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Young millionaire: Robert Small

Sample of miniclip:

MOST entrepreneurial success stories involve years of struggle against long odds. Not so for Robert Small, a young internet games entrepreneur who created an almost instant winner with his business straight after finishing university.

His venture stemmed from a childhood love of computer games. “When I was a boy I was absolutely obsessed with early games like Jetpack on the ZX Spectrum,” he said. “They seemed so exciting and well made. Looking back I think my imagination made those blocks of pixels seem better than they were, but I was hooked.

“I was attracted by the fact that this was entertainment that was interactive rather than passive. It probably helped that my parents didn’t have a television set until I was 10 years old. We lived in the country in a fairly remote area so I was used to amusing myself from a young age rather than just sitting in front of the TV,” he said.

Small was 24 in 2001 when he set up Miniclip.com with his friend and business partner Tihan Presbie. Small used money given to him by his grandmother, and Presbie used cash he had made as a City trader. Together they invested £40,000 in their online gaming site. One of their first products, a simple interactive game called Dancing Bush, in which players made an animated President George Bush dance to their commands, attracted more than 2m players within a month.

It was an easy game to create, said Small, who had never had an interest in writing code for games. “Macromedia Flash was new at the time and it was a great tool for developing this type of content. You could take digital video, chop it up and create animation without any training and only a little practice. I filmed Tihan dancing in the kitchen and we superimposed Bush’s face on to his body.”

Their focus from the start was on simplicity and the player experience, not on sophisticated graphics or complex multi-player shoot ’em ups, said Small. “We wanted to get online and get a global audience but we knew we were never going to do that by trying to create amazingly detailed console-style games.” Small was quick to capitalise on this early success, attracting more users to the website and broke even within nine months. Today the business has 43m dedicated users a month. They come from all over the world and are typically aged between 10 and 18. He has achieved this without any external funding.

Users are attracted by Miniclip’s 400 games, which tend to be simple, addictive and, in most cases, free to play. They include puzzles, Sudoku, shoot ’em ups, and samples from online games run by other sites, for which Miniclip gets commission if users subscribe to the full game.

The site earns money through a variety of other means. Advertising was the early revenue earner and is still an important part of turnover, which was between £18m and £20m in 2007. Subscriptions to paid-for games as well as sponsorship from film makers who pay Miniclip to create games round their latest releases – such as Spider-man and Pirates of the Caribbean – make up other significant chunks of Miniclip’s income. It is a profitable business, too, with margins of about 35%.

Small ascribes this rapid success to understanding very clearly that instead of trying to aggressively control his intellectual property as the bigger brands were trying to do, he should set it free by allowing other sites to use Miniclip games.

“Getting users to the website early on was the big challenge,” said Small. “It’s something we were very focused on. Luckily we realised the value of the internet lay in helping users to share information. Our content was built for the internet and it was built to be shared. About 300,000 other websites use our content now.”

The fast-moving nature of online businesses holds danger as well as opportunity, said Small. In a sector with plenty of competitors and very few barriers to entry, nimbleness and constant innovation are the only way to ensure sustained success and growth.

It is advice other start-ups should take to heart if they want to survive, he said. “It helped to be small. We could make decisions instantly and get things done quickly. When you are small, you should capitalise on the opportunity this gives you to move quickly. First-mover advantage can be very powerful.”

Sustaining the enthusiasm of your online community is also vital, he said. “Make your product great and it will get talked about. Don’t get distracted by PR and marketing until you’ve got that right.”

Understanding what your target audience wants and putting yourself in their shoes is the single most important factor to focus on, however. “Make your service simple for the customer even if the execution is complex. We offer 400 games in 11 different languages but we keep the home page simple.

“We never asked the advice of some business evangelist to tell us what to do. The point of view of 30 average gamers drives most of our decisions.”

Unsurprisingly, Small’s life is dominated by the need to keep on top of a rapidly growing business that creates new games all the time. Now aged 32 and single, he admits to being chained to his laptop, often checking the web statistics and plotting his next moves late into the night. Such dedication is not motivated only by money, however, but by the love of the community he has created.

“I love the fact that when I go home to visit my parents the kids in the village know me as Mr Miniclip. I certainly don’t do this out of a desire to be wealthy. For me the idea that 43m people are using our site is the thing that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It has become a bit of an obsession.”

Website: http://www.miniclip.com/games/en/

Link: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/entrepreneur/article3341684.ece

March 17, 2009 Posted by | Comedy, Entrepreneur, Million dollars Idea, Millionaire, Uncategorized, Youtube | , , | 4 Comments