Miniclip: Rob Small
The Miniclip founder explains how he gets 36 million visitors to log on to his games site
Six months before the dot com crash, Rob Small and his business partner Tihan Presbie created games site Miniclip. While online companies collapsed around them, Miniclip thrived. Having secured the elusive ‘tween’ (10-16 year-olds) audience, the advertisers flocked to the site in droves.
“It was a nerve-racking time not knowing if we’d steer the business through the crash,” Small recalls. “Looking back, I think it did us a favour in the long run because it cleansed our sector of a lot of companies that didn’t have solid business plans.”
Now with a 36 million user-base Miniclip is currently the largest privately owned website in the world after Facebook. But go back to 2001 and it was just Small, Presbie and a ‘teach yourself to code Flash’ guidebook. Oh and a dancing animation of the US Commander in Chief.
Meeting of minds
Unsure of his career path, Small was graduating from a leisure management degree when he met Presbie, who’d been trading web stock in Chicago and New York at the time of the online boom. Although Small had no web background, he’d been an avid gamer since his teenage years.
Combining his love of games with Presbie’s eagerness to start an online company, the pair started investigating the idea of developing entertainment content specifically for internet users.
“At that point most of the big media companies such as Disney were just republishing their TV content online,” explains Small. “But they were struggling because pushing video over the net in 2001 was tricky – most people were still on dial-up.”
Small came across development tool Flash and decided to teach himself how to use it. He created the first version of the site and the initial few games himself. The pair rented premises in London and funded themselves, and the first year of the business, through personal savings.
Viral marketing success
The site’s first major success, and the launch pad for its phenomenal climb in visitor figures, was an interactive animation of a dancing George Bush. “We only sent it out to a few thousand people, but it was the optimal time to ride the viral wave, and it went across the world. It got about 100 million game-plays and took us from being a very small amoeba to a substantial business.
“It was crudely put together, and cost virtually nothing, but we soon realised that by creating something that capitalised on a hot issue, you could get a huge impact.”
Within two months of the Dancing Bush, the site had two million users, and the pair started developing more topical content alongside the games which were all playable through an internet browser.
As popularity of the site grew, Small and Presbie built up a network of hundreds of game developers, from 18-year-old coders in the Ukraine, to US companies with 20-strong teams.
Through a combination of advertising revenue and subscription fees for more popular third-party games, the site was profitable within two years. Small now admits to a ‘very healthy profit margin’ on the £12m turnover the site reached in 2006, which he predicts will double this year.
With the business still growing at a rapid rate, are there plans to sell? “A lot of people have approached us including 60-70 VCs,” says Small. “But with the business growing as fast as it is, we’re keen to keep control of it.”