Nobody expected 21-year-old web entrepreneur Artur Minacov and his cofounder John Brechisci to make a fortune in the startup game, but they sure did.
The guys hit the tech headlines in a big way in late June. That’s when it was reported that their online business that acts as an escrow system to allow CounterStrike gamers to buy and sell weapons online was raking in a daily profit of $12,000. That story was first reported by Montreal’s Les Affaires, and VICE’s Motherboard was quick to jump on the story.
“It definitely did us some good,” Minacov, the team’s CMO and cofounder, told MTLinTech. “It put us on the map.”
Five months later, Montreal’s OpSkins is still the top dog in the CounterStrike online weapons marketplace with no plans to slow down, and a very successful ambassador of North American esports in general. According to the company, OpSkins gains an average of 10,000 new users every 48 hours, currently sitting at just under 900,000 total users. Over 2.85 million skins have been sold through the site and many of these guns are selling for around $15. The most expensive skin ever sold on OpSkins went for around $8,000.
“One thing is for sure,” said Minacov. “We have what most startups don’t: a true business model that generates real cash.”
Born in Chișinău, Moldova, a small country between Romania and Ukraine (he identifies as half-Russian though, as his father is from Siberia), Minacov immigrated to Canada when he was seven years old.
His first company didn’t go so well two years ago, but not for lack of effort. Modreal, or as it was later rebranded as Modde, was a fashion app where fashion and clothes enthusiasts took a picture of their outfit. The app would automatically tag brands and allow other users to know where they could buy each piece around where they lived.
Minacov was just 19 at this point, and it’s safe to say he was wrapped up in the at times glitzy allure of running a startup. He went to a FounderFuel demo day and soon after wanted to launch an app that could gain millions of users.
“It was not making money, and I dared call it a business. I did everything in my power to get it off the ground, but unfortunately it didn’t work the way I wanted,” he said.
I was chasing a dream and that allowed me to hustle my way through and commit mistakes. Many people are scare of failure, but they shouldn’t be. Failure is part of success and it’s a matter of time before you achieve what you always dreamed off. I realized that dreaming is great, but you also have to be realistic and make sure that you’re passionate about the product you’re building.
Fortunately, he did have a passion and a high knowledge for the game Counter-Strike, the popular first-person shooting video game developed by Valve Corporation. He had been playing it, astonishingly, since he was just five years old, around the time the first “Half-Life Counter-Strike” game came out in June of 1999.
The latest version of Counter-Strike (Global Offensive) allows players to trade gun skins between each other, but there was no way to sell it for real money, in a safe environment. “Browsing Reddit, as I do every single day, I noticed that a lot of players were complaining about getting scammed when they tried selling their gun skins to another player via PayPal, or another online Payment Method,” said Minacov. “It was quite a regular thing, so I knew there was something that could be done here. There was an obvious need in the market that was not filled, so my team and I built OpSkins and have been successful since Day 1.”
Skip ahead to today, and Minacov’s story, far from over, seems to be going quite well after a rocky start. “I started from nothing and I’ve hustled my way into what I have today,” he told MTLinTech.
Even with all the hustle, OpSkins stays pretty humble. Minacov still works out of his parent’ basement in Montreal, even though they now employ 26 people around the world.
In the future Minacov sees more competitors in his space. He thinks more online games will get involved in eSports (essentially when people compete with each other through video games, or a computer interface). To that end, OpSkins was a major player in a highly regarded Counter-Strike competition held in Montreal last summer shortly after the media reports brought the company all the attention at the time.
The ESWC Counter-Strike: GO World Finals was a huge event in which the best Counter-Strike players in the world came to Montreal for a grand final after qualifying online. OpSkins was the main sponsor and forked out as much as $100,000 in organizing the event and throwing the after-party (which, from the Youtube video, seems like it was pretty fun).
For now, the company is all about growth, They’ll keep trying to bring their users the best possible experience and the best features as they buy and sell their skins. Minicov said the team doesn’t have any specific hiring goals this year, but that it’s “always hiring family and close friends.”