This week’s Small Business Star, Jude Ower, has long had a passion to support global causes via gaming. This led her to start Playmob, raise $2m from notable investors and work with major clients and charities.
Founder and CEO of Playmob, Jude has spent 12 years in the games industry, creating impactful and educational games for corporate, education, government and, most recently with a charitable arm with Playmob.
Playmob combines gaming techniques to help corporations achieve pre-defined charitable goals. This is done through ‘in-game giving’ in video games, encouraging participants to raise money for causes while they game. Over the next three years, they aim to generate further impact and raise $1billion for global causes.
1. Playmob was born from an awareness of global social issues growing up
My career has always been in gaming. From an early age I was brought up around tech and playing game consoles (Spectrum and Commodore 64). Also, having been brought up in a Catholic family, (my Dad was a monk before he married my Mum) I was very aware of global social issues and keen to help out in whatever way I could.
These values stuck with me and when at university, I came across a start-up building games for training and education. This brought together two things I was passionate about – gaming and making a positive impact, which formed a newfound interest in start-ups.
2. A profitable business and fundraising can work
Whilst working in the world of educational gaming, I was asked if I could help build games to educate others about charitable causes. This enabled me to get closer to charities and look at how gaming could positively impact the world.
In 2010, following the Haiti earthquake, Zynga launched a campaign in Farmville selling virtual Sweet Seeds – a portion of the sale was donated to support charities providing aid to the victims of the disaster. They raised $1.5m in five days and, as well as making a huge social impact, it had a positive business impact too.
It was then that I dreamt up the idea of an open platform where any games studio or publisher could link up to charitable projects and begin fundraising for causes their players care about. Making it simple and quick, we could raise a lot of funds and have a huge impact on causes, while the process would provide a positive impact on the business too.
3. Seed investment enabled us to work on campaigns with gaming companies and charities
There were so many unanswered questions at the beginning as I’d never built a platform before. From where to start technically, to how I could prove the value proposition for social and business, there were (and still are) a lot of unknowns which I needed to figure out.
I applied for Springboard (Tech Stars), a tech accelerator in Cambridge. We met with over 100 mentors, defining the product and proposition, posed questions to our potential customers and then pitched to angels and VCs. We were able to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time. The results exceeded what we expected and this enabled us to secure our first seed investment of £500k in 2012 to build the basic product.
We tested in Beta before launching the basic platform at the end of 2012. In early 2013, we launched the biggest campaign we’d ever done with Electronic Arts and World Wildlife Fund – this was a turning point, working with one of the largest games publishers and charities in the world.
4. It can be tough to build up a reputation when you’re a small business with a big vision
Doing something for the first time is a challenge. However I’ve come to realise that once you’ve done it once, you’ll know how to do it again. Rather than be fearful of the unknown, look at it like an opportunity.
When you are just starting out, it can be tough to build up a reputation and be taken seriously if you are doing something very different and have a big vision. Especially in B2B.
It’s a bit different now as most companies look externally for innovation, however a few years ago when we were getting started, large corporates would be wary of ‘tying their masts’ to a small company who had little traction. This was a huge challenge as the large corporates had the information we needed to help us define our value and position. This takes time, so learning patience was a challenge too, however if you keep pushing forward it eventually becomes easier.
5. We’ve raised over $650k for charitable causes
Working with a brilliant group of partners and together raising over $650k has been a real achievement. We’ve worked with EA, Rovio, MiniClip, Oxfam, WWF, The Royal Foundation and many more.
The social impact side (which we track carefully) is the output of this success. Seeing what we’ve impacted daily – trees planted, meals provided, people helped for cyberbullying, children educated, books received – we are affecting people, and our world, positively on a day to day basis.
From this we’ve won awards, most recently being named by Richard Branson as the one to watch in 2015 through the Talent Unleashed awards. This was such an honour, showing that anything is possible with a bit of hard work, determination and grit.
6. Help others to help yourself
Firstly, what are you waiting for? Just do it. Understanding more about your key market, what their problems are and how you can add more value, is essential. Plus meeting people who can help you, work with you, and also you may be able to help them too (always try to help others too if you can). Don’t be afraid to ask for help, advice or if you’re raising finance, tell people. The more you can share, the more people can help you.
Find out more about Jude and Playmob.
For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub.