'A movie star for a year, and now you’re roofing houses'
A poster for the fifth annual FailCon in San Francisco.
In 2010, David Good was the co-founder of a start-up called GameCrush that was the target of much press and much investment. “GameCrush is Crushing It. Investors Agree,” claimed one article. “A start up that manages to sound both ridiculous and very promising at once,” read another. Today, GameCrush is no more, and Good has left the entrepreneurial game to work in the less glamorous and less risky world of product management. He loves it. Marketplace’s Krissy Clark spoke to Good recently, to get his reflections in the wake of a failed start up.
[Interview has been edited and condensed.]
Clark: In a couple sentences, what was the idea behind [GameCrush]?
Good: We had a way to monetize the disparity between the number of men and women playing core online video games like Halo and Call of Duty, and we also had a fairly forward-thinking idea around monetizing social interaction on the web which had never really been tried.
Clark: Do you feel comfortable with me saying GameCrush was paying girls to play video games?
Good: If you want to say it that’s okay. I’d rather not.
Clark: Tell me the short version of the story of GameCrush and the rise and fall -- if that’s a fair way to put it.
Good: No, it’s totally fair. It started as kind of a side project for me and my other two co-founders. It was something we were doing on the side for about 18 months. And then when we launched we got a lot of press, so it just blew up, and we weren’t ready for that amount of attention and we weren’t ready for that amount of traffic. We had totally bootstrapped it using an offshore development house. We just weren’t ready. So we also had the benefit of investors now pursuing us and wanting to give us money.
Clark: Because they had seen all this press.
Good: Exactly. So they thought it was a one-way ticket on a rocket ship. So now we had all this money -- I shouldn’t say “all this money,” -- we raised an angel round of about $700,000, which was enough for us to quit our jobs, hire actual developers, and try to form a real company as opposed to what we originally intended which was a little side business that kicks off some cash while we’re keeping our day-jobs.
We were doing okay; we had money coming in the door, but not enough to be the business that we had promised we would be to our investors. Which I think is one of the interesting problems is that, had we left it as a side business, I think we would have been more successful. Because it wasn’t a wildly successful idea, it was a mildly successful idea, and so I sometimes wish we hadn’t raised money and just left it as a side project and not tried to make it into this big thing that it was incapable of being.
The worst state that you can be in is this middling level of success, because it takes a ton of work just to get there and to keep that going, and you either want clarity -- “this is not worth doing, lets wrap it up,” -- or, “there’s still potential, and we’ll get there.” But this middle ground is soul-crushing.
Clark: But it’s funny because outside of Silicon Valley, it’s like, “I thought that’s what small businesses are all about.”
Good: Yeah, the organic growth, the slowly and steadily building your business. But I also think when you’re dealing with online businesses, a lot of times if you’re not successful enough, is it that the idea didn’t work and you need to pivot? Or is it that you should just be marketing it differently? You have all these decisions that you have to make about where you’re going.
Clark: So help me understand why that kind of organic growth that seems good in other businesses outside of Silicon Valley, is not embraced in Silicon Valley or doesn’t work there.
Good: Well I think the biggest question is, if you’re not making enough money to cover your costs, then at some point you have to prove to someone that they should be giving you more money. And if you can’t prove that you have that hockey stick, they’re less interested in what you’re doing, unless you can tell them a really good story. When you’re just telling them the story and you have no numbers behind it, you can tell them anything and they’re excited to believe anything and they think it’s a lottery ticket -- some of them. And they’re just kind of tossing 20 grand at you, and to them it’s not necessarily that much money. So they’re cool with making 10 investments and assuming one will pay out, and that’s kind of how the model works, but then once you have numbers, now that story isn’t there anymore and if you haven’t proven that you’re getting there, they’re going to give you more money. That’s the big difference outside of [Silicon Valley]: If you’re starting a restaurant, you’re making loan payments as opposed to asking for donations.
Clark: So if you’d kept it as a side business, you could have sustained it, because you would have had a job that was paying for your life and your bills?
Good: Right. We hit a point where we could not personally suffer the financial hit anymore. The story about going tens of thousands of dollars in to credit card debt is great when you’re looking back on it because you had an exit and you were able to pay those off. But when you have to pay those off over a couple of years from your salary, that’s not quite as sexy a story.
Clark: So you funded a lot of this with credit cards, and were in a lot of credit card debt?
Good: Oh yeah. I was smart about in that it was writing those checks that are deferred interest rate or whatever forever, so it wasn’t crushing interest rates. But at the same time it was a lot of money -- a lot of negative numbers.
Clark: The checks where it’s “Zero APR” for six months, and then you go to the next one?
Good: Yeah. And at some point they stopped sending me those.
Clark: Talk about failure in Silicon Valley -- how people perceive it, what people do when they’ve worked at a company that didn’t pan out.
Good: The start up world is especially difficult in that regard. You have to always be talking about how great things are, even to your friends, because they might know some investor or some other person. So it’s hard to actually be real about how difficult things are. And I think that creates this weird sense of isolation where you and maybe your co-founders are the only ones who feel like you really know what’s going on.
I think the people who failed and learned a lot -- obviously this is self aggrandizing, but I think the people who failed and learned a lot are very valuable. At the same time, there’s a difference between it all worked out in the end, and no, you actually just had to go back to work in a day-job and pay off your credit cards. You were a movie star for a year, and now you’re roofing houses.
It’s tough -- and I think the world would benefit from people talking about how difficult it really is when you just completely fail. That you are losing a lot. You’re losing a few years of your life. You’re kissing your social life goodbye, your romantic life goodbye. There’s a certain romance to that -- like it’s us against the world and we’re making all these sacrifices. But when it doesn’t pan out, you’re left with a steaming pile of nothing.
Clark: So after GameCrush ended, now you have a job that you’re excited about. What was the gap in between -- what was happening then?
Good: I took six months off to write a young adult fiction novel.
Clark: What’s the book?
Good: It’s a dystopic, post-apocalyptic young adult fiction novel… That seems oddly appropriate.