Until early 2022, the Covid-19 crisis made travel uncertain and indoor activities complicated. So why not play at travelling in your city on your own or in small groups using Coddy's urban escape games?
It's 2018 and Didier Boulvin, Sébastien Balieu and Stéphane Draux have just founded the company Kalio. "Originally, it was a web development agency specialising in the creation of websites or applications for professional customers," explains Didier Boulvin. "One day, after enjoying taking part in an outdoor geolocation game, it became clear to us that we could do the same thing, but better."
DISCOVER BY PLAYING
It is true that even before creating Kalio, the three associates each had a decade of experience in web development and that they had not yet fulfilled their quest for meaning and all their aspirations for professional change. So they embarked on the venture, published their first game and createdthe Coddy structure in February 2020.
"We love visiting cities," says Didier Boulvin. "For us, the game is the ideal pretext for a playful exploration of a city. Initially, we even planned theatre events in each of our game cities to create a competitive effect and allow a large number of participants to meet. So the whole concept existed before the Covid-19 crisis." But just a few weeks after Coddy's launch, the first lockdown upset its creators' plans.
"Our outdoor games were compatible with the health restrictions, but we were forced to change our paradigm," continued Didier Boulvin. "Because we develop our own product, this was not too complicated. We gave up on the events but made our games available at any time as a self-service product. Admittedly, we were depriving our users of the fun of competition, but we were giving them greater flexibility in their use." An opportunity that clearly matched the requirements of gamers who are less and less inclined to plan this type of activity in advance, as Didier Boulvin notes: "The figures show that 80% of purchases are made to play within the hour."
TURNING A THREAT INTO AN OPPORTUNITY
Behind the game, there is a lot of work and a lot of development perspective. "When we created Coddy, it took about three weeks of work per game," says Didier Boulvin. "I would physically visit the location for a recce. Then, back at the office, we had to organise the games, publish them in the app, etc."
Touring the interesting Belgian cities was quickly completed and the trio considered crossing the borders, but in the middle of a pandemic, this was not easy. Unless, of course, you work remotely with the help of Google maps, Google street view, Wikipedia and other specialist platforms where you can find all the information you need for a successful city tour. The only thing left to do was to improve the tools internally to reduce a game's creation time to ... three days without leaving Coddy's Brussels offices and while maintaining user satisfaction as Didier Boulvin explains: "At the end of each game, players are invited to rate their experience. And what do we find? That even for cities we've never been to, the rating is relatively similar to the rating for Brussels!" Success that takes the form of a new challenge for the three entrepreneurs: international growth.
"We are currently offering games in different Belgian and French cities. In our country, we are exposed to a rather strong seasonality and to remedy this, we need to move to countries with a more favourable climate, such as Spain or Italy, which means hiring Spanish- or Italian-speaking employees. Using this strategy, we believe we will be able to smooth out this seasonality as early as the winter of 2022-2023." Another avenue is to broaden the target audience. "Our games were originally created for adults, but we've found that more and more families are playing them. For 2022, we are working on scenarios or game modes that are a little simpler than currently so that young children can also actively take part."
TRANSCENDING THE DIFFICULTIES
The fundraising that ended in early 2022 should allow Coddy to succeed in these various challenges, achieve profitability, expand the current team of five people and bring a little extra calm to its creators. Because it hasn't all been plain sailing. "Going from a profitable web agency to a product that doesn't generate profit was complicated," says Didier Boulvin. "Kalio's turnover was constantly decreasing because we were no longer accepting new customers and Coddy was starting from scratch. We were faced with a very complicated financial situation. In addition, we had to deal with Covid-19 rules that made our lives difficult like when we had to cancel our Halloween 2020 event at the last minute in two cities at the same time that we had organised for a new game launch."
A WINNING TRIO
Fortunately, the three Coddy creators can count on each other when times get tough. Despite their different backgrounds, they share a professional experience, a great desire for change and innovation as well as an essential synergy. "We had known each other for a long time without necessarily being close," says Didier Boulvin. "The desire to create a meaningful company brought us together. We have very complementary skills and desires: Sébastien oversees all the financial, marketing and sales aspects, two areas in which he excels, Stéphane manages all the technical development aspects (mobile application, website, studio) and I personally take care of the product and quality aspects, the creation of games, new scenarios etc., as well as human resources. Being a threesome has allowed us to balance each other out: when one of us is feeling low, the others are there to give support."
The three associates were also supported when creating Coddy despite their good knowledge of administrative issues due to their previous status as self-employed. "We are currently monitored by the Réseau Entreprendre Brussels network and we are part of the hub.brussels hospitality cluster. We were a little late in getting support which is a shame because we found valuable support in areas as important as writing the business plan and financial aspects, as well as very strict follow-up, especially for the fundraising that was done with Digital Attraxion and finance&invest.brussels, Business Angels and the Belgian crowdfunding platform Spreds."
"GET YOURSELF SUPPORT"
It is on this point that Didier Boulvin is particularly insistent when asked what advice he could give to aspiring entrepreneurs: "You need to have an idea, the desire, the energy, certainly, but above all you need support! There is still not enough knowledge about the tools and structures dedicated to supporting young entrepreneurs. However, there are some adapted to each status, where you can find tools, advice, specialists ready to help and even subsidies. Don't think that asking for help is necessarily difficult. It is really important and often free.
My advice would be: get information, get support and also create a network of entrepreneurs, not necessarily in your field, but who have the same status. This way you can discuss things, be advised and, why not, go on to advise others."
Interview faite par Catherine Aerts