OMGPOP seemed to burst onto the mobile scene earlier this year when Draw Something zoomed to 20 million downloads in five weeks, celebrities were Tweeting about the mobile game, and of course when Zynga decided to acquire the company for $100 million. But from the perspective of someone who hadn’t worked in the company, Draw Something was a six-year “overnight” success. Speaking at New York’s Northside Entrepreneurship Festival, CEO Dan Porter recounted the company’s long struggle to gain its footing in the industry.
OMGPOP began as a Facebook app company in 2006 with a wide selection of games including Balloono, Dinglepop and Gemmers on a $300,000 budget in angel funding. Eventually the company shut down its Facebook efforts and focused on building a Web app, which hadn’t gained the footing that it needed and expected. In June 2008 Porter had already raised $1.5 million in its Series A round and $5 million by 2009 in its first Series B. By 2010, with its existing funds nearly depleted, OMGPOP struggled to raise its fourth round of funding.
Investors were initially apprehensive, doubting OMGPOP’s chances of competing with the dominant force in the app gaming space at the time, Zynga. It came down to Porter to convince them. “While I don’t have many skills, I do have the ability to tell a story,” he said. Porter sold the idea that there was in fact room for one more player. It took 64 attempts until the 65th investor expressed interest and consequently kicked off a second Series B round. It was all thanks to a Rabbi joke. “I don’t know anything about the space, but I liked the joke and I like you,” Porter recalled the investor telling him.
When OMGPOP first released Draw Something, the app floundered and failed to break the list of the top 100 iTunes apps upon the first week of its launch. Porter chalked it up to another mediocre result like his previous games. For most iPhone apps to tilt, they need to reach the top 25.
Porter thought about pursuing celebrity backers, hoping he could recreate something like John Mayer’s Tweet about Zynga’s Words With Friends, but for Draw Something. Not knowing where to start, Porter was at his wits end. Surprisingly, the app’s popularity tilted when it was least expected, on President’s Day of this year.
The staff and assistants of celebrities including the Jersey Shore cast and Miley Cyrus had been playing Draw something in their free time. Their tweets catapulted the download of Draw Something to the top 25 right before Porter’s eyes. From there, Porter turned to a journalist, who he convinced to write up Draw Something, and the rest is history.