Rift: a summer during Startup Launch

Rift: CREATE-X startup bridges the gap between gamers and their favorite internet celebrities.

During spring of 2018, Gordon Li and Riley Auten, both Computer Science majors at Georgia Tech, decided to focus all of their time into Rift, a startup that connects video game streamers with their online community followers. Online Twitch streamers are connected with their fan base by hosting a session where they play a game and stream together. Li noticed a trend in the chat threads next to these live streams. People were constantly asking to play with the streamer. Li thought, “I love watching these guys play a game that I enjoy; how cool would it be to be able to hop in and play alongside them?” Rift now makes this dream a reality.

Both Li and Auten grew up loving video games and have always been a part of the community — from the early days of YouTube commentators for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 back in 2009 to the growth of professional eSports, now a $906 million industry. They have seen the gaming industry evolve as consumers. 

By the time they started Startup Launch, they had already developed their website and had already started marketing. After meeting with one of their coaches, Rachel Ford, previous Director at Techstars Atlanta, Li learned that Rift was overdeveloped. Ford inquired about Rift and asked multiple questions that neither Li nor Auten were able to answer about their market. Most of these questions could have been answered if Rift had worked on customer discovery prior to building their product. They realized the website they had worked on so much was not what customers wanted.

Originally, Rift aimed to offer several services, including coaching services from professional eSports players to their fans, team building services for eSports teams, and more. Ford asked the team to step back and conduct a customer discovery. Li did not touch any code for their website for a month and instead interviewed 250 people. They interviewed both fans and content creators to see what they really wanted out of a service like this. They interviewed members of the gaming community at gaming café’s like Battle and Brew and at conventions hosted in Atlanta, including Dragon Con. They also interviewed several content creators and eSports professionals online. “People underestimate the power of talking. We have learned a lot through our conversations.”

A typical week in the program involved 10 to 11-hour work days, including weekly meetings with their coaches on Thursdays and attending their mini-batch session and group lunches on Tuesdays.

At first, Startup Launch seemed intimidating to Li. He felt that everyone in the room was much more qualified than him, but over time he realized that everyone was in it together and going through the same process. What was first intimidating eventually became a driving force in his motivation. Watching others give it their all while trying to achieve their goals was really inspiring. Everyone at some point has no clue what they are doing.

Li continues to keep in touch with many people from CREATE-X. Their coach connected them to a website designer Rift still uses; they continue to call their mentor, Evan Jarecki, from Gimme Vending and Startup Launch alumni; and he remains close friends with a few others from his mini-batch.

Rift recently launched their beta and currently has 20 content creators on board with 50 fans and over 20 sessions between content creators and fans hosted. They are still pursuing customer discovery to make sure they continue meeting the needs of their consumers. Hear more about the origin of Rift here.

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Joanna Oliva