Paul Gray is co-founder and CMO at Bubble Gum Interactive, a VC-backed entertainment studio based in Sydney, Australia. The studio produces digital storytelling in the form of games, cartoons and interactive experiences. Paul plays a pivotal role in the product design, development, deployment and ongoing management the top charting mobile games Jetpack Jinx and Cake Bake Blitz as well as the multi-award winning kids virtual world Space Heroes Universe.
We saw some great opportunities and realised that we could have fun while working on something with true potential. So, we raised about $3 million in investment, quit our jobs and got started!
Paul holds an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) and a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Wollongong. Prior to blasting off for adventure with Bubble Gum Interactive, Paul worked at the Walt Disney Company in Australasia and Europe on a range of online and mobile games and interactive experiences. Paul likes to think of himself as a pragmatic type who can see through spin to the heart of what makes a successful (or unsuccessful) product. A storyteller by heart, Paul’s (rare) spare time is spent working haphazardly on various scripts and stories.bubbleguminteractive.com @paulalexgray @BGIStudio facebook
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
We’re passionate about storytelling, fun games and we love technology – so the ideas sort of evolved from that. As an independent game studio, Bubble Gum Interactive has created a number of epic games online and for mobile. This is a team effort – the founding members being a bunch of friends who had come from all sorts of backgrounds and worked together along the way. Personally, my journey to this point began when I worked at Disney launching the first virtual world for kids back in the mid-2000s as well as being at the early days of mobile gaming. We saw some great opportunities and realised that we could have fun while working on something with true potential. So, we raised about $3 million in investment, quit our jobs and got started!
How do you make money?
Our games are designed around a freemium model – providing players with a free game to enjoy and discover. Players that really enjoy the game and want to experience more can then upgrade to a paid version, either through subscription or micro transactions depending on the game. This model allows us to serve very large audiences, after all, anyone can install the game and get started and enjoy a great deal of the game for free. For those that really get into it, there are very affordable options to extend play through in app purchasing or subscription memberships. A large player base is important and we really work with our community of fans – getting to know them, sharing sneak peeks at future updates, asking their feedback and celebrating the ideas and of course the fun they’re having.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
Right now we’re finishing work on Cake Bake Blitz. It’s a game we’ve been working on for over six monthsand it’s been a great project because every single member of the Bubble Gum team has contributed. The game is a story-driven puzzle game about an ambitious young baker named Katy Cupcake who travels the world competing in cooking competitions. Along the way she faces off with infamous chefs such as Big Tony Tiramisu, Dame Pavlova and Patty Applepie. It’s full of surprises and is a game that’s designed to be super easy to pick up and play. Cake Bake Blitz will be available free to play on the AppStore and Google Play in a few weeks. Check it out and let me know what you think!
How do you make ideas happen?
Ideas are the easy part – executing ideas is hard. But it’s the execution that leads to success. In my view, it’s important to have ideas that are audience driven. You can think of the analogy of the nutty professor who invents some amazing widget… but if no one needs or wants that widget, then it’s not really going to get much traction. It’s better to start with the other perspective with your ideas – look at what’s out there, look at what people are doing, what products or services are they using. What irritates them? What makes them sweary and mad? What pain points exist with the current solutions, products or services out there? It’s an approach to thinking that can help you form the seeds of a truly valuable idea. Sure, it varies – in the entertainment and gaming space where I work, creativity plays a key role.
What irritates them? What makes them sweary and mad? What pain points exist with the current solutions, products or services out there?
At Bubble Gum Interactive I work on our games from the get go – collaborating with the team to come up with story ideas and characters that audiences could be interested in and empathise with. We then take a kind of chaotic and fluid approach – creating prototypes, testing out ideas and gradually layering on new elements and features until it starts to resemble a game. I’m also hugely focused on analysis and using data and insight in addition to gut feel. You need to balance the feelings with the numbers – with our games, we build in capabilities to analyse how they’re being played, in what way and so on. We see what our gamers like, what they don’t like – and we can adapt and improve the game while staying true to our vision for the story.
What does your typical day look like?
As a parent, my day kicks off pretty early in the morning with an immediate rush of things to do. Making breakfasts and lunches, helping to get kids organised and ready for school. It’s a bit of a whirlwind! I’ll check my email as I walk to the train station (probably a little hazardous) as well as sweep the web for any references to Bubble Gum Interactive or our games Jetpack Jinx, Space Heroes Universe and Cake Bake Blitz. On the train I’ll catch up on reading – I use twitter as my news feed and check out any interesting articles on the way.
In any typical day I’ll work on product design and development, contributing to game design discussions, looking at reports and data on how our games are performing. We run campaigns and initiatives across different platforms so I’ll see how those are going too. I do a lot of business development work so no doubt I’d be having conversations (mostly via Skype) with contacts in the USA, Europe, Asia and of course here at home down under. I’ll also work on business plans or contracts, term sheets and agreements and deck after deck. I make a lot of presentation decks (and I think these are extremely effective tools – I say pish posh to those who think decks are dead. Boring presentations or boring ideas are always going to suck, whether or not they’re shown in a PowerPoint presentation or some other way.)
I usually wrap up in the office about 5:30 for the train back home and some fun time with the kids before bedtime. I always make sure I get time to play, read stories or just chill out with them. Depending on how busy it is I might need to do a bit more work in the evening, otherwise I’ll relax with my wife, watch a movie or read a book.
Boring presentations or boring ideas are always going to suck, whether or not they’re shown in a PowerPoint presentation or some other way.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
We needed money to get our idea off the ground. Our first game, Space Heroes Universe is a massive, global online game with 2 million players in over 100 countries. It’s won loads of awards and is a game that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – in short, it’s a big endeavour. We found it tough when we started, around 2010 to raise capital. It took us quite a while to convince investors of our idea, and as I’ve mentioned, demonstrated that we could execute that idea
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Ideas are one thing – it’s the execution that will determine success.
What companies do you think are doing really cool stuff at the moment?
I’m pretty impressed with @rdio – I can never see myself ‘buying’ an album ever again. With sites like RDIO and its rivals, you pay a monthly fee for unlimited music. It saves me money, but also seems it might be saving the industry. Just the other day I saw that illegal downloads of music in the UK dropped for the first time after years of rampant piracy growth. Giving people things of value, in a convenient way and for a reasonable price isn’t a bad idea eh!
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
I think businesses should play an active role in the communities in which they operate. Ultimately, a business is made up of the people that work there, and so it’s the culture and style of these individuals who determine how the business is run. Businesses have resources that can be applied. I think businesses should look to their employees and stakeholders and support those individuals that are out there, volunteering their time, ideas, expertise and energy.
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?
- Quartz – Rapidly becoming a key source of news for me on business, innovation and tech
- Medium – A great platform where pretty much anyone can share articles that aren’t too short, aren’t too long and cover a range of interesting topics
- App Annie – for anyone working on an app, or looking to launch an app, this site is a trove of valuable information.
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter?
- Mark Ritson (technically a Brit, but living in Melbourne) a marketing professor and author who never hesitates to rip through PR spin and tell it like it is
- Brainmates – mostly tweets by Adrienne Tan, an entrepreneur who created a great business and shares insight into product management, product marketing and strategy
- Caitlin Fitzsimmons – a great journalist at BRW who always has great insight, analysis and interviews to share
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
We’re always looking for dynamic, energetic and FUN people to join our team. We’ve got a huge amount of work on at the moment and some really exciting projects continuing through 2014 including loads of new games and some other story experiences too. Keep your eye out on our Bubble Gum blog.
Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.
What are your thoughts on the state of the Australian startup scene? It’s certainly booming but I think it could be better. There are regulatory hurdles, government red tape and still a degree of tall poppy syndrome that can hinder entrepreneurs. What could you do to help improve the scene for startups?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
Having a young family means my days of hitting up bars and cool restaurants are unfortunately on hold! I think my fave eating out at the moment would be having a picnic on a beach somewhere.
What is your favourite song by an Australian artist at the moment?
Alive, by Empire of The Sun
We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?
I can offer a one hour pitch session for anyone who’s got a startup idea and wants to go out and raise some funding. I can do either a coffee meeting or a skype call.