🎢 #47 - Wanna game with me?
+ Key insights on startups and fundraising from DocSend and YC
Hey there! Welcome to my email newsletter. My name is Leo Luo, a student entrepreneur at the University of Michigan. I write about startup stories, consumer trends, and unique behaviors in the early-stage B2C space.
All my previous posts can be found here.
🔥 Startup Story
Wanna game with me?
(Image credit: E-Pal)
If you have followed my Substack for a while, you’ve likely noticed that I like featuring startups in the consumer social space. I love writing about companies that connect people and address the loneliness epidemic I believe our society is experiencing. COVID has furthered worsened the social isolation problem, and I think technologies have the power to help individuals feel more connected to each other at scale. Lunchclub does so by matching people for interesting 1-on-1 conversations. Icebreaker helps make virtual events more personal and human. Stadium Live creates a metaverse for sports fans to talk about games in a more fun way.
E-Pal is another startup addressing this loneliness problem with a focus on gamers. They are building a marketplace where users can discover and connect with new friends over shared interests in gaming. I had the chance to speak with the three co-founders, Brian (CEO), Norris(COO), and Frank(CMO), to hear about their journey building this companionship platform.
“The idea for E-Pal started in college when I was studying at Berkeley. I used to play games by myself because all my friends were too busy studying so it was very difficult for me to find anyone to play games with. Then, I heard about this app in China called Bixin where people could hire game companions. I tried it several times and got hooked right away. Unlike the random teammates I got matched within games, those gaming companions were really supportive and communicative.
However, there is no such thing in the West so I got the idea to build it here because I believe there are a lot of people similar to me who are looking for supportive gaming companions. In addition, many gamers and even e-sports pros cannot make a living by just playing games. One of the popular solutions is live-streaming on Twitch or YouTube, but not everyone wants to be a streamer or has the skills to do so. We wanted to build this marketplace so that people can discover and connect with new friends over a shared interest in gaming and even make a decent living doing so.”
🚗 Product Journey
Brian and his team started the project by researching the space to see if this idea existed. They did find people offering game companionship on Fiverr but most of the companies focused on coaching, such as Game Sensei and Legionfarm. During this initial research, they discovered two key insights that helped them to focus on companionship for casual gamers:
Most coaching sites curate the same small group of pro-gamers while the majority of the gamers are just casual gamers
Coaching is not as sticky since people tend to leave after finishing the coaching session while companionship is more sticky and people always come back looking for companionship if they are lonely
Curating early supply + launching MVP (March 2020):
They curated the initial supply by sourcing 50 game companions from Fiverr and built a website for them called E-Girl.gg.
“Fiverr is a site for freelancers. It's not designed and made for game companions. We talked to a bunch of them on Fiverr and convinced them to join my Discord Group. We started learning more about the industry and what they were looking for. In one month, we launched the website and went to other gaming Discord groups to tell them about this new site we built. We got a ton of traffic just from other Discord groups without spending anything on marketing, ” Brian explained.
They got over a thousand new users the day after the launch.
(initial website when they first launched)
A week after the website launch, they got featured on Wired, which attracted many new users to join the site and a ton of inbound interest from big-time YouTubers. For example, Disguised Toast was one of the better-known members of the platform in the early days and became the most popular e-girl overnight. Interests from popular gamers instantly boosted the growth of the company. The team also subsequently changed the website name to E-Pal.gg.
Current traction - since launch, Brian and his team acquired over 400k+ users on the platform and 60k+ game companions aka epals. Towards the end of last year, the team also launched a mobile app on both iOS and Android. At its peak, E-pal was ranked top 150 in Apple’s App Store.
Educating the market
“We have some loyal customers that order 5 to 10 times a day, but it's a little hard for us to attract new customers. Many new customers don't understand what we do. We are trying to go through different channels to advertise such as promotions in Discord groups. In addition, we are also trying to empower our e-pals to create their own Discord groups to attract customers themselves. In the near future, we will work with more influencers on Twitch and YouTube to help us educate the market about game companionship.”
Attacks on website
“In the early days, there were a lot of attacks on our website. We had to spend a lot of money on the firewall. We think those attacks were done by our competitors. Funny enough, the second day that one of the competitors launched the website, we got a huge attack.”
😍 Founder Advice
Find your magic number
“Every founder should find their magic number. The magic number for Facebook was 7 - people who reached 7 friends were far more likely to remain engaged with the product than those who didn’t. Our magic number is 2 - it takes two orders for a user to be loyal. Thus, everything we do now is trying to motivate the user to order two times. Every startup team should find their target number and focus on that - the platform will grow.”
“We believe that many people are feeling lonely, especially during this pandemic, so more people will be willing to use the internet to find companionship. Our e-chat category is the second most popular category, just behind League of Legends. We want to expand this companionship to other categories outside of gaming and make it more accessible to people. Three to five years from now, we want to become the go-to platform for people looking for online companionship.”
Check out E-Pal ;)
👨💻 What I’ve been reading
Alex from Lightspeed shared his analysis on Coupang, the Amazon of South Korea, comparing Coupang’s model to the prevailing ones in US e-commerce and how this could affect the US.
Summary of key insights on how to raise a pre-seed rounds according to DocSend
Data insights on the most successful YC Startups - trends, industries, location, and more
NFX’s amazing narrative on the insider story of Twillio - how they validated their idea, their developer-centric approach, and more
😍 Jobs & Internships
Wish - Associate Product Manager (SF/Remote)
Notion - Growth PM (SF)
Karat - Biz Ops and GTM Associate (Remote)
Carrot - Ops Associate (Remote)
Loom - Full-Stack Engineer (Remote)
AngelList - Portfolio Ops Associate (Remote)
UserTesting - Sales Intern (Remote)
Plug and Play Tech - VC Intern (Bay Area)
Quaestor - BD Intern (Remote)
K50 Ventures - Summer Analyst (NYC)
Uber - Performance Marketing Intern (SF)
MasterClass - Content Innovation Intern (SF)
How did you like today’s Consumer Startups?
See you next Sunday :)