The inspiration for the app came when Chino, MBA ’12, was visiting his girlfriend’s grandparents’ 1,400-acre ranch in Northern California. After retiring from a lifelong career as a CPA, the grandfather had started acquiring heavy equipment.
“He had bought ton of heavy construction equipment – bulldozers, excavator, backhoe, dump trucks – and was having fun building roads, logging, and working on projects on his land,” Chino says. “I got to operate the excavator and work the controls. It was great. I was that kid in the sandbox again.”
Chino, who had been toying with the idea of creating a mobile app, started researching mobile games in the construction genre. He found the market was dominated by simple, cartoonish games geared more toward children than adults.
Chino believed that a mobile game that was both realistic and educational would be a hit with a target audience aged from about 12 to 40.
“Most games designed for the iPhone, iPad or other mobile devices are strictly for fun, which is the point of a game, but often realism is sacrificed. I wanted to create an app that was fun, yet accurate and realistic with the potential to educate, as well,” he says. “Given the pending shortage of skilled operators, any tool that develops interest in how construction equipment works, particularly at a young age, is a positive step in the right direction.”
The brainstorming for what was to become Scoop-Excavator began in September 2011. At the time, Chino was enrolled in Dominican’s Global Management MBA program while working full-time as the Director of Sales Operations for Marin-based technology company Qube Learning. Together with his boss from Qube and a friend from his hometown, Arcata, Ca, Chino formed Yawsum LLC and began developing the prototype app.
Chino drew from his Dominican coursework while creating a business plan for his new company, with the plan forming the basis of his MBA Capstone project. Dr. Franco Vicino, professor of business strategy and leadership at Dominican, served as Chino’s faculty mentor.
“Dr. V. constantly told us that, to be successful, a company must first have a well-developed strategy and then must execute that strategy. However, most do not fully understand what a strategy truly is, and even fewer actually execute it,” Chino says. “When I was developing my business plan, I was lucky to have Dr. V. to help me develop a strategy that we continue to execute today.”
Chino’s business plan helped earn Chino an Academic Scholar Award and impressed Vicino, who agreed to serve as a business mentor after Chino graduated from the MBA program.
“Andrew was one of the sharpest students in my class,” Vicino recalls. “He was able to challenge me as an instructor, and this really made my job much more interesting.”
By January 2012, Chino had hired a lead programmer and an artist to help develop Scoop-Excavator. The lead programmer was based in Pakistan and his artist was based in India.
“I went from learning about global management to actually managing a global team,” he says.
From day one, he was determined to make his overseas employees feel like part of a team.
“Everyone on the team had really good ideas, but with an ocean between us I had to focus on how to manage people and how to manage a mass of ideas,” Chino says. “From a business and cultural perspective, what I learned at Dominican really helped me out.”
The team communicated daily by Skype, with Chino pulling all-nighters in order to accommodate both time differences and his own busy work schedule.
Scoop - Excavator hit the Apple App Store on July 3, 2013. Then the heavy lifting began.
“One of the hardest things to do is to get attention for your game, especially when you are up against companies with massive marketing budgets,” Chino says.
He went about promoting the product grassroots style.
“We’d go to a rodeo and hand out flyers. We sent media releases to heavy equipment and construction publications. We hit game review sites. The smaller ones are easier to get to, the larger ones … not so easy.”
At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Chino attended a presentation by the editor of a large game review publication. The message was not encouraging.
“We were told that about 99 percent of mobile games are not profitable, and that 80 percent of mobile games will never see more than 10,000 downloads – and this includes free games.”
Chino is already ahead of the curve. Currently in its first version (those who download the $1.99 app automatically get updated versions at no additional cost), of Scoop-Excavator already has passed the 10,000 download hurdle.
While in the app world, rankings are constantly changing, Chino’s app has at one point been in the top five paid simulation games in eleven countries, including Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Taiwan and New Zealand.
Chino continues to meet every two weeks with Vicino to discuss strategy.
“We are a niche game, so while we will never be the next Angry Birds, we do know our audience,” Chino says. “What is nice about this is that there are many companies out there trying to make the next Angry Birds, and they are trying to market their product to everyone. We know the demographics of our game, we know our target audience, and we know where to find them.”