For Startups, Timing Is Everything — Just Ask Bunchball

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For Silicon Valley startups, good timing can be just as crucial as good technology. Just ask Bunchball, a six-year-old, San Jose, Calif.-based, social gaming, software startup.

In 2005, when the company debuted its software platform for customized social gaming apps, the current industry buzzword “gamification” hadn’t even been coined yet. Nevertheless, Bunchball hit the ground running, with a $2 million Series A funding round and one big fish client in NBC.

But what followed was essentially “three years of suck,” Founder and Chief Product Officer Rajat Paharia told me in an interview last week. “We had to be very evangelical and educational, and it wasn’t very easy at all.” Paharia stepped aside as CEO to see another chief executive come and go. Bunchball worked desperately to sell to a skeptical potential client base, as media companies didn’t see the benefit of tying in social gaming with their existing websites.

And so it went until 2010. It wasn’t until last year, with the success of offerings from companies like Foursquare and Zynga’s FarmVille, that the larger industry grasped how social gaming could bring in real money. Suddenly, Bunchball started to see real traction. “FarmVille and Foursquare put gamification on the list, and we needed there to be a bellwether,” Paharia said. In the past 12 months, the company has doubled its customer base, and its clients now include ABC, CBS, NBC, Bravo, Warner Bros., and Twentieth Century Fox.

Bunchball, which is backed with $6 million in venture capital from Adobe Systems and Granite Ventures, is now in the process of raising another funding round.

Although Bunchball has competition from new companies like BigDoor Media and Badgeville, Paharia says its years in the trenches give the company an edge. “Internet time is like dog years,” he said. “We’ve had four years to build a really good platform that’s mature, robust and flexible. [Our competitors] are going through things we went through four years ago.”

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