I try not to look at challenges as issues, but as good lessons for me to develop myself and work on managing my business and keeping my family happy at the same time.
Sunitha Kumar CEO of @Laughing Buddha Games. Software industry veteran (EA, @Microsoft, PopCap Games)
Sunita, of South Indian descent, was born in Dubai. She spent a part of her childhood in Kerala, India and later moved to the United States. Determined to forge a path in medicine, she enrolled as an international student in a community college and began her courses for a BS in Biology major.
After realizing she could not afford the high cost of medical school in the US, Suni returned to Dubai to join a medical college in India instead, but the sheer volume of students applying for medical schools in India is staggering. Getting admission to the top rated schools is like winning the lottery.
Still, Suni was undeterred. After a short stint working in Dubai, Suni headed back to the States to complete her unfinished degree. She switched her major from Science to English Literature and applied for fall admission to a top-rated college. She realized that finding a job with an English major, as an International Student, meant that she had to gain key employable skills quickly.
Her passion for HTML (thanks to Post Modernism Concepts!) and speed reading helped define her path forward. She learned front-end software development and started doing contract work as a business analyst and applying her technical skills to solve business problems. Using software to engineer technological solutions to real-world problems fascinated Suni, and she returned to school to complete a Masters in Software Engineering at Golden Gate University. While there, she joined Electronic Arts as a Customer Service Representative and developed custom tools and solutions to optimize several business processes, which eventually led to a job at Microsoft.
Suni had an opportunity to take a break from corporate life during her pregnancy. She decided to use the time to focus on her passion: building casual games.
With nothing more than a few whiteboard sketches and a dream, she laid out a plan for her company, starting with a domain name, a GoDaddy account and a Wix website. In her search for funding, she came across a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Challenge post looking for unique concepts to raise awareness of global issues and Laughing Buddha Games was born, with a mission to build games that would effect positive social change.
Suni submitted a game concept to the contest and was encouraged by the reception. She reached out to Heifer International to see if their case studies could help inspire games to teach empathy and generosity while raising awareness for social issues and providing ways to help. She started with a simple prototype that eventually became StarSmasher*.
The alpha release of StarSmasher* led to a nomination at the Indie Showcase at Casual Connect Asia 2013, and the game was showcased on Singapore’s GameBox website. Suni won Female Indie of the Year at Casual Connect Asia that year. The studio relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, with a focus on getting a “complete” version out—better graphics, more puzzles, iAds and iAP—in Google Play and the AppStore. This was a key moment for Suni, and the journey she took to get there and the confidence she gained along the way was priceless in helping her realize her dream.
Today, Laughing Buddha Games is working on an arcade that will showcase games from indie developers around the world, partnering with Extra-Life.org, developing an AI chat bot, and working closely with educational and retail partners. A highlight? Their website has received 2.6 million visits to date.
What’s next for Suni? She wants to build a VR/AR story-driven world to promote values of global citizenry, empathy and social awareness. There are few story-driven video games for children that focus on teaching positive values, and Suni is driven to change that.
If you have passion for something, don’t let anybody stop you. Get started, keep going and don’t lose the sight of your goals.
Finding funding and building connections can be challenging, especially as the mother of two active boys, but maintaining a positive attitude is key. “I try not to look at challenges as issues, but as good lessons for me to develop myself and work on managing my business and keeping my family happy at the same time. I always remind myself that I am on my own journey, and that I have no deadline to meet. The best thing I can do for myself as a mother is to face things as they come, hope for the best and prepare for the worst because I have to be there for my family, no matter what..”
Suni encourages women to fight for their dream and see it through. “If you have passion for something, don’t let anybody stop you. Get started, keep going and don’t lose the sight of your goals. Review where you are and where you want to be: then, take steps to get there, as big or as little as you want. Sometimes you will get upset and discouraged, make time to take a break. We women excel in all situations, if we believe we can. We have the onus of modeling how for our kids and for society, so that we can finally get past the stereotypes that hold us back.”
A favorite quote that kept her motivated along the way as a Femigrant: “Anything you can, or dream you can: begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”