Virgin StartUp: Gaznian

Meet Gary Mcfarlane, founder of the first app development company to be funded by Virgin StartUp. After seeing the soaring popularity of new gaming apps on smartphones, he decided to create an app development business. We're thrilled to have helped fund his dream. 


North London

Elevator pitch:

A diversified mobile app development business building a product line that includes innovative addictive games, a photo/game-sharing social network and educational offerings.

What’s the business model?

Monetising apps using targeted advertising, in-app purchases and upfront sales, depending on the product/service type.

Who are your competitors?

Snapchat, Instagram, King, Zynga and others...

What’s your USP? 

We don't just do games as in the case of Candy Crush creator King and we are more than just a photo-sharing social network such as Instagram or Snapchat. In addition to those two areas, we will be diversifying to target other business areas such as education and travel apps. This means we will avoid putting all our eggs in one basket. In addition, we will offer a design studio to build a variety of apps to order as our areas of expertise widen and company resources expand.

Where did the idea come from? 

The CEO of the company I once worked for was, like me, an Apple fan. When the first iPhone came out in 2007 he brought some back to the UK after a business trip to the US. The first app store was actually built by the unofficial 'jailbreaking' community and I saw the potential of the apps economy but didn't do anything about it. Since those early days of the smartphone, I have learned to programme by building a news-based app, on a hobbyist non-commercial basis, that's been in the App Store for a couple of years now. I decided this is the year to bring forward some of the money-making ideas I had and get them to market. I started work about four months ago on what will in fact be the second game the business releases. The idea came to me when I was thinking about how to make a game that was easy to learn but hard to master. It also needed to be a game that would be relatively easy to code and not require too much game art or a multi-million pound film production-level budget as with the big console franchises such as Call of Duty! So I dreamt up a pattern-matching puzzle game. Before we release that game we need to make it more polished so we have moved ahead with the simpler one - Flappy Royals, to be released later this month - in order to start generating revenue quickly. This will be one in a series of other Flappy-themed games, a genre kick-started by a Vietnamese developer who launched the phenomenally successful Flappy Bird a couple of months ago, but which he has since withdrawn from the app stores. We are very excited to report that we recently commissioned Tim Sanders, the Independent newspaper cartoonist, to work on the first of our Flappy games.

How much funding did you receive from Virgin StartUp?


How are you going to use the money to grow your business?

Primarily on intellectual property protection and software development costs and perhaps a little on marketing.

Who’s your Virgin StartUp mentor?

Emmanuel Kanabe

What challenge are they helping you overcome?

Controlling cash flow, thinking through corporate structure and looking ahead to securing funding for safeguarding the scalability of the business, in particular the server costs associated with running (hopefully) a successful social network – what Emmanuel calls a problem of success!

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

To consider setting up a company for each product so that potential funders/investors have the opportunity to pick and choose what they want to back without taking on the perceived risks of those parts of our business they may deem to be less investable.

Where will your business be in 12 months' time?

We aim to have built a social network of around 250,000 within 2-3 months. Running the network at this level won't cost very much as we are using Parse for our backend (database and server). Parse is owned by Facebook and it’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, recently announced at the F8 developer conference in San Francisco that Parse has cut its prices to attract more mobile developers. I estimate it will cost the company very little, if anything at all, to build a network of up to around 200,000. The reason we are releasing the games first is so that we can use that revenue stream to subsidise the social network. We don't want any adverts on the network. The key thing with the social network is acquiring users and making the experience for them as functionally efficient, smooth and enjoyable as possible. In 12 months' time we hope to have a diverse family of products in the wild - from games to educational apps. On the educational front, we have just opened negotiations with the creator of a poster series for the Guardian newspaper to turn his products into iPad/tablet apps.

Follow @gary_mcfarlane on Twitter for more information.