There’s some shuffling in the management suite at CrowdStar, a social game company with 47 million monthly active users on Facebook.
Niren Hiro is stepping down as chief executive after less than a year in the job. Executive Chairman Peter Relan (pictured right) will take over as the new CEO.
In a joint phone interview, Relan thanked Hiro and said it was an amicable parting. Relan said, “We agreed about our larger goals but not on the path to get there. We have different visions on how to scale the business and exploit the opportunities before us.”
Hiro (pictured below), a veteran of AdMob, the hot mobile-advertising startup bought last year by Google, also said he is bullish on CrowdStar’s opportunities. He point out that it has outpaced the growth of the social-game businesses of Electronic Arts (which bought Playfish for $400 million) and Disney (which bought Playdom for up to $763 million). And he noted it has managed to grow faster than those rivals without raising any outside funding. Hiro said he will continue to advise Relan and will continue to do angel investments.
CrowdStar is unique among social game companies in that it was born from YouWeb, Relan’s incubator, but has funded its own growth through its own revenues for social games such as Happy Aquarium. That has made it an underdog compared to well-financed rivals such as Zynga, which has about six times more users on Facebook. But it has a larger audience on Facebook than many big companies. CrowdStar’s ability to stay ahead of EA and Disney is impressive, but it has only to look to Zynga to see how much more potential for growth it has.
In the past few quarters, CrowdStar launched Flash-based role-playing games It Girl and Mighty Pirates. It also began expansions into mobile markets such as Japan and started making games for Microsoft’s Bing search platform. Relan said that CrowdStar would likely pick up the pace on game introductions in 2011, with launches in Japan, mobile games, and on Facebook.
CrowdStar was founded by Suren Markosian and Jeffrey Tseng. Both remain at the company. In the spring of 2010, CrowdStar launched an ambitious hiring expansion. Besides CrowdStar, Relan’s other investments via YouWeb include OpenFeint and Sibblingz. Hiro previously worked at AdMob and joined CrowdStar in May.
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Relan said the company has 75 full-time employees and a number of consultants as well. A year ago, the company had 20 employees. Relan said it is likely that CrowdStar will double its employee count in the next year. He said the company remains cash-flow positive. But he said that it is possible that the company will consider raising outside funding in the future.
“The fact that we pulled this off without raising money is spectacular,” Relan said. “Historically, we didn’t raise money because we were scrappy and entrepreneurial. But raising money is a consideration.”
Relan said he is not looking for a permanent CEO for CrowdStar. He will likely scale back his YouWeb incubator activities in order to do the CrowdStar CEO job.
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