Vicky Wu was a 28-year-old waitress at her first restaurant job, fitting in meetings with venture capitalists between shifts, and working into the night on a business plan. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Wu had a vision for a product she thought could change the face of video gaming, now a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Her target market comprised computer savvy college kids who spent hours waging war against their buddies on video games. And they didn't want to miss anything that went on in their friends' games when they weren't in front of their own computers. Wu's idea was Froghop, a marketing database of user habits connecting video game players and consoles to enable gamers to keep an eye on their competition and boost the level of play beyond a single computer or game. Consider it like a ticker on the television during news or sporting events that keeps you updated on breaking stories or other scores.
When Wu officially launched Froghop in 2000, she'd already raised some seed money to develop the core technology and formed an equity partnership with a development team overseas. But she needed to form some strategic alliances that would bring more funding and solidify her position in the gaming world. And that was easier said than done.
A techie herself, Wu believed in her product, but she was having a hard time convincing potential backers of Froghop's potential. She was pitching anew concept in a specific niche that had not fully caught on with mainstream fans. In addition to the narrow market she was seeking to serve, she was an unknown in the industry. Potential investors were still wincing from the dot-com bust of the 1990s. And they were skeptical of Wu's youth; many worried she'd eventually bail out, distracted by bigger adventures elsewhere, leaving the company without its initial leadership and creative inspiration.
But Wu showed an early grit that kept her working steadfastly to get her business off the ground. She took rejections by venture capitalists hard, but she reached out to gamer friends and those in the industry and they reassured her there was a market for Froghop. And she found her own way to push through the disappointment, viewing these obstacles as ways to exercise her creativity and rejuvenate herself as an entrepreneur.
Eating ramen noodles and living in a windowless basement apartment to cut costs, she kept her waitress job a secret.
“The funniest part was when someone would finally be interested in the product and they'd want to have a meeting in the middle of the day, and I couldn't do it because I was waiting tables,” she says. “I'd just tell them I was in other meetings all day and would have to meet later in the day.”
Wu had given herself a year to prove to investors that someone would pay for her product. “I realized I liked the unpredictability and chaos that comes with small businesses, and I knew I wanted to start and run my own company,” she says. “It wasn't easy though; we almost died a thousand deaths, but through it all,failure was never an option. I think if you believe it enough, it eventually happens. I knew I could make Froghop successful, but I had to get creative with resource management, re-invent the company a few times and make a number of sacrifices.”
To be taken seriously, Wu realized she needed to become someone others turned to for knowledge and insight. “I had a lot working against me,” she says. “So I had to make myself someone worth knowing through speaking engagements and authoring white papers and educating the market to show them why they needed our product. While it was hard to do, I was eventually able to position myself as a subject-matter expert because I knew we had a great thing going.”
A big break came when a friend who worked with the NFL's New England Patriots offered Wu the opportunity to work on their in-house Fantasy Football project. Through the partnership, Wu was able to integrate Froghop's service into the Patriots' online Fantasy Football game. Froghop aided users in keeping up with online player trades, transactions and scores. Froghop had a winning season as other online gaming outlets took notice and picked up Froghop's services.
Meantime, Wu saw changes on the horizon for the Internet with increased popularity of handheld devices such as cell phones and PDAs. She reshaped Froghop so enthusiastic gamers could keep current on scores and other players' games through text messages and notices. Just as the Internet morphed into the mobile world, so did the gaming industry. Advertisers also can use Froghop to collect data via mobile devices and have a direct line to the demographic.
Despite more than a few rejections and bumps in the road, Wu's dream became a realization. The spark of entrepreneurialism that inspires so many also inspired Vicky Wu and impelled her to triumph. “I knew that I would start something of my own, and I always envisioned great success,” she says.
Froghop, valued around $3 million, is a company at the forefront of game-tracking trends in an industry that sees change and growth every day. Wu, now 35, is married and the mother of a toddler. “At the end of the day, success is up to you,” she says. “The formula for success is to believe in what you're doing, while working hard andsmart at it. I think that's why we became successful.”