Buffd automatically reports on your gameplay to fuel banter with friends. The company’s mission is to give games life beyond the console by tapping into the social aspect of gaming with friends. I found the company while doing research for an investment thesis on how videogames are becoming the next social platform and the changes this entails. I had the opportunity to chat with Buffd’s founders, Austin and Spencer, to learn more about their project in an exciting and high-growth industry.
From hobby to startup
Austin and Spencer moved to Evanston in September of 2018, eager to start their new chapter as Northwestern undergrads. They met during Northwestern’s Wildcat Welcome orientation program, where students are grouped into 10-person peer advisory groups to foster community and prepare them for the Fall quarter. Little did they know that this would be the beginning of their path as entrepreneurial partners and founders of Buffd.
It all started when they realized they both shared a passion for entrepreneurship and video games such as FIFA and Madden. They quickly found other avid gamers in their dorms to compete and exchange banter, turning their hobby into a semi-competitive activity. As if the bragging rights were not enough, matches started to include $5 to $10 wagers to spice things up.
However, they soon realized that keeping track of unpaid bets, stats, and match records was a confusing and time-consuming process, making it hard to determine who was the group’s best player. To solve this problem, Austin and Spencer decided to build Qade, an app to track wagers and scores.
“Friends of ours would always form arguments hinging on transitive property: for example, he was the best player because he had beat a friend that had beat another friend who beat us all. However, without any real bookkeeping, we never had a real way of knowing.” Levitt said.
Early traction and big wins
As two non-technical co-founders that had never built an app, they explored the idea of outsourcing the coding and design to third parties. However, after talking with what seemed like hundreds of freelancers and coding companies, they learned that they would never be satisfied as no one else would ever share their same passion and vision.
As a sophomore in Northwestern’s Computer Science program, Spencer decided to tackle the problem head-on. To do so, he spent a month learning everything he could to build a product that lived up to their expectations. With the MVP then built in just 10 days, they released a beta version for 20 users who bet over $400 in the first few days. Having seen some early signs of product-market fit, they polished their app for a public release which reached 300 downloads in its first week.
Riding on the tailwinds of early adoption they decided to participate in Northwestern’s VentureCat, the school’s annual student startup competition, where they secured first place in the Consumer Product & Services track and second place in the Grand Prize Finals, winning $59,000 in non-dilutive prize money to continue developing their idea. A couple of months later, they were accepted into Northwestern’s Wildfire pre-accelerator, where the team won first place and an additional $5,000 investment in its Demo Day.
Adapting to customer feedback and the pivot to Buffd
Even when they were having an easy time getting people on the app, shown by Qade’s 700+ downloads, the founders realized that engagement was dropping quickly. By interacting with their user base, they learned that gamers loved seeing other friend’s stats and engaging with gameplay but there was far too much friction in needing to input results manually for games without accessible APIs.
Leveraging their skillset and recent learnings, the duo decided to create Buffd, an app where players automatically get written reports about their Call of Duty Warzone gameplay with banter and stats. At the start, to really offer a customized experience for each user, Austin and Spencer woke up at 6:00 am every day to write these reports manually with the help of their friend Jackson. But the work was paying off, as they quickly reached an engaged user base of 100 through word of mouth. A Twitch streamer put the Buffd logo on his public profile page, users were sending their reports in big group chats, and one user wrote to them, “It’s a modern morning newspaper of info I actually want to read. We’re all hooked.” They needed to cap the user base at 100 while they figured out how to scale effectively to serve the growing demand.
The Buffd team is now using what Spencer likes to call a “human automated solution,” where they have devised a way to scale the user base while still providing the custom reports that bring many users back every day. Additionally, since the app facilitates social banter with friends, they now release group reports rather than individual briefs. With one month of traction from their latest adjustment, Buffd now boasts nearly 300 active users on its platform, including professional athletes and popular Twitch streamers.
What is next for Buffd?
The Buffd team is looking to reach 1,000 active users by early 2021, as they continue working on their product and growth tactics. Buffd has begun releasing social awards and highlights, such as the recently coined “Donut of the Day,” awarded to the Call of Duty Warzone player with the most zero-kill games.
“People are already posting their Buffd reports publicly, which is awesome to see. We are giving games life beyond the console, and having fun with it,” Pager said.
If you are interested in competing with friends and receiving your reports visit Buffd and download the app or feel free to reach out to Austin (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Spencer (email@example.com) to learn more about it.