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Mobile gaming can be a solitary pursuit. But PressOK Entertainment, a three-year-old Seattle startup led by Alex Koloskov and Ryan Morel, wants to make the experience a little more interactive and fun by establishing virtual tournaments for game players who live or work near one another. The company today is unveiling its PlacePlay platform, targeted at game developers who may want to set up geographic-specific tournaments in specific cities, states or countries related to their mobile games.

We chatted with Morel in advance of the release of PlacePlay for the latest installment of Startup Spotlight.

Ryan Morel

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Our PlacePlay platform enables mobile game developers to ‘locationify’ regular games played on smartphones. This lets consumers interact with other players in their area, and gives developers access to high eCPM local ad networks. Apple, our target platform, has a policy that prevents developers from using location solely for the purpose of showing location-enabled advertising, so we make it super easy for developers to access those location-enabled ad networks which pay more than whatever they are using today.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Alex Koloskov, our vice president of engineering, and I had long talked about dynamic “clubs” in mobile games where users could play and engage with other users around them, and move within various clubs as their locations changed. With the obvious proliferation of smartphones and the mass increase of users consuming mobile games, we now have the opportunity to do what we’d long talked about.”

VC, angel, or bootstrap: “We’re bootstrapped today, but may look for outside capital in the future. Someone I respect raised a round recently, and when I emailed to congratulate him, he responded with: ‘Thanks, but it’s not the outcome I’m looking for.’ It was a great reminder that raising money is exciting and to be commended, but it’s one of the steps you take on the path, not the end of it.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our team. Not only do we have a super diverse skill set within a small group of people, but we also have some really smart help from people like David Hose and Steve Arnold who’ve built companies before.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Focusing our efforts exclusively on PlacePlay Tournaments, and constantly making changes to the product based on the data we collect from gamers. Early on, we were able to increase engagement with PlacePlay 4x by making some relatively small changes because we were able to identify where a breakdown was occurring in the consumer experience. We’ve also done a fantastic job managing our cash to give us the longest runway possible while we enhance PlacePlay as a platform.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We started with too big of a vision. It was kind of like going into a restaurant and being given a menu the size of a phone book! Not only is there too much to choose from, but there’s just no way you can be good at everything, let alone great at one of them….We might miss a couple of opportunities in the short term as a result, but creating a beachhead is our best strategy for long-term success.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Jobs, no question. Apple has been able to change, almost overnight, how people engage with and consume mobile content while giving developers the tools and marketplace they need to create entirely new businesses. Think about all of the awesome companies that have been started in the last couple of years that provide consumers with content and services they love – it’s amazing to see how far the mobile ecosystem has come, mostly on the back of Apple and Jobs.”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “We’re at the very beginning of our process, and getting the PlacePlay SDK into the hands of as many developers as we can is going to accelerate it, both from a product perspective and the additional monetization opportunities that will arise as a result of being able to dynamically target localized consumer eyeballs.”

Rivals should fear us because: “Alex is Russian and practices Aikido? Jokes aside, there are no directly competitive products in the market yet, though there may be soon. However, we do compete for mind share with every company that provides mobile game developers with a product or service. Our service does help drive the two most important things for game developers though, engagement AND revenue. We know that PlacePlay increases end-user engagement by up to 1.6x, and provides eCPMs of up to $20. Not many companies can actually say that.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “The combination of each individual hurdle and the toll it takes on everyone. Hurdles pop up daily in a start-up environment, and once you get used to attacking and conquering each one of them head-on life gets easier. But, for the first few months, those consistent hurdles are a challenge – you have to just keep working through them.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “I’ll actually give you two pieces for the price of one! First, have a very clear understanding of the metrics that will validate your thesis, and figure out how to test it in the market as quickly as possible…. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring. Second, and I’m borrowing this from someone, everyone will give you advice, and 95 percent of it is wrong for your business. You need to figure out what the 5 percent is that’s right for you. That is hard enough as it is, but it’s even harder when that advice comes from people you know and trust, or people who have invested in your business. So, my first piece of advice may be totally wrong for your business – that’s up to you to decide.”

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