Paul Thelen

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Paul Thelen
Paul Thelen, circa 2008
Occupation Businessman
Founder Big Fish Games

Paul Thelen is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Big Fish Games.[1] He has an MBA from Stanford University and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington. Thelen has more than 20 years experience working in technology. Big Fish Games is the largest portal for downloadable games in the world, distributing in excess of 1.5 million games per day.[2]

On November 12th, 2014, Big Fish Games, the Company Founded by Thelen in 2002, was acquired by Churchill Downs for $885 million.[3]


After graduating from the University of Washington in 1989, Thelen started his career as a Systems Engineer and Marketing Manager with the Seattle Marketing and Sales office of IBM. After four years at IBM, Thelen left to join a small distribution software developer for mainframe VM and MVS systems, to start a systems integration division for the 12 person company.

While at Stanford University, Thelen focused his studies on technology and marketing and then entered the field of strategic business consulting for Mercer Management Consulting. At Mercer, Thelen worked on developing targeted customer marketing solutions and customer database mining programs for several companies including First Interstate Bank (acquired by Wells Fargo) and Sprint Telecommunications.

Acting on his desire to get back into the trenches with a technology company, Thelen accepted an offer from RealNetworks. While there, Thelen successfully launched RealAudio (stereo streaming audio over the Internet) and RealVideo; wrote the business plan and deployed the RealProducer and RealPublisher media editing, compression and deployment tools; and lead strategy for the Media Systems division as Group Product Manager. Thelen then moved on to co-found the games business at RealNetworks. Thelen wrote the business plan[4] for the RealArcade Service, the RealArcade Client, and the Game Pass Subscription service.[5]

In 2002, Thelen founded and bootstrapped a startup company Big Fish Games with $10,000 of his own seed capital, during a period in his life when he was very sick with an undiagnosed, life-threatening illness that progressed for 5 years before his doctors diagnosed the issue and, after surgery and a six month recovery, Paul was cured.[6] Big Fish Games grew rapidly and secured $8.7 million in angel funding in 2005 and an additional $83.6 million from Balderton Capital, General Catalyst and Salmon River Capital in August 2008.[7] In 2012 Big FIsh Games acquired Self Aware Games, makers of the number one social casino for mobile[8] and Paul returned to the role of CEO, after 4 years as Chief Strategy Officer. [9] Big Fish Games now has with corporate offices in Seattle, Washington; Oakland, California; and Luxembourg.[10]

On November 12th, 2014, Big Fish Games, the Company Founded by Thelen in 2002, was acquired by Churchill Downs for $885 million. Thelen will remain at Big Fish Games and continue to run Big Fish Games, a wholly owned subsidiary of Churchill Downs Inc. [11]

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