(By John Siegel | Published on February 07, 2017 for builtinla.com)
International superstar Ludacris is known for a lot of things, but until recently, tech entrepreneur wasn’t one of them.
Luckily, Ludacris loves word games.
When the Dirty South legend learned about Slang N’ Friendz, a mobile word game developed by LA-based entrepreneur Edwin Benton, he had to learn more. The game, which recently launched out of beta, is a take on the wildly popular Words With Friends, but with a twist: players are rewarded for playing words that aren’t listed in traditional dictionaries.
Within a week of initially meeting with the rapper’s management team, Benton had himself a business partner and an unlikely product consultant.
The game is also Benton’s first foray into the world of tech. A screenwriter by trade, his team developed the first version of Slang N’ Friends in 2013 at the peak of Words With Friends’ popularity. Frustrated with the inability to play commonly used words in existing word games, Benton and his team developed the game and spent more than three years tweaking the game until they felt it was ready.
“Over the years we've been refining and retooling to make it better and better,” Benton said. “Once we brought Ludacris on board, we felt we were in the position to be competitive.”
Aesthetically, the app looks a lot like Words With Friends. Users can customize their tilesets and backgrounds, but its biggest differentiator is its dictionary. Players receive bonus points for using slang words and if any slang words are unavailable, users can suggest they be added in the app. As a lifelong word game fan, Benton said he thinks this feature will do something that Words With Friends has been unable to do: attract and retain a younger demographic of players.
“Words With Friends is still very popular, but the demographic of the active users has changed,” said Benton. “Now you have older people who are playing it more than they were when it was first released. We think that our version of the traditional word game can bring back a younger demographic.”
Prior to breaking into Hollywood, Benton successfully scaled a business that provides guardians for adults with intellectual disabilities, something he first started doing while a college football player at the University of Utah. The company, which is still in operation, allowed Benton and his team to bootstrap Slang N’ Friendz.
Like all entrepreneurs, however, Benton has experienced his fair share of ups and downs since transitioning to tech.
“I live by the rule that you go down the river of life and see where it takes you,” he said. “Organically, I came up with this idea and pursued it, and things have been good. Thankfully I have a few great mentors that have helped me along the way.”
While Ludacris focuses on growing awareness around the app, Benton and his team of four are studying user feedback to deliver the ideal gaming experience.
“We'll be doing a ton of updates; new sounds, new design, just constantly improving it and making it better,” said Benton. “The key thing is listening to the users and hearing what they want. I have a vision, but at the end of the day, if the people want something new, that's the direction we're going.”