Chief Executive Officer of Xfire
Born Michael Cassidy, c. 1963. Education: Attended Berklee College of Music; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, B.S. (aerospace engineering), 1985, M.S. (aerospace engineering), 1986; Harvard Business School, graduate studies, 1991.
Founded Stylus Innovation, c. 1990; named chief executive officer of Direct Hit, 1997; founder and chief executive officer of Xfire, 2004.
Awards: First place, MIT business-plan contest, c. 1990.
In the world of online gaming, Michael Cassidy has become like a high-tech, high-powered match-maker. By founding Xfire in 2004, and serving as its chief executive officer since, Cassidy has provided online gamers with the opportunity to easily and quickly find online playmates. Whereas online gamers used to have to prearrange gaming times with one another, setting up future games with friends well in advance, Xfire has largely eased this burden. Under the watchful and business-savvy eye of Cassidy, and supported by the expertise of chief gaming officer Dennis "Thresh" Fong, Xfire has flourished into a business that, according to Forbes, serves as "the TV Guide, maitre d', and instant messenger senger of the gaming world." Specifically, Cassidy's company "can point you to a buddy who is ready to play the game you want at any moment of the day or night."
By tapping into the instant messaging and search engine technology already used by such online social networking services as Friendster and Linked-In, Xfire has increased the ease with which online gamers can participate in nearly 75 role-playing and strategy games. For Xfire users, gone are the days of relying on conference calling and luck to schedule and execute play dates. And so far, nearly 1.5 million people have registered to use Xfire's services, making Cassidy himself a friend to online gamers. However, Cassidy's game plan for Xfire has involved not a single dollar of advertising money. According to Matt Slagle of the Associated Press, Cassidy has generated business "almost exclusively by word-of-mouth." Because Xfire users are eager to increase the number of buddies in their online gaming networks, they serve as Xfire's most powerful advertising tool. In this sense, then, customer satisfaction is what has propelled Cassidy's success.
However, this kind of success was not a sudden development in Cassidy's career. Rather, it was the result of a prolonged interest and investment in the intersection of computer technology and business innovation. As a student at Harvard Business School, Cassidy launched his first entrepreneurial endeavor. By entering and winning a business-plan contest hosted by MIT, where he had earlier earned both his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in aerospace engineering, Cassidy secured a portion of the seed money necessary to put into action what he was learning in the Harvard classroom. Along with two business partners, Cassidy combined his MIT winnings with an additional $125, 000 and started Stylus Innovation. Devoted largely to developing fax and telephony software, this first of Cassidy's start-ups is best known for having produced Visual Voice. Although Cassidy sold Stylus Innovation in 1996 to Artisoft for $13 million, it was the invaluable experience and sterling reputation that he gained in running this 22-employee company that aided him in subsequent start-ups, most notably Xfire.
Cassidy has maintained close associations with both MIT, in general, and MIT's business-plan contest, in particular. Recognizing the catapulting effect that MIT's underwriting his fledgling business plan had upon his career, Cassidy has remained a staunch supporter of the business-plan contest. In 1997, specifically, Cassidy helped to launch a business plan proposed by a contest entrant. Feeling in need of a new project after having sold Stylus Innovation, Cassidy turned to MIT's website and the 84 student-proposed business plans published there. In Gary Culliss' blueprint for Direct Hit Technologies, which proposed a search engine that would list websites in the order of their popularity, Cassidy saw both a spark of business innovation and a match with his own interests. The business plan had lost in a warm-up round of the MIT competition. Quickly, Cassidy signed on as the CEO of Direct Hit and, according to Inc., fleshed it out "from the wisp of an idea to a full-fledged upstart backed by $1.4 million in venture capital." With Cassidy's backing, Culliss and fellow MIT student Steven Yang won $30, 000 from the MIT competition, were offered a one-year licensing pact with Wired Digital, and attracted the attention—and investment money—of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.
Thus, Cassidy has not only carved out success for himself in the world of online technology and business, but has also helped spread this success to others. Lending his prestige and his knowledge to fellow MIT students, and supporting the business-plan competition that helped him, he has enjoyed personal triumph and shared in the triumph of upand-coming business and technology innovators. This said, however, Cassidy's entrepreneurial involvement has hardly been worry-free. In February of 2005, most notably, Xfire found itself being sued by Yahoo!. At the heart of the litigation is Yahoo!'s claim that Xfire has infringed Patent No. 6, 699, 125 by utilizing an only slightly modified version of the technology originally used by Yahoo!'s Game-Prowler IM application. Pointing to the technology used by Xfire in allowing gamers to chat online with one another, Yahoo! representatives have alleged that Xfire has relied upon Yahoo! technological innovation without garnering the appropriate permission or license.
Predictably, Cassidy has consistently refuted these claims against Xfire and has even initiated a countersuit against Yahoo!. According to Cassidy, these charges are more reflective of Yahoo!'s discomfort with free market competition than of any wrongdoing committed by Xfire. Cassidy feels that Yahoo! is using its economic clout in a blatant attempt to put Xfire out of business. Consequently, Xfire is asking that Yahoo!'s lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice and that Yahoo! be forced to compensate Xfire for any damage that the lawsuit causes to its business. Standing firmly on his remarkable history of award-winning and profitable innovation—first with Stylus Innovation and then with Direct Hit and Xfire— Cassidy has strongly defended the legality of the company's patent and the originality of the company's product. And Xfire users seem to be in agreement with this stance taken by Cassidy: An online petition urging Yahoo! to drop its charges had already gathered more than 25, 000 signatures by mid-2005. Certainly, this indicates a great deal of support for both Xfire as a company and Cassidy as an entrepreneur.
Associated Press, May 13, 2005.
Forbes, September 6, 2004, pp. 146-47.
Inc., December 1998.
USA Today, February 16, 2004, p. 3B.
"Mike Cassidy, " Advertising in Games West, http://www.advertisingingames.com/west. speakers/mikecassidy.html (August 17, 2005).
"Mike Cassidy, " Web 2.0 Conference 2005, http://www.web2con.com/cs/web2005/view/e_spkr/2387 (August 17, 2005).
"Xfire Countersuit Against Yahoo! Gaining Support, " Game Daily Biz: Newsletter for Game Industry, " http://biz.gamedaily.com/features. asp?article_id=9225 (August 17, 2005).