On Thursday, social gaming entrepreneur Cyrus David held a video conference with students to discuss life in the high-tech gaming industry and his time as a student at Binghamton University.
David, who graduated from BU in 2007, served as vice president of social development at the online start-up Sojo Studios, Inc. He is also the founder of FantasyIQ, a question and answer community for fantasy sports. As a BU student, he co-founded HEYNICEDORM, Inc., a website aimed towards streamlining and consolidating the college dorm decorating process.
The video conference was part of the “Cool Connections, Hot Alumni” virtual program aiming to connect BU students with interesting and successful alumni in a variety of professional fields.
Event coordinators projected David’s face on the screen in the Collaboratory in Academic Building A.
Although Binghamton is hosting a Startup Weekend dedicated to high-tech entrepreneurship in November, David said the University largely ignored start-ups while he attended BU.
“I feel like when I was in school, technology and start-ups and innovation in this sector weren’t really talked about,” he said. “There wasn’t much insight into it; there weren’t many opportunities. If you were interested in it, you kinda had to find your own way.”
David got an internship at Google after his junior year and ended up working there as a product manager for four years. However, he said a lack of creative freedom drew him away from the Internet giant and toward joining Sojo.
“Sojo, short for Social Joy, is a social gaming company,” David said. “But there’s a twist. Sojo takes 50 percent of the profits and applies them to build things in the real world, like schools, hospitals, etc. The goal is for you to be able to make differences in the real world while you play.”
According to David, this innovative new approach is unheard of in a world where companies like Zynga keep all of their profits from games like Farmville.
“When we showed users the changes they were making in the world, we saw more users choose our games over Zynga’s games,” David said. “When they paid, they paid more. By giving away half of our profits, we actually made more.”
The increase in profits helped both parties.
“The people we were helping won, the players won,” he said.
At his talk, he also gave students advice on how to break into the industry in Silicon Valley and what majors to pursue.
David recommended majoring in computer science or graphic design. He said that, given the chance, he would have majored in computer science instead of finance.
“I think the ideal way to do this, if you’re looking to jump in, is to learn the technical skills, pick up a coding language, develop a prototype yourself, launch it and gain some traction,” he said. “Then, at that point, you’ll have legs to go pitch to investors.”
He stressed the importance of the alumni network and implored students to create connections with successful BU alumni.
Ryan Omoruyi, a sophomore planning on majoring in graphic design, took the advice to heart.
“I was really iffy about my major before, but now I realize it can really help me in the future and in starting a career in business,” Omoruyi said. “I’m going to use all the resources that are available to me in college.”
Nathan Grotticelli, an undeclared freshman, said he also enjoyed the video conference.
“I thought the presentation was really informative,” Grotticelli said. “[Cyrus David] definitely gave some great advice. It’s inspiring to see a Binghamton alumnus to have success in the real world in something like entrepreneurship.”
David wrapped up his presentation with words of encouragement.
“I think everyone should start something in college,” David said. “It’s the perfect time to do it. You may be busy, but you don’t have the level of responsibility that you have in the adult world. Also, everyone will help you because you’re a student. It’s such a great environment to start companies.”
He emphasized perseverance and told students to not let fear of failure keep them from pursuing their dreams.
“If you have passion and you have a great team, you’re going to get funded,” David said. “The ecosystem is well-oiled right now, and the money is smart. It is going to find you if you’re the right team working on the right problem.”