Paul Murphy is the Co-Founder and CEO of Dots, the mobile game studio that produced the popular minimalist game of the same name.
Dots has experienced the rapid growth of their team in a short time, partly due to a unique launch story. Yet they approached their launch without networks in the gaming world. They even exploited their newness to gaming, hiring one person completely outside of gaming for every gaming person they brought in, for a healthy perspective.
How did they do it?
“The main thing is you have to be selective when you’re asking for help,” Paul says, “and you want to be as specific as possible when doing it.”
Paul gave this and more advice in an interview on the Hawke Media Podcast. The Dots story should give you some good ideas on how to get your own product/app idea off the ground.
Two People, Launching a Game Without Connections
Like many startups, Dots pursued capital to get things off the ground. However, their rise was a bit unique.
They had the support of betaworks and were able to draw on people there that they never could have afforded to hire. They were lucky; when the game launched, it took off. It took them pretty far in terms of audience and revenue, just by having betaworks’s support. Then they pursued further investing.
How did they leverage their relationship with betaworks?
One of the amazing things about betaworks is that the founder, John, in particular has a vast network, and you can get ahold of almost anyone with one or two degrees of separation. Dots obviously doesn’t overly take advantage of that, but it certainly has its perks. When a specific question comes up, they’ll do the research on their side, then ask for an introduction.
When they launched the game, John showed an influencer a beta version of the game, and the influencer tweeted about how beautiful of a game it was. That little bit of buzz went a long way. A slew of press endorsements happened, and pent-up interest was present by the time they launched.
For anyone following a similar path, the lesson here is arming investors with the things you want the most help on, and being specific when you want them to reach out to people. The onus is on you to ask for what you want.
There’s nothing worse than wanting to help someone and them not giving you what you need to help them. Open-ended requests for advice or feedback, or introductions to people who don’t make sense . . . those are the worst things you can do with your network.
Try to be respectful and thoughtful. Do plenty of research before asking someone to reach out or do something on your behalf. This also gives them the ability to say no quickly.
The Importance of a Balanced Team
During the creation of the first game, Paul thought of ideas for the social component, retention, and monetization. Then he ran a marketing effort, which started with influencers and press, then concluded with things like user acquisition. His co-founder, Patrick, developed the game.
They ended up with respect for what the other did; they needed what both did. There are many apps that never see an audience because they don’t know how to get an audience, and at the same time there are popular apps that die off because the underlying product isn’t strong.
You need both.
When Did Dots Start Doing PR Outreach?
The development process was only three months—incredibly fast. As they locked in a launch date, it was less about influencers at that point and more about feedback. They knew they had something that would resonate and they didn’t want to do anything stupid when they launched.
About a week before launch, they shared it with a writer from TechCrunch who was impressed, and they left it there. She wrote an article that got some traction. Then the marketing picked up after launch.
Post-launch, back in 2013, it was a different world. None of the big advertisers were on Facebook; many of the big game companies weren’t even there. A lot of the big companies today are where they are because they monetized during a time when they didn’t have to spend as much as they would today in the current climate.
That said, Dots took advantage of every nook and cranny of their network, which they would encourage anyone to do. They asked people to use the product and give them some free love if they liked it—and that love went a long way.
It wasn’t till they ran a test campaign on Facebook that performed well that they decided paid acquisition could also be a strategy. Even though their costs were extremely low, they didn’t have a revenue component to the game, so they had to be cautious with how they acquired users, though there was certainly a component of that in their plan.
One thing that used to be common in the app store was “bursting”: getting a lot of organic uplift from a burst of installs. Just about everyone today says that that uplift has gone down significantly.
A year ago, Paul’s advice to startups following in his footsteps would have been, “Break through the noise. Spend what you need to spend so you can give yourself a shot.”
Today, his advice is to think much more about acquiring your target consumer/player/user. Hopefully, you have a business model and you can extract some revenue from them. The key, though, is to focus on that target user, whoever they are.
Only then can you keep casting a wider and wider net over time, as you can afford to do it. That more sustainable approach is the only way you can launch a product today, unless you have significant financial resources.
If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.