Summary List Placement
The story of Roblox begins in a small office in Menlo Park, just two guys and a dream.
“From the start, we imagined the possibilities of bringing people together through play,” Dave Bascuzcki, Roblox’s cofounder and CEO, wrote in a letter to shareholders before the online gaming company went public this week.
“Our goal was to create an online community where people could do things together in virtual worlds,” he wrote.
Baszucki and his cofounder, Erik Cassel, realized their vision. On average, 37 million people log on to Roblox every day to connect with friends, play, learn, and explore, all in user-created, digital worlds, according to the company.
But Cassel was not alive to see it all the way through. In 2013, he died of cancer at age 45.
On Wednesday, Roblox completed a direct listing that raised its market cap to $45 billion, making it the most valuable gaming company to go public, according to PitchBook data. It’s worth twice as much as publicly traded Unity Software.
It’s not clear what the size of Cassel’s ownership stake was when he died. His holdings were not disclosed by the company. (Public companies are required to disclose shareholders that hold 5% or more of their stock.) That’s not surprising. Although Roblox issued a lot of stock to private shareholders in its years as a venture-backed startup — ultimately raising an estimated $855 million, according to Pitchbook — most of it was raised after he died.
Roblox declined to comment on the record.
Roblox was not possible without Cassel
The company today is not too dissimilar from the game engine that Cassel created as a vice president of engineering. Employees remember him as an architect and a workhorse, responsible for much of the original web infrastructure.
Cassel was never too busy to answer a question from a young engineer. His coding chops and “capacity to deliver” are what made Baszucki’s vision possible in the early days, employees wrote in a company blog post after his death.
“When Erik built something, he always built it right,” Baszucki wrote. “There was never a question of a hack or a band-aid or a bolt-on with Erik when it came to software engineering.”
And when Cassel learned of his diagnosis, Baszucki said he “worked selflessly to make sure his knowledge and insights were transferred” to members of the engineering organization.
Cassel had been around computers from a young age and learned to code on a Radio Shack TRS-80 in junior high school. In an interview for the company blog in 2010, Cassel said he built computer games during recess.
“I would program a game and have just a few minutes to play it before the bell rang. The computer didn’t have a hard drive, so I would lose the program and have to write a new one the next day,” Cassel told Roblox. “This really motivated me to become a good programmer. The faster and better I could code, the more time I had to play the game.”
Bascuzcki met Cassel as a recent graduate of Cornell in 1989. Cassel read in MacUser magazine about a software company that Bascuzcki was building and flew out to interview for a job, according to Baszucki. One look at a piece of software that Cassel wrote for the physics department of Cornell convinced Baszucki to hire Cassel on the spot.
The two spent almost a decade building educational software for teaching physics and eventually sold the company for $20 million. They parted ways some years after the acquisition but kept in touch, Baszucki wrote on the blog.
In 2004, they put their heads together to start something new, which would become Roblox.
The company asked Cassel in an interview what it was like to be part of Roblox from the beginning.
“It’s fun to be part of something as it grows, and you can reminisce about all the things that happened and how far we’ve come. On the other hand, Roblox keeps changing and growing,” Cassel said.
He added, “A year from now I’ll look back on today and think of it as part of the ‘beginning,’ too.”
In many ways, Cassel’s memory lives on in the Roblox world — real and virtual — from the touching memorial blog written by Baszucki where he declares his cofounder to be the “nicest guy I’ve ever met,” to an in-game “Erik Cassel Memory Place” made by his sons to celebrate his memory.
The photos shared on those sites have also become the inspiration for the Erik Cassel starter Toy, enjoyed by many when they first log onto the site.