If you’re going to start a new game company at this late hour — even a mobile game company — you’d better do it with a veteran team. That’s the approach that Scopely, which is announcing an $8.5 million seed funding round today, has taken.
The Los Angeles company is making simple social games such as Jewels With Buddies and Dice With Buddies. Those games are clones of other popular mobile games, but the games are getting millions of users, and the people behind the Scopely social gaming platform are interesting. The founders include Eytan Elbaz, founding member of the team that build the AdSense product that turned Google into a hugely profitable company; Walter Driver, founder of O Negative Media; and Ankur Bulsara, former chief technology officer of O Negative Media and an early developer at MySpace.
That’s a pretty high-powered team. The investors include Anthem Venture Partners, The Chernin Group (headed by media executive Peter Chernin), Greycroft Venture Partners, and New Enterprise Associates (NEA).
“It’s good to have Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road stalwart investors and the hands-on investors in Los Angeles too,” said Driver. “We are at the intersection of social and mobile, with a focus on game mechanics.”
Samit Varma of Anthem Venture Partners said, “We had been tracking the Scopely team for months, so we were very interested when we had the opportunity to get involved. As we dug in further, we were really compelled by their differentiated vision of the intersection between social, mobile, and games. The team they’ve assembled and the traction they’ve seen to date is quite impressive.”
Elbaz’s involvement as chief strategy officer will raise some eyebrows. With his older brother Gil, Elbaz joined Oingo (later called Applied Semantics) in 1998. The company developed a search ad monetization technology called AdSense. They sold the company to Google and went on to serve as head of Google’s domain channel from 2003 to 2007. During that time, Google rose to dominance in the Internet search market, in no small part because AdSense generated so much revenue. Google is now making billions of dollars a year from AdSense.
The company is launching more With Buddies games with a focus on social multiplayer challenges. The games launched so far have drawn millions of user, with organic growth and high engagement levels.
“Our Dice With Buddies players check in on average about 25 times a day,” Driver said. “About 47 percent of users are active every day.”
Other participating investors include former Yahoo CEO Terry Semel; ShoeDazzle and Honest Company founder Brian Lee; Buddy Media CEO Michael Lazerow; LiveRamp CEO/Rapleaf Chairman Auren Hoffman; Red Swan Ventures; Double M Capital Managing Partner Mark Mullen; Amplify Co-Founder/Accel Venture Partner Richard Wolpert; TechStars CEO David Cohen; TechStars NY Managing Director David Tisch; Burstly CEO Evan Rifkin; Sands Capital; Factual CEO Gil Elbaz; and Aydin Senkut’s Felicis Ventures (disclosure: Senkut is an investor in VentureBeat).
The company is developing games for iOS (iPod Touch, iPad and iPhone), Android, and Facebook. At some point, the company may create a platform for developers and open it up to third parties.
The company was founded in the spring of 2011, and it now has a team of 30. It includes a variety of engineers, data scientists, and product managers, all picked from among 1,300 applicants. One of the more interesting characters is Sujay Tyle, one of the 20 under 20 winners of a Thiel fellowship, which billionaire investor Peter Thiel awards to young people who want to start companies rather than go to college. Tyle started doing serious biofuels research at age 10 and started attending Harvard University at age 14.
Tyle sent a cold email to Elbaz and then the company flew him out for an interview the next day. Dropping out of Harvard, he accepted work at Scopely after receiving a dozen offers. Tyle runs business development for Scopely.
“He might be the most-connected 18-year-old in the world,” Driver said about Tyle. “He is absolutely fearless.”