By Holly Liu (Co-Founder, Kabam)
My social gaming startup Kabam has just raised $85MM in Series D funding from Google Ventures, totaling ~$125MM raised to date. Kabam has 4 offices worldwide and 500 employees, so it feels like we’ve come a long way — but still have so much more to go.
Sometimes I think about how we got here, and how much further do we still have to go with the startup? Are we still a startup? What is the end game?
Here are my big three startup lessons learned from Kabam:
Lesson #1 — Thinking Big
“You can never change the world, if you don’t plan on changing the world.” — Kevin Chou (CEO, Kabam)
Before we even had our business plan together, I remember thinking that the pinnacle of success would be when we got on TechCrunch. Before we started, my business co-founder (aka CEO) challenged me, and I quickly realized that I was approaching the startup like a “fun project” and not really a business. This was safer, in case I failed.
However, the lower the risk, the lower the upside — the smaller the dreams. I began to dream bigger, and success was quickly re-defined not from outside validation of a successful startup, but rather how much I was able to create something of business value. As my focus shifted onto that, my dreams became bigger and soon we found sustainable plans to change the world.
If it wasn’t the challenge of thinking big early on, I’m not exactly sure if we would be where we are today — a major player in disrupting a $50 billion dollar game industry.
Now that I was thinking big, how were we going to change the world?
Lesson #2 — A Business Needs to Lead
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” –- Stephen Covey
Prior to building social games, Kabam was the largest entertainment community on Facebook that was focused on television and sports. While we enjoyed initial successes of 60MM users in late 2009, the business was just not sustaining from a revenue and product point of view. Further exacerbating our issues, the economy was in early recovery from one of the worst financial times due to the mortgage crisis. Our ad-supported business was becoming unstable.
We began to explore other options, and it become clear that to be sustainable, we would need to move away from our current business model and product. This was a difficult choice, as we had built a team, vision, mission and board around being in this space. However, we made the right choice in that we put business above all else.
Lesson #3 — Learning to Turn Failure into Opportunity
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” –- Henry Ford
We looked at our failed community applications and tried to learn as quickly as possible to turn it into an opportunity. How fast we could learn would impact the success and future of our company.
Here are a couple of things we learned about our business model and product:
- Ad supported businesses are sensitive to outside economic conditions.
- Being dependent on outside content does not allow for us optimize and bring content creation under our control.
- Community was a wonderful thing to foster, but much better if you could enable the members to work together to accomplish goals and dreams together.
We decided to venture and start building something our team had no experience building but was passionate about – games. Games addressed all the lessons we had learned from our community applications. However, even though they addressed our issues, we still had a long road ahead of us with no guarantee of success. We had no choice but to figure out how to make this new business model and product a success.
By the end of 2009 Kingdoms of Camelot was born and has become Kabam’s flagship game, and the genesis of several of our popular games, including one coming soon based on The Godfather!
Well, we did get on TechCrunch. When it happened, it was not as I had imagined — we didn’t get a lot of fanfare and received a lot of congratulatory comments from friends, and then it was business as usual the next day. We had the same team, same product, and same issues. Was this really the pinnacle of success? Thank God, it wasn’t. And, thank God I was taught to dream bigger than that.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Holly Liu is Co-Founder and a Leader of the People Org at Kabam, a top social gaming startup. Previously, she was in charge of design of all the products including Kingdoms of Camelot. Prior to Kabam, she was a Lead Designer at AOL in the Community Product Line and held consulting roles to Fortune 500 companies. Holly holds a Masters from UC Berkeley in Information Management and a B.A. from UCLA in Communications. Follow her startup on Twitter at @kabam.