Editor’s note: This article appears in the latest magazine edition of Talk Business Arkansas, which you can read here.
Seventeen years old and playing video games. It sounds pretty typical of any male high schooler.
But how many 17-year-olds take their passion for video games and turn it into a career before even graduating from school?
Meet Josh Moody, a senior at Little Rock Catholic High School. He’s the chief executive officer of Bentonville-based Overwatch. And yes, you read that right. Josh, all of 17 years old, is seriously the CEO of a well-funded company housed in Wal-Mart’s backyard.
Check out what he had to say when asked how he came up with the idea for the app:
“I came up with the idea about two years ago and I was really just an avid gamer and I had just been introduced to airsoft [guns] and playing it for a couple of years. And I realized that there was a disconnect in the experience and the technology that gamers are used to seeing in combat video games as opposed to what is actually used in airsoft and paintball today, which are essentially real-life methods of recreating combat experiences exactly like those in combat video games.”
Josh went on to say that there are all sorts of advanced features available in video games that have basically never seen the light of day in recreational combat, for lack of a better term. So he set out to change that.
Initially, the idea was to program the app himself, though it proved far too complex of a task.
Luckily for Josh, his father was connected to two Northwest Arkansas app developers who his father thought could help make Josh’s dream of making a combat video game come to life.
Joe Saumweber, who is now the chief strategy officer at Overwatch, was honest about what he was thinking when Josh’s father, David, called him up. He said that he didn’t have much hope when he went for his first meeting with Josh, which took place at the Moody family kitchen table.
“Michael [Paladino, Overwatch’s chief technology officer] and I had been building digital products for a long time. When you’re in that industry, everyone has an idea. We were looking for a way to politely say ‘no.’”
It was at that meeting that Josh laid out his idea — create a smartphone app that would allow players to integrate the features of games like “Call of Duty” into real-life situations with friends on a playing course using features like GPS for enemy and teammate tracking, Bluetooth for communicating with teammates, and game perks to give your team one up on the enemy.
“Jam enemy radar, listen in on enemy communication lines or go stealth by activating perks” are just a few of the offerings listed on Overwatchapp.com.
While Saumweber said he and Paladino were not expecting to be sold on any pitch they were to receive at the Moodys’ kitchen table, that changed as they listened to Josh explain his idea.
“We knew we would be pushing the envelope a bit on the technology and that’s what appealed to us,” Saumweber said. “We do have a technology shop here in Bentonville, and we like being on the fringe. Having a good concept like this that allows us to explore what’s possible with [GPS] technology is fun. Plus, it’s just a good idea.”
With the app developers on board and without any money to pay them “as contractors,” Josh said the three waited for an opportunity to open up.
“It just so happened that at that time, the ARK Challenge business accelerator was now in its second phase, its second run and they were accepting applications for teams and companies,” he said. “And so we took this product idea, formed a business plan out of it and formed a company called Innovis Labs. And so we entered the ARK Challenge, just applied. We weren’t so confident we would get in, being that it was so early stage. But after applying and crossing our fingers, we were called back and had an interview and it turned out we were accepted as the company Innovis Labs to build this product that we call Overwatch.”
With the acceptance, the men got $20,000 of initial investment. And after 12 weeks of hard work and product development, the company was one of only three teams to walk away with $150,000 in funding for their project, which Saumweber said was an “investment from several different organizations in Arkansas,” giving the ARK Challenge an equity stake in the Overwatch app.
Having funding in place, development has been taking place at a breakneck pace – not only on the app itself, but also on hardware to connect a smartphone to airsoft and paintball guns. The men have also been working on completing the app itself, which includes various ways to monetize – including purchasing those radar and communications jams – while also doing product testing, likely making Josh one of the busiest high school seniors in the state as he works with all the free time he has when he is not in school.
Overall, the app is about 95 percent complete on the iPhone and about 85 to 90 percent complete on the Android operating system, Saumweber said, adding that even after completion, the company still has plans to continue expanding and is currently in the middle of another round of funding.
“We’ve done everything with that [$150,000] budget, which is fantastic,” he said. “But we are in the middle of a seed drop to raise an additional $300,000 on top of the $150,000. We’ll use that for marketing, building our team and continuing to iterate on the product, on the app,” he said.
Josh said while it has been a whirlwind since he first developed the concept two years ago, he has been enjoying the development of Overwatch. And while a lot of high school seniors are fretting over where to go to college and who their roommates will be in the fall semester, Josh said he isn’t.
“… I’ve found my passion here and I’m interested in learning everything there is to learn about business – whether it be formal or informal,” he said. “And much of what the ARK Challenge did was provide that basic, core level of information to help me run things from day to day. And the best opportunity for me right now is to run the business full-time and not worry about trying to deal with college and have all those other hours and responsibilities and really run the company to its full potential. So I’ll be going full-time on the company [after graduation] and if college becomes an opportunity later on, it’s a possibility. But right now it’s a backup plan.”
And that’s something that excites Saumweber, who has nothing but praise for his CEO.
“He’s fantastic. And he’s got … Josh represents a new crop of young professionals that are really, truly digital natives,” he said. “Kids like Josh, they’ve grown up with this [technology] and an expectation that technology works. He understands the hardware and software side of this. Josh is just the tip of the spear of this younger generation that will revolutionize the way we interact in the world. He’s already a really mature version of that that is already contributing, unlike most of his peers.”
And Josh is just 17.
Can’t wait to see what he does for his 18th birthday.