Why Would A Gaming Software Company Co-Founded By An Argentine In Brasíl Move Everything to Medellín, Colombia?
Blokwise, also known as BW Studios, has developed video game and animation work for South American brands such as Haceb and Pilsen, as well as global entertainment giants like TNT and the Cartoon Network. A company like this could probably operate anywhere, whether in Brasíl where it initially located due to the talent pool, or the co-founder’s native Argentina. After experience in both places, instead of moving to more technologically well known California or Costa Rica, Blockwise chose Medellín, Colombia.
Finance Colombia’s Loren Moss (above, left) sat down with Blokwise Co-Founder (along with her husband Camilo Botero) Evangelina Colasso to learn about Blokwise’s strategy, success to this point, and the importance of location to the studio’s “secret sauce” (or better said, chimichurri).
Finance Colombia: What can you tell me about Blokwise?
Evangelina Colasso: I will tell you first a bit about the history in order to introduce the team and then I will tell you about the project. The company was created four years ago; we started in Brasil. There are two partners, Camilo who is Colombian, and myself—I’m from Argentina. Maybe you notice because of the accent! Ok, the headquarters were in Brasil because it was the place in Latin America that has more careers in videogames professionally, so we started there and had a year approximately, during the startup phase. It took us a while, and we decided to open a venue in Argentina to start expanding in the continent, because we do have big clients.
Finance Colombia: In Buenos Aires?
Evangelina Colasso: And after that, we opened production here because we were interested in the offer they have here in Colombia: the Digital District, the innovation being promoted by the Government; Medellín is the city for that. Even in the capital, in Bogotá, they would speak about it constantly: ‘Medellín is the city of technology.’ And well, we decided to try it here, and once we saw that the team could work here, we pulled out all the stops. We began with 5 people, here at Ruta-N, now we are at 22.
Finance Colombia: How long?
Evangelina Colasso: 2 years.
Finance Colombia: Wow.
Evangelina Colasso: We’ve grown fast.
Finance Colombia: 400%!
Evangelina Colasso: In general, we like the city.
Finance Colombia: Why Medellín? Why not Bogotá?
Evangelina Colasso: Well, Bogotá has a traffic problem, quite important, on the other hand there are already companies, there is local competition you’d have to fight with other companies for resources, there is a higher cost of living, and we are aiming towards a business model which is basically attractive to foreign investors and to international clients. We can fulfill that objective from here. Our objective is to be able to capture both clients and investors, and we are doing that well.
Finance Colombia: What is your impression—I imagine that in some cases you have invited clients or potential clients to visit you, and they haven’t seen the city or Colombia, what is their impression when you show them around?
Evangelina Colasso: Everybody has told me ‘what a pretty town,’ and then the mountains shock them, but because they come from the United States, where everything is mostly flat. Because I’m a foreigner, every time I come down from the airport into Medellín, I say ‘Wow! Such a lovely view!’ There are very beautiful things. They had told me about the quality of the people, they are very warm; everybody serves you well and treats you well. It is reflected in the personality of the people we work with, our employees. This warmth of the people in Medellín makes it so much friendlier. They are non-problematic people, very positive, and proactive, who want to work. I think those things are the ones that tempt us to say, ‘talent in Medellín is richer than maybe in the rest of the cities.’
If you are small and have no idea about your growth potential, you don’t know how successful your project can be, and you sign up for an office for three years and then it is too small. Here you can grow. “Today we are four, tomorrow we can be twenty, and I don’t need to move a finger to adapt it, I have the same conditions if I have 6, 10, 20, or 30.
Finance Colombia: And in the next few years, 2016-2017 how will Blokwise be different than it is now?
Evangelina Colasso: We have an important project now and we are seeking investors in order to stop working solely for clients. We do work for hire, and we have revenue share with Cartoon Network, and with other clients as well. We publish a game in Latin America which gives us 50% of earnings, and now we are publishing it again worldwide, with 15% revenue share with Cartoon Network in the United States. Those are the two models we have now. Our intention is to preserve revenue sharing because the works are already published, but we want to start working with intellectual property, creating our own licenses. We feel we have been able to grasp the work given to us by clients. We have learned a lot in terms of video game development; we have been working for four years developing videogames. We feel prepared, and have learned from enough mistakes so as to now say ‘I’m looking for an investor.’
Finance Colombia: So you are looking for investors such as venture capital?
Evangelina Colasso: Yes, private equity.
Finance Colombia: Ok, and how is Blokwise different, how are you innovative? Because there are plenty of companies who are able to do animation, to produce videogames, big and small, but Blokwise’s difference—Why should investors pay attention to you? What is the difference?
Evangelina Colasso: We have several main advantages. The first one I believe is the experience, we have developed and currently develop games of the same nature as those required by the global corporations we serve. Beyond experience, we have learned to develop products with our own intellectual property. We reinvested those earnings we had with client jobs into our company to produce our own licensed products.
Finance Colombia: There are some examples of what you’ve done for Cartoon Network, The Regular Show is my favorite one!
Evangelina Colasso: It is very good. In Spanish it’s ‘Un Show Más.’ I love it! It has a lot of spectacular content. It’s absurd, the amount of imagination the writer of that series has! There is also Tío Grandpa.
Finance Colombia: Uncle Grandpa! The crazy guy!
Evangelina Colasso: It’s hilarious! It’s something quite impressive, let me tell you.
Finance Colombia: Yes, yes…
Evangelina Colasso: Those are some of the best ones, and Clarence is also there.
Finance Colombia: The boy, yes, of course…
Evangelina Colasso: This is the trailer of the game we are about to launch in the United States. Formula Cartoon All-Stars. Then you have the official videos and then the tens of thousands from the users. It was a great success, and this is just Latin America, you can imagine the international launch! This one will contain as new players, Clarence, Benson, Steven, Uncle Grandpa among others, and amazing new tracks and cars. The original Annoying Orange series was made by a student who uploaded it on YouTube and got a lot of followers, and Cartoon Network bought the series.
Finance Colombia: And apart from them, who are your clients?
Evangelina Colasso: We have TNT apps. Cartoon Network came up with a new app called “Cartoon Network GO,” they produced it internally, and now they have given it to us to redo.
Finance Colombia: In what ways has Ruta-N helped you? You already have the location, but how did they make it easier for you to establish here in Medellín and reach the place you are now, from 5 to 22 and growing?
Evangelina Colasso: It is quite important. When you arrive from the outside, you have nothing. Ruta N is about the landing of companies coming from the outside. Maybe you arrive with the talent, one or two along with you, you buy the computers, the basics and the necessities, but otherwise you have everything. There you have the meeting room, offices, the physical structure of a ready-made office, you just plug your machines in and start to work. When you have a startup or are an entrepreneur what you need is time for working, you don’t need to worry about paying the utility bills, all those things, distractions, something stupid like choosingwhat clothes to wear in the morning are micro thoughts you spend your time on, but you don’t have those distractions here at the office.
Finance Colombia: Yes, you have to focus.
Evangelina Colasso: And everything has excellent quality, so that you can feel comfortable.
Finance Colombia: These are class-A offices. The prices are affordable even for a startup, and they also are friendly to the environment. It is impressive to see that this space is here to incubate and help grow entrepreneurs.
Evangelina Colasso: Moreover, growth ability: if you are small and have no idea about your growth potential, you don’t know how successful your project can be, and you sign up for an office for three years and then it is too small. Here you can grow. “Today we are four, tomorrow we can be twenty, and I don’t need to move a finger to adapt it, I have the same conditions if I have 6, 10, 20, or 30. So I think this is a non explicit benefit, but that we felt because we grew. Every time we hired 5 people we had to change the office and to worry about things.
And beyond that, one of the most valuable things is the support Ruta-N gives you, the relationship with ProColombia, ACI, the networking, the information you receive, being surrounded by other businesses, there is a whole bunch of support from Ruta N, but also from the community itself. So it happens to be a collaboration. Ruta N does not do it alone, that’s the most interesting thing, if it were Ruta-N alone, it wouldn’t work. So, truly, it is a huge group with a vision of transforming Medellín into a city of [technology] services, and I think it is doing an excellent job. There are many cities trying to accomplish change, but not as transformational as we are experiencing here.
Finance Colombia: Fascinating. If you had to choose only one benefit that Medellín has, or if there is an entrepreneur or a company, what one reason should he or she consider to justify settling here in Medellín?
Evangelina Colasso: If you are a big company like Hewlett Packard, the low costs will impact you a lot. Salaries, resources, I think it impacts them a lot, benefits them greatly. It happens to be a huge contrast. For large employers like HP, I’d say it’s fundamental.
There are many cities trying to accomplish change, but not as transformational as we are experiencing here.
Finance Colombia: Without sacrifying quality?
Evangelina Colasso: Exactly. Maybe videogames, our market, it is a little bit more difficult, because you don’t sacrifice a person’s quality, but most of the students here are not already professionals, so we have to teach them, instruct them, bring people from the outside, which in terms of cost is still more affordable, than someone from California. Everybody knows about videogames there, there are a whole lot of programmers, game designers, impressive artists; among the best in the world—but the costs, who can keep up with them? How can I sell our concept to [prospective employees] at a better price, and tell them that in Latin America they have an opportunity, and we offer the same price they may get from a local company. It is not about growing as a company, but as a total environment. I would love to see videogames flourish here in Medellín, because the stronger we are as a community, the better represented we are in the world as a company. And then one day they start seeing Medellín as the city of videogames—I wish to see that, so we can say ‘we have an industry guild, we support each other and do things together and commercialize worldwide’—that’s my vision.
Our objective as a company is to become the best racing videogame company. It would be much easier if Medellín was the most important video game city in Latin America, which I believe, can be reached because there is the capacity here, and a lot of people like video games, it’s unimaginable.
The source from where we have had the most success is CESDE.
Who else did we work with, to bring talent? We have dealt with several universities, but the source from where we have had the most success is CESDE. With Camilo we speak a lot about education, how it is not cost-effective for companies to hire people who have studied so many years, with such professional experience already, to start out doing simple tasks, so we very much agree with this philosophy of simplifying education, making it shorter and more objective, more specific, and CESDE is a clear example of that. There is so much talent studying there! And the good thing is, it is not attended by students with a lot of resources. The social aspect is also very attractive, giving opportunities not necessarily to people born into all the advantages, but to someone who really needs it.
Finance Colombia: What else would you like for the reader to know about Blokwise?
Evangelina Colasso: Good question. I think it is not just about us, it’s about all of Latin America, that Latin American talent has huge potential. There are things happening here in Latin America, and people outside don’t realize it. One of them is the amount of human talent we have here, it’s impressive. We hired some time ago an illustrator with such ability, that guy could be working for Pixar easily, he makes the same quality of illustrations we receive from Pixar’s film “UP,” and you see the work and say ‘beautiful, we won’t find people like that here,’ but here they are. They are here! We had an interview, and a lot of people came. Amazing! So I think, it’s not just about our company, but in Latin America in general. There is a lot of talent, and I believe that can be seen in our company, a lot. We have captured a lot of talent. There are a lot of people who love videogames, who have thought about their games all their lives, ever since they were children they wanted to design games, and made the effort so even if there is no career opportunity they are self-taught by searching the internet: “What is a game designer?” and they learned on their own.