Chris Wang graduated from UC Berkeley at age 19, and with a PhD in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University at the age of 22. He then went directly into building his first startup, trying out several ideas before landing on mobile games. He founded Playdom, which was acquired two years later by Disney for $563M. Eight years later, he began working on his second startup, Thundercore, a company that combines blockchain with mobile entertainment.
He shares with us his process of founding his first company and his best advice for aspiring founders - how to seize the time-opportunities, the importance of the ability to pivot and adapt to new situations, and how to find product market fit.
886: Why were you motivated to start your own company?
Chris: “Honestly, I just wanted to earn money and be able to retire early. I realized too that if I wanted to help the world, I needed to have money to be able to do that. I can put money into causes I care about, like investing in new startups that are changing the world. So I wanted to earn money young.”
886: How did you land on the idea for Playdom?
Chris: “The most important thing when deciding on an idea is to take advantage of the “時機” time-opportunity. It wasn’t that I always wanted to do games - in fact, I didn’t even start with games. I happened to start right when Facebook opened up their platform - it was a way to create apps and get a lot of users quickly. I had a lot of ideas. I‘ve tried many ideas and finally landed on games. The most important thing is that you do something that people haven’t done before. Many ideas failed before I landed on my success. If there’s an idea that could have been done 10 years ago, you have to ask yourself why it was never done before. It’s not likely that no one had thought of that idea before; it’s more likely that people tried and it failed, so you have to ask yourself why.”
“The choice is more important than the hard work. The key to my success was giving up the wrong choices, but you should only focus on one startup or one idea at one time. Each idea deserves your full and undivided attention - it’s not something you can do part time.”
886: What do you look for in a founder / startup?
Chris: The most important is that their ‘觀念’ mindset is flexible. They need to be willing to pivot - this is super super important. I don’t like founders who are extremely set on one idea. And of course, they need to be collaborative and work well with team. Product-market fit is also important.
886: What advice do you have for finding product-market fit?
Chris: “People will spend too much time thinking about product features, but they won’t know as much about their users. The most important thing before you make your product is to learn how users will react to it, so don’t be afraid of releasing an MVP early.”
“When we started, we didn’t even make games, we only made ads, and we had people do a response survey to the ads. Only after we felt like we had traction from the ads did we dare start making the actual game.”
“If you don’t have good marketing, what’s the point of having a good product? If you have an amazing product, but aren’t able to get the word out about it, there is no point in having a ground-breaking product. So if you can’t get traction, if you can’t get people’s attention, don’t bother continuing with making the product!”
886: What resources do Taiwanese startups need?
Chris: “Taiwan startups care too much about product and accelerators. From the start, people need to start thinking about the global market. Taiwan’s market is too small - do not start from the Taiwan market. It’s so easy to figure out the Taiwan market and then not know what to do next. My favorite way is to start by directly thinking about the global market.”
886: What are your major pieces of advice for founders?
Chris: “Find product-market fit early. Be willing to pivot. Instead of focusing on your competition, focus on your specific market and what your customers want. Choose an idea that was never possible to do before - seize the time-opportunity.”