Meet Ben Woolf, founder and CEO of ANDi Games LTD.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and why you chose to take the startup route?
I didn’t have a good upbringing, this isn’t a sob story but it is true. Like many people, I dealt with hardships, including lack of support financially and emotionally. My parents were from Israel and had moved to the UK with nothing, divorcing soon after I was born.
So, let’s start when I was 15 years old, it was Christmas eve, my two older brothers had been drinking, they started to pick on me, and to make the long story short I went through a glass door and tore my elbow, they were taken to a police cell for the night while I was being stitched up in hospital.
It was that night I cried myself to sleep, promising I would never allow my life to continue the way it was, and moving forward I would give every ounce I had to succeed in everything I do living every day to the fullest.
From what I’ve seen, there are many reasons that someone chooses to become an entrepreneur.
Personally, I feel a fire inside to self-motivate, I had 13 jobs leading to University before deciding to simply volunteer and focus on myself, this was to determine what my passions are and what I am capable of. It was this moment that changed the direction of my career, not focusing on money but on creating value.
What is your proposition/product, and what differentiates it in the market?
Have you ever been in love? If so, you may understand the feeling of euphoria when you spend time with that special person, giving them time, commitment, dealing with hardships and challenges – And when you aren’t with them, they are all you think about.
Be on time! Work hard and work smart, be persistent, be prepared to sweat, feel pain and never give in.
Now, let’s take this intimate feeling and apply it to games. We all have games that we play, remember and love.
Therefore, we created Tinder for games, using conventional mobile dating mechanisms to help people match with their next obsession and manage the games they’ve downloaded, whether a casual, hardcore, social gamer or even working professional with less time.
What makes this application special is the use of Artificial Intelligence and modern machine learning in the background of the app, able to see what installs and uninstalls people make and how long they play certain games for, these games are then identified by genre and other characteristics.
The mobile game industry is currently worth over £35b, and has over 3.2 million games available with 100’s of millions of players.
To learn what experience general consumers had we developed an MVP Android app that 300 people downloaded, tracking google play usage in the background. The result showed it takes anything from 15-60 minutes to find a game that, 72% of the time, they deleted after only playing twice. External research shows that the advertising people see only works 1% of the time, meaning that 99% of games advertising does not affect choice. Extrapolating this to the rest of the mobile gaming community means 6 billion game installs are wasted every year.
So far, our system can recommend valuable games for download in under 1 minute, and these games are kept for 25% longer than our competitor, which for games developers can be a whole extra month and sometimes longer.
With this innovation, we have become partner members with the largest games associations in the UK, TIGA and UKIE. Accepted because we are disrupting the industry, providing equal opportunity amongst small to medium game development studios who are unable to scale due to financial restrictions against larger Game studio’s in the app stores, publishers and other media sites
So, if you have any games on your mobile, this is an app you could really use, to not only find games, but automatically manage them, saving storage and data while making the most of your mobile games.
What inspired you to start your own company?
During secondary school into University I tried many legitimate ideas, while volunteering in my second year of University I secured a work placement abroad which I created with an American company, chosen from 800 applicants. That meant doing the paperwork from the company to the university so it went towards my degree, visa papers, creating my position and in the end acted as an intrapreneur developing their international department across 4 countries. Since then I helped start an award-winning study abroad organisation based in Chicago, building a network of over 500 affiliates across 68 cities in 34 countries, supporting 1000’s of people a year.
During my work, I always loved technology and utilising different software’s to be more efficient, and although I had used different hardware and software I never developed it. To understand how this worked I did an online coding course and religiously followed the news. One day, my friend Samuel Koch, who had a first-class master’s degree in computer science and previously worked with Facebook spoke about our passion for games and how we noticed a lot of issues on mobile and in app stores, eventually becoming co-founders to solve what is a huge ongoing issue.
While working on ANDi in the evenings we eventually went full time and received pre-seed investment from telecommunications giant Telefonica.
Inspiration and ideas are everywhere, that’s the easiest part and most of them aren't feasible, exist or are very difficult to achieve. It’s only when you start researching, being critical and defining the vision of a company that you can make it, clarifying your why, what and how. Or, you can copy an existing idea to a new location – just as good.
What do you recommend to anyone considering starting, or joining a startup?
Although this contradicts some of my actions, good advice I received was to work in the industry first, then start your own company based around improving or disrupting all the inefficiencies.
If otherwise, DO A LOT OF RESEARCH. Einstein says it’s 95% identifying the problem and 5% creating the solution, and that is quite true. So, know your industry, know your problem,
know why you are making such efforts to change it.
Lastly, you need to be fearless, a risk taker, disobedient, smart, learning, kind, open minded, supportive and aware of everyone involved and most importantly, committed.
Are there any key learnings you’d like to share as an experienced CEO/Founder?
Be on time! Work hard and work smart, be persistent, be prepared to sweat, feel pain and never give in. You need to be ruthless but always polite to build a good network of advisors and mentors while understanding it doesn’t matter who you know, but who knows you.
A lot of lessons I learnt came from asking wealthy people about their stories and how they made their successes, then spending time with them. I would recommend finding good people to help you.
Do your best not to burn bridges, loose your cool or be rude. As the CEO or founder the culture comes from you, so be positive all the way through and always find a way to solve everything. Likewise, for a good team, you need to support them and stay level headed in tough situations or when things go wrong, you are responsible.
And generally, you will face a lot of rejection, get over it and move on – literally, no one cares.
How does growth of your business change the way you operate? Have you experienced growing pains?
In the beginning my co-founder and I were tasked to do everything and anything, all remedial task alive, trying ideas and failing to move forward.
Our roles were easier defined as I graduated with a business degree and my partner in computer science, so the roles were equally split, but you will always find that we cross over many tasks and help push each other with everything we do. As the company grows our roles became more specific, clear and focused.
As well, you hire staff to support responsibilities that you are either not able to do without serious training or cannot manage within your workflow. On top of this we developed partnerships, have volunteers, ambassadors, and built a community.
The biggest growing pain we personally have is speed, we all want to work and move faster, but as a pre-revenue company we must raise investment and push through boundaries.
What advice would you give to a startup approaching its first funding round?
Emphasis on ‘approaching’. New startups need to know when it’s the right time to fundraise, if they should and why?
Regardless, you need to be in communication with angels and investors all the time, constantly bringing more people into your network. You can have in your mind who you want to raise from but it will likely be the last person you can imagine.
An American friend of mine follows our monthly newsletter, and while in Vegas he mentioned he is ready to support our ongoing raise, that’s great! I asked if he knows anyone else we should ask, he mentioned Michael Leven, the past president of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, who own several hotels on the strip.
“Are you serious Alan?”
“Yeah, he has a lot of money and we’re good friends, no harm in trying”
I’ve personally known Mike for several years, however, we had not shared deep and meaningful discussion before and I didn’t want to waltz over asking him for money – that is insanely rude.
But my friend had a breakfast meeting with him the next morning at 6.30am, providing me the all clear to come interrupt around 7am.
So that’s my moment, I ended up staying up late the night before preparing, and in the morning made my way over to the breakfast bar at the Tropicana hotel.
I see them sitting in the distance, they have not yet seen me… But I froze. I’m scared to go over and join their table, what do I do? I feel flakey and walk in circles back downstairs and back up keeping out of eyesight until I could sum up the courage and the approach.
Instead of asking for money, which was my goal, I considered what I would say to Mike if I only had one opportunity to be personal and meaningful.
I walk over to the table and they invite me to sit mid discussion as Mike is telling a story. Before I know, 20 minutes pass by, Mike then says he is going to prepare for his flight home, and in doing so turns to me, knowing I must have a reason for joining their breakfast.
“Mike, before you go, I want you to know that over these last few years we may not have spoken much, but I listen, and still to this day you inspire me and have helped build the values that I work upon.
I didn’t want to be rude, so thought, if there was one thing I could tell you, that was it. However, my joining your breakfast did have a purpose. Alan has been following my company's progress and had said it would be worth my time asking you to help support our business financially, and I would love if you can be involved”
Mike responded, “I don’t make angel investments” (ouch) and went into what was essentially a lesson as to what he knows about raising money, investors and more. Then finishes with “but… I do give money to people I like and believe are top performers, I will give you some money toward your business”.
How does running a startup differentiate from an established business in your experience?
In some ways it’s quite similar, you work long hours and achieve targets, you’re a team player and so on. Remember, startup is the beginning phase to becoming a successful company, you must work as if you are already that business and develop foundations to allow growth.
If you take size into comparison, startups can move faster with new ideas and tests, take bolder risks, and make a lot more mistakes, break rules, not follow regulations and even wear what you want to work.
An established business has processes which you will follow as they have been set, so it does become slightly less creative as the business grows and the ability to try new ideas riskier and damaging to activity, culture or brand. This can be difficult for those who enjoy the thrill of new things, alternatively it can be a base to work from if you reach a position of authority.
Have you had a mentor during the launch of your startup? What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
I’ve had mentors and advisors for many years, even before I started ANDi. Please refer to this article for some of the great stories and advice I received when first starting my personal journey.