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.