2010 was a great year and I spent it with a great company named Playdom, which was started by three young entrepreneurs about three years ago and became one of the biggest success stories in silicon valley.
On Jan 11 2010, I joined Playdom’s “special force” team led by cofounder Ling Xiao. The mission of the team was to create popular Facebook games extremely fast. The team consisted of four best engineers and two artists. Within four weeks, we released Tiki Resort, a fun virtual island building game that amassed 18 million users and reached 1.5 million daily active users! (English version reached 1.2 million DAU, Chinese version reached 400K DAU). This demonstrates how much a small but highly capable team can achieve in this fast growing space.
Playdom experience changed how I perceive technology. While in graduate school, I used to think it’s best to create most profound technology and to write the most complex algorithms. In fact, that is what I did right after graduation – I did three years of heavy weight lifting in FreeBSD kernel. Then in 2007, I realized that it’s not really how hard the technology is that matters, it’s how relevant it is. At that time, I thought WordPress, which was emerging as a popular open source blogging solution, is really relevant to many people, so I joined Automattic. Sadly, at the same time, I bypassed a chance to join Twitter. Playdom experience taught me that a technology is most useful if it’s both relevant and fun, and when it can generate a lot of revenue at the same time!
Playdom is an amazing company filled with smart and driven people. The concentration of talents is staggering – I used to walk down the hallway, and ask random engineers “did you graduate from Berkeley?”, and was sure that in more than 50% cases, the answer will be “yes, how did you know that?”. Playdom founders are elite school graduates and PhDs, so they have pretty accurate instinct to pick the right talents. In fact, that is essentially the key reason for its early success: when it only had about 30 people, it generated over $30 million revenue in the first year!
It’s not an easy decision to leave Playdom and start my own venture. Under my perfect calm appearance, I know I’m always a risk taker. In 1996, when I first came to U.S. after college, I carried two boxes, one filled with clothe the other with books, and I could barely speak any English. In 2004, I received the very first PhD in computer science in University of Denver’s 147-year history. (DU offered PhD in computer science and mathematics prior to 2004). During the past few years, I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the best entrepreneurs in silicon valley, such as Matt and Ling, and are always inspired to see how a tiny seed can grow into a giant tree.
Looks like it’s going to be a fun journey.