Month: January 2015

Playing SimCity BuildIt is Like Running a Company

Sometimes, we stumbled upon learning and wisdom in unexpected places. Who would have thought that a wacky 25 year old game remade for mobile will have many lessons to teach in business. Both of us at discovered it independently and we have been playing it since late December.

At the time of writing my city of Cyberjaya reached level 25 with population of 295,564 Sims while Azwin’s Winville is a level 23 city filled with 128,165 Sims. I took the hard way by not buying any In-App Purchase of SimCash while Azwin spent USD10 on the game.

Customer Satisfaction is Key to Success

Happy Sims will pay more taxes. In real life business, happy customers are less price-sensitive.

There’s So Many Metrics to Track!

You have level, population, multiple currencies and Sims happiness. While running a business you want to tracks sales, profit, units sold, number of customers, etc.

You’ll Always Be Tempted to Expand

Seeing so much land, you’ll be tempted to sprawl. Actually you just need a small fraction to build a great city. Played right, you can actually cram more people vertically rather than horizontally. The same thing goes for business, you don’t actually need a giant company to enjoy great profit.

Focus on Long Term Sustainable Profit and Not Just Quick Gains

Building new residential areas is a quick way to earn money (and level up). But it is only helpful up to a certain point. Higher lever cities will require more amenities. Level up too fast without the cash to spend on new facilities will lead to unhappy Sims and less tax revenue. So it’s better to slow down a bit but enjoy a steady revenue.

Similar dynamics also takes place in real life businesses. If you blindly expand, overhead will rise faster than revenue. On top of that, chasing new customers while neglecting the existing ones. That’s a sure recipe for disaster.

In SimCity BuildIt you can summon hostile aliens to attack your city!

Optimize What You Have First

It’s actually cheaper to boost population by enhancing the residential zones you already have rather than adding new ones. You need to supply water, power, fire, police, sewage, waste management & health services to new residential zones. Existing residential zones already have all that and just need extra facilities to boost the population.

The same thing goes for business, it’s better to optimize your current business rather than creating new product line or opening new branches.

Delayed Gratification Work Wonders

Do you want to build the Wind Power Plant now or save your Simoleon for the Deluxe Wind Power Plant? Cost per power unit is $1000 for the Wind Power Plant while it’s only $681.81 for the Deluxe version. You’ll be tempted to buy the Wind Power Plant now because you want to expand fast but expanding later usually leads to better growth to the city.

The option of Coal Power Plant is also more tempting at $375 per power unit but you are hit with a penalty of 10×10 dirty area. Mind you that Sims hate living in dirty area. So unless you have lots of free space, the cheap Coal Power Plant is actually a costly option.

When building your company similar dilemma also arises. Do you want to pay higher salary to yourself now or defer it so you can hire more people to help expand the company?

It Is Possible to Bootstrap to Build Something Great

As mentioned earlier, I managed to reach level 25 without any In-App Purchases. My city even have Sydney Opera House as it’s crown jewel. In fact I have surpassed Azwin in term of city level and population although he spent USD10 for SimCash. It’s just that I have to plan ahead, expand slower at first and really look for ways to optimize my city revenue.

Outside money in real life business is also like the In-App Purchase in SimCity BuildIt. It’s optional, you can grow your company without it. You just need to work harder and smarter.

When SimCity BuildIt first came out many players gave negative feedback. They said it is such a rip-off with such pricey In-App Purchases. Yes, it will rip you off if you want it to behave like the old game (ie; able to build so many buildings in one sitting). But then it is actually possible to play it differently — slow and steady instead of fast and furious. Think of playing it in term of days and weeks instead of hours and minutes. It’s like a Tamagotchi in the form of a city.

In a TED talk, Will Wright relates game to education in how it helps us to understand the principles in nature better than any reading could. If the objective of SimCity BuildIt is to teach about growing a business, we think it’s very succesful at it.


14 Feb 2015

After playing it for almost 2 months I reached level 30 which unlock the Landmark buildings. I spent the remaining Golden Keys on a Branderburg Gate landmark. Now my city is complete I don’t feel like continue playing it anymore. It’s time to spend the time building my real company!

TheDredger.TV is a project to sift wisdom from succesful entrepreneurs. Our first season titled Startup Malaya focuses on early stage tech startups in Malaysia. Register now to get early access!

Lesson Learnt from Lean Startup Machine

All this while I’ve been practicing Lean Startup in relative isolation. I only spoken to a handful people who have read and applied the book. So imagine the elation when one day out of the blue some one call me up to be one of the mentor for the second editon of Lean Startup Machine Kuala Lumpur.

But first, I need to fill some up form and sit through an online test. Truth to be told, I only read the original Lean Startup & Running Lean. So I was caught by surprise when the test includes the Javelin Board. What is this animal? Anyway, I managed to score above 50% so all is well.

The Javelin Board helps to bring clarity and objectiveness to the idea validation process. It ensures you have Customer Segment & Problem fit before jumping into creating any form of solution.

At first glance, the board reminds me of science lab excercise book I had during secondary school. But that doesn’t mean there’s no art to it. Framing the right hypothesis and questions still require much thought, insight, and practice. It’s a very helpful tool but it’s still wouldn’t auto-magically bring you to success.

This is the core of Lean Startup Machine so we had meetup among mentors a week prior to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it come to the Javelin Board. Even with a wealth of experience among the group, it’s still quite tricky to get a hang of it.

Then come the LSM KL weekend. As at any LSM, the usual process take place. Ideas pitched, teams form and validation starts to happen.

One of the fellow mentor is Azwin Ghani, winner of the 1st Edition of LSM KL. I pointed out to him that many of the team wanted to create platform startups. It sound great on paper with potentially millions of users but at the same time it is very tough to build.

Two sided platform requires you to validate both buyer and seller or user and customer. Then you need to build two side of the app plus the corresponding customer service and what not.

Furthermore many wanted to create mobile apps and generate revenue from ads. The current threat of decimating mobile ad revenue is definitely stacking the odds against them in creating a viable business model.

That’s not to say there’s no future in creating platform. The issue is you need to be hyper focused on a small niche first. Many wanted to cover as many market segment as possible at start. It’s rather hard to fathom that Facebook started in just one university when it is now a pervasive giant breathing under our neck everyday.

Then it got us thinking, wouldn’t it be great if there’s more case studies of early stage startups validating their ideas and growing their customer base. I came across an article by the co-founder of clearly outlining how we went through the validation process. I love it and I wanted more.

So we contemplate a bit more and end up doing our own side project. The idea is to go around and interview early stage startup founders. We picked a name and pitched the idea to fellow mentors. Many are excited and one of them already offered sponsorship in kind. Thus we registered while LSM KL is still running.

The next day we started working on it right away and make appointments to the interview the founders. We interviewed three startups so far and our first episode went live on 14th January 2015.

Enjoy our Episode One of Startup Malaya and sign up at to get early access to upcoming interviews!