Overwatch, a combat gaming app that essentially turns “Call of Duty” into real life (look for it in the marketplace soon), was one of three winners at the 2013 ARK Challenge accelerator in Fayetteville.
What makes it unique, aside from its product and potential, is its CEO. Josh is just 17. A senior at Little Rock’s Catholic High School, he participated in the ARK over the summer and into the fall.
Before he embarked for Fayetteville with his parents, Gwen and startup guru David Moody, Josh worked out a deal with Catholic High to begin his senior year remotely from NWA .
He even made it back to school in person a few times, once to pitch for his election as student council president (he got the VP nod).
Read more about Josh’s startup adventure here, and look for more in this space and on ArkansasBusiness.com about Josh and high school entrepreneurship in general. (INOV8 contributor Chad Williamson and Noble Impact are doing a little something about that themselves.)
In the meantime, here’s more from our interview with Josh, conducted in the immediate aftermath of the ARK win in September:
INOV8: Which was the biggest grind — Catholic High or the ARK?
Josh: It really depends on the day! Although there was no set amount of work hours at the ARK, I worked from about 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on a regular basis and found time to work on school assignments during short work breaks. It was and still is a lot of work, but I take pride in the fact that I am learning to balance between the two. Everyone at the ARK and at CHS has been incredibly supportive and understanding, and that’s been the biggest help through it all.
INOV8: Did your classmates really understand what you were doing?
Josh: Because a lot of kids my age have never heard of or know anything about a business accelerator, many of them do not know in great detail how we came to be in the position we are in now, but all of them have congratulated me and been very supportive.
INOV8: How hard was it to remotely keep up your school work, and how were the teachers to work with?
Josh: It was very difficult at times to keep up with every school assignment while in the midst of an incredibly busy work schedule, but I managed to keep up in the majority of my classes. In fact, on the days filled with back-to-back meetings, I would do my homework at the conference table while waiting for the next meeting to start.
The teachers have been very cooperative. I reached out to each of them via email before school began, and received many messages of support. Of course, being Catholic High, assignments were still expected to be turned in on time, so I would email them in to be graded on the day they were due.
INOV8: You had a ton of support, of course, but did it ever feel intimidating at the ARK?
Josh: Intimidating? Absolutely, but not in the way you may think. Everyone at the ARK was not only supportive of me, but of every one of the ARK teams as well. The way the program was structured encouraged teamwork and networking, even across different teams. If one team was in need of a resource or connection that another team had, they would work together for the better of both teams.
The intimidation I felt was self-imposed. I felt as if less was expected of me due to my age, and I wanted to disprove that my youth was any reason to discount my work ethic or dedication to what we were doing at the ARK. I wanted to prove that I could hold my own in a room full of striving entrepreneurs with college degrees and years of real-world experience in business.
INOV8: At what point did the Overwatch light bulb go off in your head?
Josh: About two years ago, I had the idea for Overwatch. Unfortunately, I knew I did not have the programming experience to create the app or hardware on my own. Being that I always have new ideas, I place it in the back of my mind while I worked on other projects until my father came to me one day and suggested I pitch my idea to some software developers he knew who might be interested in it.
INOV8: Were you a big gamer before?
Josh: I was very much into gaming, as most teenage boys are! All the way up to my sophomore year of high school, I was either playing the new Call of Duty game or out playing airsoft with friends. Junior year came and I realized that it was time to focus solely on schoolwork and college preparation, so I set the controller aside for a while. Only recently was I able to find time to play a few rounds of Call of Duty.
INOV8: What ‘s been your role on the Overwatch team (that includes co-founders Joe Saumweber and Michael Paladino of IA client RevUnit)?
Josh: I serve as CEO (although, my age was the cause of multiple counts of extra paperwork when it came to signing contracts – ha ha), head of hardware development, and help manage the Overwatch team. But the strength of each member of our team has allowed me to focus on reaching project milestones instead of ensuring something is done correctly. Each member has continued to blow me away with their talents in anything they produce for Overwatch. From the app design and functionality, to the hardware models and strategy, I couldn’t be working with a better group of hard-working and talented guys.
INOV8: Still planning on starting college next fall, or could that wait a year? Does the UA make sense for you?
Josh: Currently, I am preparing for college as every other senior is. Filling out college applications, writing essays, and assessing my school options. If the business does incredibly well, and it is apparent that I will need to hold off on college for a short time, I will do so, but as of now, I am preparing to attend next year. The U of A makes a lot of sense for me. My Overwatch co-founders are based in Bentonville and I would love to set up shop in the very place that helped me get to where I am now, but all of that depends on whether I am able to secure the scholarships that will allow me to go.
INOV8: Are you surprised by what you’ve been able to accomplish?
Josh: I’ve really never thought about the accomplishment as something I’ve done, it’s always felt like a “We’ve done.” Although I came into this opportunity determined to give it my all, win or lose, I couldn’t have made it to this point without all of the incredible mentors who guided me along the way. Particularly Jeannette Balleza, the director of the ARK Challenge. If I ever needed advice or an opinion on anything related to business or communication, I could always count on her to help me work through any challenge I was facing. The Overwatch team came through in every aspect as well.
INOV8: Tell us about working with Joe and Michael.
Josh: I am incredibly fortunate to be working Joe and Michael, who, more than just great businessmen, are great men as well (something I’ve found to be invaluable when working with a team). The fact that they believed in me to do what it would take to compete in the ARK was a risk for them. By working with me, they sacrificed countless hours of their time, sat through some tough meetings, and suffered many sleepless nights (on top of the sleepless nights spent on caring for their young children).
INOV8: Tell us about the deal with Cyber Gun.
Josh: We’ve recently partnered with Cybergun to ensure that Overwatch products will be available for anyone who wants to play Overwatch. As Cybergun is the largest airsoft manufacturer in the world, their deep industry connections will be an incredible advantage, not just in distribution channels, but also in sparking the interest of the market we are targeting specifically.
INOV8: What’s next?
Josh: We will continue to work in the coming months to push our app to beta-testers and, hopefully, have Overwatch in online stores by the end of this year and in retail stores in early 2014!