Although your company is new you already have a lot to be proud of. Why did you decide to establish your own company when there are a number of Lithuanians who develop games?
We founded our start-up TutoTOONS when we already had some experience. Before that my colleague Mantas Kavaliauskas and I had a games development company Edukacinės Sistemos (Educational Systems), which developed games for Lithuanian schools and the Lithuanian market. We started our business almost seven years ago after taking part in a competition aimed at promoting entrepreneurship called Business Plan Competition. We gained a lot of knowledge there. As we had already spent about six years in the games market, we knew it well. But we have always envisaged ourselves developing products for the global market.
The idea to create a platform intended for game developing was always there. However, the appropriate time for it only came two years ago, when we had enough resources and some more free time. Our first public trial was at Startup Weekend Barcelona; at the time my colleague Mantas lived in Barcelona. We decided to develop a prototype, then to take part in the event and see what kind of response it would get. The feedback was very positive; everyone liked the idea of allowing anyone, even non-programmers, to create games. This was the beginning of our start-up.
You mentioned that at first you had an idea to create games for schools. Did this idea work out?
We wanted to create a tool for teachers so that they could develop educational games for their classes. We had some experience in developing games and we thought that teachers were very creative and would be able to use this tool to make their lessons more interesting. However, within about a year we discovered that teachers were already busy and not all of them had time to learn how to use the new platform. Nevertheless, it turned out that there are many other people who have always dreamed of creating a game for themselves, especially people who can draw well. So, while the initial idea did not work out, we found a way to steer our business in the right direction.
What determined your success? Did you explore market conditions in order to find your niche?
At the time there were quite a few platforms for game development in the market. The difference was that other platforms were intended for study purposes, or for professional designers and programmers. By contrast, our vision was to give ordinary people who never wanted to become professionals in this area the opportunity to develop games. We are still pursuing this vision. We have created a product which doesn’t require much prior knowledge. Creating a game using our platform is just like making a PowerPoint presentation.
Do you have direct rivals doing something similar to what you do?
At present there are around five platforms for developing games that we know of. They also state that you don’t require any knowledge of programming to create your own game using their platforms. Our specialty and distinctiveness is that we develop games for children.
You create games for a global market, not just for Lithuanians, right?
We only have a handful of Lithuanian consumers. Users of the platform who create games come from various countries around the world. Our tool is becoming increasingly popular in Latin America, in Ukraine and in the countries where the level of subsistence is a little bit lower. We have a slightly different business model than our competitors. While they require users to purchase access to their platform and create games there, we allow everyone use our platform for free. When a user creates a game, we evaluate them and, if they are good enough, we give them access to app stores and share the earnings 50/50 with the developer.
You work in Lithuania and have an office in Kaunas. Have you or your team ever thought about emigrating and developing your business abroad?
Our core team has never had this idea. I myself studied my final grade of school in the US because my family lives there. However, while I was there I realised that I wanted to come back to Lithuania and do something interesting and good here. I was a little bit patriotic. I knew that if you work hard and try, you can achieve good results in Lithuania. We have made a commitment to always having our main office in Lithuania, but who knows; maybe in the future we will have some branches in foreign countries as well.
You personally swapped America for Lithuania. In what ways is Lithuania a more attractive location for developing a business?
The main advantage in our case is that we are from Kaunas and graduated from Kaunas University of Technology, so we already knew many talented specialists in the technological field; this was already a good start. We managed to gather our main team quite quickly, choosing from our acquaintances. Of course subsistence levels in Lithuania are lower, so labour costs are also lower. We started our business using our own money without attracting any external risk capital. This was simply a re-investment of our own earnings. We endeavour to work as cost-efficiently as possible and to grow. Presently our team is 15 people from Lithuania, plus there are a few who live in Barcelona. There were two of us when we started the project and now there are five co-founders.
Your company is already medium-sized, and you are growing fast. What’s next?
Our growth this year has been really fast. Our goal for the year is to triple our revenue. Whilst this sounds very optimistic, it looks like it will happen. In 2014, 5 million players downloaded our games, now the number has reached 30 million. We are aiming for 50 million.
Lithuania is a small country and they say that it is hard to break through here. What did you do differently in order to succeed?
We had a very strong team and we could trust each other from the very beginning. We also had a strong vision and we knew we wanted to have a global product that could change somebody’s life, give someone a real chance. Enthusiasm and inspiration lead us forward.
Lithuania has been famous for lasers and biotechnology for a long time. It seems that now mobile games and mobile platforms are becoming increasingly popular. We have many talented IT specialists who are capable of developing these products. What do you think could be the next technology niche for Lithuania to take a lead in?
I believe game development is growing a lot. Over the last few years the games industry has changed substantially, with many famous foreign companies moving to Lithuania. It is sometimes said that Vilnius and Lithuania are becoming the new game development centre. I think that with Lithuania’s talented specialists and their brave ideas, and with shared experience and know-how, this industry could be very successful and become a leader in its field.
Translated by Invest Lithuania