Every once in a while we publish an interview with a start-up. We ask five questions, hoping the answers will give you inspiration and new views.
This time we’re interviewing Asmo Halinen from Playray, a social minigames community from Helsinki, Finland. People from sixteen different countries can log in to the site and enjoy games in their own language, while staying in touch with their gaming buddy’s. The service raised €1.75 million from Estonia-based venture capital fund Martinson Trigon Venture Partners about a year ago. That’s not the last part of company history that you’ll readm, as Asmo told us quite a lot about how Playray started.
How did you come up with the idea of Playray?
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“Actually we started as a B2B service company, producing sites, web commercials and other stuff like that. But since all the three founders (Pasi Laaksonen, Janne Matilainen and me) had some background on online gaming, we started building our own online casual gaming service during 2002. At the beginning it was only a hobby, but as that side in our company grew, we later (in 2004) split the original company in two: I recruited a new CEO for the B2B side and all we three founders continued in the “new” gaming company.
Since that we’ve focused 100% on the development and internationalization of our Playray service. During the early days it was only about browser based online games; nowadays it’s much more about the active player community around the casual gaming experience.”
What was your biggest challenge during the development process?
“Since the gaming was not our core thing in the very beginning, our biggest challenges during the early times were related to finding customers for our B2B service business. :) When we started to focus on the gaming business, we already had quite a nice base work done. The biggest challenge was to handle the growth of the both business sections (B2B and gaming) simultaneously and to find the right time to spinoff the gaming stuff on its own.
I think it’s not a bad thing at all to do “almost everything” in the start and search for THE right thing for the start-up’s team as we did.”
Can you describe Finland’s start-up culture compared to Silicon Valley?
”The start-up scene in Finland has been activating a lot during the past year. There are many interesting start-ups in Helsinki at the moment. An excellent source for the latest news on Finnish start-ups is Arcticstartup.com.
Helsinki HQ naturally affects on some issues but I feel it has not been a negative issue for us. Our internationalization has been focused on the European markets (our biggest sites at the moment are Finland, Germany, The Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia and Hungary).”
What will be the influence of your start-up on the next web?
“We’re combining casual gaming together with strong community elements, personal avatars, etc. Through this set we’re giving our users much more than just gaming – it’s all about the active gaming community, with famous players, cool avatars and high average visit times. Our active users do not see Playray as a “just one gaming site”, it is much more like the #1 entertainment for them and an important place for meeting their friends online.
The business is freemium based: most of the games and basic features are free, but users pay for extra features such as avatar decorating. Our turnover in 2007 was 1.6 mill EUR and majority of this came from customer revenues – and 2008 is going to be a lot better.”
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Who are your users?
“Playray is very much a “whole family service”. Over 30% of our users are over 30 years old and the male/female split is 50-50. We actually know about many families where everyone in the family is actively hanging out in Playray: for example father playing chess, mother playing mostly our Yatzy, boy being the Playray pool fan and the girl mostly focusing on chatting and avatar decoration – while everyone in the family, including the parents, has his/her Playray avatar personalized!”