Rising StarRising Star: Nathan Sturgess Wants to Pay Gamers Cash While Supporting Good Causes

Nathan Sturgess, Willow Games
Willow Games founder Nathan Sturgess (right) while doing a cultural exchange project in Jordan.

Gamers are sometimes mocked for their attachment to fantasy worlds. But what Nathan Sturgess wants to offer gamers is no fantasy. Through his startup, Willow Games, which recently made the first cut in OEN’s Angel Oregon Spring 2015 Program, he is giving cold, hard cash to skilled gamers for doing what they already love—winning games. Not only that, he is giving them an opportunity to give back to the “real world” by supporting worthy causes.

Great games. Cash prizes. Charitable donations. Here’s more from Nathan:

The spark that inspired the birth of Willow Games: I was directing a documentary film and my editor showed me a game he was playing on his phone called Curiosity. The game was just a huge block made of millions of smaller blocks that people could tap to disappear simultaneously. The person to tap the last block would win a mystery prize. I had played many mobile games but always quit as soon as you get to the place where you have to pay to keep going. I was inspired by this idea of having people compete for tangible prizes because it created a more exciting experience that was based on my ability, not how much I was willing to spend.

The problem you’re solving: Many people, if not most people I talk to share my sentiment about paying to win or progress in a game. Players don’t like that user experience because it takes the challenge out of the game and puts it in your pocketbook. It fundamentally hurts great UX . Game makers know this, but they don’t have many options if they want to keep doing what they love. Competing for real prizes puts gamers back in the driver’s seat and promotes games where skill is the key! Donating to charity isn’t just a cherry on top either! Gamers care about their communities and donate millions every year through game-centric means. Making charity a priority will help define and promote us as a brand in the market.

Always be willing to see things from a different perspective.” (Tweet this.)

What differentiates you from your competition: Our competitors are focused on player vs. player tournaments that involve betting varying amounts on one-time competitions. Though, there is a place for this kind of gaming, it doesn’t offer the excitement of big prizes and the ability to compete for these prizes more often for less money. Our competitors also require platform-specific, managed money accounts that bog down good UX. We offer more bang for your buck on multiple levels and far superior UX that communicates simplicity and trustworthiness.

How you make money: We make money by taking a cut of the proceeds from tournament sales. A great thing about this is that it makes it possible to onboard new games with no upfront costs and compensate games based on how well they perform as a game and not as a money trap.

The best thing about being an entrepreneur:The best thing about being an entrepreneur is that you get to create community at the place where people spend most of their lives — at work. Improving people’s lives begins by giving them challenging, meaningful, good work to do.

The best entrepreneurial advice you have received: The best advice I’ve received was from critics. Negative feedback helps direct you to the solution faster than cheerleaders and false hopes.

Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: Always be willing to see things from a different perspective. Know the data. Trust your gut.

What wild success looks like: Success would be giving mobile game makers the freedom to just make great games that people love because they’re good and worry less about how it can be monetized. Success for me would also be donating millions of dollars to charity every year, sustaining and empowering lives through something that is often just entertainment.

The #1 book you would recommend to a budding entrepreneur: Running Lean by Ash Maurya.

What you wanted to be as a child when you grew up: When I was growing up I wanted to be everything! All kinds of different careers seemed fascinating to me. And I’ve gained a diverse set of skills because of that. Entrepreneurship is a great fit for me because it requires that you wear so many hats at first, and there’s always new challenges that keep you engaged.

The benefits of starting a company in Oregon: Oregon is a great place to start a company! You’re close to innovation powerhouses like Seattle and Silicon Valley, but not too close. And you still have all the same great talent and infrastructure.

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