Most people wouldn’t be able to work with their siblings. Old rivalries, memories of favoritism, physical violence; There are many barriers to entry when it comes to spending time with family, let alone starting a business with them. But that’s what twin brothers Ken and Keith Hanson did when they founded Twin Engine Labs in 2010, and the brothers seem to have embraced their biological circumstance to work on some notable applications.
The brothers (and their team) may have had the least stealthy “stealth” period in the history of sneaky companies. So far Twin Engine Labs have shipped an internal application for Cisco that is still used by the company’s Singapore sales team, an app called Reward Volunteers (three guesses as to what it does) that aims to connect volunteers and non-profit workers together and reward them for spreading the word about their organization, and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, an iPad book/game/application/video hybrid conceived by Moonbot Studios. (Full disclosure: My nephew and I are both huge Morris Lessmore fans.)
Ken and Keith tell slightly different stories about the company’s founding. Keith maintains that he had asked Ken to head back to their hometown because he didn’t have any design chops and that he had to plead with Ken to start the company. To hear Ken tell it, though: “[Keith] had the technological prowess to build what he wanted to build, but [the projects] were always ugly as sin. He was about to do it with Moonbot and Morris Lessmore, and I was basically begging him to outsource [the design work] to me so he wouldn’t make it look bad”
Discrepancies about the company’s founding aside, it’s clear that the brothers care deeply about the work that their shop puts out. Both are so committed to clients, in fact, that what the sales team have dubbed “Twinfernos” break out in the office regularly. The brothers own this and even laugh about it, saying “We butt heads a lot; not only are we twin brothers, but we’re also on the complete opposite ends of how we think about things. At the end of the day we’re best friends, and we’ve always best friends, but it’s not all roses all the time.” These Twinfernos often start with a client’s problem that the brothers want to approach in different ways, and they say that they always try to make sure something that benefits the company comes from these familial firestorms.
After two years in “stealth” mode Twin Engine Labs is ready to roar its launch to the world. The company’s first independent app, PentaKill, is a labor of love that was made so the team could stop Alt+Tabbing (the keyboard shortcut for cycling between windows) between freemium arena game League of Legends and the game’s online wiki. The app shows different skins (costumes) for the assorted characters in League of Legends, and more features are planned for the future.
Besides working to fill a hole in the team’s existing
playtime workflow, PentaKill could also become an ongoing source of revenue for the company. “Really, the pump is primed as far as us monetizing on the app,” the brothers say, adding that League of Legends has “really knocked the freemium model out of the park.” The Twin Engine team is currently working on baking image recognition into the app that would allow users to scan the character they’re currently battling and have relevant information displayed right on the screen.
Despite working on some high-profile projects and announcing their existence to the world, the Hanson brothers want to keep Twin Engine Labs a relatively small development studio. “We’re slow and steady right now. We’ve definitely grown since we began, but at the moment we’re mainly looking for that this team can handle.”