Jon Lam – Fishing where the fish are

Jon Lam sat in a cubicle hating his accountant job until he took a thousand dollars and started his own tutoring business. That one-person operation became Ph03nix New Media a hot and up and coming game company employing 15 people that’s based in Calgary.

If nothing else Lam suffers from a definite clarity of purpose 

“I knew I would be an entrepreneur from high school,” said Lam. His father started restaurants and picture framing businesses while his mother ran her own accounting practice. After he got his Bachelor of Commerce-Accounting from the University of Calgary he articled doing small business audits soaking up the details in their balance sheets.  

“It took me a year to figure out I hated accounting.”

Tutoring was a part-time job for Lam in high school and university and it wasn’t long until he he had 12 tutors working for him helping students out with their science and math homework. 

While running his tutoring business he realized the biggest problem for his clients were foundational skills. As a side project he developed a game to help his clients learn the basics. His “aha” moment came in video-testing the game with children. With a camera trained on a young child he finished over 400 questions in a half hour. With his father calling him to dessert you can see him weighing the pros and cons. Should I go eat dessert or continue to play this game? He chose to play the game. 

He changed the name of his company to Ph03nix New Media, Ph03nix being his gamer handle on Starcraft. 

Initially it was difficult to get funding. He was a former accountant with no experience who wanted $500 000 to get a game off the ground. Needless to say it didn’t go well. 

He knew then that he had to prove that he could make a successful game. Lam saw the hidden object game market was ripe for a themed take and he was tired of waiting for funding so he created Curse of the Pharaoh. It was an Egyptian take on the hidden object genre that was eventually distributed through Big Fish Games. The game was successful and Ph03nix got a three game deal with Big Fish. Curse of the Pharaoh 2 shipped in April and Curse 3 is set to ship tentatively in October. 

With their first success out of the way Lam had the most important currency in the game development world, credibility. 

They moved to the casual MMO world with TRZZ a hip-hop themed casual MMO. They just closed $300 000 from the Telefilm New Media fund and have raised $1.7 million in all. 

The game has 7500 users and is still in the process of determining a business model. 

“We think TRZZ is going to bring the hip hop community into the casual MMO world.” 

The decision to make TRZZ was not something they rushed into. 

“We like going into really hot markets and finding ways to take over and differentiate ourselves. We like fishing where the fish are.”

As casual game developers Lam and Ph03nix have been to Casual Connect in Seattle three times. The first time everyone was really nice and they learned a lot. The second time around they had their deal with Big Fish and the third time, which just happened in July, everyone wanted to know what they were doing. 

“If you’re in that space space you should definitely go.”

Ph03nix is set to roll out an iPhone division in the next month. Called project-I the details were scant at press time but when it comes out it should be exciting news for iPhone developers across Canada. 

Given Jon Lam’s shrewd business sense his iPhone division will be worth keeping an eye on.