Interview: GameOn Founder Alex Beckman ’06 on Social Media, Sports, and Turning Chaos Into Order
Alex Beckman ’06 is Founder and CEO of GameOn Technology, a company creating mobile social apps that enable fans to engage with their friends while enjoying their favorite sporting events.
An early-stage employee at Cal-founded Coincident.tv, Beckman went on to found EVNTLIVE (acquired by Yahoo in 2013), and, most recently, GameOn, collaborating with his Berkeley peers and classmates every step of the way. Beckman has also made the Berkeley Founders’ Pledge, joining a community of startup executives who have tapped into Cal’s vast ecosystem of resources and pledged to support the University as their ventures mature.
Q. What have you taken from your Berkeley experience to your career as an entrepreneur?
My wife, business partners, and co-workers!
Ask any entrepreneur how life is at home, and you are likely to strike a chord. I can honestly answer the above question by saying “I took my wife from Berkeley into our careers as entrepreneurs!” I have to imagine that without a supportive nuclear family, starting a company is almost impossible. I can thank Cal for enabling me to meet Felice, and for giving us the educational tools required to thrive in the fields we love.
The Cal network is an amazing asset worth protecting. To this day, I continue to work with Cal grads. I had the pleasure of working with my brother, Jonathan Beckman ’12, as my co-founder at EVNTLIVE. My business partner at Elastic Holdings (a small investment firm we created after selling EVNTLIVE to Yahoo!) is a collaboration with Brandon Simmons ’04, one year my senior at Cal, and my best friend and partner in crime out here in Silicon Valley. GameOn, my current company, has benefited from Nate Simmons and Nick Paranomos ’06 — both part of the Cal family as well.
Cal is an amazing place filled with people capable of changing the world. If you are there now, look around and see who you might like to change the world with!
Q. Where did the idea for GameOn come from? What is your ultimate vision for the platform?
It came from Cal, actually…
My class was a spoiled one – I attended Cal when Aaron Rodgers, Alex Mack, Marshawn Lynch, DeShean Jackson, and many other future NFL stars were on the football team. As an undergrad, we saw top ten teams compete for BCS bowl wins, however, after graduating, things changed and we started losing. I stopped watching the games on TV, but I joined my fraternity’s list serve, and every Saturday, I witnessed something amazing – I would receive between 100-200 emails starting from just before kickoff till after the final whistle. I could read this email thread and know exactly what happened at the game. The best part was that it was funny and personal. It was like my own personal SportsCenter.
Around this same time, I was lucky enough to be at a World Series Game at AT&T; Park, and I was bouncing back and forth between ESPN, WhatsApp, Group Text, Twitter, etc. and my phone died due to lack of battery. That was when GameOn was born.
I met up with some friends (Kalin Stanojev and Nate Simmons, my two co-founders) and started to imagine how would we take our primary communication device – our mobile phones – and create the best way for fans to be social while enjoying their favorite content. That idea eventually became GameOn, and we are now taking that platform to amazing new heights.
Q. What’s the hardest thing about running a startup? What keeps you up at night?
Taking care of your people, and turning chaos into order
People make the dream come to life – without great co-founders, employees, and contributors, no company will thrive. The Bay Area is an amazing place, but it is hard to lead a team that knows Google exists! Finding creative ways to make people feel good about going to work at an early stage company is hard. When free lunch, massages, and bus rides are a long way away, and recruiters are lobbing in emails relentlessly trying to poach your staff, you have to take care of your people. I have become friends with my colleagues, and no matter what our role at the company, we care about each other.
I have had times at various companies when funding didn’t work out as fast as we’d hoped, and I had to let folks know that pay checks would be late. I asked them to trust me that it would all work out – and luckily, it did… but I lost a few nights of sleep replaying those conversations over in my head. When you ask people to take a chance with you on something wild, and they turn down Google to do it, you lose sleep when you have to break bad news.
Turning chaos into order is a skill I strive to master. As a film major at Cal, I studied the importance of conflict – every good story has it. The work world shares with the film world that in order to achieve success, one must wield conflict with balance and purpose. I have witnessed some of the great entrepreneurs take a moment fraught with excitement, peril, and opportunity – with an audience of millions of people (and press) watching – and deliver a Joe Montana-esque performance. And I have also seen CEO’s crumble under the pressure.
I have learned the hard way at EVNTLIVE and GameOn that the opportunity to be consumed by chaos is omnipresent, and that part of being a good leader is creating a balanced environment.
Q. Is it better to join a startup right out of school, or start your own?
I only know one path, but clearly there are many.
This question is a tough one. We all have read about people who left school to start companies and become billionaires. I will share my opinion based on what I did.
I studied Film at Cal. I spent the first couple years of my career working on commercials as a PA and doing odd jobs on set. I loved it. I made great friends and forged brilliant, lifelong relationships working in an industry I love. To this day, those friendships are paying off in ways I never imagined – both in my personal and work life.
I then worked for over three years at an interactive video startup called Coincident.tv, founded by fellow Cal grad David Kaiser ’75. I learned a lot working for David. I was one of the company’s very first employees, grew the team to about 20 people, and after a few years decided it was time to start my own company. I can honestly say I still wasn’t ready for what happened next.
I learned a lot in my first year as CEO of a company. We raised money, built a solid team, and shipped a well-received product. I kept trying to stay ahead of the curve while feeling like there was no way possible to get it all done.
I feel much better in the CEO seat at this second effort. I saw a lot at EVNTLIVE, and GameOn feels like it fits. But I am 31 now, and have spent almost 10 years working to get to this comfort level.
I will finish by sharing that just last week, I met a 22-year-old Cal grad who seemed to be doing just fine running a company twice as big as GameOn, and all I could do was feel proud that Cal is able to produce such amazing, talented leaders.