We talk to Troy Knight, an Entrepreneur and CEO of BLDG-25. We discuss the business of Virtual Reality, Gaming, Education, and more!
Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the LA Business Podcast, a forum for business owners and senior executives to share the experiences about the elements that drive their success. Your host is Robert Brill, CEO of brillmedia.co, an Inc 500 company delivering the power of hyperlocal advertising. Robert writes for Forbes Inc and Ad trade publications.
Our goal is to bring you the stories about successes and failures of people who are making big things happen in marketing, entrepreneurship and management.
Robert Brill: [00:00:43] Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of the LA Business Podcast. Today our guest is Troy Knight, a CEO, entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, founder and CEO of, BLDG-25. Troy, thank you so much for being with us. Tell us a little bit about, what you do and how you got to start. And found BLDG-25 and you call it BLDG-25 or is it something else?
Troy Night: [00:01:08] I do. I do. It’s BLDG-25 we did the abbreviation of it instead of spelling it all the way out, but it was just a little faster to type when you know, when you’re doing it in the emails and, and web addresses. So, to get a little, I mean, I’ll kind of give a little basis of how everything kinda came together, talk a little bit about backgrounds, so forth.
Funny enough stories that, you know, graduating with degrees in architecture, civil engineering and mechanical engineering, and had an opportunity to, work with, author Tom Clancy and the first game title that he wanted to work on, which was, SSN. SSN was the first warmer, submarine warfare game.
and the game was based off of The Hunt for The Red October, where Sean Connery played on. The, ultimately, as that grew and the games sold, that’s when Red Storm Entertainment was, pretty much spawned out and was, and started, so had an opportunity to work with Tom Clancy over the first game title. And then the parent companies that had announced, Red Storm Entertainment was Vitus. Virtus was a virtual reality computer company back in the 90s.
They had started some of the first technologies of the VR based on the Macintosh. And so I had an opportunity to travel the world and talk about virtual reality and, be mainly a, application engineer. You know, funny enough, as I graduated school and I tell my parents I’m going to work at a game company, they’re there right away thinking they’d probably just wasted a bunch of money on three degrees.
But the good thing is after, working with Tom Clancy and, you know, you can’t turn down a, an opportunity to like that. I ended up just, you know, when I went to the parent company, I was able then to talk about virtual reality. And visualizations, but back into the architecture. And engineering markets because they’re, they’re all about visual, describing what their end products are gonna look like.
So, over the years, you know, I was working with, high-end cutting edge technologies, you know, leveraging visualizations to help bridge that gap of communications, whether it was for real estate, commercial buildings. Or even maybe a movie set design, you know, for James Cameron for the abyss. I mean, we were able to create these environments and experiences to visualize something before, you know, you might clear the first tree off the lot to create a stadium.
So that started to trend and technologies and hardware caught up with the technologies and software recreated. I, spun out a company, with 100 individual there with Virtus, and we took that core a technology, which was really helped start in the genre of all this first-person type, games that we see out there that you can explore spaces.
We spun that out and used it in the business application to do real estate walkthroughs. And as that started to grow, I ended up having the opportunity, as they spun out into the medical market, I ended up going out into more of the corporate market, around, you know, taking the same technology to then create these experiences for, you know, power, Eaton, a UPS backup system, Caterpillar, a multiple to, to have different real estate companies. So I was just really attached to that visualization market. as I grew through that, started the design company. We got acquired by global learning production, company and ran the global learning, but leveraging kind of this higher fidelity content, for training and development.
And has that kind of grew to a point. I had an opportunity to work with a consulting and recruiting firm, and they really understand that the industry that I was in is very specialized. And then they asked me to build a business plan for the company, which was a national company. Vaco was the name of it.
They had about 35 companies nationwide. And I, the business plan was to build production and services work around, the industries of design, multimedia, gaming, and e-learning. And so I built that practice, which was based in Raleigh. And as that started to grew, we knew we were more and more, not necessarily in the business focus of what the plans were for Vaco as a whole. So we spun out our company, which now is BLDG-25, in 2015. And so when you look at who you are, we play right in the middle of that space intersection of design, learning and gaming. And we’re a design and development company, but we create custom digital solutions for our clients.
The interesting thing is we go, and as you build a company, you know, you always have to have a differentiation. And that for here in Raleigh, you know, there’s, there’s 200 software companies that are, you know, to the left side of us. And there’s about a hundred user experience companies to the right of us.
So how are we different within the marketplace? And taking that background, and I just talked about around gaming. you know, it’s around engagement and. companies that reach out to us are all trying to get a better experience or better engagement with their users. So what we do, we understand their business challenges.
And then what we do is we leverage the methodologies around gaming, psychology and behavior heuristics that create better engagement. So it’s taking those methods and how we use to build the games or how we used to build a virtual environment. And it’s just a process of design. And we leverage that right into the business applications or enterprise platforms that we’re creating for our clients.
So, you know, that’s kind of a basis of who we are. We leverage that differentiation in the marketplace of have taken our background around gaming, psychology and behavior eristics, to create platforms that, designed to delight our clients, customers. And we wrapped smart technology around it. And we make our clients our hero.
Robert Brill: [00:07:22] I’m looking at your clients like Fidelity, Raytheon, like what’s an example of something that you build? Cause like there seems like a, combination of like really interesting creative work and, applying it to something that’s, that has a specific business outcome in mind.
So like for some of these companies, like what types of things are you building.
Troy Night: [00:07:51] Yeah. So like presently, right now we are finishing up, about a two year project with Fidelity and Charitable around building a platform for them around donations. So when you look at it, you know, they want to leverage, a donor within, you know, their client base that finds a charity.
And this charity, there’s like 1.8 million charities out there. So they wanted to create a creative platform that engaged the donor to find a charity that they liked or potentially that they liked within the area of location where they are a zip code. And allow them to make a donation very quickly, but also be able to reengage the donor to come back again and give again, you know, maybe later during the year.
So, I mean, it’s a massive platform that was built for them, and connecting into 1.8 million, charities, over the way. So that’s, that’s just one experience. It’s trying to get ways where, you know, there’s, there’s motivations, intrinsic extrinsic motivations that you use, within. the experiences that they’re either on platforms and on, on websites, and then how can you leverage that to do something potentially, that they want to do, they just don’t know they want to do it.
So you’re helping them kind of make those decisions along the way. So that’s, you know, revolved a lot around, you know, fidelity charitable. And then we go as a, on a potential different spectrum where we look at Raytheon. Where they were doing trainings around air traffic control. And I mean, I know, if anything, that’s one very, very stressful job.
So they wanted to induce a little bit of fun in their training. And so what we did is we created a game that allowed them to put themselves into an environment that made it familiar to them, but create a game that we did multiple levels. So you know, some of the pictures that you’re seeing there on the site, you know, phase one of the game would have four planes, and those planes are in essence, the dots that are on the screen.
You click on each one of them, you change speed, velocity, altitude direction, and you stack them in a certain priority. Level two, you doubled the amount on the planes level three and so forth to keep doubling the plane. So over time, you know, you have that stressful amount where you’re getting in there trying to land the planes and priority and without, you know, anything crashing.
So ultimately you’re tracking everything on the backend. You know, each user’s that goes through, how many times did they play, what was the amount of time they played, how many plans did they land, how many plans didn’t land, and allow us to then induce that competition side, that we see. And you kind of might hear within gamification.
So it’s using more of the gaming, you know, concepts around that instead of, you know, building out a specific platform. So that was a piece of content that we created for them.
Robert Brill: [00:10:49] So you’re what now a three-time founder or co-founder?
Troy Night: [00:10:53] I am. Well, I have cofounded about five companies now.
Some of them are gonna are going to be anywhere around, you know, the design agency that helps spin out. I’m the first company that we ended up spinning out of that virtual reality company. I was kind of a co, you know, person within that helping start that up. and then when you start to look at it, you know, I wear also a hat presently of starting a co-founding, an East Coast Game Conference.
It’s a conference that we do here within Raleigh, North Carolina. Man, you know, everyone’s heard of the game Fortnight, Gears of War, Unreal. So, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of basis that, within our area here, there’s a number of game development shops, but also with the educational institutions, you’ve got a lot of gaming curriculums that are going on because of the opportunities and we all see how gaming is growing in general.
And so gaming is a good hotbed around here. And so we built a conference around that. We have 2000 people that show up international conference, and it talks about. The strategy of game, the narration of game, you know, how, how are game companies designing these days? How are they developing?
How are they designing their stories? But also we have another aspect of businesses and how are businesses leveraging, gaming, in a way to accelerate their business and what they’re, you know, or their products that they’re creating right now. So it’s just, you know, my background and I just, I love starting things.
There’s absolutely a blank canvas. And from that we just, you know, build it from nothing into something. And this one now, BLDG-25 is by far the biggest, that would go in, cause we’re, we’re moving really fast. You know, we made Inc three 30, this year. so that was a, you know, huge accomplishment of this team that we have, which is amazing, that we have on staff. So, yeah, it’s, I like to kind of build things from ground up.
Robert Brill: [00:12:53] So what do you think, is the critical factor for the success you’ve been having with BLDG-25 and, I notice you were on Inc 500 or Inc 5,000, with Vaco on the Inc 500. What, what do you think are some of the common trends here in how you’re able to scale and why your businesses, take off like the way they do.
Troy Night: [00:13:19] Yeah. So when we spun out in 2015 December, from Vaco, we then became BLDG-25, Inc it was really starting from scratch and ground zero, you know, today we had had zero marketing to date. Leading up to that. Not that necessarily, you know, we just weren’t a core area of where Vaco was, but we were at functions with Vaco.
They were great. They’re really big around people that have an idea to be entrepreneurs themselves. so that was the one thing I really loved about them as a, as a whole, either their holistic idea of, of how building companies, and so they gave me the opportunity to do that. We built it. we didn’t have the marketing up to date, but then when we got out of the Gates and December one, you know, we just, we really started to, really move fast.
you know, as, as every up and down there always is when we came out, you have this big umbrella before you spend out and you can kind of travel anywhere you want to go because of that there, you know, over a $500 million company. Now, if not more, and it’s easier to kind of do those travels, but when you go out to ground zero and you kind of had to slow down.
You couldn’t make the travels that potentially you had already planned. So that made it a little difficult. You know, you don’t pay yourself for a while, and you just kind of get the thing going. The good thing is, and when we came out of Vaco, we had established, you know, blue cross blue shield, RBC bank rates me on Fidelity investments, Fidelity charitable, you know, we had a number of those clients.
Already under our belt. So we were able to leverage that in our conversations. And then it just takes time. you know, it also takes a team that surrounds you, that believes in the vision, that, you know, knowing that there’s gonna be some tough times as you get out. And, you know, they all stuck through with it and it’s, you know, it’s great to know that the family, and we’ve grown it from there.
So that’s really, you know, the, one of the main reasons, you know, and how we kind of got started. And then as you, as you get in there, you’re wearing every single hat you possibly can. I meant I was, we moved offices. I’m painting the walls, I’m cleaning up, vacuum the floors. you know, bringing in food, you know, you have to kind of be at the Beck and call of the team to make sure they’ve got everything they have.
And, it’s tiring long hours, but, you know, you just have to keep believing every day you wake up in the bed. And the people around you support it, so you get some momentum that way you get, you know, we got some really good wins. Um. You know, I invested a lot of money back into the business. I didn’t pay myself, which, you know, that’s always tough at home, as well too.
But I, luckily I had an awesome wife that supported me every step of the way. And you just, you kind of break through. Um. Sometimes it’s lucky, you know, as well too. But you know, the team was good and we produced some really good stuff. So as we got out of the Gates, kind of get through the kind of, the thick of things, I want to say, we probably rang up about a quarter of a million dollars a debt, in the beginning.
And I hate having debt. So, the board then that I had surrounded and created w was really great within, um. just the experience that they have and the advice that they gave me as well. that was a huge hit for me, that, we were able to kind of get all that stuff paid down. And I want to say as of, the first part of 2019, all debt was paid off.
We’re debt free, and we’ve got, you know, considerable amount of money in the bank. So the good thing is, is that, um. It just takes time, you know? And it just takes that willingness to get up every day and keep bouncing through and have a great team behind you.
Robert Brill: [00:17:14] So is it, I mean, in the relationships that you’ve built throughout your career, I mean, do they become, an integral part of how you’re growing BLDG-25 as well?
Troy Night: [00:17:24] They are. the way I’ve explained it is that I do business. The way that my father taught me. Business is that it’s all about loyalty, respect, and adding value back to your client. I honestly, I feel like that has been lost. This day, I feel there’s too many companies out there trying to get a quick buck they’re not there to truly support the client they’re in, they’re out. and you know, before they know it, you know, they end up picking every Apple off the tree and there’s no more apples to pick. And they have to either move to a different town, different region, because you know, no one wants to deal with them.
I’ve seen it way too many times. You know, people, you know, you always say, don’t, you know, don’t blow up the bridge. But I literally, I’ve just seen people new bridges around here. They just, you know, kill a relationship. So I build it on trust. you know, I’ve got a lot of experience when they come in. The relationships I establish, the point is clients, they become good friends.
and sometimes you need those in difficult times knowing, you know, you’re going to have their back. we had a number of times where I did work and didn’t even charge for it, but I knew that it was helping for the greater cause. And you know, that was our risk. But the good thing is, is good bet because you had forged a really good relationship and friendship with the, the clients that I’ve dealt with. So, you know, definitely you’re, definitely right that, the relationships we started, they have continually helped fuel what we did. we’ve done work for free for them in certain cases, but then it’s come back around 10 fold for doing some of the things.
Robert Brill: [00:18:57] So that’s really interesting because a lot of the ways we’ve grown has been with our network and doing a lot of sort of ancillary or peripheral work, that I, that really isn’t part of what we do day to day, but it’s what needs to be done. I mean, we’re, for us, we’re looking for media spend. So we spent six to 12 months in some cases, providing an element of strategy to help push the process along and literally not charge anything, in terms of a retainer or anything, because we just want the clients to run advertising with us because we can serve them that way. So that’s really interesting. I think the trends that, that business owners, deploy the tactics seem to fall into a specific set of buckets who have any intention as you sell, as you, as you move into 2020, do you have an intention of, does anything change in your process? Are you, you know, for us, we’re, aggressively going into. value-driven content marketing, running advertising campaigns for ourselves, developing a predictable, scalable, repeatable process for us to grow.
Is that something you guys are looking at, or is it, is that not part of your process yet?
Troy Night: [00:20:15] Well, when you look at, you know, and I’d mentioned before that, you know, really todate, we had done zero marketing and, one of the reasons of co-founding the East Coast Game Conference was to get my name out there and be on TV, be on NPR, be in the newspaper quotes, you know, where it might be, it just to get my name out there and the brand build.
And so we were able to continue to leverage that, you know, through, once BLDG-25 had started as a division, you know, inside of Aiko and then as it spent, you know, kind of spun off on its own so that, that helped get some momentum and definitely within the local market helps our brand.
Just, I would say a month ago or almost two months ago, I had brought on a marketing director. So we, you know, again, zero marketing until we had brought her in. And then just, within a month ago hired, my CMO and it, you know, between. you know, as the marketing director and the CMO they’re both extremely talented, within the marketplace.
It’s been amazing what they’ve been able to do really quickly and really shortly. So it’s, it’s great to see this momentum because it’s something we haven’t had. So, um. You know, might throw a little bit more hours on my plate. I’ve got to go around and speak at events or, you know, just doing extra stuff, but it’s good to see.
So that’s helped and that’s going to continue to help as we build out our programs.
Robert Brill: [00:21:44] So that’s interesting. So you’re looking at a conference, as a way to showcase your abilities and to get a larger, media presence around you, is that right?
Troy Night: [00:21:56] Yeah, I mean, we’re looking at. Probably starting another conference that’s even more closely related to BLDG-25 and just the areas that we’re in.
But they’re hard to put on. They’re not easy. And the good thing is, I’ve been doing it for 15 years, are putting on events and large-scale events. So, you know, we start small. You know, we’ve got some marketing behind it that that’s, you know, starting to build. So I would, I’d probably Percy Q three next year, we’ll probably have an event, for, you know, as BLDG-25 is one of the premier sponsors of it.
And then we’ll start kind of bringing our network around it. And so that, that helps us rotate business. It allows us to kind of see as experts in the industry, even though I kind of feel like there’s never an expert, cause no one’s perfect. But, um. It allows us to get our name out there and how allows us to grow our brand.
And I think from, from that is that that by itself is a marketing engine and, you know, it grows and, you know, works with, the East Coast Game Conference and, you know, I know it’ll, it’ll kind of work again.
Robert Brill: [00:22:56] That’s fascinating. That’s, that’s not something that I’ve, considered I mean, that’s such a cool way of being a value driven, marketer. I love that.
Troy Night: [00:23:08] You don’t even need much really. I mean, I want to say the conference was originally started by one of the colleges around here, and they can only attract maybe 25 to 50 people and it’s just in an essence trying to get the word out there. And so we have a number of us that had come in gaming industry and we would kind of grow up very quickly, but it was very business minded people that were in that group to grow it. And it’s almost like, you know, the whole, you know, if you build it, they will come. And that conference, obviously there’s a lot of marketing around the students. The students want to get out in front of the game companies. and then, so then you get the educational institutions wouldn’t be a part of it cause they wouldn’t be next to the game company.
So before you know it, you’ve got 2000 plus people. People are coming in from China practically. So we’re, we’re getting a large growth. You know, people come to the conference, so you find your niche. You bring a bunch of people around the table. You know, you put on a couple of side events that happened, and then, then it just starts to grow.
So it doesn’t really, it doesn’t take much. You just have to, you have to work at it. So it’s a good way to market.
Robert Brill: [00:24:15] Amazing. So Troy in the last few minutes, I’m a big foodie. I love eating good food. What is the, either in Raleigh or anywhere else in the country that you’ve been, what, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of really, really great food?
Troy Night: [00:24:33] This was going to be a funny one. So, you know, there are, there are definitely. I, I eat everything. there’s really nothing, I don’t. Don’t like, but, when I was in Vegas, the, the Paris, you know, it was probably bad on him. No, LA Paris or whatever it is inside of the Eiffel tower, they’ve got that restaurant in the middle there.
And I had looking down a menu about five years ago, I saw my three favorite things on one dish, which you would think you would never see. And it was a flaming Yon frog raw and truffle oil all in one thing. And I, that was just the best thing ever. But, but that’s just, that’s one dish. But when I look at restaurants and great thing.
You know, around here in Raleigh, there’s, so many great restaurants now, and I was born and raised in this area, which is Kerry, which is right next to Raleigh. And there was nothing. You could go downtown and it was just Hillsborough street where NC state was, and that was it. and you couldn’t go down town and he couldn’t shop.
Well, the whole entire downtown has transformed. I w I worked, on, the contemporary art museum board. A downtown to help launch that museum. And that just kind of established culture. So then around culture came good food, followed through with it. So, you know, one of the other things you talked about was marketing.
And for me, it was sitting on about six to eight boards at one time, which is very time intensive, but that also gets your brand out there. So yeah, so. I love food and Raleigh’s finally growing. And Ashley Christiansen, which owns a number of the restaurants that are here in Raleigh, a James Beard, food is fantastic around there.
So, I’m just glad we got a good, good food scene. And Durham’s right. Down the street from Raleigh. So there’s a lot of great food there as well too, especially in Chapel Hill too. So a lot of great food around here.
Robert Brill: [00:26:26] Amazing. How can people find you? Websites, emails, anything else? tell us about the, the gaming conference. Like how do people find the URL for that?
Troy Night: [00:26:36] Yeah. So, BLDG-25 is bldg-25.com and that’s our, business website. The East Coast Game Conference is E, C, G, C O N f.com, and there’ll be able to find that we’re April 7th and eight, I think, at downtown Raleigh in the convention center.
We’re getting ready should be released in our keynote here in the next couple of weeks, and then that starts to go. my email address is [email protected]
Robert Brill: [00:27:14] Very cool. Thanks Troy. This was fantastic. Appreciate your time.
Troy Night: [00:27:17] Great. Thank you. Take care.