First Person: Marios Karagiannis, Student Entrepreneur & Windows Phone Developer

What drives a successful start-up?  A lot of things, but it definitely needs a founder (or founders) who are really passionate about what the business is doing.  After all, when times are tough and sleep is scarce, having a strong belief in and love of what you are doing is going to help carry you through.

So, it is great to talk to student entrepreneurs who are starting out their working careers by doing something that they truly care about and one such example is Geneva-based Marios Karagiannis.  Although he only finished his education at the end of 2012 and has yet to formerly launch his start-up company, some of his Windows Phone games are already high on the Windows Phone store ranking.

We asked Marios to share his experience of being a student entrepreneur, starting with how long he’s been a keen gamer:

“I started playing around with an Atari 65 XE 8-bit computer when I was about eight and have been making games for my own enjoyment since the 90s.”   

Where are you from originally?

“I’m from Greece where I initially studied computer science, before moving to Edinburgh University in Scotland to complete my master’s degree.   Then, in 2007 I came to Geneva for my PhD, which I finished in December 2012.” 

What inspired you to create

Although I’ve been playing and developing games for years, it is only recently that I thought that perhaps I could create games that other people enjoy too. Then when the Windows Phone platform was introduced, it was clear to me how easy it has become for people like me to develop games.”

The games I’ve launched so far are: MonsterUp, MonsterUp Lite, MonsterUp Adventures and Galaxium.  They are all simple games but the emphasis is on fast and fun gameplay.  They are the kind of games you can play on the way to work or while waiting for a train. I’ve also launched two other apps, one about Aesop’s Fables for children and one for the University of Geneva.

What is your business model?

“Initially the games were on a paid-for basis, but I’m moving to a freemium model.  We’re getting a lot of traffic from the US, UK and Italy – so far we’ve had over 300,000  downloads!!

How are you funding the business?

“At first, the business was self-funded and I didn’t really need any start-up capital, but I recently got a Venture Kick grant that I will be using to build more games, with a focus on Windows 8 and the Unity platform.  I’m also working with two other student colleagues who are going to look after marketing and communications.”

What has it been like working with Microsoft, both the company and the technology?

“Microsoft still has the best development environment and Windows Phone allows you to have fun while you are creating games.  Plus, the company is really focused on developers: they know what we think and want.   And they’ve been extremely supportive, they are very present at universities, approaching students to give access to technology and advice, as well as inviting them to student competitions.  No other company is doing that for us students in the same way.”

“I was part of the Microsoft DreamSpark program and am now a member of Microsoft BizSpark.  Apart from access to free technology and support, Microsoft has also been useful for networking.  I have taken part in the Microsoft You Make It Smart competition since 2008 (and have won every year).

So what is the secret sauce?

There is no secret sauce, except that if you love what you are doing, then it shows in your final work.  That is particularly true of computer games:  the developer’s passion shows through.  I play my own games on the bus, that’s how much I enjoy them!”

So now that you’ve completed your PhD and are free to focus more on, what’s next?

“Over the past few months I’ve been doing an entrepreneurship course organised by Venture Challenge and that is really useful because it is teaching me the basics of running a business.  The start-up community in Switzerland is very strong and that helps.  The big challenge for 2013 is getting the games to as many people as possible and to introduce even more games.  My goal is to make three new titles this year that will be successful and be loved.”

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