Booyah Raises $5 Million; Our Q&A with CEO Keith Lee

booyah logoBooyah, the enigmatic social developer for the iPhone, has stirred up some buzz behind its first “cause-oriented” game. After months of speculation, the company finally released a humanist title in July, by the name of Booyah Society that tasked players with the objective to “level up in life.”

In a nutshell, players tweeted or wrote status updates using their preferred social network (Twitter and/or Facebook respectively) and with a press of a single button could add the suffix “BOOYAH!” as in “I just ran five miles. BOOYAH!” Players could do this to earn achievements that were unlocked in game and allowed them to further customize their own personal avatar.

We thought it was an interesting game premise, and considering the high quality and big name background of Booyah’s team, we had a lot of questions about the company, the game, and where they were going. And, the company seems to be doing well — it has just raised $5 million according to a regulatory filing discovered by peHUB, following a first round of $4.5 million from Kleiner Perkins. BOOYAH!

We recently caught up with CEO Keith Lee to learn a bit more.

booyah societies[Inside Social Games] Thank you speaking with us. So, back in May we started talking about your “cause-oriented” games. Come August, you released Booyah Society. I know it’s very general, but what’s your fundamental motivation behind making this type of game?

[Keith Lee] Given our past experiences in the gaming industry, we knew how game techniques can really motivate people to play games for hundreds of hours on their computers. We asked ourselves if we could leverage that same set of experiences to inspire people to engage in real-world activities.

[ISG] Let’s talk about those “past experiences” for a moment. You and a number of team members have come from a number of high profile companies, including Blizzard. What coaxed you into leaving for the iPhone space?

booyah achievements gps[KL] We’ve always been excited by the mobile space. The availability of GPS and the fact that it’s always with you opens up opportunities to engage people in new ways. Last year, the unique capabilities of the iPhone and the emergence of the app ecosystem made it the ideal platform for proving out our concept.

[ISG] Obviously, your products are very different at Booyah than they were at Blizzard. However, all things considered, what would you say has been the biggest difference between development at Blizzard versus Booyah? What would you say is still the same?

[KL] As a small start-up, the biggest difference is that we constantly had to weigh the costs of creating a product of high fidelity vs. time to market. That was rarely an issue at Blizzard. In terms of similarities, we carry the same work culture as Blizzard — we focus on high performance, results oriented, team-based individuals. As a result, process and rules become less important.

[ISG] Speaking of process, how does your creative process work at Booyah?

[KL] Our creative process starts with welcoming change and having an open company culture. We constantly challenge our assumptions with the mindset to change…a lot. Polish is never left for the end of the project, it occurs though out our process. And we also don’t take the small decisions for granted — it’s the small stuff that derails the best products.

[ISG] What about production? How does development usually work for you and with what sort of dev cycles do you run on?

[KL] It starts with our design concept. Most of the time spent on the design document is scoping and staging the product development. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make it clear to the engineering team. For every feature we add, we think about how to eliminate one. And we focus on which systems should be built first so our designers can play with the prototype as early as possible. Given the fast pace of the iPhone app ecosystem, we make sure our dev cycles are shorter than a month. Not only does this provide discipline to our team, but it gives us more opportunity to get feedback from the community.

[ISG] So I guess that means the general turnaround is less than StarCraft 2’s 10 year development, eh?

[KL] Yes, our development cycle’s a magnitude shorter given the highly competitive, rapid pace of the iPhone app ecosystem. Blizzard’s approach is different from ours — it’s built on the long term vision and commitment to make the highest quality games.

booyah achievements[ISG] Let’s come back to Booyah Society. Your tag line is “level up in life.” What sort of user base do you guys have at the moment (MAUs)?

[KL] Booyah Society’s had hundreds of thousands of installs. That said, our focus is not so much on total installs, but growing our core user base. These are the people we care most about since they’re using app every day. If we can nurture and expand our core users (as well as increase our frequency of usage) every week, we’ll continue to be a success.

[ISG] Quick aside regarding Booyah Society: Has there been any particular demographic that has been more dominant than any of the others? (i.e. age, location, etc.)

[KL] We’ve noticed that half our users on Booyah Society are iPod Touch users. Our users are predominantly based in the US and their median age is 23 years old.

[ISG] Now, I’m curious to know how exactly the game works. The game play is described as recognizing what you Tweet or update on Facebook, and if you “Booyah!!!” you get an achievement. How exactly does the game realize you’ve completed an achievement? Does it look for key words, phrases, or something along those lines? If so, how forgiving is the algorithm?

[KL] In Booyah Society, you earn achievements for social activity such as posting on Facebook. You can also earn another set of achievements for earning “Likes” or “Comments” on Facebook. Finally, you can also earn achievements by posting in real-world locations all across the world (GPS achievements). However, there’s a more sophisticated method that we’re planning to put in place. Our long therm goal, however, is still social validation (“Likes” and “Comments”). There’s a certain level of self-regulation that occurs that way, and we want people to encourage and motivate each other during the day.

booyah goods[ISG] Back in August Booyah Society had a relatively unused virtual currency. Is that still the case? Also, what are the future plans for this feature?

[KL] In our latest update for Booyah Society, you’ll notice that your earn points for all completed achievements. By reaching a certain point score, you’ll earn new outfits for your avatar – [with a fully functional inventory system] – such as the chicken, mech robot, ninja suit, and more. There’ll be new ways for using these points in upcoming releases.

[ISG] Let’s look towards the future now. Is Booyah focused on Booyah Society, or are other games planned? Throw us a bone!

[KL] Yes, our company has other products in the works besides Booyah Society. And yes, one might be a game in the truest sense of the word. Ultimately, it’s all a unified strategy to carry our vision to motivate and inspire people.

[ISG] Hmm, well, I can’t wait to learn what exactly that means. In the mean time, what can you tell us about upcoming Booyah Society updates?

[KL] Besides introducing more GPS achievements, we’ll have a new mechanism for people to check-in to locations. We’re also adding our meta-game on top of Booyah Society, new items for the avatar, and a way for users to interact with each other on the global map.

[ISG] Well, thank you again for taking the time to speak with us. Before you go though, I have to ask: What’s the story behind the name “Booyah” anyway?

[KL] I bought the URL a long time ago back in college during the peak time of Stuart Scott and Jim Cramer. I always believed the name will be used to start a company. More importantly, it fits perfectly with our company vision since Booyah is all about a sense of accomplishment.