It’s easy to come up with a startup idea. What’s less easy is actually turning that idea into a viable product and coding it into existence.
Anyone who is signed up to Hacker News, follows questions about startups on Quora, or is part of founder groups on Facebook will see one question come up over and over again from would-be founders: How do I find a technical cofounder?
It’s such a popular question that enterprising software consultancies advertise against the search term on Google. And while there are examples of great companies with non-technical founders, they tend to be the minority.
Will Eastcott didn’t have that problem, and he thinks it’s a key reason for his startup’s success.
Having two technical cofounders gave PlayCanvas the edge over other early-stage startups
Eastcott is the British CEO and cofounder of PlayCanvas, a 3D game engine startup which raised seed financing, became profitable, and then quietly sold to Snapchat’s parent company Snap in May 2017.
The PlayCanvas engine now powers Snap Games, casual social games inside Snapchat and one of the app’s biggest new features in years. Eastcott and his cofounder, David Evans, now live and work in California.
The two founded PlayCanvas in 2011, having met while working on the PlayStation Home for Sony in London. Eastcott himself holds a computer science degree from Imperial College London and spent years in the games industry working for companies such as Criterion, EA, and Activision before founding his company.
In an interview with Business Insider about PlayCanvas’ role in Snap Games, Eastcott said having two technical founders made the startup stand out when it was completely unknown. Evans and Eastcott had spent about a year “bedroom coding” to come up with prototypes, then took it to a pitch for the seed accelerator Techstars.
It was eventually plucked from thousands of other startups to be part of Techstars’ first ever London cohort.
“We noticed straight away that PlayCanvas stood out from the other nine [cohort] companies,” Eastcott said. “The other companies either didn’t have a chief technology officer, or just had one technical person on the founding team, but we were very technically leaning.”
The major advantage, Eastcott said, was that both he and Evans were always clear on what PlayCanvas would be. There were no pivots. “What we did have was a very clear vision about how we were going to build what we were going to build. We were technically pretty superb,” he added.
Where the pair did need to pick up skills quickly was selling. “I guess it meant we had a lot to learn in terms of the nuts and bolts of running a company and doing deals, and so we had to pick that up more than other companies would,” he said.
They didn’t do too badly, signing up paying clients such as Disney, Viacom, and Polaris. By the time of its acquisition in 2017, PlayCanvas was profitable, according to its accounts.
Both founders’ technical know-how meant PlayCanvas was a good, lightweight option for building browser games from the off. Although heavy-duty game engines Unreal and Unity have variants that let developers build web games, Eastcott pitches PlayCanvas as the easier option.
“Because PlayCanvas is built specifically for the web, it’s taken years of painstaking mobile optimization for the browser,” he said. It was this focus on lightweight games that led Snap to PlayCanvas’ door.
Will Wu, a product director at Snap, had been dreaming up games on Snapchat when he saw PlayCanvas’ technology in 2016. About a year later, Snap acquired the company and, in April 2019, launched casual social games powered by PlayCanvas.
“As soon as he saw PlayCanvas, he knew it was the ideal solution to power Snap Games,” Eastcott said of Wu. “Because the PlayCanvas team had decades of experience working in the games industry, so we were a really good fit.”