Can a smartphone game do more than just entertain you? Angelique Mannella thinks so. As CEO and founder of Montreal-based startup Decode Global, Angelique wants to build mobile games that are not only fun and engaging, but also engineered for social impact. Decode Global’s first game: Get Water! is an iPhone/iPad touch screen game that raises awareness around water scarcity and gender issues. Available for free in the appstore, Get Water! follows Maya as she collects water for her family.
Angelique began her tech career designing semiconductors and developing products in Canada, Singapore, and Finland. She started Decode Global last year with 25,000 Euro in seed money from Nokia. She told us about her experience being an entrepreneur for social change:
DailyWorth: How did you become a game developer?
Angelique Mannella: Before getting into games I worked in the tech industry for around 13 years at companies ranging from large organizations like Cisco and Nokia to smaller startups. I decided to launch Decode Global when I came across a couple of staggering statistics:
- Three billion hours are spent playing games each week worldwide.
- 3/4 of the world's population have mobile phones.
There’s an opportunity to use games not only to entertain but also to raise awareness about critical global challenges. As one of the most dominant forms of storytelling in the 21st century, games can be an effective medium of communicating a social message. There’s no better way to increase awareness than through narrative and play.
Our first goal was to make a high-quality game! It had to be fun and entertaining with great artwork, music, and an engaging storyline. Beyond that our goals were to come up with an innovative way to engage youth in global development challenges and to bring global challenges into the everyday environments of young North Americans.
Get Water! was influenced by Decode Global's Fellowship program. We brought together five young people from the US, Finland, Ukraine, and Brazil for 3 to 6 months to participate in the game design and development process. Get Water! grew out of their thinking about what would make a fun and engaging game about water scarcity. We chose the topic of access to clean water because everyone can relate. Independent of one’s culture of origin, anyone can see the impact of not having easy access to water.
How does your company make money?
We monetize our games using a freemium model and share revenue with water- and education- based charities. We [also] offer workshops in games for social impact. We work with social impact organizations to help them determine how mobile games can help them advance their core mission.
What's the most important financial lesson you've learned building this company?
I'm learning the importance of having a CFO! Even though we're a small startup, keeping our finances in order is a full-time job — ensuring we have enough cash flow and a buffer for unexpected expenses, scoping new opportunities for funding, securing funding, looking at ways for us to reduce our costs, and looking at pricing strategies are all vitally important to our success.
I underestimated the importance of a CFO during our first year of operation. I believed that because I have an MBA and an interest in finance I could do it all myself. Now I realize the importance of having someone to challenge my financial decisions and focus explicitly on the financial health of the company.
How many employees are there total?
We have five employees.
What does success mean to you?
We have two main success criteria. The first is that we are financially sustainable, that we grow and scale as a company. It would mean we are able to make even more high production quality games while supporting our international youth fellowship program. The second is that our games help to engage millions of youth in global development challenges and inspire them to take action within their communities and throughout the world.
Do you have any forecasts on when you expect Decode Global to be profitable?
We expect to be profitable in 2014.