It hasn’t always been smooth operating for the Nampa-based interactive agency Curious Media, but by developing its own passion projects on the side the company has begun to get the clients it wants, such as PBS Kids, Disney and Random House.
Curious Media founder Randy Jamison, 40, has launched his company three times. The first two times, in 1999 and 2002, didn’t last more than a few months as he went in and out of work for different digital agencies.
Then Jamison was able to cut his teeth in web development with the Justinen Creative Group in Nampa after being invited to the company by owner Lars Justinen.
“I didn’t have a formal training,” Jamison said. “I had a passion for it and had opportunities and access to the technology and the owner of that company was into media and wanted to explore how we could use the web and use animation. My task was to just do a lot of research, development and exploration.”
After learning the trade, Jamison launched Curious Media in 2004 with what he described as one and a half employees. Now, the company has headquarters in Nampa and employs 30 people.
Caleb Chung, co-creater of the popular robotic Furby toy and designer of the animatronic dinosaur Pleo, has watched Curious Media grow as both adviser and friend.
“Here’s what I noticed,” Chung said. “When I first met them it was a bunch of young guys. Maybe five people and when I went back they were four times bigger. They grew right through the recession and now I see all the same faces when I go to their parties, but they have wives and kids. These people have built their families around that company.”
Curious Media began doing work in the Treasure Valley, but it took several years for Jamison to find the clients and get the web development and Flash projects he wanted.
“We had been doing a lot of work for agencies in Boise, but we had the capabilities to do so much more, but didn’t have the opportunity,” Jamison said.
In 2008, Jamison went to a Flash Forward conference in San Francisco where Disney had a booth set up. He arrived too late and Disney had already chosen that year’s vendors, but Jamison was able to meet Disney’s lead Flash developer and show her some internal projects Curious Media had done that caught her attention.
“We didn’t have the work to do the type of work we wanted to do for money,” Jamison said. “I always had my passion projects we would work on. A lot of the work we have been able to get has been from the research development on our own IP where we haven’t necessarily been able to make a lot of money.”
The project that caught Disney’s eye was a sentence-generating program attached to a character named Mr. Alligator that was given a Twitter account. Mr. Alligator tweets random sentences every hour on the hour, using 150 sentence structures while pulling words from a database.
“He’s not tame by any means,” Jamison said. “He doesn’t have bad words, but he will come in with combinations that sound funny, spooky or dirty.”
Disney felt a similar program could be used as a name generator for a project they were working on and after a pitch, Curious Media was given $500 for the project. That led to a $25,000 project and then a $180,000 project.
“Following our passions for the things we’re interested in, even though they don’t directly make us money, has been big because clients can see a quality they want in it,” Jamison said.
Now, Curious Media has developed games and websites for Disney projects such as the movies Frozen, the Lone Ranger and Wreck it Ralph while adding new clients. In 2014 it built a game for Warner Brothers’ Lego Movie.
“Every time I meet him he’s a blend of wild creativity and business moxie,” Chung said. “He’s super creative and not derivative. He has his own style.”
Curious Media continues to develop its own projects. In April, the company launched its IOS game Phil the Pill which did well enough in Apple Store downloads that Apple contacted Jamison and said it wants to feature the game during its App Store launch for Apple TV.
Another of the Curious Media projects, a furry, one-eyed, five-legged robot toy named Cruddy Buddy, has both Target and Walmart interested. Curious Media has reached out to Mattel and Hasbro for manufacturing and if neither is interested, Jamison said the
company will turn to crowd-sourcing to raise money for marketing and manufacturing.
“Curious Media is merging their artistry and technical know-how together and that will work well for this market where you have a blurring between physical toys and video-games such as Skylander,” Chung said.
Most the company’s revenue is earned from developing games in HTML5 and creating apps for its clients, but it is often looking to add to its portfolio through website development or other projects.a