App developer bought just seven weeks after its drawing game goes viral

It started with an idea. Seven weeks later that idea was worth $180m.

On 1 February, Dan Porter and his team of obscure New York games developers launched their latest smartphone app, Draw Something. It soared to the top of the download charts, and seven weeks and 35 million downloads later the company has been bought for more than £113m by one of the biggest players in the industry.

Mr Porter’s company, OMGPOP, was founded six years ago but its previous offerings had enjoyed only minor success. Now he has led his 40-strong team to a major windfall after their efforts were noticed by Zynga, the social gaming giant behind the smash-hit app Farmville.

Draw Something is best described as an online version of Pictionary. Users find a partner, are given a choice of three things to draw, then make a stab at it using their smartphone. Their partner then has to guess what it shows in as short a time as possible. Simple, but very addictive.

“It is amazing, I had not heard of Draw Something until around four weeks ago and then, suddenly, everyone seemed to be talking about it,” said Martin Bryant, managing editor of technology website The Next Web.

“The company is not unknown by any means; it has had a few solid hits under its belt but it was far from being a household name, even in technology circles. People who keep up with social gaming would have known about it, but it’s not a name that was on the lips of every technology industry watcher before Draw Something came along.”

OMGPOP was founded in 2006 by Charles Forman and Dan Albritton. Originally a dating site called iminlikewithyou, it later turned to gaming.

Mr Albritton left the company the next year and Mr Porter, previously a senior vice-president in the North American division of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, came in to take the role of chief executive. Last year, Mr Forman stepped down from day-to-day involvement with the company but remained on the board.

Under Mr Porter’s stewardship, the company raised around £11m in funding and expanded the staff from seven to 40, which he said was instrumental in creating the runaway success of Draw Something, which now makes more than £150,000 a day in revenue.

By the end of Draw Something’s first day, it had been downloaded 30,000 times. Its creators began to hope that eventually it would reach one million. Soon afterwards it reached 100,000 and then broke into Apple’s Top 25 rankings, providing a huge boost in visibility.

It was then, said Mr Porter, that it really began to take off. “My wife started texting me: ‘You’re at 22! You’re at 16! You’re at 8!’ Then we knew we had something special,” he told technology website Pocket Gamer.

That “something special” is the main reason Zynga, which produces socially minded games for people to play via their Facebook accounts, agreed to pay the type of fee announced this week and take all of OMGPOP’s staff on, appointing Mr Porter a vice-president and general manager of its New York operation in the process.

Mr Bryant said: “Zynga is buying an audience. It is buying access to people who are willing to buy products while using the app – and that is incredibly valuable.”

Not as easy as it looks...

I’ve never liked games that involve drawing. I can’t draw.

But, in the name of journalistic research, I downloaded the runaway success on the download charts: Draw Something.

After signing up and picking someone at random to play against, I was presented with three choices: buffalo, sink or singer. I chose the bovine path.

The hind quarters started well and there was a recognisable shape to the back legs. I had one go, clumsily erased it, and tried again, before settling for something that had horns and eyes. The picture I produced looked more like something a child might stick to a fridge than an accurate representation of this fine animal. I pressed the send button. My partner had already left the game.

Kevin Rawlinson