Kiwi company gets Disney backing

GOING UP: Mitch Olson has 15 years' experience in the commercialisation of IT.
GOING UP: Mitch Olson has 15 years' experience in the commercialisation of IT.

A mix of serendipity and word of mouth turned out to be the catalysts for Disney to invest in a virtual-world company founded by a couple of Kiwi blokes.

Mitch Olson and Darren Green weren't actively looking for investment in their start-up Small Worlds, when they attended a virtual worlds conference in San Jose at the beginning of 2008. But by chance, Olson bumped in to a Disney executive who was looking to invest in companies. Olson and Green explained their vision to him and six months later the world's largest media group had injected funds in to their virtual baby, and Small Worlds was born.

Darren Green is probably most well-known for designing the visual spectator website for The America's Cup in 2003, where people could track the progress of racing yachts. And Olsen is no stranger to start-ups, having spent the past 15 years in the commercialisation of IT.

To the uninitiated, Olson describes Small Worlds as like a Lego box, with a number of tools and building blocks to create your own world, with room for creativity and self expression. It incorporates similar social aspects as Second Life and the gaming aspects of World of War Craft.

Interestingly, it's main target audience are females aged between 13 and 55, based in the United Kingdom and United States.

It started turning a profit at the end of last year and that is relatively early for a start-up. Olson puts this down to the Small Worlds' community, where retention of players is stronger than with other online games.

They plan to optimise on the major changes in gaming in the past two years; Facebook games and mobile games. More and more players are playing games on a break from work – often just playing for five to 10 minutes. "We're looking to create something for all our players in the time they have got." And they are looking to break in to Brazil, Europe, China and Korea.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I'm not entirely sure where along the spectrum after self-employment someone becomes an entrepreneur, but I believe that in general the motivational drivers for entrepreneurs are accentuated variants of the same motivations that influence all people. The desire for autonomy both in terms of freedom and self-expression. The desire for mastery and the willingness to test your competency in the "real" world. And the desire for meaning in terms of making a difference in the world in some way that is meaningful to yourself.

What have been the biggest obstacles in running your company?

The biggest obstacle for our business and most startups is financial freedom and the ability to finance the development and deployment of aspirations.

Name one thing you've learnt while in business and from who?

I learned from working with my business partner Darren Green about the power of synergy: that two people can be more than the sum of their parts.

What are your business and personal goals?

My personal goals relate back to why I became an entrepreneur – to create more freedom in my life, and thereby be able to choose how and when I express myself in the world, and in ways that are meaningful to me. Our business goals are to create a $100 million business by 2013

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?

In my opinion these are the six most important questions that budding entrepreneurs should be able to answer;

Who are my customers and what are their needs?

Who is my competition and what are their strengths and weaknesses ?

What is my product and what is my unfair competitive advantage?

Is the product financially viable, technologically feasible, and how much will prospective customers pay for it?

How specifically am I going to acquire my customers, and enough of them to be financially independent?

How much money do I need to get started, and what key people do I need?