Taking a Bite Out of Lil Snack's Creative Minds

Published Feb 20, 2024

Hi! Can you tell us who you are and about your game?

Eric: Hi! I’m Eric Berman and I’m the co-founder of Lil Snack. I’m a Sociology major from UCLA and I handle the business and marketing side of Lil Snack. I work together with my partner here to give everyone their daily dose of ephemeral entertainment in the form of daily games.

Travis: Hey there! I’m Travis Chen and I’m also the co-founder of Lil Snack. I’m a Computer Science major from UC Irvine and also studied at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo, Japan. I handle the technical side of Lil Snack such as coding and design!

Eric: Lil Snack is a website where you can play a variety of games that are primarily brain teasers. Ranging from image-based riddles to word arrangement, each day has a new set of games centered around pop culture references or what’s trending, like Lord of the Rings or the Oscar Awards. So if you want to give your brain a little snack of trivia and knowledge, then all you have to do is go to lilsnack.co and have fun!

When did you two meet?

Travis: About four years ago, I founded a company called OK Play alongside other really great folks. We focused on kids’ entertainment and paired it with emotional growth. It was around pre-pandemic that we brought Eric aboard as our COO. And we were in the trenches building that startup for about three years.

Eric: Yeah, Travis was one of my most intense interviews because I had worked in the anime space for a long time with Crunchyroll. He was such an expert in all categories, and we went through a myriad of topics ranging from fishing to baseball, and we went on an anime deep dive I think. And I thought all the time that Travis might’ve been scoping out my anime knowledge and background to see if I was legit and all.

Our time in OK Play was really special, and we both have two kids, and they’re all young. With that in mind, we were building a product that we truly cared about. Building things for a customer base is one thing, but it’s different when you build for kids as there’s a lot more thought and care needed in it. It really changed us, especially how we view creation in general.

Going with that experience, OK Play was then acquired by Dapper Labs. And they brought us in to effectively lead their mobile efforts, and Travis and I continued to work together. We initially ended up in different organizations, but we eventually came together to work on their leading and biggest products like NBA Top Shot, NFL All Day and many others. I’m really proud of it all because we built it amidst a pretty crazy crypto winter and weathered a wild storm.

How did you create Lil Snack?

Eric: At the tail end of our career in Dapper Labs, we recognized that we wanted to work together. We go build something, and we love that experience of creating things from zero. Each of our careers has effectively taken us into roles with teams and companies that are smaller. This gives us more control, allowing us to move a lot quicker than bigger companies would.

And the thought of the two of us working together as a duo; with Travis being a savant visual and game designer, full-stack engineer and consumer product visionary, and myself having solid general-purpose skills as well as business acumen, we thought that we complement each other very well!

So we ended up brainstorming for a while and sharing beers, and basically kicked a mental can around for a bit. Then one day, out of nowhere, Travis sends me a game without any context! I was puzzled and had no idea what it was. It was a picture of a dragon on top of a mountain eating pizza. I was really bewildered, and then it immediately set in, and I was like, “So this is where your wheels are turning?”

I didn’t know if Travis thought it was ready, but I was like, “Naaaah, come on, it looks great! Let’s get it out there!” And we pretty much started just sharing it with folks and we were met with great feedback and strong reactions. And people were asking for more, and Travis was able to make more of them.

So yeah, since then, we’ve just been moving as quickly as we possibly can to make the product better every single day!

Is there a concept or ideology that makes Lil Snack what it is?

Travis: Yup! But first of all, I’m not a savant.

Eric: Oh, come on!

Travis: No, I’m not! And second, one of the things that I learned throughout my career is that as soon as players get their hands on something, things change drastically. Like, before launching something, it’s our product and we get a feel for the people that are getting it. But as time passes and more people get it, the power dynamic changes completely. It is now their product and the power lies in the needs and wants of the consumer.

With a small team, we don’t have to wait years and all that time for a launch, we just give the product to the consumers and tailor it to fit them. That is why we double down on the concept of speed and efficiency, as we want to put it in the hands of the consumers ASAP. And being a small team, if there’s an overcorrection or undercorrection, we can easily slap something on it to make it just right and we just keep on piling improvements continuously from there on!

Eric: Yeah, we just focus on putting it out there in good condition and in the hands of the consumers then wait for feedback. We wait knowing that the product is imperfect, and if the feedback isn’t good, we make the change quickly. Right now, my phone is filled with messages on our feedback channel on Slack, and it’s significantly more filled than our other channels. And these channels are where most of the discussions happen, and I love that. Because at the end of the day, the product isn’t meant for us—we didn’t build this for ourselves, it’s for the folks who enjoy playing it!

Did you need to crowdfund this venture or did you bootstrap it?

Eric: Right now, we joined a program and we have one of the number one investors in technology in a16z Games. I mean, Andreessen Horowitz is a legend, if not THE legend in all of tech. So to have an opportunity to work with these folks in the capacity we are, with the amount of support, resources and guidance that they are providing us, is pretty much unmatched.

But initially, no, we had no intent of raising funds. We were just going to start building the new games program that they have and there are 4000 applicants they choose from. This is on a global scale too, and they only selected 36—and we are one of those teams! So we are also surrounded by 36 like-minded founders who are also building games at this moment in time, which is a pretty complicated moment with the state of the economy. It’s a common occurrence nowadays to see venture game studios and entertainment companies let go of people in droves.

So yeah, for us, joining a16z with one check, one investor, it’s Andreessen Horowitz and that’s it—it’s a very simple setup that completely works for us. There’s a forcing function on us to move quicker and build relentlessly with a bunch of other founders, and it just made it even harder to say no to all of it.

And the program we’re in right now culminates in the Game Developers Conference. So Travis and I will be on stage in front of a couple hundred of the biggest tech and game execs on a Monday, presenting Lil Snack on March 18th, which is pretty close!

What other things make Lil Snack special?

Eric: I’m not kidding you when I say we launch four new games every day.

Travis: Our early theses for Lil Snack was that we saw such great energy from the quick and fun daily games that were happening all across the web. There’d be different formats for each of them, and they’d all be on different websites. What if someone wanted to play all these short and varied daily games in one place?

We didn’t find anything like that. To put it in gamer tongue: “What’s the Steam for Wordles?” Sure, there’s The New York Times website, and it did have good variety, but we wanted a more comprehensive version of that. Like your go-to place to browse for different kinds of Wordles.

So Lil Snack is a collection of varied and effective formats, and every month we’re adding a new format, increasing the different ways to play as every month passes by. What’s more, Lil Snack is special in the way that it’s always thematic, and there are always different themes every day. That also provides us with a lot of options to approach content as well.

There’s also a big opportunity that most daily games don’t fully utilize, and that’s the meta behaviors present in the realm of free-to-play mobile games which I came from. Things like event-based play, leaderboards, collections and achievements, profile customization, group play and many more, are things that are mostly expected in modern games. But not all of these were present in most daily games, and even if they were, they weren’t implemented in a meaningful way for both the creators and the players.

In Lil Snack, we reward joining that meta behavior. For example, the leaderboard climb or the daily collections. At the end of the month, if you’ve collected all of your collectibles, you get a special profile picture frame that you’ll never get again unless you participate in that event. So only those who played during the event period get the unique, limited-edition collectible or frame and you can customize your profile with it, giving you satisfaction and a great sense of accomplishment.

How long has Lil Snack been operating?

Eric: 164 days. We’ve been running games every day for 164 days at this specific point in time. In fact, we started operating the product even before we incorporated and raised money and all the important stuff.

Why did you call it “Lil Snack”?

Eric: I’ll give it straight to you. Lil Snack is a name Travis and I agreed on within 24 hours.

Travis: Yeah, it was like, a one-hour conversation! As to why that happened, I think Eric just likes the word “snack” a lot, and I like the word as well because of its bite-sized nature. But it felt basic and then I started going down on it. I love the idea of adding prefixes to your usernames in games, and there were lots of times everywhere that when people created them, they’d look like they’d get rap names, like Young Thug or Lil Snooky and things like that.

So… yeah. Lil Snack. That’s it. That’s the peak of the internalization that came with the creation of the name of this special thing we have. And I think it turned out pretty okay! I mean, we probably could have spent months and resources with a branding agency to get the most insight. But the thing is, the name will just end up following after the product because the product itself absorbs it in time as users continue interacting with it.

Can you tell us more about your creative process?

Travis: As we told you earlier, it’s just the two of us from the beginning, and it’s mostly just been us up until recently. We did bring in a contractor to help with content development, and we do work a bit with marketers and influencer types. But yeah, it’s effectively been us primarily with a bit of help on the side.

Me, I cover the technical side of things like game design and stuff like that, while Eric is all things marketing, user acquisition, partnerships and that sort of stuff. That’s why we really thing our skillsets complement each other very well and none of them completely overlap except for product experience. That’s how we also work fast since there’s no redundancy and we cover a lot of ground together.

Using AI

Travis: One thing though. There are a couple of pieces on the AI front. Firstly, is just the development of the games and the site. Any engineer who’s been working on something for the last year knows how effective AI is in being a sort of code copilot with you. We used to call someone like that a pair programmer, and having AI as a nifty tool feels like you have a pair programmer with you all the time.

And I see myself more on the highest level of the stack kind of engineer—you know, more on the user experience field. And that means I never go into the back end, that was definitely someone else’s job. But what happened to me last year is that the AI is literally helping me write the backend code. It’s not all AI though, because I did have it in me to do the backend, plus I wouldn’t have had to hire a backend person, so the AI is there with me as a code copilot. It’s also very helpful in creating formats that are in .json, which as a human is annoying to create. I can give the AI the exact puzzle I want and it can make the format correctly. So that’s pretty much it on the development side.

As for the content side, we kind of see AI as a lot of the brute force, middle part of the equation. On one side, you have the muse, the idea, and on the other end is the editing. With us, AI falls in the middle part, which is the research part. On its own, AI doesn’t give good results when you have it try to come up with ideas for puzzles and games, which is on the muse side. Editing and testing are out of the question since that needs to be human input.

So for the research capabilities of AI, we have custom GPTs for each of our game types then we send them off on little research mission quests. Like, could it give me 20 popular rom-com movies? Then it would list it down and I’d whittle that list down to what’s usable.

Overall, I would never say that we’re an AI company. We’re empowered by it, but most of our processes are human and will stay so for a while. To that, most startups nowadays are working well with AI tools, and it’s such a useful thing to have.

Is it true that in your pop culture games, you don’t do anything related to Beyoncé or Taylor Swift?

Eric & Travis: No comment.

Travis: We know you’re referencing the Grammy’s games, and we really won’t comment there. We know how their fandoms react and we really don’t want to mess with the Beys and the Swifties.

Do you think having four games a day is enough for Lil Snack?

Eric: As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been optimizing Lil Snack to be a 5-to 10-minute something that you play every day. We’re not trying to monopolize your time, but if we do, then we’re honored, but that’s not our aim. We’re Lil Snack, we just want to give you that little dose of fun every day. Some folks don’t know the answer when they start, take a break, then come back and the answers will come to them.

We have also added the library so you can go play past days and the past weeks if you want to keep playing, and we’ll continue to tinker and toy with that. We’re also listing user feedback, such as users wanting to earn points from past days, and some wanting to get access to more things in Lil Snack.

But yeah, for us, right now, four games are enough and that ephemeral experience that you look forward to every day is enough.

Do you have any plans for a mobile release for Lil Snack?

Travis: Yes, we do often think about mobile and native apps, but we’re intentionally focused on web. The biggest reason why is we wanted the friction for you to get it and start playing as easy as a text message from a friend. Like, you get this message from a dude and boom! A few seconds later you’re playing a puzzle about Miley Cyrus.

Eric: And with web, we can be very quick, just like we keep saying that we focus on speed and efficiency. We have no submission cycle, and if there are incorrect things with the game we put out on that day, Travis can easily fix it on the fly. So yeah, we are thinking of it, but we’ll build our way towards mobile someday.

How do you plan to monetize Lil Snack?

Eric: Right now, we’re focused on creating a solid user base and nail their overall experience. But we do talk about monetizing every day. We’ve had interest in white labeling the games, and some other folks are just commissioning us to build games for them, which we can do, and might someday as well. We have our library of games which will likely start to find other destination distribution points to sell and monetize there. We’re also going to start putting rewarded video ads, and if there are sponsorships that want to take over Lil Snack for a while, we’ll also do that too.

For example, if HBO wanted to partner up then we’d do a special with HBO-themed puzzles for a set time.

What advice can you give to new developers?

Eric: Travis and I have been through a lot together, as individuals and as a team, and here’s what we can say:

1. Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous

Eric: Lil Snack’s name came from a spontaneous idea. Sure, in some things spontaneity isn’t a good thing, but there are a lot of merits with going with a creative gut feeling. There are also the snaps of ideas that come to mind in the most unexpected ways, so don’t be afraid to pull on that feeling.

2. The users come first

Travis: As I said earlier, we listen very carefully to feedback. Coming from our experience in creating products for kids as well as with Lil Snack, what we make isn’t for us. Don’t forget that at the end of the day, it’s a product that you will provide consumers with.

3. Ego has no place in a small team

Eric: Even though we all have successful backgrounds, our small team here in Lil Snack gives no regard to ego or anything like that. We all roll up our sleeves and do work willingly because we know it’ll benefit all of us and Lil Snack in general. And besides, we’re already a small team, there aren’t any other people who work with us or know the process, and there’s no place for negative things such as ego in our passionate team.

Did you play any interesting games recently?

Travis: In 2023, I was really in love with Dave the Diver! It was such a good game with a great vibe and was generally all about being cozy. You’d dive for fish and then use those in your sushi restaurant. It’s also hilarious and very aesthetically pleasing with the 3D pixel art and animation style. I also played a lot of Satisfactory, which is a factory-building game, and it was and still is a very therapeutic game for me.

Eric: Yeah, Travis is the game expert between us. I used to be a massive gamer myself, but life has unfolded for me even more, so I can’t focus on gaming as much anymore. But I continuously play daily games, am a big Settlers of Catan player, as well as basketball. I’m proud to say basketball is my biggest and favorite game, and my body has a couple more years of strong basketball play left in it!

What’s the future for Lil Snack?

Eric: Lil Snack isn’t just a place to play—it’s also a place to collab with like-minded people. As you already know, we’re working alongside 36 other teams that are also developing their own games. We also work with a lot of other talented people, like Juliana Tringali Golden who made puzzles for Vox and NYT, and Tanner Greenring, who made quizzes for BuzzFeed. We collab and create concepts, and Travis, with his amazing skills, breathes life into them. So if there are people out there with daily game concepts in mind, come approach us and let’s build together!

As for Lil Snack, we’ll continue making games as usual, but we’ll also look for more partnerships and collaborations. And if the people want something done, of course, we’ll implement it as we continue studying feedback.

Travis: But the general plan is the same as always—get better every day. And if there are signals that we can evolve the product further, then we’ll take it.

Where can we learn more Lil Snack and you guys?

Travis: The website is always open for you, and that’s lilsnack.co! If you have any feedback, there’s a feedback form there that you can always use and we’ll check out what you sent us there.

Eric: For anyone interested in joining the team, specifically around an engineering role or other game designers that have ideas, feel free to hit me up on LinkedIn. You can also DM me through X/Twitter at @Eb33la1. We’re always happy to engage and have a discussion with like-minded people and users of Lil Snack!

Have a game to sell?

Let’s find out if we play well together.