Soon-to-be UT grad has offices in Austin, Manila and Sydney
Imagine that you have not yet earned your bachelor’s degree and you already have an established company with offices in places like Sydney, Australia and Manila, The Philippines in addition to Austin, TX.
This is the reality of the life of Aron Beierschmitt, a soon-to-be University of Tennessee political science graduate, who says he was first turned-on to entrepreneurship by his Oak Ridge High School economics teacher.
In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, Beierschmitt described the roughly two-year “ride” that he has experienced since he started Foundation Mobile Games in February 2010. The inspiration for the company was Beierschmitt’s observation that “smart phones were the first computer devices to “literally be attached to an individual 24/7.”
“The sheer amount of potential products and services that could be delivered through that mechanism drove me to start a mobile company,” he said. That company later modified its focus and changed its name to simply Foundation Games.
Foundation is Beierschmitt’s first start-up, although it is not his first idea for a company. One was an idea that would compete with Facebook. Beierschmitt distributed messages about his idea on LinkedIn and received three responses. One person told him to never contact him again. A second did not understand his idea. The third was an individual from Brazil who said, “Let’s talk,” He ultimately did not invest, but the two continued to communicate, and the Brazilian is now an investor in Foundation.
Beierschmitt’s second idea was a localized version of “PriceGrabber” for China and India.
“I really got nowhere near a company with these two ideas,” he said. “They were merely products I hoped to build.”
Fast forward a few years, and Beierschmitt is a UT sophomore in mechanical engineering whose goal is to get a dual master’s degree in engineering and business when the Apple App Store opened. This became the proverbial “defining moment” in his still young life.
He remembers early 2010 – February 23 to be exact. It was the date he launched his latest journey – Foundation, “a pivotal moment in my life because really four years of persistence had finally led me to secure funding for an idea,” Beierschmitt said.
When he founded the company, Beierschmitt said that he was focused on “mobile gaming,” and he immediately started work to secure a gaming license for the company and its initial product – Dropple.
“While we were developing Dropple, I approached the ORNL Federal Credit Union to build their mobile banking application,” he said. “At the time, I believed we could offer a turn-key solution for credit unions across the nation to provide a comprehensive mobile banking suite.”
Admitting that “I was not a huge video gamer – my mom never let me play too many games as a kid,” Beierschmitt said that he realized “you can take anything you can imagine” and make it into a game. “The drive to gaming for me was the ability to create a world from nothing and share it with other people.”
Over the next few months, he came in second in a UT business competition and won $3,000. Beierschmitt took his prize money and secured $10,000 from the Brazilian with whom he had kept in contact since his initial start-up when he was only 16. He quickly started developing games from the licenses that he had already secured.
To continue pursuing his vision, Beierschmitt leveraged connections an uncle in Texas had to game developers and secured his first real seed investment dollars from Treyarch. With the licenses and additional funds, he launched his first game – “Dropple” – in August 2010.
“It wasn’t the instant success I hoped for,” he admitted. The video game initially received ratings of three out of five in online evaluations, but Beierschmitt was able to make improvements that moved “Dropple” to ratings of five out of five because we grew as a company, adding designers and artists.
Armed with his early success, Beierschmitt acquired the license to convert an existing Facebook application called “Ravenwood Fair” to an application for Apple devices and, with that acquisition, secured another round of seed funds from the same set of initial investors.
Beierschmitt describes 2011 as a “crazy year.” Foundation grew from just Beierschmitt and an occasional contractor to 20 people as the company secured another round of investment funds and “Dropple” downloads grew. Offices were opened in Sydney – “the gaming business died in the big studios there and (art and design) talent became available” – and Manila (programming). The latest game – “Lumi” – was released in December.
If 2011 was “crazy,” it appears that 2012 could be even “crazier.” Beierschmitt expects to graduate at the end of the summer semester, not in mechanical engineering or with the double master’s but in political science. He’ll become Foundation’s full-time Creative Director. A new version of “Dropple” will be released within the month followed within another 30 days by the revised “Ravenwood Fair.” Foundation has plans to move from just Apple apps to Android as well. There’s a proposal from an Asian company to launch “Lumi” merchandise. And, there’s an opportunity in Singapore to explore that could provide Foundation with a launch point into the Asian market.
Then there’s the decision of where Beierschmitt and the company will be based. While he “absolutely loves Knoxville,” he readily admits that he cannot find the talent to develop games here that he can in Manila, Sydney, possibly France and certainly Austin and Raleigh. In response to what do those cities have that Knoxville does not, Beierschmitt says that “a great engineering mind or 3D CAD artist cannot simply jump into gaming. They have to understand the psychology of developing an experience. This particular talent is just not available in Knoxville.”
“Much as people go to film school, they are now going to gaming school,” he explained.
Beierschmitt says that he is “still incredibly naïve but has learned a lot.” Yet, he can clearly and succinctly discuss issues and opportunities in the gaming industry. He notes that there are one billion smartphones worldwide now, and the number is expected to grow to three billion by 2015 as emerging countries bypass land lines and go straight to other technologies.
“Gaming is going the way of ‘Software as a Service,’” he says, adding that more and more games will be downloaded for a tryout. “The conversion rate (from tryout to purchase) is the key,” he explained.
“The industry is so crazy, so now is a good time to enter,” Beierschmitt believes. His long-term goal is simple – “we want to be a Zynga but better by building compelling and memorable experiences for users.”
And, he’s still in college!