"I thought we would have hoverboards by now."
Bunch app CEO Selcuk Atli: "I thought we would have hoverboards by now."
The Turkish-born tech entrepreneur is bringing mobile gamers together at a time when connection is key.
Video games are bringing people together more than ever in 2020.
That phenomenon isn't confined to a particular piece of hardware, or even buzzy titles like Animal Crossing and Fortnite. Selcuk Atli is the CEO of Bunch, a group video chat app for iOS and Android that lets friends and family hang out while playing mobile games. Usage of the app spiked worldwide as social distancing measures heightened. In the two weeks leading up to March 22, Bunch saw a fifty-fold increase in game sessions and hangouts. The majority of the app's users are women (62 percent, according to in-house figures).
Bunch is compatible with a... bunch of massively popular games, including Minecraft, Teamfight Tactics, Clash of Clans, and Call of Duty Mobile, and the developer plan to add even more in the future. Bunch also offers a suite of simple in-house titles, like trivia and charades, that make for a fun alternative to all those Zoom happy hours. Inverse spoke with Atli about his adolescent love of gaming, his predictions for the future of tech, and his geeky teenage years.
What kind of kid were you?
I’ve always been an extroverted introvert and loved making things. I built the first online game magazine in Turkey when I was 12 with my 12-year-old co-founder Sarp Erdag, called Aftercala. Then I tried building a mobile social network based on Bluetooth connections back in 2004 — years before the iPhone.
I have been writing and performing music since I was a teenager; I’m actually lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for the indie rock band The HMMS on the side (check us out on Spotify!).
What was your favorite band when you were 15?
The first bands I was really into were Cranberries and Metallica. Then I moved on to Radiohead, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Muse — to date, these are my favorite bands.
What piece of clothing did you wear too often in high school?
Black t-shirt and jeans — boring :)
What's your first memory of the internet?
When I first heard about the internet, I thought it was going to be like a virtual Disneyland — as in a 3D game that you would travel to different worlds and have adventures. I remember I was disappointed when I first saw what a web page looked like. I later realized what I had wished for back in the day was something like Roblox.
What's a truth about love you believed when you were 15?
That we would have hover-boards by now. I still have my hopes up — fingers crossed.
What high-school teacher did you like the most?
I liked my art teacher the most — she encouraged me to see that I could create things that other people would connect with and enjoy.
What do you consider your first professional big break and why?
When I moved to Silicon Valley in 2011 and started my company SocialWire, for which I had raised a $2M seed round, with no prior connections or experience in the valley.
What was your first professional failure?
After studying in the US, I moved back to Turkey to start a recommendation engine company. I didn’t realize I should be focusing on a customer problem, rather than the technology itself. Thus, among other reasons, the company failed to take off. But the failure gave me the resolve to move to Silicon Valley, which was good.
What's your can't-miss prediction for 2030 and why?
Augmented reality will be a lot more accessible and cooler, and will fit into the form of glasses.
What would your 15-year-old self say about your latest project?
I’ve always wanted to be in the games industry and even got into computer science in the first place to make games. I would tell my 15-year-old self that it will finally happen (after 10 years in advertising technology).
Awkward Phase is an Inverse series with interesting people talking about the most relatable period in their life. The interview above has been edited for clarity and brevity.