Tag: perblue

Madison Based PerBlue’s Game Acquired for $35m

The Madison startup scene got big news late week. Madison based game studio PerBlue’s game DragonSoul was acquired by GREE International Entertainment for $35m. Huge congrats to cofounders Justin Beck and Andrew Hanson, along with Forrest Woolworth and team.

In addition to being top notch entrepreneurs, Justin and Forrest have been huge supporters of Madison startups, Forward Fest and were founding members of Capital Entrepreneurs. Forrest continues to lead CE, along with being an integral part of PerBlue. It’s been amazing to see PerBlue grow from a few guys in Justin’s apartment to the amazing company they’ve built today. Thanks for all of your hard work, you guys deserve it!


Capital Entrepreneurs: How To Start A Founders Meet Up Group In Your City

I’ve been involved in the startup community in Madison for about 6 years now, but had a hard time fitting into the networking scene, especially as a college student who was also running a business.  Most of the entrepreneurship and networking events in Madison were either overrun by service providers trying to sell you something, cost too much for what they provided or were at bad times or locations.  The signal vs. noise ratio at most of these events was pretty poor.  At some of the other events, I’d be the youngest person by 3o years.

There really wasn’t a good, free, entrepreneurship organization that was limited to founders.  To fill the gap, I founded Capital Entrepreneurs, an invite only meet up for founders of startups.  We meet up once per month at a bar in Madison, grab drinks and talk about our businesses, ideas and how we’re moving forward.

Here’s some Capital Entrepreneurs stats from the last year:

Best of all, it’s been something that we all look forward to each month.  It’s lonely starting a startup.  In the early stages, you might only see one other person (your cofounder) each day for months at a time.  Founders groups like CE help create a scene and allow you to commiserate with others in your situation.  You also get “coworkers” and if you’re lucky like we are in Madison, most of the startups will be located close together to facilitate lunches and happy hours.

The awesome thing is that it’s been really easy to get Capital Entrepreneurs started and it’s been incredibly successful, moreseo than I ever envisioned back in May 2009.  If your city doesn’t have a good founders group, I’m here to give you the steps to take to replicate the success that we’ve had with Capital Entrepreneurs.

Your startup group should have the following characteristics:

  1. Exclusive to Founders – No attorneys, accountants, people searching for jobs, consultants etc.  These are all nice people, but do not belong in an entrepreneurship group.
  2. Private Email List – People like to keep their emails private.  Use BCC to send out invites
  3. Open to new members – You’ll never grow if you exclude startups
  4. Free – Do not charge admission
  5. Website – Create a website and post updates
  6. 1-2 people should control it – If there’s more, it gets too complex
  7. Sponsors – After you’ve been going for awhile, you’ll find that attorneys, accountants and others will want to be invited.  We started offering sponsorships where service providers can attend one meeting per year as long as they do not try to sell their services.

Step 1

Survey the existing startup groups in your city and try them all out.  There are 6-7 entrepreneur and young professional groups here in Madison.  All are valuable, but none provided exactly what we wanted to do with Capital Entrepreneurs

Step 2

Reach out to your network.  I emailed all of the founders that I had gotten to know, about 15 of them, and asked if they were interested in a meet up specifically for founders.  I got a good response and moved forward.

Step 3

Set up a wordpress site.  I bought the Capital Entrepreneurs domain name and installed wordpress.  I created a members page that includes everyone’s logos and a 2 sentence description of their business.  The home page is a feed of press that our member companies gets and we have a contact form so that new businesses, press and other can get in contact with us.  We later added a resources page that lists some service provider sponsors to advertise to our members, along with a list of helpful articles and resources that came from Entrepreneur 101.

Step 4

Find a location.  We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had a regular meeting location.  The great guys at Brocach let us have a private room upstairs, give us free appetizers and run us a tab for drinks.  I called 5-6 bars in town to find the one with the best deal and you can too.  Try to find a place that will not charge you fees.

Step 5

Pick dates and time that people will be able to come to.  We’ve picked Wednesdays or Thursdays from 7-9pm, as we are a somewhat younger crowd and most of the people walk to the events.  Pick a time that works for your members and your city.

Step 6

Send invitation.  Shoot emails to all of the people who’ve expressed interest and tell them that they should forward the email on to any other startup founders.  Make sure that everyone understands that it is for founders, not service providers like attorneys, accountants or for people searching for jobs.

Step 7

At the first meeting, make sure to introduce everyone so that everyone is comfortable.  Explain that this will be a monthly event and that it is for founders.  Keep it casual and then schedule the next monthly meeting at the end of the event.


Overall, you want to create a place where founders can come to meet up, exchange ideas, get to know each other, without the burden of talking with service providers are those handing out resumes.  Once you get a group together, make sure to keep emails private and set up a twitter handle and website where you can post updates about group members.

If you follow these steps, you’ll likely be able to replicate what we’ve done in Madison.  I think cities of just about any size can benefit from founders groups.  Even if the groups are small, they can be fun, easy ways to connect with your fellow entrepreneurs.  If you’d like help starting a founders group in your city, please feel free to contact me.

Are there good startup groups in your city?  Have you started one?  Would you go to one if there was one in your city?

Entrepreneur Profile: Justin Beck, PerBlue

Note: This post is the third 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.

Justin Beck is the co-founder and CEO of PerBlue, a software startup in Madison.  PerBlue’s flagship product, Parallel Kingdom, is the first location based game built for the iPhone and Android and has over 80,000 players worldwide.  Founded in January 2008 while he was still in school, Beck and his team have worked to create a successful game and an interesting business model.  Beck graduated with a degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Wisconsin.

Nathan Lustig: Hi Justin, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.  Can you give me a brief overview of your company?

Justin Beck: Sure.  PerBlue was created when we started developing our flagship game, Parallel Kingdom, in January 2008. The first version was released in October 2008 and we’ve been steadily gaining players and improving the game ever since. The game is on its 3rd major version and we currently have over 80,000 players.

We have 7 more or less full-time people working for us and are growing nicely. We have also developed several other applications for the iPhone and Android platforms but our most successful app remains Parallel Kingdom.  As we’ve grown we have found our business to be building great multiplayer games for mobile platforms.

NL: What kind of background did you have to be able to start a mobile gaming company?

JB: I have been programming since I was 12 years old and love to do it.  I graduated from UW-Madison with a Computer Engineering and Computer Science Degree and I interned as a software engineer at Google and as a program manager at Microsoft on their ASP.NET team.

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?

JB: I’m thinking that could be true for us.

I was working on a different startup with some friends from Google.  We were going to build a community bar and real-time chat for webpages as a script mashup, which was going great.  But when Andrew Hanson (my partner) and I were doing homework one night, we starting thinking about the next game we should make.  I was like, we should build something mobile, something people actually would play, simple, and we should throw GPS into it somehow to make it interesting.

From that conversation, we started with Parallel Kingdom.  It was about a month later when I realized the mobile space was really growing and I should invest myself into build a company around that space.  This was before the iPhone Appstore even existed.  I would say that was my “ah-ha” moment.  I just knew it.  It wasn’t a tough choice.

NL: What is the biggest reason you founded your startup?

JB: I love adventure.   I saw building a company as the next challenge in my life.  Two of my life goals were to work at Google and Microsoft.  I had been there and gotten offers from them, but this opportunity came up and the timing couldn’t get much better.  Many people assume lots of things about people who run their own business, many of these are explicitly not true with me.

I actually really like working for someone else and trying to make them as successful as possible.  I also really have no interest in the money.  I took a 2 year pay cut to do PerBlue.  So for me, it’s the adventure and challenge.

NL: What is the biggest unexpected challenge you had to overcome?

JB: I would say my biggest unexpected challenge was how hard it is to be a really good manager of a creative team. I am still working on it, but doing it well is very hard.

NL: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a startup?


1.       Play to win, commit yourself to playing the game and be willing to be very flexible in how you navigate the pathway.   Watch and model people who have built successful companies and learn from them.  (Watching failure doesn’t teach you how to succeed)

2.       Have a specific goal: we are going to do “this.” Drive yourself and your team to this goal.

3.       Have a schedule, (roadmap) that is a reasonable plan of getting to that goal.

4.       Commitment and talent are the 2 most important traits of your teammates.

5.       Stay focused.  You can only build one business at a time.  Choose your business and stick to it till its done.

6.       It’s a marathon not a sprint, pace yourself emotionally, mentally, physically

NL: What are three websites you check everyday?

JB: Not many. Pandora, Facebook, Google Analytics, PKStats, Bug Tracking is my honest list. But websites I check weekly bi-weekly when I am thinking about strategy or competitive research.


I have my executives I try to watch.  Marc Pincus (Zynga), Eric Schmidt (Google), Jason Fried (37signals)

I like watching talks, Google Tech Talks are amazing.

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?”

JB: There are lots of funny stories.  One of the easiest ones to explain is DB Death Day and yes it is a PerBlue holiday.  We had some problems with the database and issued a statement that:  “There was a massive forest fire in PK, resulting in every tree in the western hemisphere being burnt to the ground.”  Along with the loss of every GeoBuzz post.  It was a sad day, but somewhat comical looking back.

I have actually never heard that statement about getting a real job.  Most people are very encouraging.  Most people don’t understand what it takes to build a business. So that makes their empathy hard. I think the most negative person towards PerBlue was my recruiter at Microsoft when I turned down their offer and counter offer, but that was her job.

NL: What/who has been the biggest help to you and your company?

JB: My mentors have been amazing.  During PerBlue’s life I have now had about 7 mentors, as the life stage of the company changes the mentors I use and depend on also changes.  But I can’t imagine doing this without mentors.  My partner Andrew has also been an amazing asset, starting a company with a partner is an extremely wise idea.  Team is what makes the company, without the PerBlue team, we would have never gotten off the launch pad.

NL: What is the most fun part of running your company?  The least?

JB: I would say the most enjoyable parts of running PerBlue, are working with the team, building and solving big problems, having things work, and seeing players love the game and play it so much and actually see our business become successful.  I personally get a lot of gratification when I see my co-workers growing and become excellent at what they do.  I think the least enjoyable part of my job are the days when it seems like everything “breaks” or when things just don’t go like you need them to.

NL: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, you had some great advice.  Good luck in the future.

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