2013 Forward under 40 Award Honoree
Justin Beck (above left)
UW majors: Computer Science and Computer Engineering
Age: 25 • Madison
Co-founder and CEO, PerBlue
Forrest Woolworth (right)
UW majors: Computer Science and Computer Engineering
Age: 27 • Madison
COO, PerBlue; co-founder, Capital Entrepreneurs
For those still stuck in the Pac Man era, video games may seem like nothing more than child's play. But these days, video games are big business.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, computer and video game sales topped $16 billion in 2011. And thanks to Justin Beck and Forrest Woolworth, Wisconsin is a major player in the industry.
Their company, PerBlue — a mobile and social gaming company based in Madison — created Parallel Kingdom, the world's first location-based role-playing game that uses GPS locations to place players in a virtual world on top of the real world. It now has more than 1 million registered accounts and helped PerBlue become the third-largest video game company in the state.
"We started small," recalls Beck, "a team of six squeezed into every inch of my 700-square-foot apartment in downtown Madison. Today, three years after the founding of PerBlue, we now employ over 30 full-time employees."
And while Parallel Kingdom remains PerBlue's primary focus, in 2012, the company launched Parallel Mafia and Parallel Zombies, two more location-based games. PerBlue also ventured into casual games this past year with Bugduster, Bob vs. Bear, and Boardtastic.
For Beck and Woolworth, though, the game they're really in to win is the entrepreneurial one. And both owe their business ambitions to UW-Madison.
For Beck, who's always had a passion for entrepreneurship, going to the UW gave him the opportunity to intern at Google and Microsoft, which led to a job offer from Microsoft immediately after graduation. But Beck opted to forgo what he described as a very attractive job on the West Coast to build his own firm in Madison. "I was much more interested in helping to cultivate a burgeoning tech scene here than adding to an already-established one," he says.
Woolworth, on the other hand, had always pictured himself working for a large tech firm in Silicon Valley ... until he attended the UW. "Going to UW-Madison was an all-encompassing experience that literally changed my life," he says. "I met my wife freshman year, and ultimately met the people who would set me off on my current entrepreneurial endeavors."
Along with his duties as COO at PerBlue, Woolworth also co-founded Capital Entrepreneurs, which brings entrepreneurs together to create new connections and build a community around the startups. The organization now boasts more than 200 members.
In March, WAA President and CEO Paula Bonner MS'78 dropped by the PerBlue offices in Madison to present Beck and Woolworth with their Forward under 40 awards.
Around half of the staff at PerBlue are UW-Madison alumni, including its founders and many of the company's engineers.
Beware: there are two Parallel Kingdom water monsters stationed in Lake Mendota, right off the shore near the Alumni Center.
In their own words
What do you miss most about campus?
The buzz around campus and all of the student organizations. Everyone is so excited and doing so many interesting things. Also it was very cool to have a constant inflow of new, passionate, talented friends to get to know.
What was your favorite class?
I had a few favorite classes. I took a few psychology classes, including criminal mindset psych, which completely changes your viewpoint on how we treat criminals. From a more engineering viewpoint, ECE 552 — the processor class — was a lot of work but was a blast.
What advice would you offer graduating seniors?
The first company you work for will impact the rest of your life. What you do from the age of 20 to 26 will form most of your career trajectory and shape your mind the most. Invest your time and efforts wisely.
Who is your hero? Who or what inspires you?
Steve Jobs. The most inspiring thing about him was his ability to have a vision for his product and its intersection with a market. He had an ability to completely focus to deliver amazing products and corporate results.
What occupies your free time?
Flying! I just finished my private pilot's license. Last year, I purchased a trike, which is an ultralight aircraft. This upcoming year, I will be exploring kiteboarding.
What is the one thing every UW student must do?
Join Hoofers. I was a ski and snowboard member each year and did sailing for a summer. I went on a number of memorable ski trips, including Jackson Hole and Mt. Bohemia. The trips are always full of a great group of people who are out to have a great time. It's a good way to meet other students from all across campus you otherwise wouldn't meet, and overall have a seriously fun time, too.
What is the greatest benefit of a UW degree?
Without a doubt, the biggest benefit is the people you'll meet at the UW. It's where I met my wife, the founding team of PerBlue and the initial group that started Capital Entrepreneurs. You're surrounded by really smart and interesting people, and it's an experience that happens at no other point in your life.
What do you do in your free time?
I really enjoy good food and good beer. I love to cook — whether it's a nice meal with my wife or cooking with a bunch of friends, it's always a fun time and delicious. I also homebrew.
What was your first job?
I started mowing our lawn when I was younger, and by the time I graduated from high school, I was mowing the lawns for almost everyone in the neighborhood. I ended up building a mini lawn-mowing empire.
What's your guilty pleasure?
Deep-fried cheese curds. If they're on the menu somewhere, I'll most likely have to order them. You can't beat some late-night cheese curds from the Tornado Room in Madison.