Thursday, May 18, 2006
Interview with Josh Fisher, Co-founder, Urbaniacs.com
Our interview this morning is with Josh Fisher and Barry Collier, co-founders of Urbaniacs.com (www.urbaniacs.com), an online web site that combines casual gaming with online social networking and which seems to be getting good traction with families and the younger set. I spoke with Josh and Barry to understand the site, the idea behind it, and where the company is in terms of funding and stage.
Ben Kuo: Why don't we start by talking a little bit about Urbaniacs.com -- what's the web site about, and what does it offer to users?
Josh Fisher: I'm mainly the creative force behind Urbaniacs, Barry Collier is mainly the technical side of the site, but the whole thing is the collaboration of both of us. Urbaniacs is a casual gaming social community. It's not a MMORG, the way we position ourselves is as a bridge between Neopets and MySpace. We have a lot of casual gaming elements, role playing elements, but also have a tremendously loyal, family-friendly community that has been extremely supportive of the site. Everything we've done with the site, and all the growth we've seen with the site has been absolutely viral--we have no marketing budget whatsoever. It's just been word of mouth.
When you first sign on, what you do, is create an avatar-. You can customize your head, your torso, and your legs from any of our core characters, and that becomes your "Urbaniac." You train, you have player versus player battles, you can have different challenges, and there's a lot of social interaction that goes on back and forth. We encourage users to create their own story. There's a little bit of an underlying story. Our target audience is 13- to 18- year olds. Almost sixty percent of our users are between 13 and 18. We're finding that lots of people who aren't quite ready for MySpace, or who aren't interested in the sex and flirting, they really like Urbaniacs because we keep it family friendly. Younger kids really find Urbaniacs kind of cool, and very funny, and adults have a comfort level with Urbaniacs. We actually find there are lots of families on the site. I play a character on the site "Mayor DaMan", and I talk with parents and kids on the site--and you find kids "battling" their Moms on their site--it's very family friendly in that way. We're a combination of a social community and a casual gaming site.
BK: Where did the idea come from for the site?
JF: So the idea basically started out as a toy concept. Barry and I live across the street from each other, and we both moved into the neighborhood within a month of each other. I've been producing animation for ten years. Barry was the lead developer with Neopets in 2001-2002, and implemented lots of the things that allowed Neopets to grow. I had the idea for some toys that you could customize and create, and wanted to build a website to sell them. I started talking to Barry about it in a very casual way, and the more we talked about it realized we didn't have to limit ourselves to just building the toys, we could build an entire world. We figured out that between the two of us we had all the tools necessary to do it. So, just for fun--we just started doing it. When we first started doing it, about a year ago, you could log on to the site, you could create a character, and you could play tic-tac-toe. A couple of hundred people joined. Piece by piece by piece you could do a little bit more. We have the intent to raise some capital--either angel or VC--to be able to grow Urbaniacs in a lot of incredible and unique ways. Barry and I each have unique experience building and shaping successful brands. We both feel confident that with the right investor partner this would will take off into something huge.
BK: Where are users hearing about your site?
Barry Collier: The majority of this is organic at this point. We do have a low rotation Google Ad that runs currently, but that only accounts for 10 to 15 percent of our registration. Most of it is user referrals, site referrals, sites that find our content -- whether it's our games, links to us -- we have a lot of games features on sites like About.com and things like that. That also is accounts for a lot of the registration so far. It's been organic up to this point, and we have been saved our resources from advertising while we've been developing this through the organic route.
BK: You mentioned your Beat Blaster/music mixer application--tell me a little bit about that?
JF: We're in the process of beta testing a proprietary music mixer, which we think is really really cool. It's unlike anything else out there. Basically, there will be over 50 different loops you can choose from, constructed from the same beat rate, so you can customize your own "theme song" in a thousand different ways. You can sell your theme song to other characters for online currency. The cool thing about it different than any other music mixer is you can email us an MP3 or SWF that you can customize and sing, and you can have your own theme on Urbaniacs with you singing--which we think is really cool. Eventually we'd like to partner with music labels and others to be able to let them buy and sell newer artists. It's built to expand and not only include proprietary music, but other music as well. We're also rebuilding the Urbaniacs home page, which is the Urbaniacs version of MySpace, which has a lot of personal information on it, and allow you to use it as a home page online. There will be a place for you to put up YouTube videos, or StupidVideos. We also have a really funny song called RumpRuckus, which is a really funky song made of all these fart noises, and we have had a huge response. We're will be challenging the users to build their own music video from the song. So we'll have a place for music there, making this a total entertainment site.
BK: How do you make money from the web site?
JF: We have some banner ads, and we are now approaching partners for immersive advertising. For example, one of the things we'd like to do is partner with Coke or Full Throttle and build and integrate their products. For example, you could go into a store and buy a Coke, and in a player vs. player battle you could use it and it could double your power, or have a physical purpose on the site. That's one of the things that enabled NeoPets to grow in such a spectacular fashion. Because of Barry's experience at Neopets what we did is built our characters and our site to better handle that. We've also talked about some kind of advanced subscription/premium service but that's somewhere down the road in the future a little bit.
BK: Where are you in terms of stage -- it looks like you're out looking for funding?
JF: We're looking for funding, and a partnership. The money is the thing that will enable us to grow, we've got all the tools necessary to grow.
BK: Thanks for the interview, the site looks great. Thanks!