Andrew Hanson:Transferring entrepreneurship from classroom to company
hen Andrew Hanson (BS ’09) met his laboratory partner for ECE 170: Introduction to Circuits during his freshman year, he didn’t realize he was meeting his future business partner. Four years and a software start-up later, Hanson and his former classmate, Justin Beck (BS ’09), are still together working on their “crazy idea.”
When Hanson and Beck shared another class during their sophomore year, Hanson took the opportunity to talk to Beck about his internship at Google the previous summer. The two met for lunch and chatted about the gaming industry, as well as some ideas for new products. By the end of the meal, the two decided to work together on a new game, called Little Dudes, for a couple of months.
By winter break that year, the pair devised a new game called Parallel Kingdom, a multi-player online role-playing game for the Google Android and Apple iPhone. The game’s background is based on Google maps, so a player in Madison can log in and wander the digital streets of the city, interacting with other players who also are physically based in Madison. The game is open-ended and allows players to progress though levels either by being friendly or hostile toward their neighbors.
In order to market Parallel Kingdom, Hanson and Beck founded PerBlue in summer 2008. After graduating in 2009, they worked at the company full-time and eventually hired seven others, most of who are also recent UW-Madison alumni. Parallel Kingdom currently has more than 100,000 user accounts. Many players are located on the West Coast and in Japan, and the number of European players is also growing.
“Justin and I both enjoy this a lot because it’s our own thing,” says Hanson. “In hindsight, I can see how much free time I would have had in college if we hadn’t done this, but I’m glad I spent that time working on Parallel Kingdom.”
Hanson says he and his colleagues are open to the possibility of eventually selling PerBlue to another software company, but for now they are happy running the company themselves. Either way, Hanson has acquired a strong set of entrepreneurial skills that he credits both to his experiences at PerBlue and as an ECE and computer sciences student.
In addition to Parallel Kingdom, Hanson, a native of Rochester, Minnesota, was active with student organizations while on campus. He worked on the hybrid vehicle team and was very committed to the UW-Madison IEEE robotics team software group. “It was fun to see something you were writing go out and actually move,” he says.
Those experiences combined with his classes taught Hanson how to work with a team to solve problems—skills he says have carried over to PerBlue. Additionally, Hanson advises other students interested in entrepreneurship to be willing to learn about and tackle many different roles, from engineering to accounting to management.
And, of course, befriending a lab partner never hurts.