out together. Most people jam out on their headphones, but there is no shortage of conversations, memes, or summer cookouts.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
We’ve more than tripled in size within the last year. I hope to continue that exponential growth within the next five years. Right now our biggest hurdle is finding the space to put more people. We’re about to move into a new office space, so I hope to see another spurt of growth within the next quarter.
Who or what inspires YOU?
Entrepreneurship inspires me. I strive to surround myself with other entrepreneurs and enjoy the opportunity to offer advice or shed light on issues that I’ve dealt with previously. It’s funny, the entrepreneurship bug has infected my friends–now a lot of my friends have started their own companies.
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowd-funded? Where’d you get the money, man?
We bootstrapped our company from the beginning. We then raised a small Friends and Family round of funding, but have since raised $800,000 in Series A funding. My biggest piece of advice for raising funding is to listen to your instincts. Do you trust these potential investors? Is what they are asking for in return for investment seem reasonable?
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
Some people will have/experience overnight success, but for others, it won’t be so easy. Our earliest employees spent months working out of an apartment full-time with little to no pay. It’s going to take talented, patient, passionate people to help grow your startup. You, along with your co-workers, need to believe wholeheartedly in your startup to succeed.
What would you be doing if you had one year off and $500,000 to spend (and you couldn’t spend it on your currently startup / projects)?
Travel the world on my motorcycle. I’m a huge motorcycle enthusiast. I had the chance to travel a bit around Europe last year, but I’d love to do a more extensive trip.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur right now? If not, what’s it gonna take to make you feel successful?
There are many types of success as an entrepreneur. I consider myself a successful “bootstrapping startup” entrepreneur–who has just moved into the “startup growth” stage. I’m still working on being successful at growing a business.
Website you couldn’t live without and why?
Gmail. Such a boring answer, but it’s true! I’d say 90% of my time spent on the Internet is processing email.
Mobile App you’re in love with and why?
Spotify. I am much more productive with music playing the background.
Dogs or cats?
iOS or Android?
iOS–MacBook, iPhone, iPad–and I’m good to go!
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website/idea?
We were one of the first in the location-based gaming space. That alone has given us wiggle room–to make mistakes and correct our course–before our competitors could catch up. Today we have optimized our gameplay, so players are entertained for months, even years!
Where can our readers get a hold of you? Facebook? Twitter? Google+? Personal blog?