M A R K
Risks Everything to Follow His Passion
Alumni Association Honors Global Gaming Entrepreneur By T i m A k i n
Depressed, exhausted and nearly broke two and half years ago, Mark Otero lay curled up in a fetal position, “paying dearly” for pursuing a childhood passion he was still not ready to give up.
fter earning his UC Davis MBA in 2007, Otero made a risky and radical move to put his new knowledge and skills into play—literally. He quit his $130,000-a-year job as a financial analyst, sold his home in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood, maxed out his credit cards, then raided his retirement account—all to launch a gourmet yogurt shop, Mochii Yogurt. Meanwhile, in a small office upstairs, he and a partner parlayed the cash flow from the frozen confections to code and coddle a dream to create virtual, viral and profitable applications and games. Inspired by Otero’s enthusiasm, ideas and vision, a handful of diehard developers and designers joined his new venture, KlickNation. They rolled out 30 smartphone apps that eventually counted more than 400,000 users worldwide, many in non-English speaking countries like Romania, Chile, Mexico and Thailand. But the flame was flickering out. The apps weren’t making enough money, and Otero’s debt was piling up. The explosive growth of Facebook presented a new opportunity: Otero and the team set out to bring to the social web the scale of success of the fantasy role-playing board
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game Dungeons & Dragons, in which Otero had become a dungeon master by age 10. With the IRS knocking on Otero’s door, KlickNation’s product No. 31 had to be a hit. Otero and his team huddled around computers in the office above the yogurt shop in early 2009, working feverishly to finish the first social game to feature animated battles and allow users to buy extra powers and weapons. Reinvesting every penny into KlickNation and unable to pay for counter help, Otero often ran downstairs to serve up frozen yogurt. He then worked late into the night on game specs, catching Zs on the sofa. The perseverance paid off. Otero’s Superhero City came to the rescue, pulling in $5,000 a day by the end of 2009. Its success allowed Otero to grow KlickNation to more than 70 employees, move to a twostory, 11,000-square-foot headquarters in midtown Sacramento and open a business development office in San Francisco. In 2010, Otero inked a multi-million dollar deal with NBC Universal. But he had even bigger plans. Last December, KlickNation’s ascent lured one of the world’s largest video
gaming companies to Sacramento. Otero negotiated with Silicon Valley–based Electronic Arts to purchase KlickNation for a reported $35 million to become part of EA’s wildly popular BioWare gaming division. Now Otero is a general manager of BioWare Social, with 70 employees in Sacramento and 45 more in Redwood Shores creating fantasy and sci-fi roleplaying games. “When you have 30 failures, you are either a madman or you are onto something,” Otero told the audience at the Graduate School of Management’s Pier-to-Peer event in February, where he shared his rags-to-riches story experience bootstrapping KlickNation. For his entrepreneurial business success and support of the School, Otero was honored with the GSM Alumni Association’s Distinguished Achievement and Outstanding Service Awards, becoming the first alumnus recognized with both in the same year. Otero consistently credits his success to his MBA experience at the Graduate School of Management. In recognition of what UC Davis has given him, he has given back to his alma mater with time, expertise and financial support. He made a significant, multi-year major gift pledge