Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. I’m Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. And today’s guest is a developer who found monetization so painful that he created a company that does it better.
When Blake Commagere created apps like “Zombes & Vampires,” he had a hard time getting revenue with his creations. So he built MediaSpike, the company I invited him here to talk about. It’s a platform for product placement in social and mobile games. We’re going to find out how he built it.
And we’re going to do it all thanks to my friend Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. He is the start-up’s lawyer. I’ll tell you more about him later. First, I want to welcome you, Blake. Thanks for doing this.
Blake: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Andrew: Hey, one cool thing in your background is that you’ve gotten to meet a lot of your heroes. You got to actually meet and work for one of many of our heroes, Shawn Parker. What was it like to work for Shawn Parker back when you were at Facebook?
Blake: Oh, actually, I wasn’t at Facebook. I worked with him at Plaxo.
Andrew: Oh, Plaxo, the company that he built before Facebook.
Blake: Yes. Yes. Exactly. And then I worked with him again, actually, on Causes. So we were building on Facebook’s platform.
Blake: So we were one of those early companies there. But we weren’t actually a part of Facebook. So, yeah. But the first time I worked with Shawn was actually at Plaxo, and it was great. One of the things that . . . I know this is overused. You hear this adjective thrown around, and in doing so, loses its meaning. But there are very few people I would say actually have vision. And Shawn has just this uncanny insight into the future. And it’s very . . .
Andrew: Give me an example. Because you’re right, it is used a lot. But when we see it right, when we see that vision, it’s impressive sometimes. Give me an example of what he saw and how he communicated it.
Blake: So one of the things that he saw early on within Plaxo was the potential for us to be the social identity of the web, right? And sure enough, I would say that while Plaxo may not have realized that vision, in his very next company, Facebook, did, right? In many ways. And it’s generally regarded as that is your social identity. And it’s one of those things that, looking back, you realize just how insightful it was, as he would describe these things about how the internet needs this identity layer, right, and how it’s lacking, and how Plaxo is the opportunity to create this layer.
And it’s really one of those things, like, it sounds very abstract, and it can be really difficult for a lot of people to wrap their heads around. But then we see a realization of that vision through a company like Facebook, you realize just how ahead of the time that was. Because this was back in, like, 2002, 2003 time frame that he was talking about this. And we’re talking it’s probably five or six years before Facebook started really making headway into the realization of that vision.
Andrew: But Plaxo started out, I remember it as the online address book that your friends help you keep up-to-date. You upload your whole address book to it, right?
Andrew: Or it grabs the whole address book, and then it emails everyone on that list and says, “Hey, I’m trying to maintain, I’m trying to update my address book. If this information that I have on you is right, let me know. If it’s not, edit it for me.” And then people can go and edit the phone number, change the spelling of their names if it’s wrong, add home addresses, and so on.
Was it after that that he started to communicate to you that he wants Plaxo to be the online identity that we all use? Or was it when that was starting to fade.
Blake: No, no, no, it was as Plaxo first started growing. I mean, it began as a problem that was . . . it was largely inspired by his own problems from Napster, right? Which was, okay, you have enormous number of contacts that had become a part of his life, and maintaining that address book was unwieldy. It was, tens of thousands of people, right, that he wanted to have accurate info. And nothing’s more frustrating than, oh, here’s someone that I would love to . . . I haven’t spoken to in six months, they’d be the perfect person to connect you to, and it’s not unusual, especially in the start-up world, for that person to have new contact info for whatever reason, right?
Blake: And so that initial problem is what Plaxo was designed to first attack. But then as Plaxo began to start growing. And, I mean, while I was early as Plaxo, I wasn’t at the very, very beginning. So I think there was something like 30,000 users on Plaxo at the time, which may sound small now, I guess, as you talk about things. But for consumer tech at that time, it was like, wow, this is a successful thing starting to take off.
And that was the point at which, when I joined, I heard already at that point articulating, hey, here’s this opportunity for social identities on the internet. Because you can imagine one of the things Plaxo did is it kept . . . the vision was, okay, it should keep a single record for each individual person, and that should be your identity record that was like, look, this has your real phone number, your real email address, and if your work email address changes, it shouldn’t be that everybody out there now has to then say, “Oh, now Blake works at this company, so I’m going to update it.” It should automatically update everybody . . .
Andrew: Blake updates it, and everyone else gets the corrected . . .
Blake: Exactly. So that you can always . . .
Andrew: Why didn’t Plaxo work? As an insider, why do you think?
Blake: You know, that’s such a hard question. There’s . . . and, I mean, it was a wonderfully talented team. I still am very close to a lot of the team there. And actually, a number of them actually participated in our most recent round. So very talented, very, very intelligent team, many of whom have gone on to build many other things. Many other companies. Including things like . . .
Andrew: That’s what I mean. Very talented team, very smart, vision was spot- on. Why didn’t it work? As an outsider, I always thought it didn’t work because the virality was so good that we were starting to all email all of our friends with these Plaxo updates, and so our friends associated Plaxo not with the online identity that they should have had, but with the email that they were getting from all these different sources.
Blake: And I think that certainly could have been part of it. We did run into a PR problem, right, in that we . . . many of the techniques we were using, at the time we considered them pioneering.
Blake: And we were very, like, oh, here’s a very intelligent thing to do, and here’s this idea, let’s execute on it. And the argument “did we overreach?” could certainly be made. And you end up with a bit of a market perception problem. For us, we viewed the company very differently, because while other people viewed it perhaps as, “Hey, that’s that thing that I receive a lot of email about,” we viewed it as, “Oh my God, we’re going to fix the internet,” right? This is . . .
And I know that that sounds very self-important. But at the time, I mean, it’s still an ongoing problem. It’s ridiculous that sometimes you don’t have someone’s contact info when they want you to, right? Like, if I had my way, there’s easily a couple thousand people on the planet that I’m like, no matter what, I want you to be able to reach me, right?
Andrew: No doubt. The closest that we get to that is Facebook, where people’s phone numbers really are updated in real-time.
Andrew: But it’s not enough. It’s not where we need to be.
One more question about that part of your life. You worked for a guy who . . . I think he’s a billionaire now. He’s clearly one of the biggest, most impressive visionaries in the tech space. What’s one thing that you took away from working with him that you still think about today? One thing that you still apply?
Blake: I think one of the things that I personally . . . like, I had an instinct around this, and I struggled with it. And that’s, I’m one of these people that if I see something that looks wrong, I will fixate on it, and it’s very, very difficult to . . . when one little thing is off, it’s very difficult for me to see the forest for the trees, right? And that’s something I saw Shawn dealt with as well. And there were times when my instinct was to say, “Oh, this needs to be moved,” or, “That’s just a little [??]. We absolutely have to fix this.” And I would fixate on that.
Part of me felt that chasing those details was one of those things that I’m like, all right, that’s not the ideal use of time. I need to be thinking only about the big picture. And while in many ways, yes, that big picture is very important, the sum of small details is very important, too. And seeing that he would do that same thing, and that I was in an environment where many people agreed, like, “Oh, yeah, that is important. We do need to make this . . . every little bit of polish, every little bit of beauty, is important in our product.” Carrying that with me really helps. And it’s stark just how much that impacts you.
Andrew: Do you have an example of a time that you were impacted by it, or a decision that you made based on that?
Blake: Causes is a great example.
Blake: So working on Causes and this is… This is an incredibly biased opinion to hold, I know, but when Facebook opened up their platform, one of the things that was fantastic about that is actually Shawn’s company, which at the time wasn’t called Causes-it eventually became Causes-was working on a nonprofit fundraising website, the idea being it would be a separate social network and have widgets on say Friendster or Facebook, MySpace, etc.
Blake: Yeah, this was 2006, right? MySpace was big.
Andrew: So if I wanted to raise money for a good cause, I could put the widget on my MySpace page and allow all my friends to help out.
Blake: And the reason… And what… And the company that I had started was called Care Badges. It was actually doing that and it was growing pretty fast on MySpace at the time Shawn and I started talking about this. And he was like “Well, I’m working on this one part of the problem, you’re working on this other. We really should combine forces.” And when we did so, my… Because of Shawn’s relationship with Facebook, we were able to be a very, very early beta developer on Facebook’s platform and we probably had a good six-month lead on the vast majority of other people that did.
And as a result, frankly, when you saw Facebook open their platform at launch, the vast majority-and I knew this going in and I knew this long before we launched-there were… Most of what we saw was just kind of like translations of widgets on MySpace. So you’d see things like these shitty horoscope apps, right? It was just a widget, right?
And other things like photo slide shows-things that were very much so, I would say, not even apps yet. They were just widgets, whereas Causes was an incredibly mature and polished application that had far more functionality than was necessary to make it set apart from the other kind of like shitty widgets that people were doing. But… And we knew those months before Facebook’s platform launched. We knew what other people, what they were and what they were going to launch with.
And that didn’t mean that we rested on our laurels. It was still like 14- 16 hour days for those last several months just to add as much polish as we could and to make Causes on Facebook just the most… We really wanted it to be like as… make it look as, I guess, as embedded and as part of a Facebook as we possibly could.
Andrew: So much so that people actually assumed that Causes was owned by Facebook.
Blake: Yes. That was probably one of the most common misconceptions. People would send us email for Facebook support problems like “I lost my Facebook password.”
Andrew: “Help me out.”
Blake: Yeah. And it was pretty crazy. And that level of integration and that level of polish just absolutely propelled us onto a growth trajectory much faster than really we even needed. But I am still very, very proud of that and I think it really, really paid off.
Andrew: You then went on to create your own apps that had more than 50 million players, you say. What were these apps that you created for yourself?
Blake: So these were these horror themed games. These were the first social games on Facebook. So just two weeks… or actually, not even a full two weeks after Facebook had opened their platform, one weekend I created a game that I thought would be very entertaining and it was very lightweight in design.
But I took what I knew about viral marketing, which at this point [??] and working on Care Badges and Causes. I had a lot of domain expertise around viral marketing and not a lot of domain expertise around game mechanics and good game design. So I took what I knew, which was viral marketing, and made it into a set of game mechanics. And…
Andrew: Can you give me an example?
Blake: Yeah, absolutely. So the… Honestly, the very first version of the zombie game. There were very few mechanics. There was a level mechanic and then a recruitment mechanic and the recruitment mechanic lined up with the zombie myth and it was… It was “Okay, I’m going to bite a friend” and that was in an invite. You received a notification that someone…
Andrew: So basically, you gave points for virality?
Andrew: I see. And what was the other mechanic you said? Viral and…?
Blake: A leveling up mechanic.
Andrew: Leveling up.
Blake: So that actually allowed you the reward for doing that, other than just the entertainment factor was that you actually progressed in the game play.
Andrew: Oh, interesting. Okay.
Blake: And in doing so, you received a more powerful, you know, zombie, right? And the fascinating thing to me was, so horror, let’s see, in 2007, especially like, zombie horror films, they have a very passionate and loyal user base…
Blake: … and in my mind, it was a smaller user base than actually came to be, so I, some people, you know, said that when I did that on Facebook, the zombies and vampires, it really brought those two more mainstream for American culture.
Andrew: I think your games made it more mainstream.
Andrew: So, you’re building this up though, but, and I can see the excitement of getting millions of players, just seeing people bite each other and interact with all your ideas, the modernization issue is what led you to the business we’re talking about today. What did you try for modernization when you said, “I need to start to make money,”
Blake: Right. So several things. I, one of the fantastic things about games is your users are fixated on game play. A very unfortunate corollary for me at the time was that they exhibit far worse banner blindness than any other content I had ever seen, so, one of the dirty little secrets about growth is that even organic growth is not free because you have server costs and engineering costs and so, 50 million players is not cheap and I was looking at ad revenues for banners like this and I, you know, server build that was going like this.
So it wasn’t calculus that led me to believe. It was, you know, it was like, okay, let me just keep drawing that line and okay, shit, in about two months, I’m going to be losing a lot of money. So, I tried several things, and all of which are, you know, various incarnations of native monetization. Traditionally, for consumer tech companies, you see this time and again, what a company will do is they build something, they start receiving [??] and if they’re very fortunate, they’ve either raised so much money or they have such patient investors that they’ll continue to invest money into a product, despite, you know, no monetization or they’ll resort to banner.
And most everybody wants to do native monetization ultimately with their product because users actually like it. You’re, you know, you’re actually making serious revenue, rather than the shitty pennies on a dollar that you’ll put up with from banners and you’ll, I mean, it really is, like, one of these, like, all around, you’ll get results that are better for everybody. So, but historically, what happens is you just, you can’t invest in your native monetization and look Facebook. That’s a great example of a company that said, “Hey, we’re going to put off our native monetization for years,” right?
Andrew: Alright, but you’re saying that this is all to say you couldn’t put it off. You wanted to make some money with this, your server costs were starting to get high, you had no outside investors at the time, right?
Blake: That is correct.
Andrew: Banners didn’t work because people are so fixated on the game that they’re not looking at the banners. What’s one other thing that you tried?
Blake: So, I tried many things with varied success. One thing that failed was subscribers. So, that’s a typical…
Andrew: What do you mean subscribers? Getting people to pay for next levels or something?
Blake: Yeah. Like a monthly fee, well, you know, right?
Blake: And that’s a very common monetization technique for MMOs in the US…
Blake: … and I thought, “Okay, let me see if I can, you know, do some experiments there,” not at all the successful technique. I also experimented with a dual currency system, wherein you have one currency you can earn through the game, another that you actually pay real money for and then you use virtual goods and buffs and different opportunities to kind of limit the game play and, you know, that came about through, you know, being inspired and you know, that was not a unique kind of like, you know, idea.
That was actually something that was very common at the time in the east, right, and so I looked at companies like Nexon and these other, you know, gaming companies. I was like, “Okay, that’s how they do it. They have these free to play games,”
Andrew: Why didn’t it work for you?
Blake: Well, it did, actually.
Andrew: Oh, it did. Okay.
Blake: Subscribers did not, but like, using kind of the MMO, you know, approach like you see with World of Warcraft and Everquest, that type of approach didn’t work for my games, but doing virtual goods and a dual currency system absolutely did.
Andrew: Do you remember one virtual good that was especially profitable?
Blake: Yeah. We had a, it was a super chainsaw. So, we had, I know it’s ridiculous, but there was a normal chainsaw, and then there was a chainsaw that was much more high-powered, and that chainsaw cost . . . I think it was $1.99, right?
Andrew: I see.
Blake: And we had this currency that you had to buy was depending on the game. One of them had gems, and one had rubies, and one of them had all this sort of thing. And people would pay significant amounts of real money for these items.
It also allowed you to buy your in-game currency with real money. So if you just wanted to be impatient and say, “I don’t want to earn . . . even though this one currency can be earned through game play, I just want to purchase it.”
Blake: And the most popular item that you could buy with real currency that people would actually pay real money for was the chicken suit. So it was not at all a . . .
Andrew: So far, it looks like you’re onto something. Why try to invent a new process, or try to create a whole new business, if you’re already selling directly to your users?
Blake: Right. So one of the things that I had happening is I had several brands approaching, because, not surprisingly, the demo of Facebook at that time, late 2007, was largely a younger generation. Getting their attention is hard.
Andrew: Teens and 20s.
Blake: Exactly. And so I had a lot of brands approaching me, asking, actually, if they could have something within the game play, and that sort of thing. And so before, I was running these experiments in parallel, because I frankly could not afford for any one of them to . . . for me to fail on one and then say, “Oh, I need to move on to the next.” So I was running all of them at the same time.
And I found actually that one of the things that was really, really amazing to me is that virtual goods takes it to a certain level. But then if I had a branded virtual good, I could actually charge more for a branded item, and then even sell more of them. Because for those branded items, there’s an emotional attachment that users have to these real-world items.
Blake: And it’s no mistake that most games, you see things that seem similar to real-world items, right? But they’re not. It’s something, you’re like, “Well, that looks kind of like Mountain Dew,” or, “That looks like it’s inspired by Coca-Cola.”
Blake: But it’s not actually Coca-Cola. That’s not an accident. That’s game designers saying, “Well, I want to tap into this emotional connection that people have with Coca-Cola, but Coca-Cola hasn’t sanctioned this, so I’m going to make something that kind of inspires the thoughts of Coca-Cola.”
Blake: Which is a very powerful thing that Coca-Cola has spent over 100 years and a lot of money making us feel that way when we think about Coca- Cola.
So I did a few of these branded deals, and the crazy thing is I actually generated more revenue from product placement deals than from virtual goods when I . . .
Andrew: How did you even know who to contact, and how’d you know how to convert . . . how to convince one of those people to buy an ad from you?
Blake: I actually had no clue what I was doing. I had people . . . [inaudible 03:14]. So from the perspective of, you know, okay, I have to learn and have to figure this out, I was, like I said, just highly motivated. And so as people reached out to me, I was . . .
Andrew: You mean someone at a company like McDonald’s would reach out to you and say, “I would like . . . I see your guys, I see your players are eating fries and burgers. I would like them to eat McDonald’s fries and burgers. I see a truck driving through your game. I would like that truck to be one of our McDonald’s trucks.” Really?
Blake: Yeah. Typically what would happen, actually, though, is it wasn’t, like . . . typically what I had to do was I had to change the conversation. People would reach out to me, and what I saw more often than not was not, “Hey, I want product placement in your game.” The vast majority of people that actually reached out to me were saying, “Hey, could you build me a game?” Right? Because they were like, “Wow, you’re one guy in your living room, and you have 50 million people playing your game obsessively. Would you do that for McDonald’s.”
Andrew: Oh, okay.
Blake: Or would you do that for this film studio. And what I did . . . initially, my reaction to that was like, “No. Of course not. Sorry. No time. Best of luck, but I don’t do that type of stuff.” What I started doing as I realized the opportunity with virtual goods was really starting to take hold with my users, what I started doing is I said, as those inbound interests came to me, I said, “Well, actually, while I don’t do the thing you’re asking for, check this out.
What your goal is it’s to reach this huge audience. They’re already being reached through this game. If you are integrated into the game, and you become part of it, and you become an item in the store that the users can buy, then I can guarantee you, yes, you’re going to get 50 million people interacting with your brand the day it goes live.”
Andrew: I see.
Blake: And so that kind of helped shortcut the process for them, right? And so . . .
Andrew: Who’s the first customer that said yes to that?
Blake: It was one of the film studios. I don’t remember which. I have to check up on it. But it was . . .
Andrew: Was it for a movie that was coming out?
Blake: Yeah. It was for a horror film.
Blake: And I don’t remember if it was one of the “Resident Evil” movies, or if it was for “30 Days of Night,” or . . . one of the very successful product placement deals we did was with a movie called “Funny Games.” Don’t know if you ever saw it, but very dark film . . .
Blake: . . . that had two young men in a wealthy neighborhood walking around with a set of golf clubs. And they actually, they use these golf clubs to hold families hostage, and rob them, and torture them. It was a very dark film. And we had the golf club in our store. You could buy the golf club from the movie. And users went nuts for it.
And the reaction from the studio was unlike any other type of thing they’d seen, because for them, to get 50 million people to actually interact with a banner, you would need nearly 50 billion people on the planet, because the click-through rates on banners are just so abysmally low that you absolutely cannot reach that large of an audience with a banner.
Andrew: You told our pre-interviewer here at Mixergy that you tested out an early version of this product with a small group of angel investors. What was the early version that you tested out with these angel investors?
Blake: So . . . oh, gosh, our proof of concept was so lightweight. We actually had this . . . I’m so glad that I don’t have to show people this game anymore. So we had this very, very lightweight game, that was, like, a side scroller, and we had the ability to just upload an image from my phone, and could turn it into a product in the game. But these are still, like, flat, two-dimensional objects.
Andrew: I see. You just wanted to show them, “Here’s how easy it would be, or should be, to get a product into the game.”
Andrew: “I could just take a picture of the product and put it into the game.” I see. You were just showing them how to get a product image into the game.
Blake: Yeah. And then that . . . and that was enough for some investors to say, “Okay, I see where this is going. Love it. I understand the problem.” Because initially, even though I had really good money coming from these deals, one of the painful things that started to happen is we struggled with a lot of the expectations, in terms of getting our production timelines to line up.
So we had some of these agencies reaching out to us saying, “Hey, please put this deal together. We want it to go live next week.” And for us, next week was impossible. It’s like, look, it doesn’t matter if everybody drops everything and focuses on this. We need easily a month, because this is not something we can just turnkey. We have to write custom code for each one of these deals, and we have to make sure we maintain someone . . . you know, someone has to be devoted to the campaign, and someone has to pull all the stats for you. None of it was kind of like out of the box.
Which, you know, I realize it sounds silly. Pulling stats sounds like that should be a simple thing. But it wasn’t, because we had this beautiful dashboard that would tell you everything about every virtual good, and who viewed it in the last 24 hours, and who interacted with it in what ways, and all those results. But that was part of an internal access only dashboard. And . . .
Andrew: So only you could see it, but your sponsor couldn’t.
Blake: Yeah. And so if someone gives you half a million dollars to put your product in their game, it’s a very reasonable question to ask, “How’s that doing?”
Andrew: It’s like, did you get that kind of deal size back then?
Blake: Yeah. Yeah, we did.
Andrew: Back when you were running an independent game company.
Blake: Yeah. Yeah. There were . . .
Andrew: And this was just for you. Someone would pay you half a million dollars?
Blake: We had, at the time, we had expanded the team. So we had, I think, three or four people at that time.
Andrew: I mean just for your app.
Andrew: And then at what point did you decide, “I need to start making this available to other game makers”?
Blake: So it was years later, honestly, because what we struggled with is we could only do so many of those deals a year, because it would require . . . it would take a huge amount of resources, right?
Blake: And so because of that, it was very painful. And that became the motivation for, you know, “Something like this should exist which, as a system, should automate this,” right? This should be as easy as buying banner ads, but, you know, actually effective. And for us, we couldn’t focus and build that system, because our core competency was building games, right?
Blake: And so because our core competency was building games, right?
Blake: As you can imagine, just imagine we’re building games, and it’s like, hey, wouldn’t there be awesome if there was a platform that did this other thing? Well, we don’t have the resources to do that, too. We have to stay focused.
So it was actually many years later, as I had more and more conversations with other game developers that would express the same frustrations, in terms of, “We did a deal with this shoe company, the users loved it, we made a ridiculous amount of money, we could actually sell the branded items for extra money.” Because when players have the option between putting generic sneakers on their basketball player or putting Nike Air Jordans, they were like, “I’ll pay $3 for the Jordans instead of $.99 for generic sneakers.”
Blake: And the brand . . . you know, and I had success story after success story of people going like, “Oh, man, Nike won’t leave me alone. They just want . . . “Or, you know, Nike, for example. I don’t remember if it was actually Nike. But customers that were incredibly happy, users that were incredibly happy, developers that were incredibly happy.
But time and again, people were like, “I just can’t do this at scale. I can’t spend all my time on branded deals. I have to be building games.” And . . .
Andrew: Did you split the company up at that time?
Blake: No, actually. What I ended up doing is sold . . . so I ended up selling the company that I built around those games, and then I spent a little bit of time talking to other game developers, and realized this is such a huge problem . . .
Blake: . . . that I can’t believe nobody built anything in this space yet. And, well, a few people . . . I say nobody built in the space. Some people had made some inroads. You saw, historically, some companies that attacked the console market, like Massive and Double Fusion, and then a few people that built very successful companies like AppSavvy, where they would broker these deals, right?
And initially, AppSavvy didn’t build any technology. They simply said, look, there’s so much demand and supply, and this is a difficult marriage to make happen, that they would broker these deals and take a percentage. But they didn’t build any technology to automate something that they were actually doing a phenomenal job selling.
So we came in with the thesis of, look, this isn’t just a sales play, and this isn’t just a technology play. This is actually a marriage of the two, and you have to build something that is highly scalable and has amazing technology, and you have to use that to empower a very, very talented sales team to manage these brand relationships.
Because, you know, if you go up to Naked Communications, which is the agency of record for Coca-Cola, and you say, “Hey, I’ve built this amazing, beautiful dashboard. You never have to talk to a person again. You can just do this dashboard to do anything you ever wished for.” That’s great, but that’s not how the world works. And quite frankly, if someone’s spending half a million dollars with you, and they say, “We’re representing Coca- Cola. We’d like to talk to a human being,” that’s a very reasonable request, and one that you absolutely should honor.
And you have companies like Google, is a great example of that, where AdSense is an amazing self-serve product, but they still have a sales team, right? And they still manage relationships, and they still have very, very big clients that . . .
Andrew: Let me ask you a question, just going back to something you said earlier. You said you sold the game company. Or I guess it was a collection of companies?
Blake: So it was actually a collection of games around one company, and I sold those games to a company that I ended up as co-founder. And George was a co-founder. It was a company . . .
Andrew: This is D’s Games?
Blake: That was called Oh Hi, actually.
Andrew: Oh Hi. Okay.
Blake: Yeah. And Oh Hi was . . . honestly, very early in this concept of doing mid core games. And we brought some of the team from EverQuest out of Sony Online Entertainment, joined the company, and we were building mid core games very early. This was . . .
Andrew: Did you sell for cash or for equity in the business?
Blake: A mixture.
Andrew: So how much cash did you get from selling your business?
Blake: [laughs] I don’t think that’s ever been announced.
Andrew: Over a million dollars?
Blake: And never announced it.
Blake: And I don’t have any intention of doing so. But obviously . . . what’s a good way to put it? I’ve had a few base hits in my life, and that’s great . . .
Andrew: And that was a base hit?
Andrew: And that company had to close?
Blake: That company ultimately did close, yeah. I think, frankly, we were really too early on the mid core market, and we also made games that were probably a little bit more hardcore than the mid core market had an appetite for. So while we were right in identifying opportunity, I think we still made the game play a little bit too hardcore.
Andrew: You . . . actually, you know what? Before I get into this next line of questioning, because it’s really important, let me say thank you to Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. What do you think of the way that I embed my advertiser into my interviews?
Blake: [laughs] I think that’s fantastic. I think drinking from a coffee cup that has a logo on it, and that sort of thing, is… What’s a good way to put it? Product placement has a long storied set of successes. Like the film industry. Ever since, what is it, E.T. and the Reese’s Pieces…
Andrew: With the Reese’s Pieces, and with this mug, everybody has to be exposed to this same sponsor. Everyone has to see Reese’s Pieces because Steven Spielberg couldn’t take it in and out as he would want to. I can’t change mugs. With your software, you have to have a blank mug and then allow the sponsor to only buy the number of impressions that she wants, right? Have each ad appear beautifully in place. We’ll get back to the sponsor in a moment. How did you do that? How did you allow them to go in and test, and then get stats, and then come back when they need to?
Blake: The way we do that is, we have an SDK that’s embedded in the game.
Blake: It passes a set of parameters and says, “Hey. Here’s the parameters that are relevant to this user.” Usually, it’s a random user ID that doesn’t let us personally identify the user. But, if we know something about them; if we know a gender, if we know their age range or something like that, then we can do targeting.
You actually don’t always want that level of targeting, though. Imagine this, if you and I are playing a game, but we’re in separate demographics because we live on different coasts; while our technology does enable a possibility to say, “All right. For me, this drink appears as a Pepsi, but for you it appears as a Gatorade.” That can create a jarring experience, especially if I gift it. If I give you a Pepsi, but it turns into a Gatorade because we’re in different demographics, that’s very jarring.
Blake: Yeah. Right?
Blake: Suddenly, what may sound like, conceptually, a very interesting thing to do, ends up resulting in not a game that’s more fun. While that is possible, we usually push advertisers only to do that in scenarios that are signage. If you’re in a racing game, and the billboards are different for you and for me, that’s acceptable. Where…
Andrew: But, if the store facing those billboards is McDonald’s for me and Burger King for you, that’s awkward.
Blake: It’s very odd, because what if we’re playing together, and I’m saying, “Meet me at a Burger King.” And, you’re like, “I don’t see one.” Suddenly, that’s very, very jarring and very strange.
Andrew: Also, a billboard can be easily changed. Right? When you’re talking about a truck that you put a Mountain Dew ad on sometimes, and other times a Geico ad, and other times a Red Bull and so on, does that mean that a designer has to design all these different trucks for the sponsors?
Blake: Right now, yes. But, those are just textures. In the case of most of these games, we’re just overlaying textures over a product. I say, “We’re just,” as though it’s a trivial thing to do. It’s a good amount of tech work to make that happen. What we aren’t doing is we’re not simply saying, “Oh, upload a logo.” And then, we automatically create…
Given vector art, we don’t automatically create these objects from conanical [SP] representations of them, but that’s where we’re headed with our… It would not surprise anyone if they looked at our product road map to say, “Oh, wow! If someone can just upload a set of core assets for a brand…” And then, for us to generate all of the type of relevant objects that may be necessary from that automatically…
Blake: The nice thing is, while there is, right now, some artist work necessary, it’s very little. We’re talking somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes the vast majority of time, in terms of artwork; which is inconsequential compared to the typical story of, “It’s six to eight weeks before we can integrate you into our game.” Taking six to eight weeks down to 30 minutes is heroic. Thirty minutes is still too long for us. Ultimately, we’re [TD] have it instantaneous.
Andrew: All right. I’ll tell you about this mug. This mug is from Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. He is the start-ups entrepreneur. I’ve done ads for him, now, for weeks where I’ve held up this mug. James Ashenhurst [SP] in the audience said, “Andrew, I don’t like the way you’re doing these ads. You should do it a little bit differently.”
Andrew: I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You know, Andrew, a few weeks ago you did an interview with a guy named Eric Bahn, where he said that he formed an LLC because it was the easiest option, but that he paid a lot more in taxes, because Eric didn’t have any idea what qualified small business stock was.” And so James, the listener, says, “You need to tell people stories like that. Scare them into paying attention, that they need to talk to lawyers at some point in the development of their company, so that they don’t make big mistakes like that.”
So I’m taking James’s advice and telling you Eric’s story, and I’m suggesting that if you don’t have a lawyer, and you’re a tech entrepreneur in the start-up space, that you at least send an email over to Scott. Here’s his email: email@example.com. Or check out WalkerCorporateLaw.com and see the collection of testimonials from people who we all respect who say this is the guy to talk to. WalkerCorporateLaw.com.
Can your trucks do that, Blake?
Blake: Can they . . .
Andrew: Can they speak? Can they take criticism from the audience?
Blake: Yeah. You know, honestly . . .
Blake: And, like any other . . . really, our system is object-agnostic. We can do audio. We can do video. We can do textures. We can do 3D images. It’s really any type of object, we can deliver dynamically. Now . . .
Andrew: So James Ashenhurst, please play one of Blake’s games, and shoot him an email, and tell him how he can do it differently.
Blake: Yeah. I mean, any form of advertising, you can overreach with, right? And some people are going to respond to it negatively. I mean, frankly, if somebody absolutely does not like a particular brand, and we present that brand to them, chances are it’s not going to change their opinion about that brand, right?
Now, the nice thing is, if you do it in a subtle enough manner, then you’re going to still present them with at least a moment of, “Well, this feels more realistic,” right? I’ve put more realism into this, even if they don’t have an affinity for that specific brand.
But you can think of examples of this, of overreach, in any type of advertising. Product placement in film. You can probably think of a few examples where you’re like, well, that didn’t feel embedded. That actually felt just like I was being advertised to, right?
Blake: And that’s, I think, where it’s not a matter of science anymore. It’s an art, right? Because you can look at . . . here’s a great example of this. Watching a James Bond film, right? You may have Audi or Mercedes, or whoever may be . . . BMW may be taking out the ad that says, “Okay, we want the car in this movie.” Those type of product placements, you have that car featured for, I don’t know, sometimes 20 minutes of film, right? It’s amazing.
Blake: Which sounds like . . . you could say there’s a hard and fast rule of no product can appear for more than 30 seconds, or else users are going to assume they’re being advertised to. But it absolutely is fine in the context of the James Bond film.
Now, if you tried to do that in many other types of movies, chances are it would be very strange. Like if you had a romantic comedy that centered around a BMW for 20 minutes, you know . . .
Blake: I’m confident everyone would say, “This is very odd.” And so it’s . . . there’s . . .
Andrew: Let me ask you this question. Because I know I have limited time with you, and there’s one thing that we said earlier that I have to get back to. The company ultimately failed. And we brushed it off, and I moved on to MediaSpike. But I don’t want to get past the psychology, the personal setback, or the feelings of failure that come from that.
You talked to April Dykeman, our producer. She asked you about what’s one thing that you would teach entrepreneurs about if you could, and you said, “You know what? It wouldn’t be the how-to stuff. It would be the psychology. It would be about how to manage your emotions.”
So now we’ve got a point in your story where we can talk about that. Tell me, before you get to how you get past it, what did it feel like when you had that setback? When this business that you were a part of failed?
Blake: Yeah. So, I mean, it’s so hard to separate yourself, as a founder, from a company.
Blake: And it’s so hard to not take failure incredibly personally, right? I mean, it’s hard just when you’re raising money not to take it personally, right? Because you’re pouring your heart and soul into something. It’s your baby, and it’s beautiful. And it’s tough when someone says, “Hey, actually, your baby’s hideous,” right? “I hate it. It’s not worth a penny.” Right?
And it was . . . you know, sleepless nights, difficulty eating. All of the traditional . . .
Andrew: Which period was this, when you had the sleepless nights and tough time eating.
Blake: As our high… As we [struggled] to meet the highest volume.
Andrew: When you would wake up in the middle of the night or not be able to go to sleep, what would you think about?
Blake: I would struggle with what do we need to do different. And also, it’s so hard not to do this, I would review my mistakes. You know, ultimately you’ve learned from them so hard to dwell on that.
Andrew: What mistake did you dwell on?
Blake: Let’s see. One of the worst mistakes I dwelt on is I was less active in the fundraising process. As one of the founders then I wish I had actually taken control of that process and that I had been the one prioritizing that. Instead, I was kind of in Celery [sp] and simply [inaudible] for the meetings of… do my pitch and then I want to get back to building product. And eventually it’s just building those relationships and really focusing on that, while at the time it was not something I wanted to do. I actually see the value of doing that.
Andrew: How did it impact your performance? That you were thinking about how you should have done that or should have done the other thing?
Blake: It’s a horrible distraction. And I think that the name of the game… I think too many people look at startups in terms of it’s how many hours I can deliver and devote to the company but that’s not nearly as important as actually a throughput in terms of how much you actually get done and accomplish. And when you’re stressed out your performance suffers. And most people simply try to throw [inaudible], right? And that doesn’t necessarily bring you better results. Right?
So over the years one of the things I’ve really, really spent a lot of time focusing on is how do I manage my own psychology and my own struggle. Like, we very recently [fetched] a fundraising event. And, you know, fundraising can be an emotional struggle for a lot of founders. One of the things that I’ve always loved is the common understanding that people say, “We invest in teams, not ideas, not companies. We’re focusing on the team. Right? It’s you. Alright?”
That’s very encouraging when you hear that because you’re like, “Wow. This person… It’s me they’re going to be inspired by.” And so then when someone passes it’s hard [inaudible] because you’re what… If you only invest in people and you pass [thing] clearly it’s me that’s…
Andrew: Right. [Laughs]
Blake: [Laughs] It’s very hard not to take that personal.
Andrew: Is there one person who you especially resent or feel like, “I’ve got to show him”?
Blake: No, no, no, no. Absolutely not.
Andrew: I had one of those people. I definitely had one of those people. My entrepreneurship professor, I went to him and I said, “I need some help here. I don’t know how to raise money and I don’t know what I’m doing but I think I’m on to something.” And he pulled me aside and basically said, “This just isn’t going to work. What you need to do is…” And then he showed me these companies that he was advising. He said, “You need to be more like them.” I was so glad when that big company that he told me he was advising failed.
So I said, “That son of a bitch. That’s who he lauded. Good. Let him suffer with them.” But for years as I was building my company I went from periods of thinking, “Argh, he’s right and I don’t know anything and I never will fit in this world,” to more often thinking, “I’m going to show him. I’ve got to show him.” But, I’m sorry. Let’s go back to that point where the business was failing. You were questioning yourself. I’m curious about how it impacted your day-to-day activities. Did it keep you from getting to work on time? Did it keep you from coming up with new ideas? What did it keep you from doing?
Blake: It absolutely killed my creativity. That’s one of the first to go. It’s so hard to schedule creativity and when you’re doing game design and building games. Like, killing your creativities is a bullet to the head for the companies.
Andrew: I see.
Blake: One of the things that I struggled with is allocating enough time to make sure I was getting enough rest and getting enough exercise and getting enough… you know, making sure I was eating well and that sort of thing. And so what’s difficult about that is when a company is struggling, devoting time to anything but the company made me feel an enormous amount of guilt. It was like, “I can’t believe I’m at the gym. Shame on me for not getting work done.”
Andrew: And meanwhile the gym might have helped you think more clearly and more positively, more creatively at work.
Blake: Absolutely. And it’s very hard to… We all know that. Everybody knows. I mean, “I don’t need to tell you that you need to eat more vegetables, right? You know that, right? I mean, well, I don’t know what your personal diet is like. But I don’t need to tell you that you need to eat vegetables.
Blake: And I don’t need to tell you that, like, hey, it’s in the best interest of your health for you to get more sleep. Everybody knows this. It’s really hard to enact on, because the short-term burst of productivity by just saying, like, “Well, I just have to work late tonight. I’ll go to the gym tomorrow,” is such an easy lie to tell yourself. To sacrifice your long-term health, your long-term stress level . . .
Andrew: What about your ability to make deals or to come up with creative solutions to your problems because of the way you were feeling?
Blake: I think that was absolutely impacted. And it’s very difficult to quantify, right?
Blake: You can look back and say, “Ah, here’s what I would have done differently,” but would I have done certain things differently if I had been more attentive to my health? That’s not necessarily clear, right? Because, you know, hindsight is 20/20, but you don’t necessarily know that, like, all right, would I have had the appropriate level of vision necessary for that company if I had been more attentive to my health. You know, one of the things I . . .
Andrew: So . . . mm-hmm.
Blake: Go ahead.
Andrew: I was going to ask you, what do you do to snap out of that? Because now we see the danger of it. But you can’t just say, “You know what? This makes no sense. I’m going to stop feeling bad. I’m going to be okay.”
Blake: So I’m a huge believer in cognitive dissonance. Because people don’t always believe what they say. They focus on a perception, right? And one of the things that’s really nice is trying to convince yourself of something again and again.
Like, you know, it’s like . . . if you had looked at me 15 years ago, what I was saying is like, “Okay, I want to meet a very nice young woman that isn’t going to introduce any difficulties into my life, and I want someone that is kind, that is going to be affectionate. Someone that’s intelligent. Someone that is . . . ”
Blake: You know, all these very wonderful characteristics. But if you then look at what I actually did, and what I actually pursued as far as a relationship goes, I clearly was not consistent, right?
And I think that, you know, understanding your own faults and your own shortcomings really helps you to change and manage your own psychology. Because if you say, all right, if these things are legitimately important to me, I need to not just say them. I need to actually execute on that.
Because people say things all the time, right? I can tell you you have to get exercise a few times a week if you want to manage . . . if you want to have a health heart. But actually doing it is difficult.
And so one of the things I do, personally, is I set frames of reference for myself. So one thing, I know that many, many people grew up from modest means and then moved on to build start-ups, and that sort of thing. But one of the things I’ve reminded myself throughout my career is that being broke and being bankrupt in America is not that bad. The worst thing that would ever happen to me when a company fails is I might have to work at a job I don’t love. Which is ridiculously lucky. Like, any other . . .
Andrew: I see. So saying “what’s the worst thing that could happen,” and recognizing that the worst thing that could happen is not so bad. If the worst thing that can happen is you go bankrupt, hell, I’ve had friends go bankrupt. Life goes on, right? And you get out from under that weight. If the worst thing that could happen is you go get a job, yeah, the entrepreneurship blogosphere says, yeah, that’s the worst thing ever. But frankly, getting a job is not the worst thing ever. Especially if you work for someone who’s good and inspiring, you end up better off for it.
Blake: Yeah. How many people, you know, hate their job? Or even worse, have difficulty getting one, right? So . . .
Andrew: It’s being aware of what those thoughts are that you might be hiding from . . .
Andrew: . . . and then challenging them a little bit, and saying, okay, what am I afraid of? Oh, yeah, it’s that I’m going to go bankrupt. Is that so bad?
Andrew: Actually, it’s not so bad. I see. And that’s the thing that helped you snap out of it.
Blake: Yeah. And, I mean, there’s no such thing . . . I remind people, like, look, there’s bankruptcy, but then that’s it. There’s no such thing as super bankruptcy, right? It’s not like someone then says, “Wait a minute, you went super bankrupt, so now . . . ”
Andrew: I’m going to take your spleen.
Blake: ” . . . you’re not allowed to ever start a company again.”
Andrew: Right. Right.
Blake: You know, that doesn’t happen, right? You are. And one of the things that I managed for my own psychology, actually, as I started thinking about things, is I started from a set of exercises where I rationalized and justified things that I wanted myself to do. Because I said, okay, I want myself to take care of my health, but I’m not. And I say it’s important, and I understand this.
And so I started from a set of assumptions. Very simple ones. And one of them everybody agrees with, which is, you know, if you take care of your health, in terms of getting rest, eating well, and getting exercise, if you do those things, your through-put is higher, right?
Andrew: Oh, yeah.
Blake: And that’s true, right? Your throughput is higher, right? And that’s true, right?
Blake: Your health is better and your throughput is higher. And the goal of a start-up is for me to maximize my productivity and my throughput. It’s not to maximize the hours I work. So with those two things, I’m like, okay, so the next logical step is for me to say to myself, part of my job is to maximize my throughput. Because I owe that to the company. I owe that to the team, that I have to get as much done as I possibly can.
So I then worked backwards, and I said, all right, well, I want to have beer and hot wings tonight for dinner, but it’s my job to make sure I eat spinach and grilled chicken, right? And when you start convincing yourself and reminding yourself that it’s your job to go to the gym, and it’s your job to get enough rest, it is uncanny.
It took some time, because I had to work on myself, and I had to convince myself of these things, but it’s amazing how powerful that becomes when you’re like, you’re exhausted and you’re like, “Oh, I just want to grab some fast food real quick.” And you’re like, “Ah, it’s my job to not eat fast food,” you know? It’s very, very powerful.
So that’s personally how I manage my own psychology. And there are other things you can do. But I think that that’s what I found works really, really well for me.
Andrew: One of your heroes, Mark Andresen, he invested in your business. How?
Andrew: How did you get him as an investor?
Blake: So one of the guys from Plaxo, a gentleman named John McCray, he’s our COO, had actually known Mark Andresen for years from the Netscape days. John was actually at Silicon Graphics. And at that time, he saw the power of the web, and Mark Andresen was very much the poster child at that time for Netscape and the whole internet revolution.
So once John joined the team, actually, he reached out to Mark, saying, “Hey, coincidentally, I joined this team, love to show it to you.” And because of that relationship, because Mark had known John for years, and trusted him, and they were friends, that allowed me to get a meeting that I frankly probably would not have been able to get. Because Mark is incredibly busy and there’s a lot of entrepreneurs trying to get his time, right?
Blake: And say, you know, “Let me show you my baby.”
So there’s a particularly interesting kind of moment for me, because . . . and Mark doesn’t know this, right? If he sees this interview, eventually he’s going to hear this story, and I hope he laughs. So Mark was a personal hero of mine, because while I was in college, that’s when Netscape was kind of fighting Microsoft, right? And it’s hard not to love the underdog, especially when it’s a software underdog. And I was a computer science major, so Mark is this icon of “I am fighting Microsoft singlehandedly.” And of course that’s not the scenario, but it . . .
Andrew: That’s the way it felt to us. And Microsoft felt like they were applying a lot of pressure.
Blake: Oh, yeah. And they’re picking on this guy, but he’s a brilliant software person, and he’s going to win.
Blake: And, I mean, it’s so inspiring. And not the only one, I think, at that time. And we actually had a . . . in school, just the extent of my kind of looking up to Mark as a hero, I actually was lead developer on a project within school where we were actually building a web browser.
And this speaks to both my, I think, hero worship and maybe my own narcissism, in that the name of the project was NetBlake. And the rest of the team did not think it was funny. I thought it was the most clever pun ever. You know, a bit of homage, but also probably a bit of arrogance on my part. And that kind of, I think, illustrates the extent of how much I was just obsessed with Netscape and with their success.
And ultimately . . . and it’s a very dangerous thing. You know, the saying goes, “Don’t meet your heroes, because you’re going to be disappointed.” What you’ve built up in your mind as who they are is always better than the actual person. Because people are flawed, right? Your heroes are flawless, for all intents and purposes.
And I have to say, this is one of those cases where meeting Mark was not at all disappointing. The man is incredibly intelligent, incredibly nice, very insightful, and very warm.
Andrew: And the story he doesn’t know is that you tried to compete with him when you were in school, creating your own Netscape knockoff?
Blake: Weren’t actually competitive. It was simply for school, as a project. So we never released . . .
Andrew: What was the name of the browser?
Blake: It was called NetBlake. So a play on the word Netscape.
Andrew: Can you say it again? Because the connection keeps dropping.
Blake: Oh, it’s NetBlake. So N-E-T and then my name, right?
Andrew: Oh, NetBlake. Okay.
Blake: So, yeah.
Andrew: It keeps cutting out for some reason. I thought you were saying “Net Blink.” I see.
Blake: So yeah . . .
Andrew: Will somebody please email Mark Andresen and tell him that . . . please, position it as a competition.
Blake: Yeah, yeah, no. I have no doubt that, you know, Netscape was taking on Microsoft. I’m pretty sure my three college kids company would have had a tougher time.
Andrew: He started in college, too, with web browsers.
Blake: That’s true. That’s true. With Mozilla and all that.
Andrew: And I’ve got a feeling that someone right now is in the audience listening to you, maybe on their way to a job interview with you, maybe as they’re trying to figure out how to work with you. Maybe it’s 20 years in the future and they’re trying to figure out how to get you as an investor the way that you were interested in getting Mark Andresen. And when they come and talk to you, what’s the one thing you hope they took away from this conversation? What’s the one thing that will make you feel like this is an intelligent person?
Blake: I think that there’s . . . we all have a limited amount of time . . .
Blake: . . . to learn from our own mistakes, right? And I think that one of the things I tend to look for is, you know, of course domain expertise is important, and understanding the scope of your problem, customers, etc., and all that sort of thing is important. But a willingness to learn from the mistakes of others, I think, is what really, really will set apart the people that are great.
Because if you don’t learn from your own mistakes, you suck, right? You’re just fucking stupid, if you don’t learn from your own mistakes, right? It doesn’t matter what else you may do. Like, you could be the luckiest guy in the world, but if you’re not learning from your mistakes, you’re going to blow it eventually. So learning from your own mistakes is kind of like, that’s the bar, right? If you’re not learning from your own mistakes, you’re done.
But then being able to learn from the mistakes of others . . .
Blake: . . . is an amazing kind of competitive advantage that very few people seem to really leverage. And that’s why, I think, that . . . one of the things that is unique about Silicon Valley is that so many people do share their failure stories. And those failure stories have two purposes, really. Most people feel . . . you know, they don’t really seem to capture either one of those . . . they don’t seem to grasp the purposes behind sharing your failure story. They simply say, like, “Oh, it must be misery loves company, right?” Or, you know, you’re in this accepting environment.
And one very important aspect to that is by hearing these failure stories, it certainly does give you that perspective that I think is so important as a person, which is . . . the entrepreneur journey is a lonely one. If you’ve never experienced loneliness, you’re the luckiest human being on the planet. If you want a giant fucking cup of it . . . actually, a cup is generous. If you want a swimming pool full of it that you’re trapped in the middle of for every day and night for years and years, start a company. Because you will never be more lonely in your life than as a founder of a company.
And you have to manage yourself. And to hear other people say it was hard, and it was difficult, and it was stressful, and I was upset, and it just killed my health. I think that’s important for people to hear, because it helps them understand that their own struggle is acceptable, and that they’re not even more lonely than they already feel.
The second . . .
Blake: I’m sorry. Am I running on . . .
Andrew: I want to hear the second, but I’ve got to say to the audience. I did a series called the fail series — fail, F-A-I-L — with entrepreneurs who were willing to spend an hour telling me very openly about their failures. One entrepreneur talked about what kept him from actually taking action. He had this idea, and he failed to ask why. And as we listened to the story, we could tell it’s because he was too afraid to take action.
Another entrepreneur was part of the Grasshopper Group. You know, these are the guys who make that phone number, grasshopper. A really experienced company. Great entrepreneurs. They launched a business that failed. They talked about that.
I see a $40 million company that failed. James Alteture talked about how he was losing a million dollars every week. These are entrepreneurs who, like Blake said, are willing to be open about their failures. I urge you to listen to them and learn from your mistakes so you don’t make the same thing, and so you learn to think about business.
And the way to do this is just go to Mixergy — M-I-X-E-R-G-Y, you know, the site that we’re hosting this interview on — and type in “fail series,” and you’ll see entrepreneurs who volunteered to be part of the series that I did. Learn from them. It’s really powerful. I’m glad that you said that.
But I was about to cut you off. You were about to say a second thing. What was that?
Blake: And that second part is exactly what you’re alluding to, which is by learning from those mistakes, you can absolutely propel your business and your own understanding, your own personal growth, much, much faster, which is a huge competitive advantage. I don’t have to make all the mistakes in order to become a better entrepreneur. By knowing these stories and by them being shared with me, I can say, oh, wow, in the instance of this happening, I should make sure I don’t make the same mistake that person did, right?
And that is don’t make the same mistake that person did. And that is a huge competitive advantage, and that willingness to learn from the failures of others rather than to simply dismiss it as “that person sucked.” I have made so many mistakes that other people had made before me, and had I known their own stories I would have learned much faster. And I would probably be far more successful.
Andrew: Are you willing to say what your revenues are now at Mediaspike?
Blake: At Mediaspike, we’re not sharing that just yet.
Andrew: Are you guys over a million dollars?
Blake: We’re going to have announcements next year.
Andrew: Next year. Here’s what I’ve got: just around 25 million unique viewers are engaging with the ads, or seeing the ads at least. That’s over, what? Since the beginning, or per month?
Blake: Per month.
Andrew: Per month. Okay, so 25 million unique people are seeing the ads per month, 50-90% of them are engaging with the ads in some way, either driving a truck or maybe jumping up and down on a Pepsi-Cola vending machine or something like that. That’s what we’re talking about.
Bake: That’s correct, yeah.
Andrew: And the other ads clearly don’t get that kind of interaction. All right, let me ask you this final question.
Blake: You’ve actually-
Andrew: Oh, sorry, we’re losing the connection so I’m glad this is the final question. I hate when the connection starts to die. Final question is this: I’m looking for more people to interview. Who do you know and admire and want to learn from that I should be doing an interview with?
Blake: Oh wow, that’s fantastic. There’s a lot of people out there. I think, you know honestly, one of the things that I think I would love learning about, especially lately, is not just about building companies but understanding the capital structures that build them as well. So obviously the investors in our company, I think they’re all worth interviewing.
Andrew: Is there one that’s lesser known, but incredible that I should be talking to?
Blake: Lesser known? See if I start naming names then they’ll feel that I feel that they aren’t as important.
Andrew: No not if, you know there are, some are key names like Mark Andreson, no question about it. I love hearing his story and I’ve read it for years, especially that Business Week article, the cover story years ago.
Andrew: But there are some who don’t get that kind of attention who are nevertheless very impressive. Do you want to just take it offline?
Blake: People who haven’t been on Business Week that I know are incredibly brilliant, how’s that?
Blake: And I think you know some guys like, I absolutely love every conversation I have with Jeremy Lu over at Lightspeed. And Lightspeed is not an investor in us, so I have nothing but good things to say about him. And he has fantastic insight. He’s been very successful. He’s still incredibly nice and humble, despite his success which says a lot about his character as a person.
Then, of course, one of the people I love talking to that is one of our investors through Raptor Capital is, I’m drawing the name, Robert Goldberg. He’s fantastic. He was, I believe, corpdev at Zynga, which makes for some incredibly interesting war stories, right? And I think the people that have been operational and then do, build companies are incredibly interesting to talk to because they kind of get this holistic picture of the industry.
Shahid Kahn is one of our investors from CMEA and has just an amazing amount of insight. I love, love having the opportunity to work with him. And then, as far as other entrepreneurs, this is always tough. One of the guys I love talking to, mostly because I love gaming, is Damon Grow. He’s a brilliant game designer, incredible energy. If I could figure out how to harness the power of his adrenal gland I would never need another cup of coffee.
And then, I’m trying to think of some of the others that I love. Jen Garcia is another one, she’s in the gaming industry over at Mochi. Incredibly intelligent, a lot of great experiences. I think she could speak to a lot of experiences that I can’t. You know, I’m an outsider from Silicon Valley, originally from [inaudible] I’m an outsider, not originally a part of Silicon Valley. I believe she’s from New York, so she has another unique perspective there.
Andrew: Can I follow up with you after this interview and get their contact info? Or ask for an introduction? I’d love it.
Blake: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: All right. Thank you so much for doing this interview. The site, for everyone who wants to go check out some of these images that I’ve been talking about like the truck that can be rebranded as a Coke truck or a McDonald’s truck or any number of different ways. All that you can see at Mediaspike.com. Blake, thanks so much for doing this.
Blake: Thanks so much for your time, man I really appreciate it.