Storybricks, the AI gaming startup co-founded by serial entrepreneur Rodolfo Rosini, has announced that it’s pivoting. Gone is the company’s super-ambitious mission to create a new browser-based MMO that would let users turn stories into games. Instead, harnessing much of its core tech, the startup aims to build the best artificial intelligence (AI) engine for online games by giving characters emotions — and licensing this engine to third-parties.
In other words, in with the B2B, out with the B2C (a move that resulted in layoffs during the summer consisting of 3D artists and animators).
To that end, post-pivot, Storybricks is already working with a number of studios to help boost their AI credentials. One such deal that we’re hearing about represents a major client win for the burgeoning company and if it pans out would be of jaw-dropping magnitude — and I don’t say that lightly.
Furthermore, it comes at a time when Storybricks has finally closed a round of funding (or at least is ready to talk about it). The company, which tried and failed with a Kickstarter campaign, has raised $815k from an impressive list of angels that includes Alex Khein, Kima Ventures, Playfair Capital, and Andy McLoughlin (co-founder of Huddle), spanning the U.S., UK, Germany, France and Israel.
However, I’m told that the road to investment for the London/San Francisco-based startup was a long and bumpy one.
“Despite this being my 3rd VC backed startup and advising several more, this was the hardest fundraise I’ve ever done. Turns out, finding tech investors for visionary products in the games space is really fucking hard”, says Rosini.
A year in the making, fundraising success finally came thanks to AngelList, which Rosini says more UK startups should take advantage of.
“Our pitch was in a very niche space, and there were not many investors who had the appetite for it. Moreover I was in London and wanted to connect with angel networks outside the UK. At that time no UK company had ever raised money on AngelList and I’m shocked that still to this day more startups aren’t using it”, he says.
Storybricks also tried to raise funds on Kickstarter after noting that Pebble had done the same. But the effort turned out to be in vain, providing a few valuable lessons along the way.
“We framed our message in a way that was confusing for consumers. But we ended up with all the top developers from the Valley and the game industry giving us money (if you look at the list it’s a tech all-stars). That’s when we decided to focus on them”, he says.
Rosini also thinks he got off lightly, and had the Kickstarter campaign been a success, Storybricks’ change in strategy would have brought a whole set of new problems.
“Failing Kickstarter saved our asses. As a startup you want to be able to change plans, pivot, scrap what does not work. Your own money and angel money is great for that. Succeeding at the KS campaign and being morally forced to deliver a product that was not a winner in the long run would have hurt us or would have disappointed our backers”, he says.
Rosini’s advice to other startups that are thinking about using Kickstarter is that it is good for pre-sales of products or hardware that need a minimum of units ordered to be put into production. But not if you “need the freedom to iterate and pivot”.
Which, of course, is exactly what Storybricks has done — and it appears to be working. The company has already secured a number of “blue chip customers” (though it isn’t yet saying who) and claims to be close to being profitable, as it looks to cash in on what it says is the demand to make online games smarter.
“Games are shifting and now are services rather than a single 20 hour experience. Audiences need to be engaged for a long time and the cost of creating content has gone up. Our technology removes the need for scripting game characters and manages the relationships between them… towards more sandbox-style gameplay where users can influence the gameplay and create content for others.”