James Smith, Jr. jumped into entrepreneurship for the same reason most do: He was simply tired of living an unpassionate corporate life.
The Louisiana native spent five years in a mortgage department of a major national bank before realizing his true passion was elsewhere. After heading back to school to study business, he learned more about entrepreneurship and reached out to a college friend, Christopher Small, to discuss a prototype of a game that they built together back in college.
“Once [Small] showed it to me and explained the concept, I thought it was a great idea. We then agreed to build a company around making mobile games like Supercell and King,” Smith said.
At that moment, Kajin Arcade Games was born, but the uphill battle was just beginning.
Both Smith and Small, who are now co-founders, knew that they had to leave Louisiana due to a lack of resources required to properly build the company. After completing research on the top tech cities, they learned about the growth and power of Austin and decided to relocate with their families.
Even with the relocation, Smith still had to find a role at a company to make ends meet. He worked at Electronic Games and gained knowledge of how a multi-billion dollar company’s process works when making games. Soon after, he and Small built a prototype after reimagining the game and doing more research on what users liked. They tested Spellaconda with 100 users, and they’re now in the process of raising funding to build a team to do a full launch.
“We are just trying to make great games for people to enjoy,” he said. “We are also trying to build a company that gives any and everyone the ability to flourish.”
The process of building Kajin has been nothing short of challenging. For one, the gaming industry has a huge diversity problem, just like most of tech. Smith wants to give women and people of color chances to work in the gaming industry while also creating a pipeline. He also believes tech companies refuse to go to historically black colleges and universities to find and hire talented people of color.
Their second challenge is trying to keep a team together without funds, but also working to raise funding. At the same time, the Kajin team understands the difficulty of trying to get in the right rooms with the right people as people of color.
“I want to see more people of color in decision making positions, having billion dollar exits, and women and people of color in board seats,” Smith said.
Smith credits his success to date to mentorship, as it allowed him to see his vision more clearly and allowed him to understand how and why he should make certain moves. Believe it or not, Facebook helped him connect to people, including his current mentor, through cold messages.
James encourages other first time entrepreneurs in this space to keep pushing and never be afraid to let others more knowledgeable know that you don’t know something.
“Entrepreneurship is like knowing that you want go from New York to California but there are no street signs or GPS equipment to help you get there. Only strangers on the side of the road, each with their own way to get to California,” he said. “You just hope you followed the right person’s advice.”
This story is part of a collaboration between Austin Inno and BLNDED Media to increase coverage of diverse startups. BLNDED Media’s Investor Series provides insight on funding for diverse startups and businesses. To be featured as an investor, or to nominate an investor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.