During my Money Talk radio interview on KCAA with Los Angeles area game developer Giovanni Luis, co-founder of MakeData and co-creator of the Papermals Pre-K app, he explained how he made the leap to entrepreneur after 20 years of working for Electronic Arts and Sony.
His work experience gave him the technical expertise and his parenting role gave him the motivation to move from creating blockbuster action games to making high-quality educational apps. “My corporate experience gave me the confidence to go out and create these games,” he said.
He first stumbled upon game development after completing a degree program in industrial design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. “I just happened to know a piece of software that they were using to develop a game called Nuclear Strike,” said Luis, calling the experience a “happy accident.” This resulted in a five-year run with Electronic Arts followed by 15 years of working for Sony’s gaming unit.
As his children began preschool, Luis started to explore the technology used by his school district. He felt that the software and apps available left a lot to be desired, both from the educational and visual perspective. Thus the gamification expert decided to leave the corporate world to start his own company with several like-minded associates.
Luis has another advantage: his preschool and kindergarten-age children. Every day his kids rekindle his passion to develop meaningful apps. His goal is the highest level in edutainment. Luis strived to fashion age-appropriate educational lessons, such as instruction in numbers, sizes and coins.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when launching your new business, according to Luis:
- Aim to exceed expectations. While Luis’ education apps are less complex than the games he developed for Electronic Arts and Sony, he aimed to develop products that exceeded the ordinary and expected. He wanted his first app to have such a visually stunning interface that the pre-K crowd would adore it and that a high level of engagement would result in solid word-of-mouth referrals from parents and teachers.
Make a product that incorporates the wow factor to increase sales organically.
- Know the business landscape. An entrepreneur must be intimately familiar with the industry he’s operating in. Luis wished to market his app as not only a game but also as educational technology. This dual purpose could potentially improve the return on investment.
- Produce for the masses. Luis learned the importance of economies of scale while developing games at Sony. A single AAA game could take as long as 18 months to develop, cost millions. A large customer market is needed generate a return on investment.
In California alone thousands of new kindergartners arrive on the scene each year, Luis discovered. Papermals Pre-K has Spanish and Mandarin versions to capitalize on the growing Latino market in the States and the large Mandarin-speaking population abroad.
Target growing niches to fuel market expansion and provide opportunities for innovation.
- Score a quick win. Luis and his small band of fellow developers needed a quick win to serve as proof of his concept and keep the troops motivated and engaged — and eating! Rather than trying to create an app with an evolving technology like virtual reality, Luis and his team focused on the iOs and Android platforms, creating their first app in three months in the hopes of soon generating revenue.
Identify strategic opportunities that can provide an immediate return on investment so as to support current operations and increase the likelihood of the company’s survival.
- Tap into influencers. Luis and his team develop apps for a market just out of diapers. This market does not carry a credit card or use mobile devices. So Luis cannot directly market his product to end users. Instead, he must find the individuals who can influence its purchase, such as teachers, school district administrators and parents.
One impressed teacher could recommend an app to dozens of parents. And impressed parents might engage in verbal and social-media-based word-of-mouth, prompting scores of purchases.
Beginning on Day 1, create genuine relationships with parties that can maintain influence or build relationships with the target market.
Jesse Torres has spent nearly 20 years in leadership and executive management posts, including executive management roles at financial institutions. In 2013 the Independent Community Bankers of America named him a top community banker influencer on social media. He is a frequent speaker at financial services and leadership conferences and has written several books. He hosts an NBC News Radio show called Money Talk with Jesse Torres.
Follow @ or contact Jesse@JesseTorres.com
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