Club Penguin Leaves Behind Empty Nest

The last of the Club Penguin founders has flown the coop, but don’t forget their names yet 

When Walt Disney Co. bought Kelowna-based Club Penguin, an online gaming company, in 2007 for $350 million, its three founders planned their departures but not their retirement, and with Lane Merrifield’s exit in December last year, all of the original penguins have now flown the coop.

In December 2009, Dave Krysko was the first to leave. Since then, he’s built a diverse portfolio of businesses including real estate developments, an organic farm, Streaming Café (a café in downtown Kelowna that live-streams musical performances) and Bottega Farm Inn and Studios Ltd., a boutique hotel and event space on an alpaca farm on the outskirts of Kelowna. He and his wife Donara are involved in so many projects that he can’t quite recall them all. “We have a company in Germany,” he says, adding, “it’s a schloss; it’s a starter castle, actually.” He describes Castle Röhrsdorf as an artists’ retreat with a recording studio.

Lance Priebe was the next of the original penguins to exit, departing in 2011 after a year-long sabbatical. He returned to what he describes as his “hobby” gaming company, RocketSnail Games Ltd. (where the idea of Club Penguin was first hatched), has dabbled in film and has also played mentor to many young gamers. Now he’s abandoned the Snail once again for a bigger animal, founding Hyper Hippo Productions Ltd. with the former VP of operations for Club Penguin, Pascale Audette, whom he credits with Club Penguin’s phenomenal growth. Hyper Hippo is a new game publisher with a go-big approach. “Kelowna can’t have a little hobby studio. We need a number two in town. We need Disney and we need our Hippo,” says Priebe. Hyper Hippo’s home is in Krysko’s new commercial development, above Streaming Café.

Last December, Lane Merrifield was the last of the founders to leave. Merrifield says he hung on to ensure a smooth succession, and he’s convinced his timing was perfect because the week after he left, Club Penguin hit an all-time traffic record of 1.8 million kid visitors in a single day. “That, to me, was just further reinforcement that things were on a good path.”

He also has no plans to retire. He co-founded Fresh Grade (with Steve Wandler, founder of Inc.), a software company that digitally streamlines the educational assessment process and already has a strong enough leadership team that Merrifield doesn’t feel he’s needed there full-time. “I’m going to be getting my pilot’s license,” he says, adding he’s also considering a motorcycle trip to South America with friends. He and his wife Meagan are also planning to take their son and daughter (10 and 7) to Africa to visit the charitable projects the couple has made significant contributions to.

The three founders continue to be close, sharing a passion for philanthropy (each has charitable organizations in his name). “The partnership we had was very special,” says Merrifield. And when it comes to future endeavours, none of them is ruling out working together again.