Unity Technologies now boasts an A-list client roster and a recent Series A round led by Sequoia. But it wasn’t always wine and roses for the 8-year-old startup. Unity CEO David Helgason talks with Om about how his company survived its dark times.

It goes without saying that timing is everything. You can be like Friendster and show up too soon to the social networking party and then blow it. Or you can be like the iPod and make a splash despite being a late entrant to the MP3 player market. Unity Technologies, a 3-D gaming platform, has seen this movie from all sides. After struggling for nearly six years, the company’s gaming platform took off when Apple released iPhone and iPod touch.

With a platform that lets developers build lightweight, online 3-D games — perfectly suited for the iPhone OS-based devices — Unity became a disruptor in the games business virtually overnight. And it’s been on a bit of a roll over the past year, with a client roster that includes big names like Electronic Arts, the Cartoon Network and Disney. Mobile developers love the company, which secured a $5.5 million Series A round led by Sequoia in October of 2009. But it wasn’t always salad days for the company, which was originally based in Copenhagen, Denmark and is now headquartered in the Bay Area, as is made clear in my chat with Unity CEO David Helgason.

Helgason recounts how the company made it through some some of the darker days during its eight-year history. Some highlights from our talk include:

  • The co-founders would live off bread that was supposed to be thrown out from the cafe in which Helgason worked.
  • Since the company had no money, the three co-founders could focus on development and customer support, building a loyal fanbase.
  • When Apple included Unity at a developers conference, the company didn’t have the infrastructure to support the publicity, so that opportunity was wasted.

Perhaps the best (or grimmest, depending on your point of view) advice Helgason has for entrepreneurs is that when you find your idea, devote your whole life to it, almost like a religious movement.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Unity

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By Om Malik

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  2. Sanjay Maharaj Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    That is what’s great about innovation and technology advancement, it supports other areas and other companies grow which has a a great positive economic impact. This is a great story of survival and how a window of opportunity and an opening provided the necessary lift a company like Unity needed.

  3. great story from a great company. The product is amazing and easy to use.

    My only gripe is I paid for the engine and then they gave it away for free :p

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  5. Maybe I missed it but it didn’t sound like he actually said iPhone is what did it. Regardless I’m sure the fact that the Indie version is now free probably didn’t hurt.

  6. this guy needs to fold his collar down.

  7. Tadej Gregorcic Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    Love the product, love the company. Amazing team and fun people!

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