Interview with Martin Walfisz – serial entrepreneur with an eye for games
When it comes to entrepreneurs in this region Martin Walfisz is one with the most gaming focus. His past as founder of Massive Entertainment (best known for games like Ground Control, World in Conflict, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Far Cry 3), which was acquired by Activision Blizzard and later sold to Ubisoft, has given him a solid name and experience. We met up with him and his new startup, Planeto, which recently has managed to make a hit with Quiz Battle and Quizboard.
We met at their small office – the team is no more than 10 people at this time, located in central Malmö. Unsure if on purpose or not, the office has straight views across a park to Massive’s – massive 6 storied red brick building – headquarters.
Speaking about the start of Planeto, and how it got going, Martin tells us that he and Magnus Robertsson started the startup in 2009. This was directly after Martin had left Massive Entertainment: he had had a really great time but felt he was ready to move on.
“Me and Magnus are good friends from when we studied together in Blekinge. He was eager to get going, and this was just after Massive had been acquired by Ubisoft and I felt it was time to move on.”
“We started the company in May 2009. The first 6-8 months, almost all of 2009, was mostly spent raising money. We raised 5-6 Msek in the start, from multiple small investors, and got going.”
“In total we have raised 15-16 Msek, still seed money and from multiple small investors, both private investors, public funds and larger companies. Bonnier is one of the bigger external owners now since 2012, after our successful cooperation with Quiz Battle”
Planeto’s product has not been the same from the start. Martin tells that the main concept is quiz games, and building a “knowledge graph”. But their first product was a web based quiz game:
“Our first version had the vision of World of Warcraft meets quiz game. This might sounds strange, but there are a lot of elements from that game that could be transferred to a knowledge game. During 2010 and 2011 we were 10-12 people working on this, and got a great product.”
However, in 2011 they changes focus. When asked why, Martin says:
“The web based game was great, had active users and got good feedback. But we were missing an engine of growth, it had no strong viral components and no clear monetization plan. So we needed to move on.”
“We had by now seen Wordfeud, and we thought something similar would fit our idea perfectly. A game that you can play minutes at a time, with friends.”
“The decision to change focus was not that hard, even if it meant that the team got smaller. Our main concern was that we had no iOS developer in-house, so that took us some months to figure out. We thought making our first iOS product would take us 3 months, it turned out to be rather 6-7 months…”
For anyone who has followed the Lean Startup movement this sounds like a classical pivot.
Martins thoughts on Lean Startup:
“We have loosely followed the Lean Startup concepts since we started. Already my time at Massive was very lean, we set up an agile work organization way back in 2002. I guess it is a style that has suited me well.”
Their app, now called Illustrerad Vetenskap Quiz Battle and Quizboard (the same product but one of them under the Illustrerad Vetenskap brand by media giant Bonnier), has made it to #1 in the app store in all Nordic countries.
“Almost 25% of the Danish population have downloaded our app. That is just a crazy number! I think the success is because our collaboration with Bonnier helped us get through the noise in the market, and our product was good enough to reach viral growth with that help.”
“Currently we have over 2.7 million downloads. We have had over 500 000 daily active users. This is great, and we have so far only launched big in the Nordic countries and the Netherlands”
When speaking about the future, he allures of big plans:
“We have recently hired a very experienced Sales & Marketing manager who is establishing contacts in the US. We had some interesting meetings in the US during E3 and afterwards. I cannot say too much yet, but we can say that we have been getting really good attention from potential partners there.”
As the first iteration of the product had only one monetization method, we asked how it is going now – making a game and giving it away for free takes some effort to turn into a good revenue stream.
“Until a couple of weeks ago our only monetization method was that users could upgrade the app to a premium version, that got rid of the ads and gave access to extra game boards. But now we just recently released a new version, where we have some in-app purchases as well, such as question packs, and soon ‘life-lines’.”
“However, monetization will always need a lot of consideration. Because we are a knowledge game, we cannot just give the person willing to spend the most money the best advantage. So for that reason we are careful how and what kind of in-app purchases we introduce. Right now there are question packs that can be purchased, as well as some benefits in the game – but when you buy any of the benefits your opponent gets the same. The one with the money can initiate what benefits are used, but the in-game advantages will be similar to both players.”
Speaking about their vision and what they want to achieve in the future:
“Our vision is to create the ‘personal knowledge graph’, a place where you can see what people know on different subjects. We believe that by answering questions it is possible to actually map areas a person is knowledgeable about. We want to expand that, as an opt-in in our games of course, because we think being able to tell if someone is an expert or not is something that is missing from the internet today. Currently the people best at expressing themselves or that are the most active are the ones that get recognition on the internet – we want people to be able to enter a new conversation and get credit for what they know instead of having to build up a reputation from scratch. We believe this is will make the internet a better place”
As a final point we talked about the gaming scene in the region. Because Martins past with and his entrepreneurial spirit he has a lot of interesting connections in the gaming community
“The gaming community here is great. However, it is still quite informal and not very structured. I have talked to some other developers and we have some ideas, doing some more structured activities and gatherings. Both to share experience with one another, as well as putting this region on the map as a center for great game development”.
Of course we will keep our eyes on that and report when we know more.
Thanks to Martin for sharing some of his past experiences with us.