The Counter Strike: Global Offensive final in Krakow Poland was attended by 173,000 people. The DOTA 2 tournament in Seattle was for a prize pool of $24 million. And the League of Legends World Championship 2019 opening ceremony looked like this. Do you feel the thrill? This is eSports — where legends never die.
In the year 2018 I found myself working at a software company in healthcare, everyday I worked around developers and the more time I spent with them, the more perplexed and interested I became. At the time I knew nothing about coding or programming. I wanted to learn how to do what developers do, not professionally but to experience the frames of mind and the challenges of creating something digitally. So I went to a Coding Bootcamp for Full Stack Development just for fun.
The Coding Bootcamp Experience
It wasn’t fun. I suffered. So many new concepts, frameworks, technologies, rules, paths and ways of doing a solution for the same problem. Long hours practicing, studying (more dying than anything else, really) and creating. The price of becoming a Full Stack Developer. While I did learn a lot and created 50+ new projects, it became clear to me that I didn’t want to be a Full Stack Developer. The Bootcamp lasted 6 months and for the last project before graduation, we were tasked to form groups and create an original idea or product.
This product had to be functional, we needed to be able to create a demo out of it and we would present it to other professionals and a visiting jury — like a science faire but for our ugly projects. I gathered with a group of gamers for this one. Awesome people. One night we were talking about online gaming and how it was a pain that when you want to play competitive, your teammates usually suck or lack ability and mentality or are not as competitive as you or the internet just isn’t cooperating (any excuse but me being bad at the game, like excuse me?).
So we thought: What if…there was a matchmaking app for gamers? Like, you open the app, add the filters you want to apply for a perfect match (positive KDA ratio, medals acquired, win/loose ratio, competitive level, etc) and then BAM! a whole list of people looking for groups with the same needs and capacities as you. *cries in gamer happiness*
It was a matchmaking app for eSports gamers. I wrote an article about What are eSports? and, although it’s in spanish, you’ll find there all about the industry. When talking about eSports think of:
- First Person Shooters (FPS), for example, CS:GO
- Real Time Strategy, like Starcraft II
- MOBAs (Multi Online Battle Arena), e.g. League of Legends
- Battle Royal. Like Fortnite
These games require mental ability and reflexes to be able to play and compete. When we were done creating our first iteration, it was like a frankenstein-ish product since the four of us did a different part of it from our own repos and then uploaded it to the main one. But it worked…kinda. We had a “happy path” for the demo to be shown. We also had to name the product — we wanted to name it with something that represented the idea, the nostalgia of early gaming, the essence.
“What about looking for group?” Too long. “Does LFG land?” Looks better, already taken. We were running out of ideas. Back in early World of Warcraft, looking for groups or teammates for dungeons and other big adventures you would use channels (e.g. /looking for group: “type message”) but if you ran out of luck, one would run to a main city and just /yell: “IM LOOKING FOR GROUP!!”
“What if we call it Yell?” Yeah…it sticks! Easy to pronounce (english and spanish), short, keeps the essence…we all loved it. Yell: the matchmaking app for eSports gamers was born.
Yell 1.0: The demo that proved the idea
Summer 2018 was here and the day had come for the Product Demo Day. Scary stuff. We assigned roles to each team member since each of us was really good at something: One teammate was going to sell the idea of the matchmaking app as a prelude, I was trusted with the Product Demo Experience, our other two teammates were tasked with explaining the technical details and answering the technical questions for the jury and other visitors.
There’s this saying that “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you launched it too late.”. We must’ve been super fast launching it because our baby gave us plenty embarrassment. Even with it’s defects, many visitors asked us interesting questions: “when is it going live?”, “can I already use it?”, “how do I download this app?”, “does it include (insert your favorite game here) on the games list?”
This was a surprise and a relief, what was even better was that people gave us feedback on how to make the UI more friendly and what type of search and connect features they would love to have. This is why demos are great selling tools — you understand better the audience, they give you feedback on what they like and dislike, and in the process you learn if you are nailing or failing your Jobs to be Done.
While speaking with one specific teammate (who latter on became a co founder, let’s call him Patrick) before the event, we discussed the real possibility of marketing the app as a legit business opportunity. So we tasked ourselves to gather as many potential investors contacts as we could. By the end of the night each of us had at least 4 quality contacts (a total of 8). But then I stumbled upon one person who was specially curious about the product. He enjoyed the demo, and proceeded to give tough feedback on usability, functionality and the so called jobs to be done. He also asked tough questions: “how many daily active users do you have?”, “how are you planning on making money?”, “Does it have a gamification function?”, “What are some MAU goals you have?”, “What other functionalities do you have on the product roadmap?”.
At first I was annoyed because I was not ready for this questions, we didn’t even think so far ahead. But I work at sales for a living, so I identified the profile of the person we were having a conversation with and adjusted my approach. This was a true angel investor. My focus in the conversation changed to learning why would he invest in this, what is he looking for, what else does he know about the industry and other players that we don’t. It became almost like an ideation session.
“Here’s my card. Currently I’m the CIO of Arca Continental and we’re looking to invest in digital products that have potential. I’ve been searching into the eSports industry and there’s interesting market opportunity in gaming apps and sponsorships. I like your idea, send me an email to see what we could work together.” Jose Guereque. Woah, did not expect the night to go like this. I immediately went to get super drunk. Just kidding, I went design sprinting.
Creating an MVP for Yell
After the event, Patrick and I understood that there was business potential here. So we called the rest of the team to gather at a local Starbucks to discuss this and how we could do it. As it turns out Patrick had previous experience with creating Strat Ups — he had a product idea for an App, gathered the group of developers, created the app, did several investment rounds and even got to pitch the idea in Sillicon Valley. I was impressed and thought “man am I working with the right founder for this” (don’t forget this line…).
Patrick and I had already gathered information on the industry, other possible competitors, similar digital products in the US & Mexico and worked on an idea of what we envisioned Yell to be. We discussed it with the rest of the team but they didn’t really want to be part of it, even though they liked it, it wasn’t their vision. So we decided to work together on the business plan for Yell.
We followed this structure:
- Why: We seek to connect passionate gamers with other gamers with the same love for the game.
- How: Through a virtual community that allows them to know the performance, behavior and motivations of the players.
- What: A platform focused on the matchmaking experience for players.
- CANVA Business Model
After this we focused on creating our customer profile mixing new and “old” methodologies:
And then we created a Tweet Pitch in 140 characters:
Name of your project + “is developing” + product + “to help” + market segment + problem + “with” + value proposition
Yell is developing a platform to help gamers and teams connect with other players with the same passion for the game with a unique matchmaking experience.
So we had our hypothesis of the customer segment and the market. It took us a while to do the research and to figure out how to create the Business Model Document. Just a piece of paper — well, a word document. The next step was to test it. For this step I suggested we use the Jobs To Be Done methodology so we could better understand how our ideal customers would actually use the product (and also understand if the segment was the right one). We did several interviews and focus groups with people that fit our previously defined segment.
Discovering the Job to de done
Understand when to “hire” or “fire” a job: Extracting the first thought. This helped us see what was happening on their minds, what would pull them to a solution to their problem, what anxiety the problem caused them and what could make them stay with the current way of solving their issue.
Looking at this story we were able to build a timeline from the first thought to consuming a new solution. So a first iteration of the job to be done was:
People hire YELL to do the job of improving matchmaking every time the gamer is looking for a partner when playing video games. The other applications for this job are eSporsify, Battlefy and Dream Team but my product will always get improved search and connection experience for the job because of its unique approach to the experience of matchmaking.
Getting Customers to Switch
In this step we basically focused on understanding and planning around 2 things:
- Increase the push away to their current solution while increasing the magnetism to our product
- Decrease the fear and uncertainty of change to the new solution while decreasing their attachment to the status quo
Job Stories for Features
When I am looking for partners to have a productive gaming session I want to find players at the time I want them and with the right context so that I can be sure that I will play with someone competent and trustworthy.
The Productive layers of Yell
- Useful: Connect passionate gamers with other gamers with the same love for the game
- Usability: Have visibility of the behavior, statistics and reputation of the player
- Desirability: 1) Be recognized by the community, 2) build your player career, 3) access to exclusive tournaments, events and prizes
Yell Subscription Model
We basically identified 3 user types:
- Free version: the new way to do matchmaking
- For teams: type of game, type of ranking, type of “roles” available
- For Players: improved experience, search and connect, social image, and improved skills
Perfect! After several weeks of investing time and energy (and several coffees with monster energy drinks) we had a robust case for what Yell could do as a legit business opportunity. Patrick suggested it was time to pitch the business idea to possible investors and accelerators to obtain investment for the development and launch of the product. That was the next goal.
Startup Studio Monterrey
Remember Patrick had already been through a Start-Up-Launching process? Well he made it through Start Up Studio — an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Studio that supports entrepreneurs and accelerates technology-based startups. The idea was to pitch Yell to the owners of this place so that we could be selected to their program.
If you are one of the selected teams, you’ll have 4 months access to a world-class acceleration methodology, space (coworking), resources, tools, mentoring, networking, bonding (investors and Industry)… in short, everything what you need to accelerate your startup by validating its potential, launching its P&S to the market and gaining traction. Sweet stuff!
We met with the guy to talk to in Star Up Studio, Mario. Brilliant guy, very though too. We went to pitch Yell and show our business model. He provided us with feedback and confirmed to us that the business model was appropriate but it needed an MVP, a list of users willing to pay for the idea (not just the product) and a test in the market before actually being invested in to be accelerated. We worked with Mario and his team to define a road to launching Yell:
- Build an MVP. Create a first version that enables you to actually solve the problem without building the app.
- Validating the concept. With the MVP you have to be able to build your first 100 user base, a 10% is willing to pay for it.
- Build the first iteration of the product. Build a second version to be launched and do a first click test.
He also introduced us to another Start Up that was in the same process as us: GameWars. For the next weeks we worked with the Start Up Studio team and the coaching of the GameWars founder to achieve this milestones. And it was at this point that it seemed things were going great, that it started to fall apart.
I was laser focused on achieving the milestones that the Start Up Studio team asked of us, I was really passionate about the idea and wanted to pursue the opportunity. Patrick wasn’t so thrilled about it anymore, it seems he expected to gain immediate buy-in from the studio — so he progressively started showing up less, not participating on the MVP, ghosting.
I could understand if he really wasn’t interested anymore but every time we talked, he suggested it was the best idea and we should pursue it together. But when I asked for a compromise or for a deliverable on the MVP, nothing happened. So I continued to do an MVP to obtain the users:
What I did was create an AirTable in which gamers (Halo players, specifically) would enter their contact information and specify availability, level of skill, why are they playing, rank, and what type of partner they were looking for. A repository of gamers in which you could enter the AirTable and contact whoever you wanted, according to your own filters. Simple but it proved the concept. Next step was to prospect every social group of Halo players I knew and could encounter on Facebook and reddit.
It took a while but by the end of a couple of months we reached more than 100 users on the AirTable. Milestone one done!! After a few calls and messages to the gamers on the list, turns out that about 15% were willing to pay. Milestone two complete…
After a while I heard from a friend who was in the circle of Start Up investing in Mexico that a certain Start Up a few years back had raised money to develop an app and go to Sillicon Valley to pitch the idea to more investors and accelerate it’s growth. Turns out that the Project flopped because the founder only dedicated itself to promote and pitch the idea, hired the developers but never started the process of building the app. The Start Up sold smoke. Guess who was the founder?
The last milestone was to build the first functional iteration of Yell and do the First Click Test. I started coding the App myself but the technical challenge was big and it required expertise on app development that I didn’t have. That’s when I decided I needed help from a true developer.