Ireland’s Youngest Tech Entrepreneur: Jordan Casey
With the launch of his first game, Alien Ball Vs. Humans, in February 2012, Jordan Casey became Ireland’s youngest app developer and one of the youngest tech entrepreneurs in Europe. All of 12-years-old at the time of the game’s release, Casey, who lives in Waterford, had been teaching himself code for three years already – initially unbeknownst to his parents, Clyde and Louise, who assumed he was just playing games on the computer he’d begged them for, not learning how to design them.
The game reached the top of various app charts, and in the close to two years since then, Casey has achieved what many people twice – make that three times – his age merely dream of: He founded his own company, Casey Games. He has designed more games, for both iOS and Flash, and has been invited to deliver TED talks, present at the prestigious Cannes Lions Festival for Creativity in Communications, and speak to entrepreneurs at events in Silicon Valley and around the world. He’s also been an advocate for bringing coding education programs, such as the popular Coder Dojo, to kids throughout Ireland.
In August, Jordan came to New York to mark the launch of Casey Games’ newest release, My Little World, with an event organized by the Irish International Business Network at the Apple store in SoHo. There, he was interviewed before an impressive audience of Irish American business leaders and tech enthusiasts young and old, and gave a demo of the new game. After, the wise beyond his years and astoundingly down-to-earth 13-year-old took a few minutes to speak with Irish America.
What was the inspiration behind My Little World? Is JC [the main player character] like you?
Yeah, he’s kind of like me. When I was younger I used to go out in my Nan’s garden and there were all these slugs. I would make cardboard houses and civilizations for them. So I thought it would be cool to kind of shrink down to their size and see what the world looks like to them.
Between asking for advice, getting feedback and connecting with people, it sounds like Twitter has played a pretty big role?
Yeah. I would be nowhere without Twitter. Like, when I started doing Club Penguin blogging [Casey’s blog about the popular multi-player game was his first online endeavor], there would have been no other way to get publicity from it. I started using Twitter five years ago, maybe, and nearly everything that’s come about has been in some way because of it. I’ve made so many friends. This [IIBN] event came from Twitter, my first conference came from Twitter; it’s all Twitter. . . . It’s probably more important than email.
Have you taught your parents how to code?
I’ve attempted to, but they weren’t really into it. I think it’s pretty intimidating; it’s harder to learn a new language when you’re older.
But your younger brother is interested?
Yeah Isaac is, he’s 10. But instead of the blogging he’s really into YouTube-ing videos about games, and the latest news on whatever game he’s playing. I’ve taught him how to do HTML, and he’s interested, but he’s sort of where I was when I didn’t know if I was actually going to do this or just have it as a hobby. Hopefully he gets into it.
When did you first know that coding was something you liked and were good at?
Well, when I released my website for the Club Penguin game, I didn’t think much about it, but then other people who were playing the game started visiting it and they said it was really good, probably one of the best they’d seen, even, so that’s sort of when I realized ‘This is what I want to do.’ I learned a lot more programming languages and I kept working on the website for a while. And then I was looking at other fields I could explore and started thinking about games. That was about a year after I got enough hits on the website to make money from it, and I just knew it was something I really wanted to do.
Your next project is pretty different from the games. Where did the idea for TeachWare come from?
I noticed that people in tech companies are so big on education, but there’s nothing there for the teachers. The biggest competitor is basically Excel, which costs $100, and then if you want to get the iPad app you have to enter it all manually, transferring from program to program. So I think this could be a game-changer because it’s the first cloud app of its kind, but it doesn’t present the cloud in a big, tech-heavy way. I’ve tested it out with a lot of teachers and they seem enthusiastic. It’s going to be free and online, so you just create an account and student profiles with all their contact information, their homework, attendance, exam management, etc.
At the conferences, what has it been like to talk in front of so many people and other high-profile CEOs?
It’s been pretty nerve-wracking. Like when I started last year I really wasn’t confident at all. In school, I always went red and didn’t want to talk. My first conference [The Cannes Lion festival last June] was one of the biggest I’ve done, actually. It was about 3,000 people there and 20,000 watching the live stream. But I realized that I’m really nervous beforehand, but once I get on and start talking, I just think about it as a normal conversation. So I get more used to it every time.
What advice do you give to people who want to do what you do?
Start young. Think of it as a head start, really. In 10 years I’ll be 23 and I’ll already have 14 years experience of what it’s like to work, and that will be very important. In the next 10 years, so many things are going to be digitized, especially education, so start as young as possible, is what I’d say.