Nikhil Khanna, a 16-year-old budding game developer out of Lakeside School, the alma mater of Bill Gates.

Teenager. Entrepreneur. Programmer. Lakeside School.

String ‘em together, and you might think of Bill Gates, a Lakeside grad and former budding young tech businessman himself.

But while he isn’t using a Teletype Model 33 and might not become one of the world’s wealthiest people, Nikhil Khanna is another Lakeside teen-techie showing initiative well beyond his years.

Khanna, a junior at Seattle’s prestigious Lakeside, spent last summer building an iPhone game from the ground up in just two months and with only $600. His story exemplifies how easy it is for young entrepreneurs to build apps and compete with big name companies.

Khanna’s creation, Bounding Blob, is an addictive Super Mario-esque game that allows users to collect stars on various courses and set high scores. The game goes for 99 cents and Khanna said he’s had 300-to-400 downloads without any advertising work.

And game development is not all he’s doing. The 16-year-old set up his own game company called TangledFire to help market and promote Bounding Blob.

So how did he do it in just two months?

“Basically, the internet was just an awesome source,” he said. “That’s how I learned to program. The resources out there make it very easy for a teenager to just go out there using forums and resources to figure out how to program.”

A screenshot from Nikhil Khanna’s iPhone game, Bounding Blob.

Khanna took free online programming courses via MIT and used community forums to learn how to program for a mobile device. His parents are former Microsoft employees and helped connect Khanna to local techies for advice.

“The culture here got me interested in programming in the first place,” he said.

As the process moved along this past summer and Khanna got more and more invovled with the project, he began thinking about turning a hobby into something he could profit on.

“I started to realize I could compete with the big guys,” Khanna said.

And so started TangledFire. It was difficult and at times frustrating to manage the entire game project, from the programming to the art to the sound. So Khanna went to the Internet for help, using resources like Elance to hire an Australian designer for the game’s artwork.

After two months, he submitted Bounding Blob to the App Store and the game was ready for download. All the reviews have been positive thus far and Khanna plans doing more advertising to boost sales numbers.

It’s been an extremely valuable learning process for the young entrepreneur, one that’s helped him find what motivates him.

“I really enjoyed working on the product,” he said. “I wanted to see what happened to it when it came out of the gates. At a certain point, the product itself was motivating me, not a particular thing about the program.”

He plans on working on a new game soon and pursuing computer science in college. After that? Well, more of this.

“That would be nice to do this all day,” he said of Tangled Fire. “It’d be nice to do this for a full-time job.”

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/TBFMentor Paul McNeal

    Nikhil Khanna, I don’t know how to reach you but we’d enjoy having you be a part of our global community at http://www.teenbusinessforum.com. Congrats on your initial success!

  • lan

    Considering Lakeside teaches students programing and game development starting in 6th grade I find it disingenuous to claim he used the internet to teach himself to program. Then to claim he did it all with just $600 is silly. He had an Apple computer, which even a used one costs $600, then the cost of forming a corporation is at least $200, topped with the outsourced work is well over $600. It’s a classic rich kid trying to pretend like he did it all himself.

    • http://twitter.com/BjMonnig Benjamin Monnig

      Stop hating and/or trolling. He likely didn’t buy a computer purely for the development, hence the cost of the computer does not figure into the cost of the game development. And you don’t know how much the design cost actually was, so you are stating an assumption as a “fact” to put this young entrepreneur down instead of congratulating him on his success. We should encourage teenager entrepreneurs for having the courage and determination to do something other than sit around and watching TV, not put them down by stating “facts” that you are making up on the fly.

      • lan

        Yes, we should encourage kids. And when kids see a story like this, and then look around and find they don’t have the resources to pull off the same thing they get discouraged and think something is wrong with them. When they just didn’t have the story straight to begin with.

        This story presents itself as a kid who bootstrapped his way into making this game. But that’s not true, he was education on this topic from the best middle and high school in Seattle, had full support of his parents, and the financial resources to draw on to make this happen.

        I think what he did is great, but trying to sell it as a bootstrap story is disingenuous. I didn’t make up facts, it’s a minimum estimate of what it would cost to start-up his game making studio. Not to say he’s bad for doing it, but to re-enforce my main point that this was not a bootstrap operation that most kids could build if they have $600 laying around.

    • Bob

      Ian, you clearly don’t know what you are talking about. First off, let me get some of your “facts” straight. Lakeside does not teach game development at all. Secondly, it has one course on computer science/programming. Don’t just make up random stuff. Also, how do you know that he bought an Apple computer? Unless you personally know that he did, you are being completely irrational. There is no reason to go out and buy an Mac to program, you don’t need to be a genius to know that. Thirdly, how can you say that he isn’t telling the truth. You don’t know this kid at all. It sounds like you’re an insolent person who needs to put down successful stories just to feel better about yourself. So please grow up and get over yourself. Just remember that these amazing kids, no matter how much you try insulting them, are going to do great things in life.

    • Anon

      Do you actually go to Lakeside? There are no programming (let alone game development) classes in the middle school, and there are only 3 simester long courses of CS in the upper school. CS1 and CS2 (classes I took with him last year) don’t cover anything to do with mobile and game development. For his final project he made a game using the XNA framework (something that was not covered at all in class and thus he DID learn by himself). And those classes mentioned above have nothing to do with mobile development, either. You’re a classic internet critic who thinks they can get away with lying but really doesn’t know anything. You have no reason to criticize Nikhil and people like him.

      • lan

        You made my point perfectly. This article says he learned to program from the internet and made a game in two months. Which, as you point out, is not true. He’s been taking CS classes for over a year and knew the XNA framework for game dev before doing what this story is about.

        I’m not saying Nikhil can’t program, lacks ambition or doesn’t learn on his own. I’m saying this story is misleading. I did make the assumption that it was Nikhil that made it sound like he learned to program solely from the internet AND build an iOS game in two months, but maybe it was the writer who left out details and framed it this way to make it sound ‘better’. If that’s the case, then Nikhil – I sincerely apologize.

        Personally, I think it’s clear he has what it takes to be a great computer scientist but I hope he recognizes those who help him get there.

        And to your first question: No I don’t go to Lakeside, but I’ve visited and researched it for my daughter because we have friends who’s kids go there. Lakeside touts their use of ALICE in middle school to teach kids 3d programing and java at an early age to “enable all kids to succeed in AP computer science”. Apparently that hasn’t always been the case.

        I’ve spent time over the past 5 years working with organizations that help ‘at risk’ kids who feel demoralized and disenfranchised by among many things, misleading stories like this. Which is why I’m quite peckish about this.

        • Anonymous

          You make the 3d programming sound like super high-tech stuff, trust me its not. I very highly doubt any of that would have helped Nikhil in making his app. Also, the Lakeside Middle School doesn’t teach java and aren’t concerned about preparing ten year olds for AP CompSci, that’s the High School course. It’s clear you are using false information to try an prove a ill-reasoned point.

          Also, if you’re upset with “misleading” stories, what’s the point of personally attacking the person it is about? “It’s a classic rich kid trying to pretend like he did it all himself.” This is extremely rude to say about anyone and I hope you realize that, especially when you know nothing about who they are.

          I do think it is awesome your working with these kids, but I’m worried for them if this is the type of approach you take with them. You blame successful kids for causing a feeling of insignificance in other kids. That’s not a good approach at all. And calling this a misleading stories when you don’t know all the details is quite rash.

        • jim

          so you are personally attacking a 16 year old kid…and you’re a dad…sounds like you have a great life

        • jim

          so you are personally attacking a 16 year old kid…and you’re a dad…sounds like you have a great life

    • Jeffery

      You know Ian, while you’re brooding over an amazing story of a amazing kid, he will be making the dough and becoming more successful than you ever have been. Sure, I know saying these things makes you feel better about your lazy and undetermined childhood which got you nowhere, but please don’t, cause it makes you look bad

      • lan

        Lol, I was like Nihkil when I was in HS. Taught myself programming from a Borlands Teach yourself in 24 hours book, programmed games, even worked at startups while in HS in the dot-com boom days and did quite well for myself.

    • Taylor_Soper

      Hi Ian,

      Thanks for reading. From my perspective, the heart of the story was about a self-motivated teenager building a game company on a lean budget using inexpensive tools that weren’t around 20 years ago (as commenter Chris points out).

      During my interview with Nikhil, he was humble and constantly talked about how cool it was that he could use all these resources on the internet to do something like this. He never bragged, and he knew that he couldn’t have done this without the support of his family and friends.

      He did mention to me that he learned how to program a few years ago. But the programming he learned over the summer was specifically about programming for mobile devices. Based on your comment, I could have made that more clear. But I wasn’t trying to do anything but tell Nikhil’s story accurately.

      I think it’s great you help out with at-risk kids. If anything, I would think that a success story like this inspires and motivates them to use the multitude of resources on the internet to further their education and learning.

      Taylor

      • lan

        For perspective, imagine being a high school student who has no money, no laptop and no school programing classes. It’s frustrating to have a story of quick success dangled out there, it’s not inspiring. Especially when that’s not even the full story. It leaves kids disenfranchised because they can already see their opportunities are far behind some of their peers.

        I think those same internet resources are exactly what the at risk kids need to help them bootstrap their way into a success filled life, but they need to know it takes time and perseverance. They don’t need unrealistic expectations of over night (or over summer) success.

        And to Nihkil-> I’m sorry for being an internet jerk without knowing the full story. I think your full story that involves working extra hard all school year and making it pay off in the summer is awesome. It’s clear you’ve worked very hard in life and I wish you the best and hope you thank your parents for all they’ve given you.

    • Anon

      Ian,

      I understand your point that Lakeside has resources to teach CS, and that students here have that resource available to them, whereas other students may not. I would love to see these resources easily available to all who want them and there are many programs that are working to do so.

      I work at Lakeside and can comment on the courses currently taught at the school. Lakeside does teach some programming using the Scratch language in 5-7th grades at the middle school, as part of their Computers and Technology curriculum. This is simply an introduction and exposure to some of the skills required for programming. Beginning this year, the high school has the following computer science courses: a semester long introduction to programming called CS 1, CS 2-3 (a 1 year honors, AP level course), and CS 4 – a semester long project based advanced course. None of these classes teach game programming, nor do they teach iPhone development.

      Many children around the country have similar access to computers, and even computer science curriculum in their schools. Some are motivated enough to take computer classes outside of school. Very few of them go above and beyond the coursework the way Nikhil has to create something that is publically available and as polished a product as this one is.

    • Heather

      Ian you a bitch ass motherfucker. you instinctual fuck go back to screwing you cousin.

  • Chris Kurikondrak

    Congratulations to Nikhil but remember that distribution is much easier today due to app stores than in my youth when the only way to distribute the games I coded on my VIC-20 was on cassette tape, floppy drives and modems being well out of my budget.

  • Jim

    HEY IAN, so you are personally attacking a 16 year old kid…and you’re a dad…sounds like you have a great life

  • fred

    ian would you quit being such a racist pig? you are really disgusting

  • Wang Zhanmin

    Hi from China, Ian:
    Nikhil seems like he’s worked really hard and for you to attack Nikhil is wrong. Blame the author for being misleading, but not Nikhil for his efforts.
    Sincerely,
    Zhanmin

  • Raj

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