'Facebook for kids' creator enjoying monster success
Tech entrepreneur Michael Acton Smith has been involved in a number of start-ups and is due to share his experience of the sector at the Dublin Web Summit next week, writes CIARA O'BRIEN
‘DON’T BE AFRAID to fail; just make sure you fail fast and learn from your failings.” That’s the advice that entrepreneur Michael Acton Smith has for budding tech firms.
“I’ve made many mistakes along the way,” he says. “But every mistake I’ve made I’ve learned from it, and it’s helped me grow and do better stuff in the future.”
The Moshi Monsters boss can afford to offer the benefit of his experience to the tech community. Due to speak at next week’s Web Summit, Smith can trace his entrepreneurial roots to his childhood, when he had his own computer games magazine at school, along with the usual paper rounds and car washing jobs.
He started out his foray into the tech world with gadget site Firebox, which he set up with college friend Tom Boardman in 1999.
The site may be popular now but it took some time for it to get to that point, he said. Originally called Hotbox, it was a novelty shot glass set that caught the imagination of the public, and Firebox went from strength to strength.
“It was a very slow, tricky first six months,” he says. “Then we came up with the shot glass chess set, which did really well. We sent out a press release, and everyone seemed to love it. That sparked off the growth of the company.”
By 2004, he had moved on to form Mind Candy, although to this day he still remains a director and shareholder at Firebox.
The new firm has had varying degrees of success. Its first project, Perplex City, was a long-term alternate reality game, a mixture of stories, games and puzzles that people all over the world could play online simultaneously.
“I wanted to create this very ambitious, slightly crazy global treasure hunt,” he says. “It was fascinating. It was very creative but it just didn’t work commercially; it was too complicated, and not enough people played. I learnt some really valuable lessons from that period.”
He decided a change of tack was in order, and moved into the children’s space. “I thought creating entertainment for kids online would be a really interesting area,” he says.
That was the starting point for Moshi Monsters, an online game and social network aimed at younger players that has made the leap from the digital world into the real world.