Imagine receiving tokens as a reward for completing the sixth level of your favorite video game, and then exchanging this electronic cash for merchandise.
This bridging of the virtual video-game world with the physical one — and helping companies capitalize in the process — is the premise behind the Atlanta-based gaming startup TheMonetizr.
Recently named one of the state’s 40 most innovative companies by the Technology Association of Georgia, the Latvia-born startup is has come by way of Cincinnati to Atlanta, where it has laid down roots amid a tech boom fueled in part by a growing digital entertainment sector that includes 110 active game studios.
Co-founders Andris Merkulovs, Martins Bratuskins and Reinis Skorovs — all from from Latvia, a tech-savvy Baltic nation of 2 million people — became fast friends while working at the same merchandising company back home.
Interacting with gaming firms, they noticed a problem: developers weren’t maximizing opportunities to generate revenue and enhance customer loyalty. And microtransactions and ads simply weren’t bringing in enough cash.
They began testing a solution that would become TheMonetizr, which helps game developers sell customizable game-branded products from t-shirts and tote bags to jigsaw puzzles and coffee mugs, right from within their smartphone app. The Monetizr makes and fulfills the orders.
With proof of concept in hand, the three friends packed up and moved to the United States in 2016 to be closer to game developers, nearly half of which are based in North America, according to a report from the International Game Developers Association.
“As we were validating our solution, we quickly realized that we’re not only helping developers to sell merchandise products inside games — but we’re also making games stickier by incentivizing gamers to continuing playing the game to reach certain milestones,” Mr. Bratuskins told Global Atlanta in an interview.
That’s where the idea of the Game Rewards Engine surfaced, whereby developers can let players can accumulate MTZ tokens to redeem for real-world goods — an evolution that adds an element of loyalty beyond the simple online store.
TheMonetizr’s multilayered business model makes use of all its founders’ skills, from Mr. Bratuskin’s merchandising strength to Mr. Skorovs’ cryptocurrency background and Mr. Reinis’ experience working with nine startups at the global marketing company Omnicom.
The Journey to Atlanta
Atlanta was the team’s second U.S. stop as they followed opportunities in the U.S.
Their first was Cincinnati, where they completed the accelerator program UpTech. The local operation of global accelerator Techstars followed, prompting the team to relocate to Atlanta in 2017, where they plan to stay. (By virtue of Techstars, which received submissions from 41 countries for the second Atlanta cohort, Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises is an investor.)
“The Techstars network is amazing,” said Mr. Bratuskins. “We’ve been able to connect with resources around the world who have provided guidance, mentorship, investment, introductions, and more. We are truly grateful to Techstars — and particularly Techstars Atlanta — for giving us a tremendous opportunity to accelerate our growth and path to success.”
TheMonetizr graduated from the program last October and currently has an office at Ponce City Market. The mixed-use development in the Old Fourth Ward has been a favorite of tech firms like software developer Pivotal Labs, email marketing giant MailChimp. A blend of shops, apartments, offices and restaurants, it has also attracted co-working spaces like Industrious and even the Techstars office itself.
Proximity to other innovators has allowed TheMonetizr team to meet people to share ideas and get to know people and the city, Mr. Bratuskins told Global Atlanta.
“We can see the Techstars managing director. We can chat at any moment and get an intro to any large or small entrepreneurial business in Atlanta. Then we have energy from other startups who were accepted to Techstars,” says Mr. Merkulovs, a co-founder.
TheMonetizr arrived in Atlanta at the right time. The city was recently named No. 5 for tech talent by estate company CBRE , and For bes called it a top-three tech mecca.
The digital media and entertainment ecosystem throughout Georgia is also supported by organizations such as the Technology Association of Georgia, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Game Developers Association.
TheMonetizr currently works with 26 game studios and has shipped products to more than 40 countries around the world, but Atlanta is a fitting hub for its growing global business.
“Atlanta is centrally located for everything we are doing. Working with global manufacturing partners located strategically throughout the world, engineering resources in Europe, game studios in California, financial partners in New York — Atlanta truly is a hub for businesses operating globally,” Mr. Bratuskins said.
The three founders have remained friends through their entrepreneurial journey, from Latvia to Cincinnati to Atlanta.
Mr. Bratuskins attributes their achievements thus far in part to th eir closeness.
“We worked together previously. We decided to build TheMonetizr together. We decided to move to another country — to one state and then another — together. When you’re building a company, especially in the early stages, understanding the different strengths and nuances are invaluable.”