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August 17, 2016

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How Bill Karamouzis Plans to Change the World With a Big Idea and a Bold Domain Buy 

By Ron Jackson

A lot has changed since we profiled domain investor/developer Bill Karamouzis in our March 2010 Cover Story.  At the time Bill had just finished shocking followers of the domain aftermarket by paying $350,000 for CookingGames.com. Many thought he was crazy to pay so much - and he was - crazy like a fox

As an experienced and very successful developer of Internet games, Karamouzis knew something no one else did - that CookingGames.com could provide the foundation for a very successful website. That is exactly what he turned it into as he grew his company, Hallpass Media, into such a powerhouse that within a year gaming giant MindJolt came along and bought the entire company.

Karamouzis stayed on as Senior Vice President of MindJolt (now SGN), a post that required him and his team to move from Edmonton to Los Angeles where Bill reported directly to Chris DeWolfe, the co-creator of MySpace.

Karamouzis told us, "We spent the next 18 months building great games that were playable on multi platforms. It was an amazing experience to work with such successful internet pioneers 

Bill Karamouzis, Co-Founder

and I soaked up as much as I could during that time. Working for a high profile, venture backed company was a big change but I missed the scrappiness of building something from scratch."

A few months ago, when Karamouzis stumbled upon his next big idea, he decided it was time to return to Canada and the startup world he loved so much. His first steps were buying MathGames.com for $725,000 and TeachMe.com for a bargain $50,000 to serve as twin pillars of a new company he founded with another pioneer in online game development, Rhys Jones, that aims to do nothing less than revolutionize the world of children's education (this is the first time Karamouzis has revealed what he paid for MathGames.com - a price that, as of this writing, is the second highest amount reported paid for a domain name this year).

TeachMe/MathGames Co-Founders Bill Karamouzis and Rhys Jones in 2013.

Bill and his wife Ivana have pre-school age daughters, Ariana and Eleni, and the girls played a key role in the birth is Bill's new venture. "Education was always something I was very fond of and watching my kids play was how I stumbled upon the new idea," Karamouzis confirmed. "Teachers who build math and language games are our best experts in curriculum, but they don’t fully understand how children play. Developers who build games don’t understand how children learn. We want to change this, to combine these worlds of learning and play in a powerful new way, a way that will change the lives of millions of children around the world."

Bill and Ivana Karamouzis with their daughters, Eleni and Ariana, celebrating 
Ariana's 1st birthday
on July 4th, 2012, when they were living in Los Angeles.

To put the opportunity into perspective, Karamouzis noted, "Five months before Steve Jobs died, Bill Gates visited him at his home in Palo Alto. The two architects of our digital age discussed the early days of the personal computing revolution, and how it grew to reinvent the worlds of music, movies, and communication. They agreed that education, compared to other fields had not undergone any significant changes in its delivery since the earliest days of the internet."

"Teachers want a powerful tool to complement their expertise, their passion, their skill. Parents want the best education possible for their children. Children want to play online, to master a skill, to feel like they’re growing and learning," Karamouzis said. With that in mind, Karamouzis and Jones were discussing how their young children were using their iPads. They realized that education was moving in one direction and entertainment was moving in another.  

"Educational games currently on the market make bold claims about their educational value, however when you check under the surface there is very little statistical data to support many or any of their claims," Karamouzis said. "As parents we have very little insight into how our kids are learning, what areas they found challenging, the speed they were progressing. After further research we found not a single educational game to be using the same level of advanced analytics that were commonly found in top tier game developer studios like SGN, Zynga, King.com and others. Not to mention the total lack of machine learning to customized learning paths that allowed the strongest students to excel while ensuring struggling students were not left behind by advancing to new skills before they had a chance to learn the current ones."

"Educational software we found to be nothing more than a textbook taken 

Watching his daughters Ariana (above) and Eleni play prompted Bill Karamouzis to start thinking outside the box about improving children's education

and put online. There was no thought put into making the experience more interesting or compelling," Karamouzis continued. "Both experiences felt outdated and outrageously expensive with some sites charging over $100 per student – in short this entire industry is really asking and perhaps deserving wide scale disruption."

"We decided we want to bring the two disciplines of education and gaming together in a more authentic and artful way. We built and launched our new company called TeachMe, a collection of games and apps that will let anyone with an Internet connection access games that are both educational and fun."

"Our first product is our Math Games site. We picked math because it’s universal," Karamouzis said. "Math is also one of the most important skills a person needs to learn. From a gaming perspective it allows for a ton of opportunities for us as developers. We have the ability to create  fun competitive environments for child to compete within their classrooms, with their friends, even with kids from other countries. Friendly competition brings out the best in people and we even plan to hold a competitions between iPhone and Android phone users to find out which users are better at math in an upcoming conference where we will demonstrating our games."

"We feel this approach will reinvent digital learning because for the first time games will be utilizing the same types of analytic driven engagement metrics that have made other mobile and social games so addictive and fun," Karamouzis said, "The same advanced analytics that have been used to increase the amount of time kids spend playing games, the numbers of games they play and how often they return. We have a theory that if this same approach was taken to educational games and apps we could exponentially increase the time spent “playing” AKA learning. The more practice, the more play, the more questions answered and the more skills mastered. With Math Games our educational games will be on the same playing field as the online games currently competing for your students/children's attention and time."

Bill Karamouzis speaking to domain investor/developers at the 2011 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference at Fort Lauderdale Beach, Florida.

While you don't have to tell DN Journal's audience of domain name investors how valuable the right domain can be, Karamouzis broke it down for the layman, noting "MathGames.com is a generic domain, it’s an EMD (exact match domain), meaning it is made up of the same words we’d use to describe our product. There is been a lot of debate on the value of EMD, the changes to their SEO benefits and so on. I remain a believer in EMD domains. I knew for this venture I wanted an EMD that had a ton of type in traffic, was easy to spell and easy to remember. MathGames.com had all of these attributes (including about 100,000 type-in visitors a month) but it wasn’t cheap - a $725,000 transaction handled safely using Escrow.com"

"This is not the most I’ve paid for a domain but it comes close," Karamouzis added. "MathGames.com is a name I have tried to buy since 2008 without any luck as the owner was more than content parking it, making hundreds of dollars per day in net revenue. For this venture I knew I wanted to spend as much time on product development as possible and leave the marketing to the domain. This allows an otherwise small team to cast a somewhat larger footprint. During certain times of the year over 3,000 

unique people a day would visit the site though natural type in navigation. We expect over 75,000-100,000 new students to pass through out site in the first month alone and then every month after it. That’s a powerful competitive advantage."

"So after years, and I mean literally years, of emailing the former owner, he emailed me out of the blue asking if I was still interested. I was, and we were able to close a deal fairly quickly making this one of the most expensive domains sold in 2013," Karamouzis said.

With the domain in hand, the hard work began. "The last six months have been spent creating a platform so all games and apps are driven by standardized questions based on the Common Core State Standards Initiative, Karamouzis explained. "This approach allows us to pair our content with the educational goals of teachers and parents around the world. Localizing the standards to regional requirements you can play our games or apps and by playing our games you are actually answering the exact same questions you would be with a pencil on a sheet of paper. The medium of engagement has changed and our beta testing has shown kids that have answered 15-20 questions in a textbook like format online, are answering 200-300 questions when games are used as the delivery method instead!"

Karamouzis added, "TeachMe’s games and apps bring new meaning to the phrase “customized learning”. We teach students to master a skill instead of simply answering a question. And the games change based on who’s playing: their mastery of that skill, their experience. As the learner gets better, the game — the curriculum — changes to match the optimal level of difficulty. Players pay attention longer and they learn more. Their time online is never wasted."

While Bill's previous ventures were motivated by a combination of a fun, creative spirit and commercial savvy his new lifetime legacy project combines traits with his desire to remove privilege from digital education. It would change lives by giving help to anyone who wants and needs it, whether they be from Bangkok, New York City or any point in between.


Karamouzis pointed out, "The only competent educational games on the market sequester their goodies behind pay walls, excluding those unable to pay the toll. TeachMe gives away all of its content for free. The goal is not to reach a thousand students by hiring a sales team. The goal is to reach 10 million by building amazing products. We just launched MathGames.com and it will remain in beta mode until September and at that time we will open up our full suite of games to students just in time for back to school."

"The next six months will be important for us as a company as we track and test student progress. We will need to prove our approach to learning achieves its goal which is to advance student learning at a pace we have not seen before. After a six month period we will publish the results, and if we are successful we will open up our platform to 3rd party publishers and developers that want to power their games and apps with the TeachMe platform. Thus giving educators and game developers access to the over 800+ ways we have developed to test the Common Core standards and over 250,000 unique questions we have developed thus far."

"We’re trying to help teachers, parents, and students marry learning and the best parts of gaming. The first thing children learn is how to play. With MathGames, they play to learn," Karamouzis concluded.

You can follow the progress of Bill's ambitious new adventure as it unfolds at MathGames.com and also connect with him at Google+ and on Twitter where his handle is @karamouzis. You can also learn more about Bill and his career in a new article about him that was just published at AlbertaVenture.com - a piece in which Bill continued to educate the mainstream business world on just how valuable the right domain can be.


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