Kenshi Arasaki, Wilkins Chung & Eric Diep, A Thinking Ape | BCBusiness
Return to: B.C. Entrepreneur of the Year 2012
Congratulations to Kenshi Arasaki, Wilkins Chung & Eric Diep, co-founders of A Thinking Ape Technologies Inc., and the 2012 Pacific Region Information Technology Entrepreneurs of the Year.
The first thing a visitor to the office of A Thinking Ape might notice is the large arcade game console near the office entrance. Scanning the open-concept brick-and-beam space of the company’s two-floor space in one of Gastown’s heritage buildings, several other features also stand out: the Ping-Pong table, drum kit, hanging chairs and harvest-style kitchen table that facilitates weekly staff potlucks.
When founders Kenshi Arasaki, Wilkins Chung and Eric Diep moved here from Silicon Valley in 2009, they intentionally set out to recreate the office culture they had experienced as a startup in San Francisco. “It’s a little bit different and a little bit quirky,” says Arasaki.
Then again, the business they’re in – developing social games for mobile devices – is a little bit quirky. Their product line includes hits like Kingdoms at War, Future Combat and Party In My Dorm. The games are free to download, and users pay for perks that help them advance in the game. It’s these fees that earn revenue for the company – between $1 million and $3 million a month (before Apple takes a cut for using the iPhone), according to a November 2011 interview with Inside Mobile Apps, a research and news organization that provides market research on social gaming platforms and mobile applications ecosystems. Maintaining a community of loyal, enthusiastic customers is, therefore, key to the company’s success. And to do that, the founders create a work environment that fosters collaboration and is charged with anything-is-possible creativity.
All three describe themselves as generalists who take a hands-off approach to management. Although Arasaki holds the CEO title (he won it in a coin toss; Arasaki is CTO and Diep is COO), it is Chung, Arasaki says, who “keeps the trains running on time.” The main job, as Arasaki sees it, is hiring “the smartest programmers we can find” and then allowing them to take ownership of projects.
“We screen for ego,” adds Chung. “They have to be able to collaborate and get along.”
The company currently has 45 employees, Arasaki says, some of whom very well might go on to launch their own startups. “What we’re really trying to do is help the tech industry grow in Vancouver,” he explains. “The company is the product.”
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Arasaki: Fighter pilot.
Chung: Fighter pilot, or an architect.
Diep: Architect or F1 racer.
What was your first big break in your current business?
Diep: When I first got Internet, I started downloading movies. I’d sell video cassettes of movies I’d downloaded to friends and classmates for $20 each.
Looking back, what’s one thing you would do differently, professionally speaking?
Arasaki: I would have started my own company sooner — I would have been less risk-averse.
What book do you recommend for entrepreneurs just starting out?
Diep: Hackers and Painters, a collection of essays by Paul Graham. He’s the reason Kenshi started a company, and he’s also one of our investors.