Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Zack Johnson, and I run ggCircuit,which provides premium software, services, and support for esports arenas around the world.
We do three main things at ggCircuit:
- ggLeap which is a cloud-based management software that helps run the business of an esports arena.
- ggRock which is an edge of the network software and PXE boot system that simplifies game updates for an esports arena and creates efficiency.
- Consulting, on-site installation & maintenance for esports arenas.
Our revenue has doubled every year since our inception. In the past 12 months, we have amassed $4 million in revenue and are on track to double that in the next 12 months.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before ggCircuit, I was the founder of an esports arena called eBash Gaming Center, which started in 2004 and is still running today. An esports arena is a casual gaming environment with PCs and consoles where customers pay to play by the hour. The business includes concessions, events, tournaments, lock-ins, and much more. This idea came from the popularity of video game nights in my church’s youth group gatherings.
ggCircuit initially began in 2008 as a nationwide tournament provider between LAN centers in the US. We ran tournament brackets around twice a month. What I began to realize was that the management software we used had a really old code base and did nothing to engage the customers.
So in 2014, we began creating our software because we wanted to completely control the user experience as well as provide tournaments, events, and play incentives directly in the software and make it cloud-based.
The reason I knew this would work is that there were no competitors in the space as forward-thinking as we were. Our competition’s focus was just on running the business, their code bases were archaic, and no new development was taking place.
We knew that we had a lot of connections in the LAN center industry, had faith that we could build something better, AND had the foresight to look toward the future of cloud-based software versus forcing businesses to purchase servers just to utilize the management software.
My expertise in the business was running the day-to-day of an esports arena for 10 years at that time and knowing the functionality the software needed. I am also very competitive and leaned on many years of competitive sports and leading esports tournaments to provide insight on how to shape player incentives within the software.
We were also very lucky in the founding members of the team. Two were high-level programmers who were also very familiar with the esports arena business in Ireland, a project manager who was also a former center owner, and a jack of all trades in web, graphics, video & marketing who ran a previous location in Indianapolis that eventually failed.
At that time, the business of eBash was a bit down; the founders scraped money together to begin the development of the core functionality. I also brought in an investor who put down around $90k invested into eBash which was utilized to continue the development of the ggLeap management software, which was the first released software program from ggCircuit.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Designing and creating an MVP for our ggLeap software was fairly easy on paper. We knew a lot about our competitors and what we needed to complete an initial version. Mainly the ability to track user time, lock down the desktop, launch games, and control game licenses.
In regards to our initial prototyping, we relied on outsourced graphical and UI designers within Unity. We created mockups in Balsamiq and then higher fidelity mockups within Photoshop to the best of our abilities. This took around 2 weeks to get a user interface we were happy with.
The execution of this was a bit more difficult, but we had major trust in our developers. This was the first software of its type, so we had to consider what pieces were involved and how to make that work within the cloud.
ggLeap is a desktop application that locks down the desktop and connects to a cloud-based server. Then there is a second online web administrator that runs administrative functions within a web browser. It was the first of its kind to be about to do everything within the cloud.
Describe the process of launching the business.
In regards to launching the business, we reached out to our LAN center connections. We knew that the attitudes towards our software competition were not high and that they were looking for a better alternative.
Our biggest offering was to create what we called a pioneer program. We offered long-term discounts on the software at a high buy-in price to fuel the development of the application.
It was very much a grassroots movement, but we had enough goodwill with the LAN center and esports arena owners that they were willing to invest in us to create the next generation of esports venue management software. Another carrot we added in was exclusivity with the pioneer agreements.
It took us about the first year to reach our goal of 100 pioneers on the software. That alone managed to finance the development of the project to get to our first beta release. However, the lesson learned here was that exclusivity was a mistake.
We never thought we’d grow to over 700 locations that utilize our software globally so we had to make some deals with those exclusivity agreements to allow other businesses that were fairly close competitors to also utilize our software.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We are almost solely a word-of-mouth business. In the beginning, we took absolute pride in providing stellar customer service for these venues. That at a lot of sacrifice of our founding members.
The biggest feather in our cap was doing weekly YouTube shows about the esports arena business. We discussed how to start the business, how to get funding, the ins and outs of the business, and updates to our software project. This alone added a couple of thousand subscribers and was the single most marketable effort we had in bringing in customers.
Beyond that, we have over 700 locations around the world that utilize our software tools, and word of mouth is very positive. Over 100 of those locations are universities. Not only do people say they found us on YouTube, but they also provide us information about the entity or customer that suggested us as the tool to use.
The utilization of management software for an esports business can be daunting. It’s a very low percentage of owners that want to switch to a different software once they have one that works well for them. As long as the software is up and running, we continue to develop new features and provide stellar customer support. Many don’t want to do the work to move to another program.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
In June of 2021, we were acquired by Esports Entertainment Group and are a major factor in their esports and entertainment side of the business. ggCircuit is a profitable business.
We released ggRock PXE boot software which has become a must-have in conjunction with our ggLeap management software to keep arenas efficient.
In the last two years, we have seen large increases in our revenue due to creating a stellar consulting team that consults, installs & maintains new esports arenas. We do it all for them to cut at least 50% of the owner's and employee's daily workload.
In the summer of 2021, we added a functionality called ggCrypto. This earns revenue for an esports arena when their PCs are idle. This has been a game-changer for our bottom line and we have given over $1.5M back to our customers through this program. So even when they are not busy with customers, if their PCs are on, they are earning revenue.
Finally, we have expanded our reach into family entertainment chains, bowling alleys, movie theaters, and more with a self-service esports attraction called OMEGA in 2022. We are excited about its potential.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest force out of our control was the pandemic. This has been a very scary time for everyone. In regards to ggCircuit, all of our location-based entertainment customers had to shut down and we had to pivot hard to survive.
We created an AtHome version of our software which allowed locations to keep their customers engaged as well as participate in events. This also led to a couple of enterprise development projects that helped us stay afloat in 2020 and 2021.
We’ve very much had some luck along the way. A couple of small seed investment rounds kept us afloat. We also had some divine connections which led to projects with Dell, Best Buy, Gamestop, and more to float us through the pandemic.
The thing that has been hardest for us to learn is that a business that just relies on esports gaming will not succeed in the long run. This doesn’t come from just our attitudes but from our data of locations that have closed only after one or two years.
We maintain our stance that esports should be part of the overall business and more traditional forms of entertainment and food and beverage should also be a part of the larger equation of the business.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Slack for team communication
Monday.comfor task management
- Hubspot for Sales CRM, Marketing, Website, Chat Support
- ProductBoard for feature requests
- Jira for support tickets
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Traction has been a transcendent book to get our team under one roof, working together, and reaching our quarterly goals.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Any jobs through our parent company Esports Entertainment Group can be found here.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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