Nicodemus Madehdou was only about 15 when he became one of four cofounders and the CEO at JumpButton Studio, an entertainment studio founded in 2012 that develops computer software such as games, animations and apps.
Fast forward to October 2015, when Madehdou was honored at the White House as one of 20 young game developers of color and received a $1,000 grant to work on a socially minded game project. During that first visit, he was given a chance to showcase an original mobile game, Turbo Finger Swipe. He would later return in 2016 on the same grant, presenting a different project.
It was the first time Technical.ly took notice of the burgeoning maker, who would go on to skip college in favor of building JumpButton, win several Philly Geek Awards and become a regular at Philly tech events such as Philly Tech Week’s Entrepreneur Expo.
Madehdou, now 23, told Technical.ly he’s currently working to expand the company and take on bigger projects. So how did it all begin?
He considers himself lucky to have gained so much recognition during his early stages as a game designer, along with cofounders Daniel Ostermiller, Calbert Warner and Matthew Auld. Each member of the team has a specific field they specialize in that contributes to the company’s mission, he said: to use their love of games and entertainment to create engaging content and to inspire other young entrepreneurs.
Ever seen JumpButton’s mascot or logo? Take a look below at the character:
The symbolism behind the company’s branding comes from what each cofounder had endured as they pursued success. According to Madehdou, the name came to mind as they found themselves attempting to “jump” toward the future. They recognized their innate passion for games and realized buttons and controllers are always a factor in gaming. Finally, the blue alien was inspired by how the team was “aliening the stakes” — they were preparing to do something new and different.
Technical.ly spoke with Madehdou about his early beginnings and the company’s next steps. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
You’re 23 now. What was it like starting off your career as a game designer and founding your own company?
I, Nicodemus, being the head of the studio, was the youngest. Somehow we really didn’t sit down to figure out roles, because we weren’t so focused on how to make it into a business — we were so young and only focused on improving our talents, becoming better and making an impact. We all came from backgrounds of wanting to do good in the world, so we were just having fun.
We weren’t business students, we didn’t know we would need to have a five-year forecast or that we’d need a business plan, need understanding of how do we financially get an investment, what do we need to get that investment, return on it, etc. I was in ninth grade! Most of [my cofounders] were in their final years of high school, and one in college. We took that leap, so the journey now has been one of the longest up and downhill battles ever. But it’s been amazing.
My cofounders Daniel is head of games, Calbert is head of branding and Matthew is head of apps and websites. Our first project was for Temple University, as they hired us for a $10,000 animation project. Now, this is not bashing Temple — they have been amazing to us, they are a main reason why we are here right now, they invested in us first — but that was an eye-opener for me, especially as the company lead: When we walked into the room for that project, you can tell from the faces of the individuals we were meeting that they were expecting, like, corporate individuals, adults — not young kids.
And it was in that moment I decided I wanted to eliminate that: to build the stakes where young individuals can show their talent, can work on high-profile clients and not be looked at as though they’re not the right people in that room.
What Philly resources did you have? Who or what people contributed most to your success?
CIC Philadelphia — they recently launched about a year ago, and we were one of their first cohorts from [free coworking program] 36for75 for our ME.mory application. After the 75 days ended, CIC worked with us in trying to make sure we still had a home there. We weren’t in a financially stable spot and they understood that, so they worked with us on how we can keep up with the payments required while still having such an environment to come and work at.
Coded by Kids’ Sylvester Mobley has been an amazing resource for advice and discussions. He keeps me informed about what I should be looking at in regards to full-time employees, and making sure we’re prepared. There’s Eileen Gadsden, our head of strategy. She has an MBA in finance and entrepreneurism. She keeps us afloat and is a great resource to us and makes sure we are going to succeed. She invests so much time talking to us and helping us plan timelines for things we have to accomplish.
Temple University is one of our biggest supporters. My high school, New Foundations Charter High School, they are an amazing support system. They had our company join their STEM workforce program, where they have teachers going to different locations trying to learn or have discussions on how they can better prepare their students for STEAM/STEM.
Can you name a specific game you made that’s your favorite? Why? What inspired you to create it?
Oh my gosh! There’s a lot of games that never made it out of the [early stages]. So in regards to games that have been launched and that people know about, it is either Afro Smash or Last Line Of Retreat, which are both available on the [app] stores.
For Afro Smash the love I have for it is in that it’s addicting in the sense of Flappy Bird, where you have to repeat an action and then you have this short time to complete a set of tasks. The goal is to smash as many bricks as you can with Afro Ninja: You jump up, smash bricks with your hands, and then only if you get the right power gauge, or stop the pallet at the right spot, [then] you can break all of them. You only have a few seconds to break the rest. That action is very addicting and very fun for a lot of individuals and it seems to be one of our most enjoyed games on the platforms.
Finally, for the Last Line Of Retreat, I love that because this is the first title we went all out on in regards to having an AAA field. We made an impressive trailer and teaser. Everything was built on the same level as a big game studio. You wouldn’t think a group of young adults were responsible for the creation of this game. So those are my two that I can name right now.
— Last Line Of Retreat (@Last_OfRetreat) August 18, 2017
How has JumpButton evolved since its launch? What’s next for it?
We have evolved as we now understand that we’re going to have to accept as many no’s just to get to the right yes. Before, because we were young, we did not have to think about financial stability, but as you grow, things come up where life happens and money is now a factor. As a company trying to build a business, you now have to think from that perspective, and always that responsibility to social impact. In order to make those impacts, you need money. Now we understand our value and know it to put the proper price to it, so we can do what we need to do for this city and ourselves, mission and vision wise.
Right now we are working on one of our biggest projects yet! We started back in May, though I can’t give too many details, but it’s for a YouTube channel called The ACE Family and they hired us out for a big major project that we’re hoping to release next month.
[Editor’s note: Check out this video JumpButton made for serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk in 2015.]
There’s much more as well. We are hoping by the end of 2020 to accomplish our goal of being recognized authentically here in Philly, as well as [get] the funding and the access we need to be able to accomplish our goal of getting a lot of youth on these high-profile projects so they can hone and develop their skills to be able to take on the world the way they want to.
We have an application for sneakers coming out called Sneakerhead Euphoria and it’s to launch next year. We partnered with a studio called Dynasty 11 Studios where we’re aiming to build a platform that will revolutionize this gaming space in the sense of how you find the players you play with.
There’s a host of amazing things we’re preparing to shock everyone with. Next year will be a big year for our studio.-30-