One e-mail can change everything. If it gets a response from the right person.

After reading a blog post by billionaire Mark Cuban last year, 25-year-old entrepreneur Ryan Ozonian learned that the Dallas Mavericks owner was interested in social gaming. Ozonian, president and founder of Mention Mobile, specialized in that.

At the end of the post, he saw Cuban’s e-mail address. Ozonian was looking for investors. It was late at night in his apartment, and he decided to pitch his company to one of the richest men in America.

“I wrote a really passionate e-mail and attached the pitch packet, sent it to him and I had a response from Mark Cuban in eight minutes,” he said.

Ozonian recalled that he was practically delirious with excitement, but at the same time wondered if the response was really from Cuban. He called his business partner and co-founder, Kory Jones. Jones, 44, looked at the message and agreed it looked legitimate.

“At first I was like there’s no way,” Ozonian admitted. “I didn’t think we’d get a direct response from him.”

But as the e-mails continued back and forth, “I very quickly realized it was him,” Ozonian said. “He agreed to give us our initial $250,000 round of funding to round out our ideas and form a team.”

Mention Mobile specializes in asynchronous games, meaning each player takes turns and can come and go from the game – online chess, for example. The company had produced a game, Trivia Friends, that Cuban had played. The game draws information from players’ Facebook accounts and then forms questions based on what their friends have posted.

The company’s games feature advertising and are offered on a freemium model, which means the basic game is free but players can opt for a deluxe version that costs as little as 99 cents.

Ozonian wouldn’t disclose revenue but said the company is not yet profitable.

Cuban, who made his fortune in telecommunications before buying the Mavericks and is now one of the investors, called sharks, on TV show “Shark Tank,” told the duo he wanted them to work “hardcore startup style,” Ozonian said.

“(Cuban said) I’m not going to give you $5 million, I’m going to give you $250,000 and see what you’re made of,” he said.

When Mention Mobile got Cuban’s funding in October, the Hollywood company built up its team, adding developers and designers to do everything in-house, from art to animation to design. It now has eight employees.

Ozonian and Jones come up with game concepts and have weekly meetings with Cuban to get his input.

In April, Mention Mobile announced a second investment of an undisclosed amount from Cuban, who said he’s excited by the company’s direction.

“Mention Mobile’s innovative minds and creative games is what initially attracted me and have kept me interested,” Cuban said in an e-mail to the Business Journal. “Their social games with original twists will continue their path to success.”

Those twists are under wraps as Mention Mobile preps for a slate of title releases this summer.

Mention Mobile now has a publishing deal with EA Mobile subsidiary Chillingo for soon-to-be-released word game Word Derby. Another deal is with Moonshark, the mobile division of Creative Artists Agency, for a celebrity face morphing app. The company is also developing a Mavericks social game for Cuban.

Competitive landscape

Mention Mobile was co-founded in 2010 by Ozonian and Jones. Ozonian had a background in social media management, and Jones had run his own mobile business and produced live sports event graphics for Fox, ESPN and CBS.

The company’s biggest competition is New York-based Omgpop. That mobile studio’s Draw Something title broke download records earlier this year by reaching 50 million downloads in the first 50 days of its release. Draw Something is an asynchronous, Pictionary-type game.

Mention Mobile’s Doodley, a social doodling contest, has been downloaded more than 100,000 times since its August launch.

Ozonian said Mention Mobile didn’t have the big budget to market the game, while Omgpop did. Zynga Inc.’s Words With Friends is the next biggest asynchronous game the company competes with.

“Asynchronous gaming is definitely the biggest trend in mobile gaming right now,” said Carlos Diaz, chief executive officer of Kwarter, a mobile gaming company focusing on live sports in San Francisco.

Ozonian thinks his proximity to the film community and the brand leverage of celebrities could make his company more attractive.

Patrick Sweeney, counsel and head of video game practice at Reed Smith in Century City, says the success of Mention Mobile’s games depends on how many fans they draw.

“Ultimately it’s going to boil down to how good their games are,” Sweeney said.

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