Minneapolis-based Evolve has developed a discrete social network that may be just what you need: a place for that secret gaming alter-ego.
Co-founded by Adam Sellke, Michael Amundson and Soren Dreijer — Parent company Echobit started in 2006 (when Michael and Soren were still in college) with LAN Bridger, an easy-to-use VPN Client for online gamers to connect and share within a P2P environment. As the demand for LAN Bridger grew, the trio began to see the big picture, in that hardcore gamers are human and they need to interact just like every other human, but in their own unique ways.
“We make sense in the same way that LinkedIn does in a world that’s dominated by Facebook,” says CEO Sellke, “there are different social graphs for different social contexts and a lot of gamers don’t want their friends, neighbors and bosses to know that they spend 20-30 hours a week playing video games online.”
Today, the technology in LAN Bridger is a major component of a much bigger system that culminates in a two-tier (website & video overlay client) PC-based platform which enables hardcore gamers to connect and play with peers in a social network setting that the user can ultimately bring into the game with them. The solution is agnostic in the sense that it’s compatible across a spectrum of games and services, from Steam games (Counter-Strike for example) as well as Activision/Blizzard’s Battle.net (MMO hits such as StarCraft II & World of Warcraft) to older, classics with LAN capabilities (like Microsoft’s Age of Empires series).
“The problem with PC gaming isn’t the games themselves, in fact the quality is the highest available on any platform, but it’s an extremely fragmented market,” Sellke notes while discussing the value proposition of being open in what’s typically a “virtual walled garden”.
Male hardcore gamers ages 18-32 that play regularly and for extended periods of time are the textbook audience for Evolve. The business model is akin to that of any social network, whereas the visibility and distribution which leads to integrated/targeted advertising, in game currency/purchase and premium subscriptions are viable means of revenue. If the masses show up to play, he pins the overall target market around 180 million through a detailed metadata analysis.
“Evolve everywhere,” is the ultimate vision, with plans to move from invitation only private invite to public beta over the next 90 days before eventually opening the flood gates through a strategic go-to-market plan when the time is right. The startup will be presenting the experience at Thursday’s Minnedemo on the the University of St. Thomas downtown campus (sold out).
Having started a technology services company called RipShark in 2004 (CD to mp3 conversion), exiting in 2007 (private transaction), and named a four-time Minnesota Cup high tech Division semifinalist, this pedigreed CEO has admittedly found it tough to capitalize the startup in Minnesota through a $750k angel round (1/3 committed to date). “I’m excited to seek investment regardless of where it comes from, but having just spent the last month in the valley, I can say the higher concentration of consumer tech investors there is appealing.”
“From a community standpoint, we’re trying to encourage better behavior,” he says politely, “but frankly, the incentive for investors to change needs to exist, which is a shared responsibility. Risk tolerance, living with less, endless hours, and not expecting any real work/life balance are fundamental parts of entrepreneurialism. Having said that, (Evolve aside) it’s not clear if the limited number of active local angel investors are capable of meeting the demand from some of the qualified startups in town. Fortunately, I think that’s becoming increasingly apparent.” -Evolve CEO Adam Sellke.