“It Scares Me, Daily”: How a 21-Year-Old Brought a Game Company to Life

December 15, 2011

11:30 am

Starting three years ago, entrepreneur Justin Beck helped transform a gaming hobby into a 37-person company with $180,000 in revenue per month. And now, at 24, he’s already turning his thoughts to charity and community.

Beck started coding as an early teenager and built an unsuccessful Craigslist competitor with one of his high school teachers. Later, he interned at Google and was impressed by the startup mentality in Silicon Valley.

He met cofounder Andrew Hanson in an engineering class at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. For fun, they worked on a small, “bad” PC game and decided to build another. This became Parallel Kingdom, a location-based social game full of medieval adventures that has enticed more than 800,000 players.

While finishing college, Beck struggled to find the right path for their bootstrapped business, PerBlue, by experimenting with different genres and games. He himself did everything from marketing to product design and engineering.

“The way I see my CEO role of a bootstrapped business is you do anything that the company needs. Whatever bridge is burning at the moment is what you need to put your focus in so the whole company doesn’t fold,” says Beck.

He adds, “The real truth from my view is there’s not a thing in entrepreneurship that’s not hard.” That includes everything from finding a core team who will work for little or no pay, to bug-fixing, to settling on a long-term strategy.

But Beck must have done something right, because PerBlue started earning revenue in 2009 and picked up $800,000 from angel investors the following year. With so many entrepreneurs focused on disruptive products, he was surprised at how successful a niche product could be.

“I think everyone always has a dream of their company becoming the big, real deal,” says Beck. “But it kinda scares me on a daily basis when I look at all the people we now employ and all the different things we’re able to do and the revenue lines that are coming in.”

With PerBlue standing on its own feet, Beck is now encouraging his users to help others. PerBlue donated money to feed Kenyan children in September and poor families on Thanksgiving. “The attitude I have is, ‘Why not?’ I know our players love it,” says Beck, who encourages other small businesses to do their small part. He is also catalyzing his local community with Capital Entrepreneurs, a Madison-based organization that offers mentoring, networking events, and pitch panels.

While Beck is in no rush to be done with PerBlue, you may find him toiling away on a second startup in five years or so – and probably shocked at its success, too.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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