It’s a SmallWorld after all
We had a real treat last night at the Spark IT Roadshow. Mitch Olson, the founder of NZ’s largest online social game (7 million users!) - came to speak. Mitch gave us an outline of his career path, what he’s done with SmallWorlds and how he moved into the gaming world.
Mitch Olson at Spark’s IT Roadshow
SmallWorlds is an online social world targeted mostly at teens. It is similar to SecondLife, but runs entirely in your web browser. Users can interact with each other, build a home, customise their avatar, and purchase things like in-game TVs which let you watch YouTube videos with other players in the game.
As you see from the photo, before building SmallWorlds, Mitch started out on some old school equipment (the first one, which I missed a picture of, was an old punch card machine… and I thought my old 286 was ancient!). A huge difference from today’s computers. One of the first key things I remember though was Mitch’s emphasis on finding a co-founder. Mitch founded SmallWorlds with Darren Green, a fellow computer science grad. The combination of the two, both with expertise and passion in the same area, made for an excellent team.
"Do exactly what you love doing, and find a way to get paid for doing it…"
Another thing that really struck me was Mitch’s passion. You can really tell that he loves what he does, and can’t think of any better career to have. Mitch tells a story of a graduate they tried to hire. After going through piles of applications, they settled on one person - who had the perfect combination of creativity and analytic expertise. After proudly offering this grad the job, they were turned down… for a bank. “A bank!?” Mitch exclaims, with a mix of surprise and incredulity. “Ah well,” he shrugs, “hopefully that worked out for him.” You could see the question on everyone’s faces, who would choose working in a bank over being part of one of NZ’s most exciting game dev companies?
Mitch also spoke of his belief in the kiwi innovative streak, and the knowledge we have some really amazing people doing cool stuff in NZ’s IT world. It is this belief that led Mitch to start the Gamedojo, which is a co-working and accelerator programme for fledgling game development companies in NZ. I’m very keen to see some of the Gamedojo graduates and what they go on to achieve.
The message really for me was that kiwis can really do big things. As Mitch mentioned, with just a laptop and an internet connection, someone way over on this end of the world can create incredible value. SmallWorlds has been featured on TechCrunch, Mitch has been intervewed by Fast Company, and gave a pretty inspiring mini-talk at last year’s ICE Ideas Conference.