While on my latest startup tour in Bucharest, I’ve met the Mavenhut folks who famously got a hundred thousand users within 3 months by launching a social solitaire (?) game. I couldn’t wait to see them in person.
Zoli Herczeg, my partner in hunting and crime in Romania drove me to their hiding place. Their office is in a special area in Bucharest, surrounded by tall post-communist block houses. Their modern office building sticks out like a time machine that’s been teleported there by accident. 10 gals and girls standing at the door, smoking – I shook hands friendly with each one of them, smiling and mumbling my name and trying to memorize the ten local names in return. Once finished with the operation, Elvis, our host kindly added that these guys had nothing to do with Mavenhut, they were just standing at the entrance, smoking. Making up to their office, I find myself in an all-glass place, a total of cca 20-25 people working in 3 glass-walled rooms, everywhere. You guys have such a big team already – starting a conversation. No, two of those rooms are a different company, they do outsourced development, we just happen to share the space. They might come handy in times when we’ll need a few more extra developers.
Stepping in Cristi, the other right-side of this doubly right-sided brain team. Kindly smiling, relaxed, we shook hands – I, at this time with the right guy. Elvis looks after technology and I look after business – we’re partners. Everything started in the Startup Bootcamp in Dublin, Ireland, co-located in the U2 studios in Dublin Docklands – an inspiring place. Something must have been radiating from the ground when they had this crazy idea. Same with U2.
Yes, we have more than one hundred thousand users by now – continues Cristi. We put a lot of emphasis on keeping the game living by pushing out updates, little changes every single day (!). Updates are built in parallel, we have a dev for building updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and another dev guy who covers the rest of the weekdays. This way, we push out new features every day but have 2 days to properly write code, test and deploy. Risk of failure? We don’t know what you’re talking about. Wow.
Business model? Yes, we’ve thought of it already and we know that it will come just in time – they say confidentially. Looking at facebook and a few other success stories, they are dead right – they still have plenty of time to figure out how they can create a win/win business model with over one hundred thousand and growing active (!) users. We start having a critical mass of users and start to grasp who they are and how we can give them even more fun moments. We even have plenty of paying customers. Tell me guys – I asked – what’s in the core of your business? What’s that one thing that if I’d taken out, Mavenhut would collapse? They answer without thinking much: our agility and ability to do stuff. To do the daily updates, change directions, even the fact that we’ve launched this game within 3 weeks. One more wow. For a moment, Elvis moves and his tattoo flashes out – an arm-sized MavenHut label. Determination.
Guys, what’s the age in average within the team? It depends … with or without Bobby? Without him, it’s probably 23, with him it’s statistically incorrect. Bobby, their CEO is the ex-MD of Yahoo! in Bucharest. Sorry that we couldn’t meet – next time.
Before you go, come and see the team – says Elvis. A cca 50 sqm (est. 500 sqft), rectangle-shaped, long room with a table running through in length, developers sitting on both sides like if they were doing a board meeting all day long. A guy drawing a cartoon character – kindly offering me his pen to ruin his work, another guy standing at the end of the table with a laptop high – like if he was the DJ. The laptop shows real-time statistics of Solitaire Arena. The look&feel of these stats look as professional as a large bank’s IT operations dashboard. Shoemaker’s shoe – ha?? A cupboard bookshelf at the end of the room, lot of matchboxes and little plane models. Looks like mini dream-company cars. And they compete a lot with Solitaire Arena within the team. These guys are living a dream – watch them close, they will grow big. I think, they’re looking for a 2nd-round investment right now.