Startup Spotlight – Robots & Pencils – August 2012
Startup of the Week: Robots & Pencils
Move over Angry Birds, Spy vs. Spy is in town. If you’ve been hooked onto this new game on your iPhone, which is currently number 1 in the App Store, you have Robots & Pencils to thank.
Started in 2009 by power couple Michael and Camille Sikorsky, Robot & Pencils is a mobile app development company, founded with the mission to create amazing mobile experiences. They have since grown to over 85 employees around the world.
We recently caught up Michael, fondly known as “MJ”, to learn more about his company.
How did you come up with the idea for your startup?
I didn’t get the mobile market until iPhones came along. I really liked the apps on it, so much that it felt like a call. We started with two people – I’m a programmer and my wife is an artist, so we were the perfect prototype for Robots & Pencils.
Spy vs. Spy was our CTO, Paul Thorsteinson’s idea. It was his favourite childhood game. He sent me an email and I said yes – you see Paul is one of those people that you just can’t refuse. So we got in touch with First Star software, Warner bros and DC Comics, and pulled it all together.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Finding great artists and great programmers has been our biggest challenge. The best people want to have their own startups.
With Spy vs. Spy, trying to re-master it without killing the magic of the past was a challenge. So we put in the whole retro mode, but our data shows that people are playing the remastered version more.
Are there any key individuals outside of your organization that have been of great help?
Richard M. Spitalny (First Star Software), Ken Kupis and Ben Elliott (Warner Bros), Victoria Setian (DC COMICS), and Tom Ohle and Shannon Drake (Evolve PR) really helped us make Spy vs. Spy a huge success.
What’s new with your startup that we can share?
Spy vs. Spy hit number 1 in the App Store in Canada, USA, Mexico, Hong Kong, Australia and is top 5 everywhere else. We’re working on a version for Android and other mobile platforms for Christmas.
We also have an education platform coming out in the fall that will invert the education pyramid. Research shows that people are more engaged when playing games, so we’re creating a game that will provide educational content under the hood.
Personally, do you think it is more difficult to raise capital or find the right talent?
According to me it’s harder to find the right talent, but in Alberta finding capital is harder although this province is floating in money.
We need to create programs that will help people become better tech angel investors by helping them collaborate with others who are investing in tech, so the risk is reduced from co-investing and they’re not doing one-off deals.
What has contributed to your success to this point?
Try and take as much hair off the sandwich as you can. I’m constantly thinking what I can do today to reduce risk off my product. We’ve been working on Spy vs. Spy for almost eight months, but we were constantly sharing our vision with game reviewers for their feedback.
Also the people I was lucky enough to spend time with… the power of people, their ideas and their thoughts can provide unbelievable learning experiences.
What made you choose to go down the path of entrepreneurship?
I’ve always wanted to create my own products, much like an artist. I had something in me that I had to express. I got my first job right after graduating engineering. I had an entrepreneurial seizure, so I quit after five months and haven’t looked back since. I sold my first company when I was 28, so today it doesn’t feel as scary anymore.
Many people start businesses to be their own boss, but I feel as entrepreneur everyone’s your boss – investors, your team, press!
What are your thoughts on Calgary’s startup community?
People have to focus more on doing and less on raising capital. Why go to all the networking events, investment pitches, founder events when you’re not ready. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really important to network, but you need to balance. Focus first on building a great product and shipping it as fast as you can.
I think instead of events, we need more mentors who’ve been there, done that, to help startups by providing genuine feedback on their ideas, help them ship products faster, reduce complexity etc. People with real pedigree who can also write checks.
Calgary’s tech scene is starting to get a lot of attention, but we need to make sure we’re constantly picking forward.
Any thing else you’d like to add?
I would like to thank my entire team for a great job done! Also, please check out Spy vs. Spy in the App Store.
If you are working on something that could potentially change the world, we’d like to hear about it. Send us a tweet at @startupcalgary or email us at email@example.com.
Startup Spotlight is covered by Boast Capital, a Calgary-based Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) consulting firm that helps companies secure and maximize government funding to advance innovation. For more information visit BoastCapital.com or @BoastCapital.