Note: This post is the fourth in a new series called “Entrepreneur Profiles.” These posts focus on an interesting entrepreneur who I’ve gotten to know and hopefully provide a window into their business that you might not otherwise find in a newspaper or magazine.
Nathan Lustig: Hey Jeremy, thanks for talking with me. Can you give me a brief overview of your company?
Jeremy Shafton: Door-6 was started in June 2009 with the goal of developing mobile phone games with a level of quality only found on handheld gaming devices. We want to eliminate the need for additional hardware by bringing features like immersive 3D environments to the phone. By doing so, gamers will no longer have to spend money on additional hardware, and will be able to directly download our games on their phone’s integrated marketplace at a fraction of the usual cost.
Our first product was Atmosphere: The Training Mission which we built specifically for the 2nd Google Android Developer Challenge. The game was completed in a single month, yet we still managed to reach the final round, finishing in the Top 20 Arcade and Action Games. We continued to improve Atmosphere over the next few months and released its successor, Vacuum, to the Android Market in March 2010.
Between April 1 and May 31 we ran a cash prize contest to reward the top three highscores in Vacuum, for which we recently announced the winners.
We currently have six part-time people, and will be taking on more in the next few months. We’re focused on setting ourselves up for success.
NL: What kind of background did you have to be able to start a mobile gaming company?
JS: I was a big gamer in high school and have had a little bit of Java programming experience, but I saw a great opportunity in this industry and worked with two people who shared my vision on getting this company off the ground.
NL: Many founders of startups have some sort of an “ah-ha moment” when they first got the idea for their company. Did you have one and what was it?
JS: Together with my partners Jon and Ryan, we looked at the way things are in mobile gaming today and realized that over the next few years there would be a significant transition. 97% of all teenagers and adults have cell phones in the US, even the majority of 12 year olds have cell phones now. The hardware is getting so powerful and so inexpensive, that soon it will be completely out of the question for most gamers to buy more portable gaming hardware than just their phone.
NL: What is the biggest reason you founded your startup?
JS: The startup life is the life for me. In high school I started my first business selling build-to-order desktop computers online. It wasn’t a success by any means, but I gained insight into a lot of the elements of entrepreneurialism. In reality, my first business was in elementary school, I built balsa wood airplanes, painted them “cool” colors, and sold them on the street corner in a custom booth.
And yes, I have photographic evidence of this.
My last startup was The Gadgeteers and it was a small success. I found a unique product, built a website to sell it, briefly existed as the exclusive retailer within the US, and sold hundreds. As exclusivity ended and I had to become a normal ultra-competitive retailer, it just wasn’t as fun anymore.
NL: What is the biggest unexpected challenge you had to overcome?
JS: The biggest challenge we have come across, but have not yet overcome, is breaking into this highly cluttered market. With the release of Vacuum we were able to get the blogs talking, using press releases and YouTube videos, but in the end we didn’t sell more copies than other games. The cash prize contest was one the big ways we drew attention, and even that did not generate significant sales. Instead of rushing into the next product, we are taking the time to build something more groundbreaking that will force the market to pay attention.
NL: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a startup?
JS: I would suggest that you share your ideas with the intelligent people around you, and seek out those who can help you build your idea into a business. Having a great partner or two makes the difference in the early stages.
Work as hard as you can at it, but don’t be afraid of changing your business model as you go. You have to be flexible and consider every opportunity that presents itself.
NL: What are three websites you check everyday?
JS: I like to stay up on the technology, software, and smartphone industries, so I read Engadget and TechCrunch daily. TechCrunch is great for seeing more about what’s happening in the startup world. Number three is Gmail which I have open 24/7.
The Android Development Blog from Google is a good one to check irregularly.
NL: Do you have any funny stories or amusing anecdotes about starting or running the company? Do people ask you “when are you going to get a real job?”
JS: Everyone always asks how we got our name. We came to it after sitting for days in a conference room trying to pick out a name and after a long while the only consensus we had come to was that the door to the conference room was quite unique looking. From there we just counted how many people were actively involved in the company, and now you have Door-6 Inc.
I get asked the real job question on occasion, but my family is supportive. My girlfriend would prefer if I had a steady salary, but she knows I’m doing what I believe in.
NL: What/who has been the biggest help to you and your company?
Working with Jon and Ryan has been the driving force of the company. Partners make all the difference, like I said earlier. We all count on each other to make this company succeed.
NL: What is the most fun part of running your company? The least?
JS: The most fun I have had at Door-6 has been building our team. We’ve recruited some talented individuals, and it has been a great learning process for how to build a team and collaborate successfully. Having big meetings where we all share ideas and work together is a blast. The least fun thing is dealing with the fact that pretty much everyone has to commit part time, because of the lack of a salary. It makes it harder to coordinate meetings, and harder to meet deadlines.
NL: As always, it’s been great talking with you. Good luck with Door-6!