“I am constantly thankful to be a Quaker! The support from the Wharton and Penn community has been overwhelming. Red & Blue Ventures has invested in us twice already, over 25% of my MBA cohort has invested, and other funds who first believed in us also happen to be Penn alums as partners.”
Meet Caroline Strzalka, Co-Founder and COO of Overplay, a platform that lets anyone turn their videos into games and share them with the world — in minutes, for free, and without code.
Overplay merges social media and hyper-casual games. For the first time, anyone can make a game out of a video quickly and easily. Since everyone seems to be always taking videos — it’s a small step to make those same videos interactive with Overplays tools. The platform is changing the landscape for user-generated content by creating a whole new category of social media that turns video content creators into game makers.
Caroline’s background is fascinating — she’s at the crossroads of culture and tech, straddling both the corporate and startup worlds She’s been at Christies, the Philadelphia Art Museum and NatGeo. She worked at Sesame Workshop in retail strategy and business development, then at Scholastic as VP of digital content sales and global development. Caroline founded several enterprises along the way including Intellitoys and IT’s By U — a subscription flower box program.
Caroline cites her Co-Founder, Dan Projansky, as the mastermind behind Overplay. They had worked together for years at Sesame Street — Caroline ran business development and Dan and his team would create interactive products for kids on Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo and apps for iPhone and Android.
Some advice she has for female founders is to “grow your network to be as wide as humanly possible. Have no fear in cold emailing investors and angels over LinkedIn. Work insatiably to fundraise and build concurrently to hit milestones and give proof of that to investors. Gravitate toward investors that seem to “get” you. Most importantly — keep building and figure it out. One day, when you have a successful exit, you can pay it forward.”
Tell us a bit about your company
Overplay lets anyone turn their videos into games and share them with the world — in minutes, for free, and with no code. It’s like TikTok for gaming. We’re revolutionizing the $167B casual gaming industry with our patented, AI-powered technology.
What inspired you to start your business — what opportunity in the market are you seeking to address?
This all started when I was meeting my brilliant friend and former Sesame Street colleague, Dan Projansky, for coffee one day and he told me that he came up with a no code solution for turning videos into games. I immediately said to him that if he could build the MVP and we could patent it, then I’ll make this a real company with him. For me, Overplay is a total no-brainer! It’s the marriage of two of the largest growing trends in media — (1) user generated short-form video and (2) gaming. Over half of all Americans have a TikTok account and 66% of all Americans play video games. Plus, there are over 200M creators on social media and everyone wants to make their content more engaging and interactive, but most people don’t know how to make games. With Overplay, if you know how to make a video, you know how to make a game. It puts the power of game making in everyone’s hands; we know Overplay will transform the media landscape for creators and brands.
What is it about your personal background, experience, or perspective that fuels your passion for this venture?
I met my co-founder, Dan, while we were both at Sesame Street — I ran digital media business development and he ran interactive production. Over the seven years we worked together, we made hundreds of interactive and streaming products that had tens of millions of downloads and hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. We created Sesame’s very first apps, worked in AR/VR and console gaming with the likes of Qualcomm, Intel, and Microsoft, and created original content with Netflix and YouTube. We were always looking for ways to extend the life of content: how do we make our content more replayable, enjoyable, and educational? Making games is also really expensive, time consuming, and risky. We needed a way to make games more affordably and expeditiously. This is the mindset that we were coming from when Overplay was first thought up. It was a real need that we faced at work and that we realized could be useful for ANYONE making content — from creators at home to big time media companies. Putting my ex-banker hat on (yes, I was a banker before I was at Sesame Street!), I saw just how big this opportunity could be — this is a multi-billion dollar company. You don’t get many chances like this in life, so I had to jump on it!
What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?
The first fund that invested in Overplay is Village Global, whose LPs are some of the tech giants of our time — Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Reid Hoffman and others. I reached out to Village’s MD cold on LinkedIn, and they responded immediately wanting to invest, remarking that “Overplay may very well be the future of gaming.” It was the shot in the arm that we needed — media titans who had built unicorns could see the potential for Overplay. We then knew that we would be able to raise the venture funds needed for Overplay to reach its potential.
Another win is the consistent confirmation that we’re getting from users of our alpha that our product is cool and innovative and that people will use it. In fact, we just received a note from a user named Jackie that said “I have never seen or heard of anything like this. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. To be able to basically turn your real life into a game is amazing!” Suffice it to say, we agree! :D
What has been one or two of your biggest learnings so far?
We could not remain “stealth” because we’re making something that has never been made before and we need real users who would be able to share with us the good/bad/ugly of the Overplay experience, so that we could constantly adjust and improve. Having a live alpha has been a bit of challenge for optics because it’s not perfect, but in the end, we feel it will make for a much better product. Another big learning is that there is a lot of room for short-form content! People love it, they love making it, they want to do more of it! Finally, we realized just how huge Overplay could be for brands. Ads in Overplay will be interactive games, which allow for a much deeper experience between the brand and the game players.
What is an obstacle that you are grappling with as you continue to build this venture?
We are continuing to hit our milestones, but because we are founders that have not yet had a successful exit, and because we were not “minted” at Meta or Riot or Xbox, we don’t fit the normal mold of a fundable gaming founder. We are coming from a different place with a different perspective, so we are constantly having to say that yes there is a huge place in this world for short-form snackable games on social media and that probably the reason that we have this POV is because we’re not coming from the places that other gaming founders are coming from. There are huge benefits to diversity! I just don’t think that VCs have embraced that yet.
What surprises have you encountered as an entrepreneur? Something out of left field?
The support from the Wharton and Penn community has been overwhelming! Red & Blue Ventures has invested in us twice already, over 25% of my MBA cohort has invested, and other funds who first believed in us also happen to be Penn alums as partners. Penn continues to support me even as I’m doing one of the hardest things you can do in life, which is to start a company. I am constantly thankful to be a Quaker!
What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own business?
Meeting people who are genuinely BRAVE. As a startup founder, you’re often putting it all on the line for YEARS — your time, your money, your relationships — there is an opportunity cost to it all. The same can be said for funds — they are the ones taking long-term bets on startups. Everyone on both sides of the equation is very brave to be doing what they’re doing. We all could have chosen a much easier, but less rewarding path. I think one of the best qualities of a human is being brave enough to at least try out an idea.