SURF Incubator Already Barrelling With Numerous Startups and Entrepreneurs

As you might have heard, Seconds is one of the first tenants to stake claim on high value territory in Seattle’s newest tech hub SURF Incubator.  They officially opened their doors April 30th but already we are seeing some solid action emerging from within.   We’ve only been in there a few weeks, but here’s some highlights from a few early  SURF tenants I was able to get some time with in between  the craziness of startup life.

Knotis, which helps you discover great deals from businesses you’ll love, is one of the initial launch tenants.  CEO McLean Reiter says he chose SURF because “their mission is to help startups launch as quickly as possible so they can get out on their own, which is pretty much every statups’ goal.”

For background, knotis is reviving the concept of the digital coupon by taking the marketing strategy originated by Asa Candler with Coca-Cola and infusing it with 21st century tools. They are calling this new take on coupons an Online Social Incentive and merchants can now easily create as many as they wish at the low monthly cost (as opposed to the Groupon style of massive revenue share which can be detrimental to businesses). Merchants can share these self-generated OSI’s in online banner ads or through their social media channels like Facebook and twitter.

Knotis is doing business differently and intelligently by charging its merchants a low, flat-rate of $14 per month, and if the merchant doesn’t make a sale during the month, they are not even charged! “That’s just company culture,” says 28 year old founder, McLean Reiter. “We want to help local businesses thrive!”

Asked about why he favors SURF, McLean adds “My favorite thing so far is that everyone is there for the same reason – to succeed – and other entrepreneurs and developers, although busy, are still willing to help other teams achieve success.”

Another early startup is Shopobot, a better search engine for shopping. For example, stores are constantly changing their prices (even day to day), and they make it clear when it’s the right time to buy – which can save people a lot of money. At their heart they’re an analytics company, and  using their data and UI to give people an edge when shopping online.

According to one of the founders Dave Matthews, they went through more of an accelerator in San Francisco before coming back up to Seattle.  “When we started Shopobot we went through an incubator in San Francisco called AngelPad, which was super helpful for doing the demoday / launch / fundraising push. It was really hands-on with all the companies in the program moving on the same schedule towards launch. Now that we’re past that phase, SURF is a great spot for us to focus on our product and growth – while getting the benefits that come from a shared space.”

He notes they wanted to work in a shared space for the unexpected conversations, and meeting other people working on startups. “SURF has the right balance for us of lots of meetups and events and other teams working here, but we still get our private area to focus as a team.”

Lastly is Pandamonium Games, who just announced a Kickstarter project called The End Saga: Revival.   In short, it’s a 90’s style mobile role-playing game, bottling the best of that era and sticking it into a beautiful mobile gaming experience. Using the art of nexxing to build new items, while you amass a team of fighters, magicians or rogues to take out the evil Ismata.    (You should go check it out on Kickstarter!)

Jimmy Gambier from Pandamonium Games says “We chose SURF because we’re not big enough to have a dedicated office space and yet meeting in coffee shops was getting old. I’d also visited places in the Valley like Dogpatch Labs were you can feel the sense of community in the air. We wanted a place where we could bond with like minded people and companies.”

Digging a little deeper on why they chose the Kickstarter/crowd-funding route , Gambier said they went with Kickstarter because they wanted to go directly to the community versus spending their precious time pitching to investors. “We would rather spend the next 6 months heads down on our product instead of raising money.”  I can attest to that!

Gambier believes Kickstarter is the next evolution in investment, as you can receive instant market validation which helps you determine if you are heading in the right direction.  Interestingly, he sees a side benefit from crowd funding platforms.  “Building a fanbase is also crucial for the kind of game we’re working on. We’re catering to a hardcore gamer audience and we thought building that user base early would be wise.”

Through his words it’s obvious Jimmy couldn’t resist the entrepreneurial pull and is the exact person SURF and other incubators need to help cultivate a great community of founders.  “I had been involved in startups in the past and had an unshakeable desire to start a gaming company. It almost seems like there wasn’t anything else worth doing. The art of building a fun game has fascinated me for years and continues to as I learn more about the craft.”

If you are like me, you’re probably not familiar with Pandamonium Games, a scrappy Seattle based games startup who loves RPGs. They’ve made a couple of social games before, but this is their most ambitious game to date. The team has worked at places such as Nintendo, Wizards of the Coast, Amazon and a large MMO company.

Here’s Jimmy’s take on their quick history:

“For the past two years, we’ve been a small but committed team working in the social games space. When Glen Matsushita and I met at Tully’s in Bellevue, Washington, in 2009 to brainstorm our first title, we had never built a game before or worked together as a team. By the end of the first month, we had settled on using the Facebook platform to create Champions of Justice, a superheroes game. We brought on a couple of guys who had worked at Wizards of the Coast—a publisher of fantasy and science-fiction based role-playing games, board games, and collectible card games—to help with the art and writing, and went to work.

“The company was founded on the principle that there is a place for hardcore games in the next evolution of gaming.We made a couple of games along the way—neither a major hit—and are now working on our third title. Whether or not this will be our breakthrough in what has become a highly competitive market, we have the same passion and dedication that got us into the business in the first place. In fact, as we’ve gotten more experience, we’re getting better with each iteration and this title has been the most fun to work on since we’ve carved out more definitive roles and skill sets among the three founders.”

It’s early days for SURF Incubator and I look forward to meeting (and possibly writing about) many more startup founders.  If you are interested in SURF office space, feel free to visit their website and send them a note.

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