Blake pioneered the social gaming category, creating some of the biggest apps on Facebook, with over 50 million users, like Vampires and Zombies. He also founded MediaSpike which is a marketplace for in game advertising.
→ His experience with viral growth in social gaming and has created apps with over 50 million users
→ He learned that the mythology of a game can significantly affect user behavior
→ He used two similar games, one with a vampire theme and the other with a zombies theme, to demonstrate this
→ His biggest apps on Facebook with over 50 million users
→ What he learns about viral growth during that time
→ What are the examples of those organic user acquisition techniques that you kind of originated
→ What are keys to really making email work
→ He observed similar correlation and consequence throughout his work on Viral Growth, with MySpace and Fox prior this discussion
→ And a whole lot more
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Blake Holmes here with us. Blake, thanks so much for coming on the program.
Blake: Yeah, no, thanks for inviting me. I really appreciate.
Bronson: It. Absolutely. I think we can have a phone conversation. You’ve done some super interesting stuff and I think people are going to learn a lot from it. In case people aren’t familiar with you, you pioneered the social gaming category, so you’re kind of a big deal. You created some of the biggest apps on Facebook a few years back with over 50 million users. Things like vampires and zombies. So you did some stuff that affected a lot of people. So let’s talk about viral growth for a minute. Right. What did you learn about viral growth during that time? Back a few years ago with vampires and zombies in that kind of era.
Blake: So I had had a good amount of experience doing viral growth in the past. I was I was an early engineer at Fox, so I was and prior to that, I was doing MySpace widgets and had grown some some of those MySpace widgets pretty aggressively and that I had causes on on Facebook prior to doing these games. So I had a good amount of experience going in and, you know, the opportunity to have learned from a lot of fantastically talented people on MySpace as well prior to doing that. But obviously, you know, those games were very much so, you know, another opportunity for me to learn some of some fantastic things. And, you know, probably the most amazing part of it that I was able to learn is just the and obviously there’s a million lessons I could speak to begin with. The most interesting for me was that the mythology of the game actually affects and influences user behavior. So people do not respond to products in the same way. And you’ll have I mean, keep in mind, like just as a very, very strict example, the vampire game and the zombie game, right? I know they’re both kind of silly sounding, but the really cool thing was these games were identical in every respect except for the picture. And I mean, the codebase was the same codebase. It was just like, you know, if you were on this application, show a zombie picture instead of or, you know, else show a vampire picture, all that sort of fun stuff. So it’s very I mean, very much so identical at first. And what I realized that actually and running certain numbers is that just by telling people, like with the exact same mechanics, the exact same narrative, everything identical, but just a subtle difference of saying you were a vampire versus you were a zombie actually would result in different behavior. So ran an analysis of, you know, who was interacting with whom. And the this this notion of of of infecting other people with, you know, making them a vampire or making them a zombie. The really cool thing I saw was a correlation between who people would bite to. It’s an attack based on the myth. So in the vampire, in the very heart of it, because that the moment of infecting someone, it’s typically associated associated with seduction. You had people commonly like it was something like an 85% correlation. They would bite the people that were of the sex to which they were attracted. And so and so it was lower numbers. But because there was a, you know, like a sexual implication of the moment, they would always almost inevitably always go for people to which they were attracted, whereas the zombie game people behaved. They were they were indiscriminate. There was no correlation whatsoever between that, which is consistent with the myth as well of the zombie, you know, zombies. This is there’s no moment of seduction. It’s simply like, you know, just random attack everywhere. And we saw the same sort of thing, which was this, you know, just random everywhere, scattering. And to see correlations like that when the only difference was a picture and me saying, here’s this myth, here’s that myth, and people behaved consistent with the myth to which they were presented. Yeah. And it goes to it went to show me like language is incredibly powerful and viral marketing that just the tiniest of difference dramatically affects the way users are going to interact and share your product.
Bronson: Yeah. Do you think that the takeaway from that?
Blake: Yeah, this was one word and a set of pictures created a dramatic difference.
Bronson: Yeah. And that’s a great example. I’m so glad you shared that. Do you think the takeaway is that at the moment when you’re asking someone to share, to really test that language and don’t assume just by throwing something up, is it the moment of sharing in the language kind of surrounding that? That’s kind of a fulcrum there?
Blake: Without a doubt. And I mean, and the language part of it is difficult. So there’s without a doubt I mean, viral marketing has a very strong a very strong math and science element to it that you can learn a ton about and you can become very well versed on. The more difficult component of it is this artistic element of it. So you can imagine, like, you know, I mean, if you go to art school, you become you could become technically a very good painter. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re. You’re inspiring and that you can move things forward. And, you know, I mean, you can make beautiful paintings, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re gonna be Michelangelo. Right? Yeah. And the the interesting thing about our marketing is not only does is language is such a critical component in terms of executing well, the language is evolving constantly. So it’s without a doubt a moving target. And what worked exceptionally well two years ago and felt like, you know, this this cutting edge, very colloquial, kind of like I’m connecting with a particular audience with these words, you know, in two years time could be, well, that seems dated and awkward. And this feels like my grandfather trying to be cool. And, you know, it’s it’s lame. So why would I check this out? You know, and it’s it’s phenomenally difficult. Do you feel like you’re on a treadmill trying to keep up with the pace at which language does evolve and change? And, you know, a key part of any viral marketing message is you have to connect with the audience and they have to feel as though it speaks to them. And without a doubt, doing that is hard because speaking of that, audience changes in very quickly.
Bronson: Yeah, I know. It’s so interesting that you go to language so quickly. In the interview we had James on, who was the CEO and founder of Tical, another massive viral app early on. And we start the interview and he wants to talk about language and I’m like, Oh, a second, let’s talk about viral coefficients. Let’s talk about, you know, the positive net score. It’s like, no, no, no, let’s talk about language. And so it’s so interesting that you’re on saying the same exact thing.
Blake: Absolutely. Language makes such a huge difference. And I mean, you can imagine what’s what’s what’s another like phenomenal example of this. You can imagine that, uh, speaking, what’s he going to put it like as you watch things like and I think part of it, let me put a way of try and put this in very concrete means. So if you watch things like Two and a Half Men and listen to pop music and watch know, say, Jersey Shore or any of these kind of like show these reality TV shows, it’s very easy for a lot of people in Silicon Valley to dismiss that. It’s like, well, that’s, you know, pop culture that I’m not interested in. You know, I like listening to jazz music. I don’t want to, you know, listen to Britney Spears or One Direction or any of that. That’s fine. But if you’re trying to reach a massive audience, the vast majority of your audience is most likely they’re entertained by pop culture. You know, they’re not reading, you know, frankly, they’re not reading Shakespeare or James Joyce or Faulkner or reading Harry Potter. And it’s you know, you can you can argue til you blue in the face that like, you know, the writing style of Joyce is far superior. But, you know, like, I’m sorry if Harry Potter is, you know, is what speaks to a much broader audience and it’s accessible and people get it. And I guarantee you a huge part of that is the language. You could take the same story. And if William Faulkner wrote Harry Potter, no one would have ever fucking read it. It would be like it. Would be the stream of consciousness and you know, like first person, half of it, maybe part of it would be second person. It would be so confusing and awkward and people would be like, I have no idea what’s going on. And it would not be, you know, a multi-billion dollar franchise with, you know, I don’t even know how many movies now.
Bronson: All right. Thank you. Um.
Blake: Yeah. And I think that, you know, you can tell the same story, you can communicate the same information, but if you don’t do it in an accessible way, you come across as a, you know, elitist and as obnoxious. And a lot of people, particularly in Silicon Valley, are awful at language because they write this in a way that they may speak to to their colleagues. And they’re they’re trying to communicate a message, and they may think they’re kind of trying to be funny or entertaining, but it unfortunately comes across as well. You’re trying to be too clever for your own good. It seems obtuse. It seems, you know, elitist. Yeah. And it seems like in an Ivy League educated, rich asshole wrote it. And that’s because he did, quite frankly. And, you know, you that’s not how you reach a massive market. Right. So so, you know.
Bronson: Yeah, often I’ll read the taglines like below a logo and it’s like, okay, so you wrote that for VCs like humans don’t know what to do with your company though, you know.
Blake: Without a doubt. And, you know, you’re your average consumer. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you’re building a product that you know is designed for Silicon Valley engineers, by all means, you know, you know, keep your language technical, keep, you know, keep, keep, you know, you know, it’s fine to sound, you know, well-educated and really sharp and intelligent, but God have mercy on you if you send someone to a dictionary because well, I’d say send them to a dictionary. If you’re writing anything that argues a word and they don’t know what it means, like the average person does not pick up a. Dictionary thing. Well, I’m curious about that. What does it mean? I pick up a dictionary like. Like anyone anymore, but nobody. People won’t even go to church looking it up online. The meaning of the word. Instead, they’ll just be like, I don’t know. It. This means boring. Let’s go look at funny pictures of cats. Right. And you know, I can’t wait on. I said, you know, they’re not you know, learning is not this fun, exciting thing that people want to do all day. It’s usually more work and they’re just, you know, people get enough work.
Bronson: You know, I’ve read online in a couple of different places that a lot of the organic user acquisition techniques in social games actually came from you. Tell us, what are some examples of those organic user acquisition techniques that you kind of originated?
Blake: Right. So, so there’s quite a few out there. At its core, a lot of them stem from, you know, at its core. I made and I’ve seen the video coming up. And is it is it okay?
Bronson: Yeah, I think so. And I and I think it is.
Blake: Okay. Cool. As long as you see it, I’m good. So at its core, this set of techniques that you see used over and over again by many games is making, you know. The making the viral marketing part. Of the. Gameplay. Right. So the very first time I there was actually like incentive within gameplay to bring someone else into it. And fundamentally, any viral product becomes better of having a network on it. And to date, prior to that, the vast majority of games that anyone had made, and certainly on the average scale, if any of them was simply like, hey, you know, harass your friends and, you know, like Tetris by themselves, too. Right. And you can compare yourself on a leaderboard. I thought that was lame at first. And, uh. A marketing and amenity recognition part of the gameplay so that now that manifested in multiple play. So hopefully it’s a bit of like I gave people and it’s like, okay, you get further along in the gameplay by having and by amassing an army and now you see things like your friends and entourage, all kinds of things like that have come about. Also good gifts for the first time and actually saying you’re a gift that you can you reach out to someone and and sometimes I come through the game and have this particular opportunity to receive a gift that way. The interactive users that were not part of the entourage, they allowed. So if I was playing the game and I was an active user and you are not, you could actually still interact and you had this you actually were an MVP within the game, but I’d rather be empty out of you and still interact with you. But and then of course, interaction, you know, came to you saying, hey, boyfriend, interact with you in this way. You know, you’re you’re a weak MP. Well, I didn’t say a weak NPC to know what enough of an amazing world. And then and then, you know, some other techniques. Let me think of a few more. So, oh, I actually bringing people to the platform so you know, people really need this anymore. But at the time we actually let you invite people like and bring them to sign up on Facebook and send you through directly to the game. So we actually leveraging techniques like email and stuff like that to bring people to the platform for the sake of your game, just to give you that additional market penetration. So yeah, it’s a very, you know, and these things that kind of like they set the stage for just a multitude of kind of variations on that. But you know, fundamental were all of us within just a very short time period, you know, as I was building those games.
Bronson: Yeah, no, it’s great. It’s kind of great to hear about all the different things you had your hands in that really are fundamental. Now, do you feel like any of the techniques that you were doing back then are under utilized like you did it and it works and people just didn’t recognize it as a part of the equation that mattered?
Blake: Well, I think, you know, most of the time it’s no, I definitely saw you know, for a long time I saw some things just being blindly implemented in an identical way and, you know, without any like optimization around them, which is certainly disappointing these days though people and without a doubt like, you know, optimize and come to like, okay, here’s the perfect balance of, you know, these five elements in terms of making sure a user remains addicted. Mm hmm. I think that. You know, I wouldn’t say any of those techniques are under utilized, but I would definitely say some channels are under utilized, particularly iMac. As a channel. I am like Email is one of my favorite channels to interact with people on and it’s incredibly neglect. I see. And I think for many people, email doesn’t do well and they, they’ve kind of created this self-fulfilling prophecy of saying email is invaluable. And so we’re not going to invest very much time in it. And, you know, after doing a half assed job, you know, they get half assed results and then they’re like, Huh, see, email didn’t perform well. Like I said, it’s not a good channel, but but there’s so many opportunities to do an exceptional job with email. And recently you had two companies. I think, you know, Groupon and LivingSocial are both examples where they leveraged email in a very smart, impressive way and that user base, so did Dropbox. Dropbox did an amazing job with email and it you know, it’s paid off in a big way.
Bronson: Yeah. What are some of the keys to really making email work? Because I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think email is awesome. It’s a huge I actually think about it as much as I think about the product that it’s trying to create a viral loop for trying to market like. But what are some of the keys, the great email kind of loops.
Blake: Yeah. So really and truly like it’s, you know, the fundamentals that, that exist on any, any products like manifest themselves in email like. So obviously, you know, whatever the audience is, you have to connect with them in the language you write. Almost always shorter is better, right? It’s very rare that longer is better. And I mean, again, it’s, you know, depending on your audience. Now, if your audience is writers, sure. Maybe they want you know, they want a story, right? They want a novel. But most people want you to get to the point. Right. And so usually I mean, I mean, like I said, the vast majority of time shorter is better. A lot of people worry about things like like in Silicon Valley, people are like, oh, it has to work on plain text. And there’s sort of the fact that nobody unless you’re like. Writing for like, you know, Linux engineers that are using like element and like your plaintext email is fucking stupid and like make it look nice for crying out loud. We responded pretty things now without a doubt, you know, images and stuff like that, you’re not going to get auto displayed around, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some some elements that, you know, graphically make the email look a little bit nicer, see graphically from a layout perspective and that sort of thing. Images are good in general. People respond very strongly to happy, smiling faces that is in human nature. We we like seeing people happy and we like seeing happy faces. And then, you know, and then from a language perspective in general, you know, where you can if you can, you know, connect to the person emotionally, that’s hugely important. If you now, you know, there are shortcuts to connecting with people emotionally. And, you know, usually things like humor help kind of establish that common ground fast. You know, humor is not always appropriate putting on your product, right. You know, so, you know, if you have that as a tool, that that you can use that environment, use it. But and and I mean, you know, in Groupon again is a great example there like. And everything. Is are funny. Yeah. And they have a personality to them and they’re well written. I think that that’s impressive. And I, I think that, you know, obviously connecting with your audience is a huge part of that. Like something that’s personalized and feels relevant to you is going to get a better response instead of, you know, what’s, what’s a good way to put it, instead of just kind of like something that does feel like, okay, this was just generated for, you know, everybody using the service and has not it would mean necessarily, oh, people don’t care that you have a new blog post on some irrelevant subject to them. Right. You know, as a company, what they care about is, you know, what did they get, what’s in it for them? And if you’re not speaking to that and doing so in a personal way, then of course, the email is going to give you the numbers you’re hoping for.
Bronson: Now, that’s that’s great advice on all those things. You know, you use kind of the Facebook platform to grow, you know, vampires and zombies. Do you feel like that Facebook is still a viable option for viral growth or should people focus on things like email more so? I mean, what do you think?
Blake: Well, I think that, you know. Obviously, depending on your product, it’s going to perform better on particular platforms. Right. And I would say, you know, Facebook is still a phenomenal platform. I know that was a good way to put it. I know that it’s fashionable to say a ha growth on Facebook is that I’ve heard that like once a month. For let’s see, the platform. Launched in 2007. So coming up on six years this May it’s evolving at least once a month someone declares it’s impossible to grow on Facebook and then like a month later, someone does it and it’s amazing new service and, you know, this great product and it’s like, oh, here, you know, now Spotify did this and people are like, Oh my God. Well, but now that’s the last one. You know, you hear that. So many times. It’s just like I think that, you know, without a doubt, it it does require a certain amount of finesse and skill and talent to do it right. You also have to have a good product, right? I mean, I and, you know, there’s plenty of amazing things to still be built. And Facebook is a phenomenal platform. Now, is it the perfect platform for every product? You know? No. Right. Without a doubt. I think that, you know, email’s wonderful, amazing channel. And, you know, if you have to choose between them, that’s too bad. But choose whichever one’s ideal for your for your platform. I’m sorry for your product if you can. And ideally, you’ll leverage both. And you usually see a lot of companies doing both.
Bronson: Absolutely. We see Facebook there, the Kings, that email marketing. I mean, every time somebody does anything really to your profile, you’re being emailed about it. Why? Because they know that’s how they drag you back into their system. They are Facebook and they use email.
Blake: It’s phenomenal. And I think that like the problem is too many people don’t understand the user. They they try to put themselves in their user’s shoes without recognizing that. I mean, especially for consumer facing product, you’re probably not your user. And so, you know, for all of us that treat email as this work, you know, where it’s like, okay, here’s the things I have to get done every time else. Going to get an email from Facebook, it’s like, Here’s this thing I have to take care of and I have to manage and deal with it and I’m trying to get work done. That’s our response. And that’s because, you know, we’re building companies and we’re busy and we can never possibly catch up on all the things we want to get done. The average person out there, it’s like, Oh, sweet, you know, this is an interruption to, you know, to to work. And, you know, like, work is not what they live and breathe for. It’s it’s a it’s a means to an end. And that that means that so that they can get to the things they enjoy. And one of the things they enjoy is interact. With other people on Facebook.
Bronson: It’s such a good point because on Facebook I’ve turned off every single notification except one. If you send me a direct message in Facebook, I will be emailed about it. Beyond that, I don’t care what you thumb up. I don’t care what you like. I don’t care about anything because it’s a work you write. But the message I have to get those because they’re too relevant for me, right?
Blake: Yeah. And some people do send work relevant messages through that channel and interacting.
Bronson: With their clients. So you’re absolutely right.
Blake: And I think that that is you know, and, you know, if you think about it, the vast majority of people don’t change their default setting and they receive all of their email and they they don’t mind. They like it. It’s like, oh, sweet. You know, I, I had an excuse to not check out or something.
Bronson: Yeah. Just hearing you say all that, like it helps. My thinking is, like, literally, it helps me understand why that I’m unlike them and why that’s okay, but why I’m marketing to them. So, you know, I mean, to just live in their world and do the things that they actually want. Now, you mentioned you were at Plaxo before and some other places and you’re actually an engineer, is that correct? Yeah. Yeah. Tell me this. Being an engineer kind of give you an edge when it comes to the viral growth that’s built into products, because it seems like there’s a trend in your products that the products market themselves, like there’s hooks in the product. Does being an engineer give you a leg up or could anybody really do this?
Blake: I mean, I think, you know, where it gives me a leg up, maybe more than anything else, is that I you know, especially also having done my own products, I was able to build, test, analyze, learn and have many, many very short cycles. And I’m not involved in other cycle. Exactly. So it’s not like I had to convince someone to try this. I didn’t have to say, you know, work with someone and wait on it. I was able to then be like, This is the most important thing I want. I’m going to get it and get that immediate feedback on it. So I think, you know, if anything, you know, like, I mean, you know, as an engineer, it could certainly be a disadvantage because, you know, it may be tougher to put yourself in the shoes of a customer and kind of really see things from their perspective. But the big advantage was just I can collect data and iterate faster. And I think that that helped me learn a lot of things quickly. Yeah, no, I know now. Obviously from a product perspective, you know, it also helps if, you know, just from a design perspective, if you’re the engineer or the designer or the writer of all the coffee you have all of that in one mind, you can get kind of this coherent experience throughout of it. And I do think that’s advantageous. And, you know, it’s but obviously if it doesn’t scale, once the product gets, you know, starts to get big, right, you have to involve more and more people to keep it sustaining because, you know, one person is not willing to go so far as.
Bronson: Like you just think about how you know different people when they’re doing these different roles. Communication is really important because you need cohesion. And so with my company, for instance, like I have to speak, you know, to the copywriters and the person who design and the person doing the engineering. And part of my role is just make sure that communication is crystal clear so that there’s a unified vision, you know, as close as we can make it seem to one mind being put out there because people will respond to that. It’s hard to respond, you know, emotionally, like you mentioned before, if they feel like more people worked on it and it’s obvious you can’t get emotional about stuff. Now, you also mentioned you were part of causes for Facebook. I don’t know what the last public number they released is, but they probably raised over 100 million by now. And so you’ve had 100 million being raised on this this social thing that you’ve done. You’ve also had you know, you know how many millions of people, 50 million people or whatever on zombies and vampires. What’s more difficult, do you think, kind of seeing both of them at some level, is it harder to get a user to a game? Is it harder to get a dollar for a charity?
Blake: Yeah. Well, so I think that, you know, without a doubt, I mean, the team in causes is phenomenal. And and, you know, you know, there’s a larger audience I’m sorry, a larger team there and then we’re ever involved in my games. Yeah. So I think that, you know, I would say, well they’re, they’re definitely I mean, they’re they’re different without a doubt. I would say that, you know, causes was was a tougher thing to build in that there were certain kind of things that were off limits you couldn’t do. Like, no, now you could do some things. You could be like, Hey, it’s for charity, so let’s be aggressive, right? And you can be very pushy, but some things you couldn’t do. Like, you know, I mentioned earlier, humor is is wonderful for kind of breaking the broken down, you know, kind of like those barriers and establishing emotional connection with people. Now with a product like causes, you know, if you’re trying to raise money for cancer research, you can imagine you can’t make jokes, right? It’s it’s you know, it’s so, you know, you’re going to come across as indelicate and insensitive to a lot of people. And so, you know. And things like. I mean, when, you know, if something entertains you, you’re more likely to react with in some capacity. And suddenly, you know, one very strong emotional connection that we can make with people was kind of off the table and not allowed to to tap into. And I think that that makes it harder now. You know, the good news is, you know, the other emotional connection you can make with people in terms of like, do you care about this very important issue? Like, you know, cancer research is, you know, that’s a very strong, powerful thing there. But I would say causes you have fewer tools to tap into. And so, you know, you had to do the ones you had. You had to make sure you did a phenomenal job. And the team there, I mean, I think, you know, I can’t say enough good things about them. They they really help knock it out of the park in a big way and continue to do so for many, many years. So I’d say that was a little bit tougher.
Bronson: Yeah, I just I wanted to ask that because I just wanted to know kind of what the differences are, you know, because very few people travel in both of those worlds at any part of their life. So you’ve traveled to them both in a pretty short period of time. So I was assuming there were some differences there. Now, let’s talk about your your most recent company. You’re the founder and the CEO of Media Spike. So tell our audience about what is media spike? What does it do?
Blake: So what means. By does it’s a it’s a platform that connects brands and game developers in a way that lets you do product placement as part of the influence. So, you know, product placement in TV and film is a very mature industry. A lot of people, you know, are very familiar with it and it gets great results, right? I mean, obviously you have to do it properly, otherwise you will get a negative reaction from an audience. But, you know, well, in games, it has phenomenal results as well. Now, historically, all of the product placement deals that that you’ve seen and it’s it’s not a new concept. All right. This has been done for years and years and years by many, many people and many companies before us. What’s unique about this is we’re trying to approach the problem for the first time in a scalable fashion and trying to make it so. Look, you know, by using a set of technologies, you’re now able to do this at scale in a repeatable way and in very lightweight manner, rather than what’s historically been happening for games, which is, okay, we do this one off. Integration is going to take all of this dev work and you know, so because it’s all of this work and all this planning, we need to plan it, you know, months and months in advance. And it has to be this huge, expensive thing. So what you end up having is very few of those deals, even though they perform exceptionally well, I mean, and they perform exceptionally well, not just for brands and for developers. Actually, users really, really like them because it makes the gameplay more realistic, you know? I mean, not surprisingly, if you give the average user the choice between want to do you want your your basketball player or the character that’s running around, you want him wearing generic sneakers and you want to put Air Jordans on him. You know, obviously people are like, well, I would much rather have the Air Jordans cooler and it’s more authentic. And so the users actually prefer it to. And that’s, that’s what makes this type of integration so unique is actually it enhances the gaming experience and makes makes for a better game rather than being something that is at the expense of the user experience and kind of saying like, all right, well, here’s this compromise we had to make in terms of we need to generate some revenue and we have to perturb the game experience and make it not perfect anymore and ideal like we wanted. But the truth is, these things cost money to build, so we have to make some money on it. So the real unique value proposition is here’s an opportunity to do something that, you know, does generate money for the game, gives brands the exposure they want, and has users actually happier with the game and makes it kind of like this. This is Holy Grail. There are holy trinity of, you know, you want all three of these parties to have a better experience and be happier as a result. And so you can deliver that. The difference is for us is we actually built a set of technology and historically people haven’t been building technology to try and solve these problems. They’ve done it as like, okay, let’s have some people that specialize in it and, you know, specialize in brokering these deals and act as middlemen to kind of connect these two worlds that, you know, that need each other. So we’re bringing AdSense kind of thinking to that world.
Bronson: Yeah. Let me ask you about that comes a side note. Do you think there’s this immense opportunity in marketplaces? Because, I mean, we’re starting to have marketplaces for the big stuff. It’s like we have the Craigslist, we have the Airbnbs. But like what you’re doing is not even in that realm. I mean, you know, it’s so far away from a Craigslist that a house and a car like we have marketplaces for the obvious stuff. But there’s so many things that are not obvious, like, you know, in-game advertisement. Do you think there’s a lot of wide open categories or is there still just a few left?
Blake: There’s there’s so many that still exist. I mean, really, truly, there’s there’s absurd inefficiencies in everyday life all the time. I mean, there’s no shortage of things that, like, people are going to complain about and be like, this is such a waste of time. This is inefficient. Every single one of those is an opportunity to, you know, for for for a system to exist that is more efficient. And I can tell you, I mean, like, for goodness sake, that like the mail system, right? Like the U.S. Postal Service is an amazing opportunity for a marketplace where I don’t know about you, but I would happily pay a dollar a month to never receive. You know, I mean, when I go to the mailbox, I like open it up and I’m like, great, here’s a bunch of chores. I got to throw all this shit away. Right. And, you know, and there’s maybe one thing in there. One? Yeah. Exactly. So, I mean, in everyday life, there’s there’s there’s no just a multitude of opportunities for efficiencies to be brought in and marketplace to do that. And unfortunately, marketplaces are not easy to pull off. Airbnb is a phenomenal success story. I know they’ve done some amazing things and they’re still growing and continue to do so, but it wasn’t one of those things that it was not easy to take to kind of get that market demand and supply going and to build it up. And it’s become a capital intensive for them to really expand like they should. And getting it there is not easy. Without a doubt.
Bronson: Talk to us about that a little bit, because you’re building a marketplace. I mean, you have to deal with this every day. The supply, the demand, the chicken and the egg, how to build up both sides without building up either side too quickly. You know, there are so many little things that go into it. So maybe first, give us some examples of the kinds of games that you’re working with and the kinds of brands, just to give people an idea of some of the larger name people that you’re working with and then tell us how you’re trying to solve that problem with with media spike.
Blake: Yeah. So, so we work with, with a number of different games. The majority of games we work with are kind of I would say the they represent the kind of the most natural product placement opportunities you could think of. So that might be sports games where they have signage within the game, you know, and it’s like very natural to say, okay, this is, you know, having, having, you know, a particular brand advertised on a football stadium is something that we already see in the real world and that that is an easy, very natural, you know, product placement for people to to be exposed to as well as things like kind of the the simulation games that are set in modern times. So those games where it’s like, okay, you know, I’m in a house or I’m in a city and I’m expecting to see, you know, in modern times certain brands. Now you can obviously the product placement in games that are not set in modern time, it just requires a little more work, a little more thinking. You know, you can’t put, you know, a modern car in a Knights of the round table type game. Right? Obviously what you can do is say like, alright, this particular car brand, you know, could be like a saddle or it could be a horse. And you know, it’s a little bit like tongue in cheek and a little bit like creative, but we’re not focused there right now simply because, you know, having, you know, asking people to make that additional like kind of like creative leap is something that we’re not going to focus on just yet simply because, you know, we have you know, we have limited resources like any company does. And and you want to kind of say, like, what are the easiest parts of the market to tap into first? And so that’s that’s where we are right now. Now, as far as the brands we’re working with and this this gets into just kind of how we’re doing to it. We’re working with household brands, things that are some of the ones that I think we’ve done. I always go to Kevin Hart, who we’ve been asking who we are, are. Right. So but but without a doubt, you can probably with a quick search, see which ones we’ve already announced. And you know, for both of those in terms of getting the games and also getting, you know, the brands and building this marketplace, what’s been key for us is leveraging the personal relationships we have. So from myself, obviously having been in the game industry and having, you know, this awesome opportunity to meet so many people and and work with them in many capacities, like, I mean, you know, some just, you know, you know, when you’ve had six years of just kind of like, you know, having dinner and spending time socially with with an industry, you know, you get to know a lot of people. And so being able to, you know, when you approach them and say, hey, look, I’ve got this really cool thing that I know does a problem we’ve all been talking about for a while, you know, would you like to try it out? That’s that’s a much easier kind of like ask than if, hey, here’s some random person you’ve never heard of, you know, trust me, you know nothing about me. But I’d say something cool. You want to try it? It’s a tougher sell. So. And then think.
Bronson: About that specifically, because I think that’s a great point for people to really understand the impact of that. It’s so easy for young. Those that don’t know what they’re doing to pick a category they have no experience in. They don’t know a lot about. They have no connections. They have no they have no collateral, you know, socially to work with. Is it a much easier way to grow something that’s adjacent to something you’ve already done kind of successfully?
Blake: Absolutely. I mean, you know, I think that especially if you’re if you’re trying to know if you’re making something, consumer facing the audience doesn’t care about your pedigree. Right. They just care about, you know, the product and is doing it, solving the problem they want it to. Right now, obviously, within business, people take that into consideration and they’re like, well, I’m about to invest some of my business resources. And I, you know, I quite frankly, you know, what’s a good way to put it? Nobody nobody’s going to question your decision to go with, you know, say your back. Right. You know, you work at the bank and you’re like, all right, let’s use Oracle for our databases right now. Nobody ever got fired for deciding to use Oracle, you know, for for or for bank software. But, you know, if it’s you know, here’s this new random, amazing database and it’s, you know, being presented a little better, an oracle. You better have some amazing pedigree to get people there. And, you know, okay, it’s like, well, hey, look, we’re, you know, a bunch of engineers and we worked at Oracle for the last decade and we’ve done all these amazing things in that time. And now we’re backed by, you know, this visionary, amazing, you know, technologist that you’ve heard of. And, you know, Bill Gates used it and insists that. Microsoft use. It internally for all of these other products. I mean, you need some serious pedigree to be able to poach people.
Bronson: Now, that’s great advice for business.
Blake: You’re asking I’m like, who’s going to you know, it’s one thing that I’m going to try out for personally is but, you know, you don’t put your job on the line. That’s a tough call to ask people now.
Blake: Yeah. I mean, without a doubt. I think that the there’s overwhelming excitement for mobile right now. And, you know, there’s obviously that, you know, the the flash gaming world is not going anywhere. It’s phenomenal and it’s doing exceptionally well. But, you know, mobile is really capturing the hearts and minds of the people daily. And because it has so much mindshare, obviously, that just has been it’s been awesome for us, as you imagine, because, you know, there were many conversations where they let us know as soon as you have mobile and, you know, if I you know, I’d like an answer, like if I could have everything immediately, I would. Right. So, so it was very exciting for us to get our mobile, um, while have, you know, people started using it and the results there phenomenal to mobile in particular. You know, there was a lot of questions around monetization for mobile and you know, it’s exciting to be part of the narrative. It’s like, yes, you can monetize on mobile, you know, and here’s one really cool way and it’s not, you know, I think, you know, a lot of the early monetization we’ve seen has not been, you know, really suited for mobile. It’s simply like, okay, how do I take, you know, this existing technology that worked while I desktop and translate tomorrow and not everything perfectly translates right and that’s why you know do not perfectly translate into the mobile world and just.
Bronson: Video on your guys homepage I believe is the video it has the the banner ad pop up and you click the X over and over. I was watching that the other day and me and my son have that experience every night before we go to bed. Me and him play games and iPhone and there’s always pause. I’m like, Look, I’m just trying to chill my son for a few minutes. Like, I’m not looking to go into some other experience right now. I’m like, Why would you think that?
Blake: I think I’ve ever I’ve ever clicked on a mobile banner. It’s actually not one. I think it’s, oh, how do I get that little X in my finger? We got that.
Bronson: I feel like I should get extra points in the game if I can get the X on the first try.
Blake: I don’t have a right to be honest.
Bronson: Like that’s the real game in the game right there. So that’s it is what’s your plan to reach those developers? Are they just kind of beaten down the door like, Oh, finally, iOS, Android? Or do you still have to have a strategy to go and to build that side of the market again?
Blake: So, I mean, we obviously we have several strategies, but we also obviously I mean, and they’re phenomenal. You know, they’re doing their own category. And I mean, largely for us, our biggest strategy in terms of building up this market is hiring the right counsel and getting the right people on either side of the table, because there are some people that have been in this region been the brand agency world. And bringing some of those people on on board has opened up a lot of conversations there and on the developer side for games where it’s like, okay, you know, obviously, well, I don’t know the number of people, you know, by bringing in sales people, it’s open so many more Northrop’s and help those conversations accelerate. So it’s it’s really a key there is the right team. Yeah but I mean, you know, obviously you have to have a product that works, but that’s not sufficient. A lot of people are. We built this amazing thing. Now everyone’s going to demand to do it. Well, you know, people are busy. I think, you know, there’s for things to be done and, you know, and leading product. But, you know, I mean, the here is kind of what if you you know in an in people you know get your you know in in front of their mind and make them think, oh, we’re going actually, let’s try this out. I see the results. And so that’s that’s been good. Yeah.
Bronson: Let me ask you about Zynga for a moment, because Zynga, they focused almost exclusively on virtual goods for their monetization. And they, you know, they’re in trouble, you know, for all intents and purposes. Do you think that they’re short you know, Cummings kind of validates your vision of the future, that the vision the future is these kind of in product, in game things?
Blake: Well, I think that, you know, without a doubt, I mean, Zynga’s like fastest growing revenue stream. I believe they’re I see. Without a doubt. I need to be careful. My understanding is Zynga, fastest growing revenue stream right now is their advertising division. So there’s a lot of that a lot of room for them to continue to grow there. I think that, you know, I mean, as a business, I am actually very bullish on I think it’s you know, they built something dominant. They do have an amazing amount of talent over there. Now, obviously, you know, I think that, you know, bringing in other revenue streams, large ones and getting, you know, getting those right is going to be huge for them. I think that with without a doubt and I’m I guess I’ll be the first to say like, you know, product placement could be a huge, huge part of the revenue for them. And I think that, you know, there are, you know, there an interesting time frame where, you know, Facebook is shifting. A lot of their attention to mobile and so is Zynga. And they’re doing really well there. It’s just I think that, you know, that what’s going to play is that amazing. HYPERGROWTH can only go for so long before you do start to. There’s only so many people in the world, right? You know what makes people faster than we’re making new people. So I think, you know, Zynga, you know, like maybe they’re not growing like this anymore. Maybe they’re growing like that. And, you know, it’s not that this is bad. This is still a phenomenal success story. It’s just everybody expected this to go indefinitely and, you know. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, Google is an example that, like, I remember, like their their stock took a beating at one point and, you know, it was, you know, it was just going amazingly fast. And, you know, Apple has this thing where it’s like, okay, you know, you’re this amazing company and you’re doing really well and you have to not put outperform analyst estimates, but you have to outperform by a certain percentage. For people to say, are the companies doing well? And I mean, like that’s just a tough. Yeah.
Bronson: You know when you’re approaching it being $1,000,000,000,000 company, which Apple was trying to become at one point, it’s like, oh, after you pass a trillion, do you get to 2 trillion? Know, like, I mean, the word reality here.
Blake: Is a phenomenal success story with a phenomenal success story. And I think that, you know, if if you know, their growth rate is not as fast as it used to be, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad. It’s just that, you know, it is do not continue at amazing numbers indefinitely right now.
Bronson: Makes a lot of sense. Well, this has been an awesome interview. Let me ask you a couple of final questions. Kind of high level to give back to the stock community for just a second. You are a mentor to many startups. You’re an advisor to many startups in the valley there. What do you wish that more startups understood about growth? What do you find yourself? Just wishing they got before you had to tell them.
Blake: Yeah, yeah. Two things I wish that more than anything else was just that there aren’t there? You know, I spoke about this a little bit. They are they are different. They are. And so when they use their intuition, sometimes it can be very, very often like, is this too much for my question? Too much in terms of, you know, engaging with the use of my product, reach out to them. So I think that it is their intuition. What they should do is actually add the results and see because too often people say like, well, wait a minute, I mean, imagine Groupon. Imagine a group like well, instead of sending everyone to every deal, like, that’s too much, you know, I wouldn’t respond to that. Let’s do one, because that seems about right. Yeah, it’s pretty a dramatically different user experience and radically different probably success trajectory for them. I think that, you know, if their intuition got in the way, someone may have, you know, kind of put it up like that. But the truth of the matter is they they tested every day and they got the results. And I think that’s what you have to do is you have to test it and see and, you know, obviously back off if the users are unsubscribing in droves and saying this is awful and it then yes, you know, but letting your intuition guide you can sometimes be wrong because you’re not the customer. And then probably the next thing I think that a lot of people don’t focus on that, which is a real shame, is they don’t focus on retention and really understanding, like how do I have a profit addicted? Because that’s this cornerstone of growth. But a lot of people don’t get right in terms of they just want to like. You know, get this out and. Get, you know, make it to as many people as they can. But probably the easiest analogy, the easiest way to think about this is like, okay, you know, in the baseball game, if you had one opportunity, you know, one pitch where you had to hit a homerun and if you didn’t get it, it’s go home for it or, you know, you know, for opportunities to play. That’s a very different experience than if you like, you know, the field reserved for two years and get to go, you know, swing after swing after swing to try and get it right. And that’s that’s fundamentally what you’re doing when you make a product that people are addicted to and come to and use every day because it gives you the opportunity to test and tweak, really learn and optimize and get the right growth experience. So you need. Them wanting it every day and a lot of people kind of thing, that part of it. And you can imagine like if you have 100 tries to get growth right, then that’s much better than just one try. Right. And and that’s what a lot of people kind of like. Okay, I got this one more thing and I’m going to you know, it seems to be working, so I’m just going to keep doubling down on that and then neglect the the that that kind of like recurrent addictive user experience. I said you want that, you know, gives you a million times to get it right. No, I’m not exaggerating. That’s a little bit of hyperbole. That’s right. My multiple taxes to get it right, to test things out, without a doubt.
Bronson: Absolutely. Well, Blake, thank you so much for being on the program. Your life has been awesome. The things you’ve been involved in have been awesome. And thanks so much for taking the time out your day.
Blake: I really appreciate it. I hope you come home and look for other chances to hopefully be helpful again in the future.
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