‘Like’ and ‘Share’: How One Game Developer’s Hunt For Success in The Social Sphere Paid Off

By Stefanie Neyland, Small Business Content Developer at BizLaunch.com


If you’re reading this now, it’s more than likely that—as an Internet user—you’re on Facebook.

The number of people with an account on the site worldwide has now reached epic proportions, with approximately 1.19 billion active users registered in 2013. But the mind-blowing data doesn’t end there. On a daily basis, there are 4.5 billion Facebook ‘likes’, 350 million photos uploaded, and a total of 20 billion minutes spent on the site globally per day (source). Not bad going when you consider that the site is completely blocked in China, the country which boasts the world’s largest population.

While most of us are on Facebook, the reasons we why we use the site vary greatly from person to person. Do you use it to stay in touch with long-lost friends? To share photos? To chat with loved ones? Most people are active for one of those reasons, but others use the site for a different reason altogether: the enrapturing games. From Candy Crush to Farmville and even Texas HoldEm Poker—Facebook games mean big business, and game developer Bryan Freeman, co-founder of HitGrab, shrewdly capitalized on the profitable world of social media recreation in 2008. Today we sit down with Brian and get the lowdown on HitGrab’s most popular gaming title, the aptly-named Mouse Hunt, and hear what exciting plans he has for the company in 2014.


Bryan, your entrepreneurial journey has been so unique. What was it that first inspired you to start your own business?

BF: I felt like it was a call that needed an answer. When I first came to Canada from South Africa, I was working at a dotcom, but then I started doing some marketing work on the side to earn a few extra dollars. I immediately saw the huge potential of running an online business, and so myself and HitGrab’s co-founder, Joel Auge, started earning seed money to fund a new venture. We started out doing some web-based experiments to see what stuck, and after dabbling in a few different areas, we started working on Facebook development and noticed there was a bigger opportunity in creating games for them. One night we came up with a concept about catching mice, and when we shared it with everyone at the office they thought we were mad. But, after the initial shock the team saw the potential for the game and we then set to developing it.


How did you get your business off the ground?

BF: I started out working at a startup and used this time as my education. During my time spent at this company I would do my work for them during the day and run my own business at night and over weekends, and within a few months, I was earning more from my work on the side than I was from my actual job. The game’s revenue model is similar to many online games; it’s completely free to play, but players have the option to buy additional features if they want an enhanced gaming experience.


Who is your ideal customer?

BF: The truth is that we don’t actually have an ‘ideal’ customer. In fact, I was shocked when I learned about the diversity of our paying audience. In Singapore, for instance, we have an audience that’s really young, in the United Kingdom we have an audience that primarily consists of middle-aged women, and in the Unites States it’s a completely mixed bag. The power of the Internet means that the world is now flat, so we’re able to have customers of all kinds across the globe.


What makes your business unique?

BF: I think the widespread appeal of our games, particularly Mouse Hunt, makes us unique. As our employees began sharing the game with their friends and family, the game suddenly went viral and more and more people started joining from all over the world. In the case of our business, we also only get paid if our customers like our products, so that makes us unique.


What is your secret to ‘making more happen’?

BF: Delegation. We can’t all be good at everything, so the trick is to outsource the tasks you don’t like or aren’t so good at. For example, managing people and budgets are probably my biggest challenges in business, so I try to find someone to take care of those tasks for me.


What has been your greatest achievement so far?

BF: I would say my greatest achievement so far has been being able to provide for my family while still being able to pursue my own dreams. Also, as a business we’ve been lucky enough to have won several grants—the most exciting of which was being awarded one of only five coveted $250,000 grants from Facebook.

What marketing channels have worked best for getting the word out about your business?

BF: We actively try and engage with our audience through social media, which we believe helps them feel connected to us, and in turn will encourage them to share our games with their network of friends. All in all, social media has proved to be a very successful marketing channel.


What’s the best thing about owning your own business?

Definitely the flexibility that comes with being able to manage your own time. I also like that I get to make the big and important decisions that will ultimately lead to the success or failure of the venture.


How has your business evolved over time?

We really had no idea what we were doing for the first four or five years, but over the last couple of years, we’ve really begun to understand our potential and we’re working on reaching it. HitGrab is set for tremendous growth in 2014.


Is running your business harder than you thought it would be?

BF: For me personally, running my own business is much more stressful than I’d imagined—you never switch off. That being said, the hard parts are what make the good parts so rewarding.


To what do you attribute your success so far?

BF: My faith, being in the right country, and working on products in markets that are currently exploding. Right place, right time.


What are your goals for the future?

BF: We made some strategic shifts in 2013, and we expect those changes to help us grow exponentially 2014. Watch this space!


What’s the most important item you buy at Staples?

BF: There are three important items we regularly buy from Staples: paper, printer supplies and computer hardware. Without each of these things, our business wouldn’t be able to run as smoothly as it does.


What is your must-have Staples product?

BF: Coffee! For those long nights spent working that all business owners undoubtedly have.


What advice would you give people who want to start their own business?

BF: The markets available and today’s online infrastructure make starting a business in this day and age easier than ever. Using a lean startup methodology, I would suggest any aspiring entrepreneurs prove their concept and try to build an operating income as quickly as possible.


By Andrew Patricio

December 30, 2013