It's pretty amazing where you will find a Microsoft BizSpark startup. With over 75,000 current and alumni companies having gone through the program, we have seen it pop up in nearly every country with a web or mobile infrastructure.
Ibtesam Sharif, Founder, Data-Arc, creator of Wordness
The gentleman standing in front of Master Chief is Ibtesam Hussain Sharif, and he is one of the many hard-charging entrepreneurs with a software background coming out of Pakistan. His team, which goes by the name Data-Arc, is building mobile games. They see mobile games as a great wedge point in the games industry, as more people turn to mobile.
"Wordness is a cool and exciting turn based strategic word game for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 using Azure Mobile services," says Ibtesam. "The game gives you a flavor of all the famous word games present on different platforms nowadays. The difference in Wordness is that during play it’s no longer about just WHAT words you make, it’s about WHERE and WHAT you make. A game user not only has to occupy key tiles but also have to retain them to win the game. In short, it’s the battle of words."
As it turns out, this was not Ibtesam's first plan. The startup came about as something of an accident, he says.
"I was working in a private firm as a software engineer. There were three of us who used to discuss ideas during our lunch breaks, tea breaks and free time. We always wanted to have our own startup but didn’t have the financials to do it. One day, I got an offer to work on a well-funded project. I discussed this opportunity with my friends and we decided to leave our jobs and work for that project. In the meantime, we also started working on our own ideas and coded some fun games and apps. From there on, we have been in to this business," says Ibtesam. "We had heard about Microsoft BizSpark, and decided to use that to get the groundwork done on our platform right away. It helped tremendously."
The team is using the following Microsoft technologies
- Azure Mobile Services
- Windows Phone SDK
- Windows Store SDK
Here is our interview with Mr. Sharif
Do you build for scale first, or for revenue? How are those things related in your mind?
We believe in building scale first. Having a large user base playing our games is the ultimate goal. To us -- especially in the mobile application world -- both scale and revenue are very closely interlinked. The more playing users, the higher the revenue.
Do you make reasonable predictions about how you are going to achieve revenue and then test them out, or do you start with a business model and deploy it, to see if it brings in revenue?
Prediction and forecasting is definitely our priority. We go about thoroughly analyzing our target market and competitors first and then we place our product to make the most of it.
What questions do you think a startup non-technical founder needs to answer when considering a cloud architecture for his or her startup, and I am thinking specifically here during the business model generation period?
I think it’s always about the financials, especially for a young startup. There is a very strong misconception that the cloud architecture will always be the cheapest, which at times isn’t true. You have to understand which system architecture will scale best - financially and technically - for your business.
What questions do you and your technical co-founder / engineering team feel are the most important to solve about the business aspects of your company?
The biggest questions for my team is to constantly think of interesting ideas and then to transform those ideas into great products. It means something that is technically of a very high quality, has a great user experience and design and most importantly provides something that users actually want.
Where do you include technical members of your team during the building of your business plan?
Since we are a bunch of friends who started this startup and are all from a technical background, we sit together whenever we want to decide something. Being technical always gives us much more insight about the complexity of the issue we are addressing.
How much of what you are building is based on leaving a legacy and how much of it is based on technical challenges, or the ability to make something just for fun? In other words, where do you fall on the seriousness scale? For fun, for profit, for life?
We have plunged into this business very seriously and are pretty eager to do some great work. Not just work, some great work! Profitability is one major objective too, but we are more inclined towards providing exciting games and apps to our users than profit earning.
What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?
Our goal is to keep delivering exciting addictive games to our users.
What are some of the challenges you face as a founder or developer at a startup, when it comes to dealing with family life, or socially? Does working on a startup change the way you associate and interact in these areas?
Working in a fresh start puts a great amount of pressure on your social and family life. Your family and friends expect you to give them time but one just can’t take much time out for them as working for long hours leaves you with very little time.
What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?
I think that what really matters is dedication, devotion and love for what you are doing. If you are not in love with your products, I do not think you can make them a success
Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?
Microsoft Pakistan has really helped us a lot from day one. They helped us get enrolled in the Bizspark program, arranged technical sessions to educate us, and provided us with the test devices when we needed them.
Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
Microsoft is providing startups with some really cool free resources. If we talk about us, when we started we had no money for licensing the development products or server machines, but thanks to the Bizspark program, all these were provided to us for free. They literally took the burden of licensing costs etc. away from us so that we can fully focus on our products
Tell us about your Azure based solution.
We have developed a really cool and exciting turn based strategic word game. The games gives you a flavor of all the famous word games present on different platforms now days. The difference in our game and other word games is that it’s no longer just about making words, it’s about WHAT and WHERE you make. A game user has to occupy key tiles and retain them to win the game. In short, it’s the battle of words
How is Azure implemented in your solution?
We are using Azure mobile services to manage the server side operations of our game
How did you get excited about Azure?
The number one reason was that it’s the only platform available for us to meet our needs for the business we are in i.e. developing games for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. It’s scalable yet very easy to code and maintain.
What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?
We are using the Azure mobile services for our game. We are taking benefits of key operations as push notifications
What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?
Don’t get into the mess of comparing different Cloud service providers. Just go and get registered for Azure. It’s the best solutions in terms of cost and scalability