19 year-old entrepreneur takes aim at gaming with second startup

At 19 years old, Connor Zwick has earned admission to Harvard, a Thiel Fellowship, acceptance into Y Combinator and a place on Kickstarter. The one thing he’s waiting for? A successful launch of his newest company.

Zwick and his co-founder, fellow Harvard drop-out Colton Gyulay, are on Monday launching their newest product, called Coco, from their company called Milkshake Labs. The startup aims to bring the physical benefits and controls of console gaming to smartphones at affordable prices. The two will pitch the product at Y Combinator’s August demo day next week, but are hoping to gain traction and support on Kickstarter until then, as they aim to disrupt the smartphone gaming space.

In a press release, the founders explained how the Coco controller will work and fit into the market:

This pocket-sized case brings functional buttons that are standard on users’ favorite console systems, including a directional pad and analog joystick, to the smartphone gaming experience. The first of its kind, it provides console-level controls (it boasts an analog stick AND a directional pad), communicates through the phone’s audio jack and does not require its own battery.

In addition to offering tactile control of games on the smartphone screen, coco can also interface with the latest iPad or iPhone 4S and Apple TV to turn the iOS device into a full-fledged living room console. A coco app can manage all of the devices’ games and launch them on the Apple TV system for mirroring or even dual-screen play.

“We wanted to make it as simple and easy to use as possible,” said Zwick, who received $100,000 as part of the Thiel Fellowship to drop out (or technically take a leave of absence) from Harvard for two years and pursue entrepreneurship in computer science and technology.

The piece of hardware (which can be found here when it launches on Kickstarter Monday) will have early bird pricing, but it will ultimately retail for around $40, Zwick said, placing it far below competitors on the market. The founders said it will work with a variety of devices and games, hopefully making it a no-brainer for existing smartphone users frustrated by the gaming experience on small screens but who want to move away from expensive, external gaming consoles.

Zwick was featured in the “20 Under 20” documentary on the Thiel Fellowship as the founder of a successful flashcard app called Flashcards+, which had more than 1 million downloads. He said that app is still going strong even as he moves on to build and promote Coco.

“A lot of people have pivoted,” he said.

Zwick said his interest in co-founding Coco connects with his belief that hardware will be at the forefront of innovation going forward, despite its unique challenges in development and production.

“I think hardware is going to be the next software,” he said.

Zwick said part of the stress of launching a hardware product as opposed to a software app is that you need a certain number of orders before the manufacturer will create your product, which leads to many Kickstarter projects taking forever to get into the hands of backers, he said. He estimates that Coco needs about 6,000 units ordered to be successful, but they’re distributing early models to Kickstarter backers in hopes of building support before releasing them for retail.

Here’s CNBC’s short interview with Zwick as part of the 20 Under 20 documentary: