Funded in the Alley: PuzzleSocial Has Got Game, Raising $1.1M



Here’s how to play the game – and come out a winner. 50 million Americans solve a crossword puzzle every week, but it’s a highly fragmented market (local newspapers, in-flight magazines). Along comes a company that knows all about puzzles – namely, PuzzleSocial – and figure it out, with one fun, addictive mass-market, cross platform digital puzzle with broad appeal (Daily Celebrity Crossword is the first and only crossword puzzle themed around the latest in pop culture and entertainment).

PuzzleSocial Inc. builds original mobile and social games for iOS, Android, Kindle and Facebook. The company is focused on long-term, sustainable monetization strategies in mobile and social gaming, and has built extensive IP infrastructure to support daily content-driven games that offer users a brand new experience every day to come back to. And we all know how addictive solving these puzzles can be.

Which explains why former HBO and Time Warner Cable president Thayer Bigelow is one of the investors who participated in the round.

Daily Celebrity Crossword launched in October 2012 and it is now one of the most solved daily puzzles in the world, thanks to those 50 million American puzzle solvers it’s being marketed to – and anyone else in the world who wants to play.

Founder and CEO (and tournament level crossword puzzle solver) Jeb Balise is here to fill in the blanks on this latest funding round. And let’s us in on a few choice words that fellow crossword puzzle solvers might want to have in their arsenals.


What was the funding process like?

When we were raising our first seed round in 2012, I heard a lot of “no”s and it was a humbling experience, to say the least.  I remember the biggest challenge then was prioritizing my time between the full time job of raising capital and everything else that needed to get done.

The process of raising this second round of funding was much easier to navigate.  Most (but not all) of the people I pitched our business to ended up writing us a check.  It still took seven months, even though everything went as well as it possibly could have.

What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?

We had some strong metrics to show:  50,000 Daily Active Users, .20 Average Revenue Per Daily Active User, 20% 30-day Retention.  We also showed that fresh content solves the long-term retention problem faced by most games – a significant percentage of our user base has played daily for more than a year.  It took a long time to develop the internal infrastructure to produce a game that publishes brand new, fun, relevant, edited, and fact-checked content 365 days a year and I think our investors believe that we do that really well.

While our business model stands on its own, a tremendous amount of credit goes to MediaBrix (another Alley company) who has figured out, in my opinion, the future of monetizing content-driven games by creating innovative opportunities for brands to subsidize user gameplay.  In our case a user will run out of coins and try to play a new puzzle that costs coins and – instead of being taken to the shop to purchase more coins – a major brand such as CocaCola will step in and say, “hey we got this one” by way of a simple yet powerful ad unit that credits the user with free coins.  Brands are giving away something to the user right then and there when a user wants it most so the brand makes a significant emotional connection with one of our users every time an ad is shown.  Many of our users then get to play for free and they are grateful to the brand for subsidizing their gameplay, and developer bottom line needs are met so we can scale and make more great games for users to enjoy.   It’s a win-win-win model that works great with content-driven games.

What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?

Don’t spend too much time on something that isn’t working and don’t get caught up in if you’re right or wrong.  Make sure you are looking at the data so you can listen to what your audience is telling you about your product and focus your attention and pitches on what you’re doing well as a company.  Also raising capital isn’t all bad – it forces you to define your business.  If you think you’ll need money down the road it’s definitely better to err on the side of beginning your capital raise “early”.

Where do you see the company going now over the near term?

We see a great opportunity to take Daily Celebrity Crossword to the mass market and we will reinvest every dollar raised and earned to scale the product to its full potential.  Then if we’re lucky we’ll have the opportunity to make another.

When did you start getting into doing crossword puzzles?

I started solving crossword puzzles (online) during my Junior year in college about 13 years ago.

What’s the most commonly used word in crossword puzzles?

ALI, ALOE, AREA, ARENA, ARIA, EERIE, ERA, ERASE, ERE are among the most popular in newspaper puzzles.  We avoid words that people wouldn’t be expected to know if they didn’t solve crossword puzzles regularly, so you will rarely find words such as ERE in any of our puzzles.

What’s your favorite mixed drink?

Cold brewed iced coffee with cream from Joe on 23rd and 9th.

About the author: AlleyWatch

AlleyWatch is the destination for startup news; opinions and reviews; investment and product information; events reported, experienced, seen, heard and overheard here in New York. But it’s who we are that makes us different: we’re the writers and the entrepreneurs; the investors and the mentors; the lawyers and the marketers; the realtors and the recruiters – the people who work in the industry.

You are seconds away from signing up for the hottest list in New York Tech!

Join the millions and keep up with the stories shaping entrepreneurship. Sign up today.