For the love of the game: Young entrepreneur targets gaming networks

GAMURS: Riad Chikhani - Founder and CEO (left), Xiao Li - Web Developer (centre), Jeremy Lee - Android Developer (right)

“Stop playing video games!” Parents everywhere would know the statement all too well. But, what if it was that passion for gaming that could determine that young person’s entrepreneurial success?

GAMURS, a social network aimed at the gaming market, has just secured half a million dollars in seed funding. Almost 4,000 members are already using the public beta, and the young man behind the company is only 19.

“I’ve been into gaming for almost as long as I can remember,” Riad Chikhani, CEO and Founder of GAMURS, tells Dynamic Business.

“My fascination, or you could even say ‘obsession’, with gaming is what led me to challenge myself to build my own game at the early age of 12. I had a computer and had already taught myself how to program, so the rest came naturally.”

At age 14, pushed by his desire to share his achievements on a game titled RuneScape, Riad created his first social networking platform. To his surprise, the aptly named RuneGear struck a chord, bringing in 16,000 users and generating five million pageviews a year during its peak. Of course, RuneGear’s one-game focus meant the endeavour would last as long as his interest in the game did. Other games needed attention.

“Creating separate websites for each and every game simply wasn’t feasible, and that’s when GAMURS was born – one platform for posting and socialising about every game on the market,” Riad says.

Riad Chikhani, GAMURS, Founder & CEO

Riad Chikhani, GAMURS, Founder & CEO

The platform aims to shake up the gaming industry, providing gamers with one place they can share achievements and game-related information from different systems and consoles. And with 1.2 billion gamers worldwide, the market is ripe for it.

Riad, knowing he needed every sort of nudge in the right direction he could get, applied to the NRMA Jumpstart program thinking he barely had a shot of being accepted. He got in.

“Hundreds of startups apply to these sorts of programs, and with $30,000 of seed funding and 12 weeks of mentoring from the best and brightest in the startup industry up for grabs, I figured my chances were slim to none. You can imagine my surprise and delight when GAMURS was chosen as one of the six startups to participate,” Riad says.

“The program involved intensive mentoring, business model evaluation, and building, among other things. Mentally, it was exhausting, as it’s so much information to get through in a short time period. But it was extremely valuable – not just the initial seed funding, but the lessons we learned in how to become worthy CEOS and leaders for our companies.”

The experience and tools earned during the program is no doubt paying dividends, especially now that GAMURS’ capital-raising process is registering big numbers.

An early-stage investor plugged $20,000 into the start-up. Towards the end of the NRMA Jumpstart program, that same investor placed another offer for a new round of investment. Artesian Capital and a Senior Director at an undisclosed games publishing company also jumped on board, pushing GAMURS’ seed funding draw to an impressive $500,000.

“This funding will give us enough overhead for the next 16-18 months, in which time we have plenty in the pipeline,” Riad explains.

“We’re actively developing the site towards its official launch in June, working on improving user engagement levels, and we’ll soon be opening the platform up for fan groups and indie game developers to white label for their own private use.”

At 19 years of age, Riad’s big moves are a rarity in the business world, and he knows it.

“Having this experience at such a young age, the opportunity to build a vision that I dreamt up with the other GAMURS co-founders, Phillip Luu and Malik Akl, is extremely humbling,” he says.

“The fact that I’ve been given an opportunity to start a business in an industry that I’m passionate about is phenomenal, and I’m so thankful for all of the supporting mechanisms in place that are there to support entrepreneurs like myself.”

Of course, as every hard-working entrepreneur knows, certain sacrifices have to be made. In Riad’s case, it was university.

“I was doing a bachelor of computing science at UNSW, but I knew that if I wanted to get GAMURS off the ground and develop it into a thriving business, I needed to put everything I had into it – not just do it as a side gig. I’m determined to finish my degree at some stage, but I’ll probably combine it with a bachelor of commerce as well.

“You need to have very thick skin in this business, it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. I’ve had to learn very early on how to pick myself back up and keep moving forward with the company’s vision despite any setbacks or failings.”

Life lessons learned early can only help and with GAMURS set to officially launch in June, the focus is now on development planning and marketing strategies.

“We want to be the home away from home for gamers, the place they head to whenever they aren’t actually playing a game and want to reach out to like-minded individuals. Right now, the gaming industry is quite segmented, with different, closed networks for Xbox, PlayStation, Steam, etc. We want to remove those dividing lines and enable the entire gaming community to connect with each other in a console- and game-agnostic environment.”