Skillz Through the Years: 2012-2014
In April of 2013, Skillz launched to the public on Android with ten titles and ten game studios. Now, five years later, we have just released a metrics update announcing a $200 million run-rate, 8000+ current developer partners, and other exciting stats. In celebration of our 5 year product launch anniversary, every week throughout the month of April we’ll be going back in time to reflect on key milestones that have helped the company grow to its current stature. We’re going to start at the very beginning – when Skillz was just a thought, an idea, a dream.
Skillz was founded in 2012 by Andrew Paradise and Casey Chafkin. The duo teamed up after the successful sale of AisleBuyer, the previous startup Andrew founded in which Casey was the fourth employee, to Intuit.
They created Skillz to improve the gaming industry for both players and developers. The legend goes that Andrew was playing a racing game on his phone and in a crucial point in the game, a banner ad near the controller popped up and he accidentally clicked on it. He was taken out of the game to a third-party website for an ad about a Burger King Whopper and lost the game. Andrew knew he was not the only one experiencing this negative interaction, and this moment helped fuel his lifelong gaming passion to build revolutionary technology.
As for Skillz co-founder Casey, he had also been a lifelong gamer. After he would play his best words in “Words with Friends,” he’d wait anxiously for the other player to make their move. Days would go by, and some games were eventually forfeited – but he refused to accept a forfeit as a true victory. With enough competitive drive, games become more engaging, players have more incentive to finish the game rather than letting it go unfinished for days. This is part of the reason he’s so passionate about the importance of the Skillz tournament management system and its power to transform games into full-fledged eSports.
When Andrew and Casey set out to found Skillz, they wanted to build the future of competition. They knew that if mobile games could have access to killer competitive infrastructure technology, then the top games should be able to transcend to achieve true sport status.
For the first 8 months, the company remained in stealth mode under the name Lookout Gaming. Our first office was actually in the attic of a Boston incubator called the Knight House. It was here that a small group of people worked tirelessly to build the tournament management system that has become the core Skillz product. Then, after months of planning, Skillz was launched to the public in April 2013, surpassed 1 million downloads in May 2013, and announced $5.5 million in Series A funding in June 2013.
Skillz also opened its first San Francisco office in 2013, and (with the addition of a couple new Skillzians) moved to a slightly larger office in Boston. By the end of 2013, employees including VP of Engineering Miriam, Director of Developer Partnerships David, Design Lead Matt, Lead Server Engineer Zack and Senior iOS Developer Greg joined the ranks. They shared the futuristic vision that Andrew and Casey dreamt of, and were excited by the growth potential of the industry.
Miriam likens the thrill of a start-up to a carnival ride: “It was like riding a crazy fast roller coaster at a carnival – you’re pretty sure it’s not safe, but you love the ride. It used to take about an hour to set up the entire code base and all new engineers had to ship to production on their first day.”
Looking back throughout the years, each Skillzian remembers something different.
Zack says the thing he misses most about the Boston office is Barry. He explains, “Barry was the seagull that always hung out by the window at the Boston office. He would watch us and tap on the glass. In the early days, we even put him on the company website as an honorary employee.”
Looking back fondly on his years at Skillz, Greg recalls a major fitness craze that hit the office:
“Each employee had been granted a desk budget. For some reason, many employees decided to use this money to buy a treadmill desk – the idea being that one could work while simultaneously walking on a treadmill. Predictably, the will turned out to be weaker than the spirit. Many of these treadmill desks were quickly returned. I, on the other hand, spent my budget on an Apple thunderbolt display which I still use to this day.”
Matt is proud that even as the company has grown throughout the years, it still feels like a family. He says: “This is my third or fourth startup, and it is the only company that even at 100 people, still feels close-knit and collaborative. The weekly company-wide kickoffs and annual chant competition can feel a bit cheesy, but at the end of the day these original traditions really bring everyone together.”
In 2014, Lead SDK Engineer TJ, Head of Recruiting Tom, and Senior Support Manager Chris joined the team, growing out our San Francisco office.
“We used to all sit around a laptop in San Francisco and video chat with Boston every week for company-wide kickoff and wrap meetings,” Chris reflects. “A few months after I started, we moved to a larger coworking space and debuted the portal, which was just a video feed between us and the Boston office so you could see people walking around. It may seem like a minor upgrade, but it definitely made us all feel like a more unified group.”
These longtime Skillzians had no idea that just one year later, their dreams would become a reality and they would later be able to revel in the accomplishment of being named the #1 fastest-growing company in America on the Inc. 5000. Check back with us again next week for the second installment in our Skillz history series!