THE ENTREPRENEURS: Brad Dwyer
founder, Hatchlings Inc.
Friday, November 23, 2012 7:00 AM
• Age: 23
• Previous endeavors: Built the website “docx-converter.com”; Ran a web development business in high school.
Brad Dwyer sometimes wears a T-shirt with a Facebook logo on it, which is somewhat fitting.
Dwyer, like Facebook Inc. founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, dropped out of college to run his own technology startup company. And his company, Hatchlings Inc., relies heavily on Facebook to operate. Surely he’s been compared to Zuckerberg before, right?
“Everybody says that,” said Dwyer, who actually met Zuckerberg in passing at a developers conference. “I’d love to be an entrepreneur of that caliber someday. I don’t know if Hatchlings is my ticket to becoming a billionaire, but I’m certainly having a good time doing it.”
Hatchlings’ namesake product is an online game operated on Facebook’s platform. Dwyer describes it as the world’s largest Easter egg hunt. Players try to collect as many eggs as they can and can compete against other Facebook friends or players. Dwyer launched “Hatchlings 2” on July 1, at which point the original version of the game had a total user count of more than 3.7 million.
Dwyer made it a goal for himself, when he was in high school, to never have a “real job.” His first venture was running his own Web development business while still in high school. He continued working on Web development as a student at Iowa State University, launching a website called “docx-converter.com.”
He made what he considers one of his biggest mistakes by selling that site, which he says ended up being profitable. But Dwyer kept working on projects to fill his weekends.
That’s where “Hatchlings” was formed, and it took off quickly, gaining 1,000 users after a week of existence.
The game started making money right away from banner advertisements, Dwyer said, and he also discovered that people would pay real money to buy virtual eggs, and even pay for a premium membership for extra game features.
He spent a couple of years working on “Hatchlings” while attending classes, but then decided that it was time to focus entirely on the game. Dwyer saw an opportunity, and decided to take it while the window was open.
“It would have been a shame to throw that away,” he said. “I had a business that was generating a significant amount of profit at that time, way more than I would have made had I gone to work for a company. It’s not as secure of a job as going to work at IBM or Microsoft, but it’s a heck of a lot more fun. It was the obvious choice to make at that time.”
In the 2 1/2 years since Dwyer left Iowa State, “Hatchlings” has continued its success. Dwyer now has seven employees working on the product, and the team earlier this year launched a beta version of “Hatchlings 2.”
He’s enjoying the entrepreneurial lifestyle. Dwyer spent a year traveling the world and working remotely before coming back to Iowa to live near Lake Panorama.
Beyond being his own boss, Dwyer says he is driven by his desire to give “Hatchlings” users a good experience. Part of that is being accessible when they write in with questions or complaints. Dwyer has also heard stories about “Hatchlings” players from around the world connecting personally from playing the game.
“Part of the culture of Iowa is to have that real personal relationship with your customers and try to do things the Iowa way,” he said.
What is the biggest risk you’ve taken?
Until last year I would probably say it was dropping out of school and joining Hatchlings full time. I think more recently than that is hiring people. That’s something that’s a very scary thing. If the company fails, it’s not just me that I’m responsible for. I have other people who are counting on the company and us executing things. I kind of shied away from that for a while, much to the detriment of the company.
What has been your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge has probably been working with big companies. It’s hard to get your voice heard. And we’re very reliant on lots of other companies. We’re super-reliant on Facebook. But if something goes wrong, it’s really hard to find someone there that we can talk to and work through the problem, because we’re a very small piece of their business, but they’re a very large chunk of our product.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I ask myself that question a lot. I don’t know. I want to do something that changes the world. I think Hatchlings is cool because of our reach and our huge user base. You wouldn’t think of a game as changing the world, but for our users, we’re really changing their lives.
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