Tech start-up of the week: Conker

16 Dec 2012

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Russell Banks, co-founder and CEO, Conker

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Our tech start-up to watch this week is Conker, a new games middleware venture that is on a mission to disrupt the freemium game development space by providing predictive behavioural analytics for game developers.

Conker, which was co-founded by Russell Banks, Jeff Harte and Daniel Kersten, already made the news this week when the start-up won the Lift Off competition at the NDRC, gaining an investment fund of €40,000 in the process.

Conker
was one of 15 new ventures that just finished up the latest 12-week LaunchPad start-up incubation programme at the NDRC.

Free-to-play games

So what’s the platform all about and how is Conker aiming to disrupt the gaming space?

"We’re providing a platform for game developers to increase their revenue. It’s specifically for game developers who are building free-to-play games," explains Banks.

"A lot of the games that people are now downloading on their phones or their tablets and playing through browsers, they don’t get charged and can play the game for free. What game developers try to do is have an internal economy in the game. They try to sell you goods and things like tutorials within the game. The monetisation strategy is very different," he explains.

This is where Conker is aiming to find its niche.

"We provide a tool that uses predictive behavioural analytics that allows game developers to make sure they are selling the right products to the right customer at the right time within their game," says Banks.

"Each player gets a very customised, individualised purchasing experience so that those purchases really give them the most value within the game itself."

He says the idea would be that, as game developers are developing these free-to-play games, they could integrate the Conker platform.

"We did a straw poll of a lot of the Irish game development companies here and nearly 75pc said that their next title will be a free-to-play game, so quite a lot of companies are moving in that direction."

Where it’s at

However, Banks says the only tools that game developers have to help them understand user behaviour within games are metric tools, such as Google Analytics.

"This doesn’t give an actual view of the actions that players are taking within the games," he argues.

"We’re very much focused on the grey area between the key metric points that you would normally see in an analytics tool and a dashboard.

"We’re really trying to help game developers understand what are their players are doing and why are they doing it. Then once you have established a pattern of something successful – like purchasing items and getting use from them – we then help developers to replicate that with other players."

At the minute Conker is working with four gaming companies to prove the applicability of its solution using a month’s worth of data.

"We’re proving that our prediction solution works," says Banks.

Spawned at Startup Weekend in Dublin

Proof of the value of networking events in spawning new ventures, the three co-founders of Conker first met at Startup Weekend in Dublin last March.

"The idea came from there when we formed a start-up called Prescience AI. I went to Startup Weekend with the idea of developing an artificial intelligence engine.

"During that weekend, the mentors helped us turn the idea around to create a tool to help developers increase their revenue."

He says Eamon Leonard, Engine Yard’s vice-president of engineering, came on board as an adviser in Conker following Startup Weekend.

"Over the next few months, myself, Jeff and Daniel identified that there was a market for the solution. We reached a point in May when we decided we really wanted to work on Conker full time.

The trio then decided to target the incubators as a route to securing some funding and additional mentoring. "We got selected for LaunchPad, so that was a great boost," says Banks.

Plans

Having secured the €40,000 investment fund after winning the Lift Off contest, Banks says Conker will use that funding to hire two or three developers.

As well as this, the company is looking to raise €750,000 in an investment round.

"In the last few weeks we have been out fundraising. The benefit of winning Lift Off though is that it puts you on the radar for investors," says Banks.

He says the next step is to focus on the four customers that Conker has now.

"By the end of January we want to have some results that we can send back to them. We want to be in a position where we can turn our solution into a more packaged product and look to get more people on board."

He says the company also wants to nurture a strong developer community in Ireland.

"We’re going to start giving all of our analytics tools for free to students doing game development," adds Banks, who is one of the organisers of the Dublin Beta quarterly start-up events.

He also says the company’s predictive behavioural analytics technology could have applications in other verticals.

"We have already had queries from people in banking, in telecom operations, gambling. It’s really where you are trying to understand the behaviours of people and patterns that are emerging within their behaviour. That’s where our solution can be used.

"At the moment we’re focused on games because that’s what we know and love, but we believe that we will have products that will fit into different verticals," he says.

Get networking

Finally, Banks’ advice for other aspiring self-starters is to get out and network.

"In the last 18 months I made a conscious decision to network. I believe that the most important thing you have to do as a start-up or entrepreneur is to get out, meet people, tell them what you are doing and get feedback."

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Carmel was a long-time reporter with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com