Featured BizSpark Startup on Azure – PlaceChallenge

Interview with Marcin Borecki, founder and CEO of PlaceChallenge.

Web site: http://placechallenge.com

Tell us who you are and your role in the company:

My name is Marcin Borecki and I am founder and CEO of PlaceChallenge startup. In first months of operation my role was creating infrastructure and software architecture of PlaceChallenge platform and first games. Starting in Jan 2012 all my tasks connected with software development were delegated to second co-founder Jakub Kądziela (current CTO) and thanks to that I can focus now on strategy planning and customer engagement. In the past I’ve been developer and software architect in large insurance companies all around the world, and Microsoft Student Consultant in Microsoft Poland.

What is your company’s mission?

PlaceChallange mission is to provide a fun and engaging system where people can play games in real places. We want people to get out of the home and give them entertainment similar to computer games but outside the home with interaction with places and other people. We think that will be next big thing and we are investing all our time to make it true..

In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does:

We give people the opportunity to play mobile games around the city in various scenarios using their location. For now we are working on the well-known game, snake, but in a real city and in multiplayer mode and traveling app which helps the user travel in a foreign city by using others’ photo tips.

Tell us about your Azure based solution.

First of all we are creating a platform solution which gives games:

User management

Points management

Virtual Currency management

Virtual Items management and shop

The second part of our business is to provide games for people who want to use our platform. For now we are creating:

Tail is a game which is very well known from very long time as a snake. The game is changing the user experience by moving the playground from the computer or mobile phone to the real world. Players are running, riding a bike or a car around the playground which is a real city. The tail of the player's snake increases from the start position, adding on when they reach each new location and they are connected by lines. The player’s goal is to cut off the road of others player and make them to hit someone else's tail.

RunAway is a game where people are running around the city protecting the virtual token in their phone and the person who has the token at the end of the game wins. Every 3 days we give a special prize and hide virtual tokens somewhere in the selected cities. The first person who finds the token has it in their phone and runs around the city to avoid others players. Each player who is closer than 50 meters to the token owner grabs it on his/her phone. Everyone can see each other on the map, so the target is in a known position. Three days, one prize and one person running away.

Shape is a game where people are creating figures and gain points for creating territories around the real world. Every day we spread around the world about 1 million virtual items which could b,e for example, points or bombs. Players can go to a place where the item is and get it for his virtual pocket. At any time, you can buy items using PlaceChallenge coins in a special shop and place them in your virtual pocket too. Players are creating shapes, searching virtual items, collecting points and having battles with others using e.g. bombs.

How is Azure implemented in your solution?

Games: each game has its own API which uses the Platform to communicate.

Platform: (1) the platform has a web frontend where people can check their status, currency values and virtual items promotions; (2) a worker who is monitoring the platform and connected games; (3) API for games.

Cache: we are testing Azure Cache, in the past we had MemCache on one of our servers.

Databases: databases are hosted on SQL Azure; for now we have one 25GB database per game and one additional for platform.

How did you get excited about Azure?

Azure is very simple. The only thing you have to do is to create a solution for deployment and provide the information in package, determine what kind of computer we need and how many of them Azure should run for me. Additionally it is very well connected with other Microsoft’s’ technologies e.g. .NET and Visual Studio which my company is using all the time.

What specific value are you getting from BizSpark beyond the technology?

Bizspark is not only technology. We have very valuable contacts which we can use in crisis situations. This is also place where young companies (startups) can build momentum by getting exposure, connect with peers’ around the world and get special offering,  like the BizSpark Plus offer which we got.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment since founding your company?

The idea for a project is only the beginning of execution process. My company started during Warsaw Startup Weekend in April 2011 and from that time we’ve had two-three pivots which change our main idea of project. This lesson is that the idea is worthless and only execution matters. Execution is a very hard process when you’ve never had company with no-funds, no-employees, and no-office. My first impression was that the goal for my company is getting funded and that was only thing what I was doing. After a couple of months, we did afew idea pivots and I changed my mind after working closely with set of mentors – I realized that first thing we should do is to validate idea by ourselves , then give small number of people opportunity to test what we’ve done, listen to their feedback and then do next version of product.  As of today – we have all headcounts filled, final tests will be completed within few days and we are anxiously looking forward for “PlaceChallenge Adventure” – our trip to Silicon Valley in March, 2012.

What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?

Azure was natural  for my company because it has a great connection with .NET technology and the Visual Studio environment which we use in our company. Second reason – and maybe more important - is that Azure is PaaS (Platform as a Service) so it is cost effective from our perspective – we provide a solution to Azure and the Azure mechanism creates instances, manages operating system updates and solves problems with availability. It is much better than using IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) where we would probably need to hire an administrator.

What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?

Windows Azure is very simple to integrate with your company and not only for people developing in Microsoft technologies. For now there is lot of developers tools for PHP and Ruby which integrate with Azure and I think this is good. Windows Azure saves lot of time and company’s money because it is a PaaS, so you only need to care about your software. All rest is managed by Windows Azure. That’s great!

What is the one thing that you would like readers to take away about your Azure app?

Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and wait for our first games. In next two months,  we are going to present games where people around the world can step up to the challenge and play outside the home, some very interesting scenarios only running and doing quest around cities. We want to give readers the opportunity to try a new way of entertainment – this is our one thing.

Last thing – in March we will provide information about special actions in New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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