Q&A with The General
5 Feb 2013
|Today, SuperBru hits the landmark of half a million users since inception. We caught up with the sports prediction game's founder, Andy Wood, better known as the General.|
So, 500,000 users. How does that feel?
It's brilliant. I'm honoured that so many people have played our game. We tend to use sports stadia as a reference point for our audience numbers. A few years ago, we had enough users to fill King's Park, the Sydney Football Stadium or Murrayfield, and that felt great. Then it became Soccer City, the Millennium Stadium, Santiago Bernabéu or Cowboys Stadium. Then the truly ridiculous 150,000 seater May Day Stadium in Pyongyang. Then we were beyond a single stadium. With 500,000 users, we can now almost fill all of South Africa's FIFA World Cup 2010 stadia combined. Hutch has put together a list of other fun 500,000 facts here. And we're accelerating: in 2012, our audience grew by 33%.
How did it all start?
When I was 6 I ran a large Lego city on the floor in my dad's study. It was something of a cross between Copenhagen and Cape Town. It was a fully functional metropolis. I spent hours tinkering with it. I think that's where it began.
Then in 2001, I lived in a digs in London with a bunch of other fellow University of Cape Town graduates. We had a prediction game for Super 12 rugby which we played on a sheet of paper that was stuck to the fridge. Each week, one guy had the responsibility to gather everyone's picks. The scoring system had a Win Point for getting the winner right, and a Bonus Point for being the closest in the group. No Margin Point, no Grand Slam Point. That was it. We have the sheet of paper framed in the office.
In 2003, I decided to make a website out of the game. I invited those same friends to play, plus my dad and a couple more guys. I remember someone emailing me to say, 'Dude, I'm lost for words. Look at this effort you've gone to for 9 guys to play a game.' Those 9 became 21 for RWC 2003, then a few more, then nearly 100 for Super 12 2005. It was still a closed community, with registration only by invitation.
When did you realise it had real potential?
2005 was something of a turning point. I had users that were friends of friends of friends, and more people wanted in. I'd expanded from Super 12 to Currie Cup and football. I started to get help from some of my mates, and with a bit of a push and some Google advertising we had 3,000 users for Super 14 in 2006. That year, I co-founded a digital ventures business with three other guys, and SuperBru was one of the ventures we decided to explore properly.
What's the origin of the name the General?
In the early noughties, I worked at a digital agency in London. It was mostly populated by English folks, but there were a few South Africans, Kiwis and Aussies in the mix. I was positioned next to a Kiwi with whom I became great friends. We did what any self-respecting colonials would do: we established a colonial-themed coffee shop inside the studio.
We bought a host of paraphernalia - old stuff, lamps, coasters, ornaments, board games, old school telephones, 1950s issues of National Geographic and set it up around our desks. We erected a huge banner and set of printouts of South African and Kiwi rugby players. We named it Colonials' Cafe. A German colleague took it upon herself to run the espresso machine, and you could visit for coffee in the Cafe. The goal was to annoy the Brits, but they're so brilliantly stoic that none of them ever showed any hint of annoyance. In a way, that was a win-win.
Then 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan happened. The Cafe went onto a permanent war footing. My Kiwi mate, being from an oceanic nation, christened himself the Admiral, and I, a son of the vast lands of Africa, became the General. We also assigned subordinate ranks to every other member of the company and stuck those names onto the back of their chairs one night. Some found it funny. The guy we named Duty Sergeant didn't especially appreciate it.
And where does the name SuperBru come from?
In South Africa, friends call each other "bru", which can be translated as "mate". Technically it derives from the Afrikaans "broer", which means brother. I was born in Zimbabwe, but grew up in Durban, where brus call each other bru quite a lot. My friends and I used it in a slightly ironic way - we were using it like you should but also found it funny that others did. We'd say "Hey, bru!" with three layers of sarcasm in a way that only Durbanites might understand.
In 1999 I went on a backpacking trip around Europe with my good friend Don. I kept a handwritten journal of our travels. It was written to be like a Lonely Planet book, only for brus. As such, it had helpful travel tips like this:
BruPlanet Tip: Eau de Bru
You may at times get a little smelly whilst travelling around Europe. The best solution is to find a major department store with a perfume department. You can spray on all sorts of perfumes for free. What's more, you are likely to be offered scented strips of cardboard which you can keep in your wallet and rub on when needed.
Winning travel advice, right? I took to naming things Bru this or Bru that, so when I built the game it was Super 12 + Bru = SuperBru. It worked nicely because it describes not the game or some abstract concept, but the audience: you are the Super Bru, you're striving to be the best amongst your mates.
However, we're currently debating whether to lose the capitalisation of the B in SuperBru, because the name has long moved on from being a combination of two words to being a single concept. It's no longer about Super and Bru, it's just SUPERBRU, the game we've built and the community that loves it. And it has significant audience outside of South Africa that has no connection to the word bru.
Your player ID in the game is 89. Why not 1?
Everyone in the game has a numeric ID number attached to their profile. We started at 1 and grew from there. At some stage I reorganised the data by username. There were about 100 of us, and the General was number 89 alphabetically. The Admiral is 88. My friend Carl's brother-in-law Andrew is the guy sitting on ID 1 because his username was Andrew, first in the list.
What's the most touching story you've heard in SuperBru?
From time to time, someone writes in to report that a fellow player has passed on, and requests that their profile be deleted. That's always pretty heavy. But on the uplifting front, several years ago we heard from a guy in the northern suburbs of Cape Town who wanted to tell us about his dad, who was in his late 60s or early 70s and had had a stroke some years back. He'd coped well enough, but socially he became very withdrawn and isolated. It was hard to interact with people in person. Then he discovered SuperBru. Through our website, he was able to engage with others on equal terms, and he became an ardent bru. His son said that it gave him a new lease of life, that he was functioning again and making new connections because of SuperBru. That was pretty special.
How about the worst?
If you run an online community, you get to experience the highs and lows of humanity. We've seen people spouting horrible, racist, bigoted, nasty hate speech on our messageboards. We've seen people harassing each other on BruMail. Foul language all over our messageboards. Really ugly stuff. The most frustrating thing is that SuperBru is supposed to be about fun - positive, happy, fun. It's depressing to see it used in any other way. And expensive for us to spend time dealing with offenders when we'd rather be building awesome new stuff.
Do you ever get asked amusing questions?
Constantly. One of our favourites was when someone wrote in to say that he was travelling from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth on business, and was concerned about getting his picks in. "Will SuperBru work in Port Elizabeth?" he asked. Another guy was thrilled to learn that he could use SuperBru somewhere other than at his computer at work. He'd been driving in from home on the weekends to get his picks in, despite having a computer and internet connection at home. He thought his access to SuperBru was installed on his work computer.
The site inspires a lot of passion.
Tell me about it. It comes in every flavour of passion. Sometimes it's hard to keep up the friendly face when you've slaved away for months building something and some bright spark takes one look at it and tells you it's rubbish. But we get a lot of positive feedback too. I think the biggest compliment is that there are 20 players who have picked more games than me, and I made the game. The current most capped player, Westonsteve, has made 3,000 more picks than me - phenomenal. The top 10 is rounded out by by e-ace, Mazzo, D.C-Manly1st, Bullly, Mikey M, Toti Mayor, the left boot, Richaro and allblacks1.
How good at SuperBru are you?
I seem to have been having a little more success lately, but largely it's a grim picture. My wife, Mrs General, has beaten me in at least three Super Rugby seasons using her methodology of picking the team with the cutest logo. In 2011, when the Reds won, she did especially well. Who doesn't want to cuddle a koala bear?
Do you have a question for the General?
Fire away! Just pop your question into the comments facility below. The General reserves the right of "no comment"!