With a passion for crossword puzzles and an MBA from Fordham University in hand, Jeb Balise started New York City based PuzzleSocial, a company whose mission was to get as many people as it could to solve a crossword puzzle each day. Six years and one acquisition later, Jeb continues that same mission. We loved having the chance to chat with the creator of the most solved and top grossing daily crossword app in the world. Here’s what we found out.
What spurred you on to create PuzzleSocial? Was there an “aha” moment?
I’ve enjoyed puzzles of all kinds for as long as I can remember and I started solving the New York Times crossword during college to procrastinate doing homework. After I graduated, the documentary Wordplay came out which featured a crossword puzzle tournament so I started competing in the tournament, and getting my butt kicked – I should add – but having a lot of fun in the process.
Because of this, I was fortunate enough to meet the very small group of people who make the entire world’s crossword puzzles (yes, that’s a thing).. I found myself thinking, “What if we could create a mobile version of this experience?” I knew there was a big distribution opportunity in mobile that the world hadn’t seen before. I decided to go for it. That’s when PuzzleSocial was born.
What does your daily routine look like?
Coffee, gym, walk my dog then it’s off to the races. If there are no fires to help put out then I spend some quality time working on the road map and the features we’re building next. . At 4:00PM or 5:00PM I crash and take a few hours off. Then from 9:00PM-12:00AM is when I get a lot of my work done.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your life or career?
Starting a company on the premise of crossword puzzles during a time when mobile gaming wasn’t getting a lot of funding was a huge risk for me and for my investors. Casual games were especially difficult to monetize when we were raising money, so it was difficult convincing people this was a good idea. I was rejected at least fifty times, but just because most people said “no” didn’t mean I wasn’t going to stop pitching the idea. Being an entrepreneur is having the confidence to keep trucking along and to keep fighting for your idea. There are no guarantees, you have to just keep moving forward.
I read that PuzzleSocial was recently acquired by Zynga. Tell me about that.
Yes – really exciting. PuzzleSocial was acquired by Zynga in July. Acuity actually made that process really easy for us. Public companies require a substantial amount of financial due diligence. It’s hard to be taken seriously in this world when you’re disorganized and having our books in order definitely helped us gain credibility and move the transition along smoothly. Acuity helped us stay organized through the entire acquisition process.
How has Acuity helped with your overall growth?
As a small business, getting the books in order every month is very taxing and labor intensive. Acuity stepped in and made the process much easier. They take work off my plate to facilitate the time I need to do the things that will help my business grow.
You mention in your social profiles that “to get things done you must love the doing not the secondary consequences.” Could you explain how that’s applied to your professional life so far?
That’s my favorite quote from the main character Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I think (unfortunately) we live in a society that promotes secondary consequences such as wealth or respect and so many people seek the quickest path to those things rather than ask themselves what they actually want to do with their time. As soon as I was true to myself and started building something I wanted to build good things started to happen. This quote is my friendly reminder that future success is waking up in the morning and doing something you love to do today.
What do you find to be the most rewarding part of the entrepreneurial life?
The feeling that you can make a difference in the world, that you can control outcomes. In the case of PuzzleSocial, millions more people are playing crossword puzzles because of what we’ve created. It’s a really small difference in the world, but I’m proud of that. As an entrepreneur, it’s all about having that moment of “holy smokes, with my idea and hard work I can impact other people’s lives.” It’s powerful.