Joakim: Hi everyone. It’s Joakim Achren, your host of the Elite Game Developers Podcast, the podcast about the entrepreneurs and investors who are building the games companies of the future. Today I’m talking with Matias Myllyrinne, the Co-Founder and CEO of Redhill Games. Matias has been running games studios for nearly two decades and he’s now embarking on his first founder journey with Redhill games.
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Joakim: Hi Matias welcome to the show.
Matias: Super glad to be here. Thank you.
Joakim: Great. Super interesting to start talking about like all the stuff that use in the industry and now starting your own company. But let’s kick off with kind of like an introduction into Redhill games, the company that you have recently founded.
Matias: Sure. I mean the Redhill games we started last year, we’re headquartered in Helsinki and we have offices in Cyprus as well. And kind of a very senior team a lot of kind of the core founding team worked together. Most of us had remedy or war gaming and we’ve come together to kind of build a tactical shooter for PC. Basically, I think a lot of the free to play knowledge and going to games as a service is ahead in Eastern Europe and former Soviets. Whereas I think in the West there’s a really good understanding of visual language in the player journey and combining talents from kind of both sides to come together.
Joakim: That’s cool. And it’s free to play?
Matias: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a super interesting space and I think there’s a lot of room in the shooter markets still today.
Joakim: Cool. Before we go into the market and where you guys are operating, let’s go back like ages ago, what was your first dip into the game industry and how did that happen?
Matias: This year will be my 20th year working in games and kind of I’ve grown up with the industry in many ways. When I started, it was much smaller. I think we were at like 8 billion and that felt like a large number and what are we hitting, like 150 billion now. So totally different market, totally different business models, a different distribution and a lot of the way we work has also changed and matured.
Matias: I started back in 99 at remedy and really one of those red pill and blue pill moments. I had an offer from Hewlett and Packard to go to beveling and the kind of job most parents would want their kid to take. Now, here’s your option package your company car and blah blah. But it was going to be SAP software integration, finance software. Needless to say, I haven’t regretted that red pill and blue pill moments since then. I’m sure it’s very necessary, but games are fun, but most of all game developers are awesome.
Joakim: Yeah, it is. Then you stayed for Remedy as for a while. You actually ended up running the whole studio and becoming a CEO. What was that experience like?
Matias: Yeah, I mean obstinately, running a lot of the business side from the start already and small company, it was the first one really not building the game either. I wasn’t technical and I wasn’t artistic providing kind of bad stuff. So I mean, small company, you did everything you needed to. So I did main spec testing in addition to making the deals and carrying bananas and going through kind of the building the company as well. I mean we pretty much changed auditors, accountants and payroll and lawyers all in the first year and kind of brought in a lot of the necessary structures for the company to actually grow and succeed. I mean, I was there for 16 years. It was a wonderful ride. When I left we were at 136 people and obviously they’ve continued to grow and succeed since then.
Matias: I had the opportunity to join Wargaming and run the worldwide studios and I felt it was the right time to kind of get that experience. And just seemed like a challenge that was interesting and kind of super cool and got to work with a lot of interesting people around the world in different cultures. I was responsible for 2000 developers around the world, in st Petersburg, Kyiv, Sydney, Baltimore, Chicago, Austin, Seattle and so forth and obviously in Cyprus as well. And then we build studios into Brumo, Prague and Shanghai was a really exciting and interesting time to kind of step from being running a game team to actually running game teams.
Matias: So, it goes from being a first person shooter to being a real time strategy game. So the level of involvement changes and your role changes, but then not last year it was finally time to build our own thing, just felt like it was the right moment to go.
Joakim: Was that something that you’ve always thought of yourself as like very entrepreneurial spirited person?
Matias: Certainly, yeah. Whenever you’re driving a business where you’re responsible as a CEO where massage for a company, I think there’s a degree of entrepreneurship that comes out of magically. So I’ve always wanted to build stable, sustainable businesses and good culture and right now just having a great bunch of people, like-minded, willing to go on an adventure just felt like its now we’re never really.
Joakim: How did your company building process evolve over your career from Remedy? How you’re building up stuff at war gaming and now at Redhill?
Matias: Some fundamentals are always the same. We work in entertainment and entertainment is ultimately about two things, it’s either about the IP or the talent. There really aren’t any other kinds of bets and entertainment that work. So for me managing and kind of helping the talent and just empowering them is kind of a common theme through remedy Wargaming and Redhill. But certainly I think in terms of how we work and how we develop the game that’s evolved massively.
Matias: We started testing or after 90 days of development, just a basic white boxed environment and then took that to Canada and external company to get feedback, which is very different from kind of the AAA development that I’ve done in the past and now we’re testing every quarter, we tested in Finland, we are going to go to the UK, run another test in October and I found that to be super valuable. It’s not that the data is a dictator, but the data keeps you honest. Are people liking the game? What are the blockers to fun? Does the pacing work and so forth. Those things you can and should test early if you have the right mindset. And I think that’s kind of one of the learnings from free to play that we’ve definitely kind of put into.
Matias: On the other hand we were super lucky. We have a great senior team, great guys both in art, content design in tech and for us having such a senior team means that you can also give them a lot of responsibility and you can also kind of give them a lot of freedom, which is we’re kind of in that honeymoon phase because we’re right now we’re about 25 people. We’re going to be about 40 at the end of the year where you still aren’t burdened too much with process and structure, you can keep it very light and kind of very organic. And I realize there’s different stages as companies grow, it’s very different to managing a 500 man team on world of tanks versus managing 40, 50 people on something much smaller. So it gives you a degree of, I don’t know, I mean, empowerment is an overused word, but it really allows you to give people a lot more flexibility and not have to burden them down with a lot of process.
Joakim: How did you learn that kind of skill of hiring people and enabling them and yourself kind of stepping away more like a high level kind of like role? Was that something that was natural for you early in your career or how did you develop that skill?
Matias: Well, there’s a few things. One is we also learned from kind of bad organizations, organizations that don’t fit with our values and prior to working in games you gain some experience of how I never want to manage people. And then also realizing that in games kind of … because it’s entertainment, there’s passion and there’s their desire to do something cool. Whether you’re an artist, a designer, or even on the QA team, everybody just wants to make cool stuff.
Matias: So, I think certainly in games it’s not so much about motivating people. It’s more about, are we doing the right thing? Not are we doing things right? That’s the most important kind of decision, what are you building and why are you building particularly that on something else.
Matias: And the number one question I have at work is, how can I help? That really it’s not what are you doing? It’s not, why are you doing this, is often, how can I help? And I think that already changes the dynamic increasingly if you work in a leadership position in a creative expert organization then you really are there oftentimes to serve as just the leader is there to serve the team in many ways.
Matias: Obviously there’s circumstances you can be in a crisis mode or something is really urgent and there’s no time to build consensus. But those moments are really far and few between.
Joakim: Yeah. It’s kind of like those moments that when you have the chance to do everything right, everything should be kind of like slowly cooked up that you hired the right people. It’s like not rushing it and also making decisions, the right decisions.
Joakim: This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. Startups super hard to succeed with a new company. You need to be putting a lot of hours into making it work. But there’s also like this sentiment that you need to put a lot of overtime for your small company to actually succeed. How do you approach this kind of work life balance in a startup of your own now?
Matias: When we were starting, it was super important for us. Not only you had a clear idea of what kind of game we want to build very early on, but we also had a very clear idea of what kind of culture we want. And we spent quite a bit of time talking about that early on. And I think the key thing is like as long as we’re honest and have high integrity, that leads to trust and ultimately trust will lead to a sense of safety. And once you have a sense of safety, people more than likely will do better innovation, they will take risks, they will say the unpopular thing and they can kind of go against the grain as well. And I think that’s absolutely vital because then you get the different voices heard and you get different opinions and we’re not optimizing for … in many ways, not through kind of consistency or whatever.
Matias: We’re building entertainment and you need to try a lot of different things really quickly and figure out what works and then move on. So I think that kind of environment of safety is super important.
Matias: As for like over time, I’d love to say that, we don’t put them hours. I think it’s very much we look after each other and there’s no massive push from me or the company or anybody or the leads to do that. But I think it’s more being flexible is easier in a small company. So remote work as possible, pacing your day, I think our core hours are from 10:00 to 3:00 and then around that, pace your stuff and obviously kind of being able to be a more humane employer where we actually look at individuals as human beings and individuals and we can also tailor things to work for them. So I think that’s definitely a big part.
Matias: We do take our holidays and we do make sure that we go away. And that was one of the reasons like this year we shut the office for a bit there in July and made sure that everybody at some point is away at the same time. And then the rest of the holidays people would take wherever they want, but we just wanted to make sure that there’s one point in time where nobody’s kind of on call. And that was super important for us. And we talked about that as well because certainly it’s easy to be consumed by what we do. But there’s a lot of other things out there that matter, friends, family, other obligations, other hobbies and things to make us whole. So I think, pushing that 80 hour work week isn’t probably the best way to succeed sustainably.
Matias: And there’s two ways of building games. I mean, there’s the efficient way and then there’s the effective way. You can cut and bomb everything or you can kind of figure out, “Okay, how do we do this in a smart way and building efficiently, and just take out the bunker you need to, not the entire jungle.”
Matias: Those are things that you kind of learn along the way. But I do love what I do, so it’s definitely not a 9:00 to 5:00 thing. And I don’t think it’s a 9:00 to 5:00 thing for many of us, but that means that you’ll go home, you meet your family and spend time with them and then maybe you want to pop that computer open and do that last submit into the build because you want to make it better. I think that’s just natural.
Joakim: Yeah, it’s kind of like the mandatory break in a way. Like you guys shut the whole company down. Nobody’s expecting you to show up in slack or whatnot. That’s one way to do it through.
Matias: Yeah, absolutely.
Joakim: So let’s talk about the game a bit. I know you guys are super careful and secretive around it and that’s totally fine. But so you guys are working in the tactical suitor genre. I need to talk about the market then, how it has changed since Fortnight and other huge titles have come out and on mobile there’s a lot of cool things as well been happening on a cross platform stuff. What is kind of like this new market? Is there a new market or is it just the old market just shifting? What do you think about things there?
Matias: I don’t want to go too much into the game now. It’s too early and frankly if the game should speak for itself, so it should be shown, not talked about too much. But for me, what I see there’s some interesting trends happening with Shooters. One is with Fortnight massive success, there’s an increasing population of young people coming into the Shooters genre and an increasing amount of people interested in it. There was room in the market for Apex. There’s still room in the market for PUBG kind of in that space. It’s just so big.
Matias: But one of the things that we found super interesting was a lot of us have been brought up with battlefield 1942 or call of duty and then figuring out kind of how do we give these people something that’s still recognizable and fun, but something that innovates a little bit and puts in some freshness into it.
Matias: I mean, for me, I still play the annual or semiannual releases, but part of me feels like I’ve been playing a lot of the same game for hated or iterations even though it’s fun but it’s still eighth iteration of something or more. So how do we innovate in that space and then also how do we put tactics and thinking at the center over Twitch because I mean, we should be able to play the Shooters that we liked online and compete and the fact there’s an sports athlete picks of like 21 so what about us, we’re in our 40s or whatever. So it’s not fun being spanked by a 12 year old.
Matias: So, I think we wanted to put more thinking into the center of it and team play on tactics and I think those are interesting things like playing with friends, playing together, cooperating. Those are just interesting themes and I think there’s a lot of room to innovate there.
Joakim: Yeah. Does it cause any kind of barriers for entry for new developers who want to break in into the market?
Matias: I think the market is, it’s always been competitive and it is what it is. Not everybody will succeed, but I think there’s some great examples out there. I mean if you look at, for example, Rainbow Six Siege with 38 million copies sold or something like that. If you look at kind of how Warframe continues to grow, if you look at how well Warface still does, I think there’s great examples out there, even jumping more to the vehicles side, but like a world of warships, how that still talks to a global audience. Not necessarily, if you look at these games, not kind of Fortnite level success, but definitely, substantial worldwide success in terms of reaching audience and engaging with them. So I think there’s great examples out there and I think there’s room as well. And if anything, I think Apex proved that there’s room.
Joakim: Yeah. And even like thinking about the all games as a service and free to play, the possibilities there are so endless. It’s kind of like the surface hasn’t even been scratched yet, really.
Joakim: You yourself are now in Cyprus. You don’t go to Finland that often, right?
Matias: I try to be in Finland every month for like a week. That’s kind of how we work. Our lead programmers, what does located in Sweden and he comes for a week, a month and we cut up all or there and then actually one of our advisors will also start to work remotely and shortly. I mean moving to central Finland do the same. I think it’s 2019 the way given kind of the tools and the technologies we have, you can work for multiple locations. So I think that, that’s a given, but I think FaceTime also isn’t necessary part of that, I think it works perfectly well. I wasn’t a huge fan of distributed development until I joined board gaming and then we kind of saw it work where we had projects, where maybe the core team was in Seattle, they might have a rendering team in Kiev because that’s where you got the best rendering guys.
Matias: Some of the BI and data analysis might be run out of mens, because that’s where we had the best math guys and then the servers that run out of Sydney and that the back end is done there. So I mean it can work but you just need to build ways of working that facilitate that. I mean, trying to build it the same way as you were in the same location does not work, but there are things you can do to make it work in terms of communication flows, in terms of making sure is this the right work to be done there? Is it like its own entity that they can finish or how many things does it touch, what are the interdependencies and so forth. But really there’s a lot to be done with distributed development in general. That actually is pretty good.
Joakim: It’s like thinking about 10 years into the future and it would be like several games companies without an actual office at all. So what would be kind of like the roles that the company should embrace? Is there like a virtual office manager or something? What do you think about that?
Matias: The functions that need to happen are the areas of responsibility that need to happen don’t really go away. It’s how they’re managed that changes a little bit. I mean, for example, what I love is just keeping an open Slack camera to the office and they have a big screen so anybody can kind of walk by and a chat and the barrier to banter is very low and that’s kind of what we do oftentimes.
Matias: So I think things like that make it kind of, there’s small nudgy innovations that make it more fun and more accessible and kind of more bantery, because that’s one of the elements that you don’t want to miss this kind of that social interaction as well. And let’s face it, we’re not just killing tasks off the data, we’re interacting with each other and that’s where the best stuff comes from.
Matias: I think increasingly we will see that if nothing else to quality of life for many people will go up tremendously if they can do that and they can choose kind of where they want to live and so forth. So like growth or lead programmer who lives in the countryside in a small village of 900 people, but he really likes his BT thing and growing different things in his garden and that’s super important for him. And he wants his kids to grow up in a small town. That’s great, we can accommodate that. It’s perfectly fine. We’ve worked for years together, we’ll meet up in Helsinki every month and catch up and then obviously do a lot of calls as well. I think it is an evolving space. I’d be super surprised if it doesn’t become more and more common.
Joakim: Yeah. I’m also betting big on that approach. Less and less people want to commute two hours every day. So must be doing kind of like a leap into the future that we’re going to see more companies like that.
Joakim: So it’s called to fundraising. You guys have raced around recently and the cold process is super fascinating and interesting for new entrepreneurs. What was your approach into kind of like knowing how much you would want the race and the whole valuation thinking and discussing with the investors and how did the process start and how did it end for you?
Matias: Sure. And disclaimer is like, this was my first kind of venture capital deal that I did personally. I mean I’d seen friends do it. We spun off a company from remedy, future mark, which was VC backed and kind of was saw that. But it’s very different. It’s kind of like, “Are you on the boat in a storm or are you on shore reading a map and giving them radio signals?” It’s very different.
Matias: So, publishing deals are much more familiar with than project financing and stuff like that. But easy, what’s a new one? So I think the first one I did was I read up a lot on kind of what’s happening in the market and I kind of just googling a lot of things.
Matias: And then secondly, I spoke to a lot of friends who are in the space and that have raised money. And so, had the benefit of learning from them how it works, what the dynamics are and so forth. And then luckily enough, very early on spoke to Holy lin plain ventures would just set up as fund. And that kind of also was a very collaborative process in many ways where he would kind of have the empathy for us as entrepreneurs being an entrepreneur himself. So kind of having done his own exits, I think he kind of saw both sides of the story and then we found a very balanced way of going forward.
Matias: We were, I guess, lucky that the timing was great and I think still is great in the market. There’s a lot of money, there’s a lot of different sources of that. We have kind of the old traditional publishers are still in this space. There’s kind of some of the newer players, there’s a large strategic players from Asia and China, Korea in Japan depending on your platforms.
Matias: And then, there’s venture capital, there’s family offices on all kinds of different things under the sun. So I really spent some time in January, a couple of weeks in North America and some travels to Asia. And then kind of found out that I could be opening these doors forever and then had a mental deadline that, the week after GDC we just need to decide on some of these things. And then basically looked at what we had available and then went forward with the ones we chose in that we felt we had a good rapport with and a good culture fit. So play ventures and maker’s fund Holy lin from play ventures and Michael from Maker’s fund just felt like it wasn’t a combatitive discussion at all. It was always constructive and usually very helpful and super transparent. So for us that was easy to go forward with.
Joakim: And you wanted specifically investors or new games companies and the industry?
Matias: Yeah, and we didn’t top it up with call nights coming in with some project financing as well. And that made a good package out of the whole thing. But, I mean definitely I think, given the options you’re number one, you’d want somebody who understands the games industry and gets it so that it’s not their first rodeo. And I think if you can’t have that then at least have somebody neutral. And I think the worst case is where you have somebody with limited competency and is very active. So, that can be a very dangerous combination.
Joakim: Yeah. To kind of like highlight around earlier you do have a number in mind or was it like something that you were going after a number and then you saw that there’s more appetite and then you basically took everything you could, or was there approached there?
Matias: Well, I think the market will decide ultimately, if you have multiple beds, you’ll understand what the value is. There’s dynamics and been like how far are you in the project, obviously, what kind of team do you have already started and put together is the business plan or the kind of game you want to build or the games you want to build? What’s the potential there?
Matias: So various factors and sadly also geography. I mean North American teams will always get a … or seem to be getting a higher valuation. So if you have to look a likes, that European one will get a lower valuation just seems like it. But, I’m a believer in what is the value and then the market will probably decide what the value is and I think that should be the position of the entrepreneur to get kind of a fair understanding in the market of what it is worth. You can want something but if it’s not worth that or it can be worth as much more. And I think that’s basically the way to look at it.
Matias: But there’s certain rules of thumbs. I mean, you will always dilute between whatever 20% or 30% on a round anyway. So that gives you an indication of where those are going. At least most of the things I’ve seen seem to be like that.
Joakim: Yeah. Then you’d just need to kind of understand the runway that you are gaining with the round and start from there.
Matias: Bearing in mind kind of are your investors going to be helpful for them if you need a follow on round or might it actually make it more difficult to get a follow up? Those are kind of things to consider because even if it’s perfect for this one but it might make the next one more difficult. You just need to understand kind of are you doing that and trading that in.
Joakim: And then when you’re working with your investors now they’re probably on your board of directors. What is kind of like the value add that you are looking for from your investors one day assisting you now in building the company?
Matias: There’s a couple of thoughts that come to mind from that. I mean, one is making sure that they’re complimentary, so I don’t necessarily need somebody to help me to do the things I do well or what we have and the leadership team. So we have a fairly senior leadership team and kind of experienced from growing things and running bigger things and we don’t necessarily need help for that. But where we don’t necessarily have insights are for example, different markets, how would you access the Korean market or how would you go to China and what are the things you would need to change in your game to be effective there and so forth. And those things are things that I find useful.
Matias: And then also just having the ability to bounce back ideas and having somebody, once again in that kind of spirit of safety where you go, “Okay, I’m thinking we have A and B options. We don’t know whether A or B is better. What do you think?” But I think equally investors and board members should be board members. They’re not the executive team, they’re not the company leadership, they are a board. And that’s a very different role in general. So I mean the big, I guess kind of mistake and biggest risk that happens with a well intentioned board, and we haven’t had this, but I think we’re very aware of it. It’s like if the board starts to do the work of the leadership and then the leadership kind of dips one level below and starts doing the work of the middle management who are still really operational and transactional, then who’s going to do the strategic bigger decisions and look at the bigger picture.
Matias: So I think each of these instances has its kind of own function and they need to address the things that they’re there to address. And it’s so easy for organizations to sink down. You see that with CEOs who start to become unintentionally or by passion, they start to do the job of the other execs and jumping into an executive producer role or development director role and then who’s doing the CEO’s job. And so those are, I think, pitfalls to watch out for.
Joakim: Totally. Great. Those are really good examples. Not often come into mind when you are kind of like thinking about like where are your role sits in the organization and everything. Going back to you as the CEO and founder, can you name a superpower that you might have?
Matias: Super powers always come with a fatal flaw, right? So Superman always has the kryptonite. I’d say I’m pretty good at cutting through kind of the signal from the noise and creating clarity. Sometimes it gets hectic and we lose sight of what the true North is. What is really important. And I think with that noise and that activity that impulse is from everywhere. Just being able to create that I think is what I do well.
Joakim: Do you have an example in mind?
Matias: The recent ones are fairly difficult to go into because I can’t really, but let’s say that there’s wonderful business opportunities being presented that would have short term money but not necessarily take you towards what your ultimate big goal was. I mean, it’ll help you get some more funding into the game, the studio, but do you really want to go after secondary and maybe even lower priority things and divert your attention to them when you should be focused on job number one, which is delivering this to alpha by so and so. You know that if you take on additional activity, you’re going to push the data or you’re going to lower that. For me, my least my gut feeling is being able to be disciplined and focused as part of that as well as reminding yourself what you were doing in the first place and why.
Joakim: Yeah, that’s a good one for sure. Do you have a process for setting goals for yourself as a CEO and founder?
Matias: I’m one of the four co-founders, shouldn’t forget the others. A wonderful founding team because our CTO worked with him at remedy and war gaming. He did a lot of the due diligence on the technical side for war gaming and help with the server team and Sydney and other stuff. Milos ran World of Tanks in Minsk, he was the development director there and he was also with us at Remedy, heading production. And then we have Ekaterina Dolgova, our COO who was my chief of staff, was head of HR at WarGaming. So we have wonderful team around that. Kirill, our senior game designer, he was the lead game designer on Tanks, Ville Hassinen, our art director Martin for environments and lead environment. And Otto I’ve already talked about the lead programmer, Pekka our lead weapons, I mean, there’s just a bunch of great people and some of the folks that you’ve worked at Next Games, some really great programmers joined us as well. Johannes and so forth.
Matias: So anyway, for me, what we do really is try to keep it very simple. We kind of took a page off of Google’s book and went to objectives and key results. So we look at a three months period and kind of each stream of activity has … okay, let’s say the big objective is to close financing by one six and you’re in month one. Then you know that the key results will be I need to have a long form in front of us by end of March or whatever and be in negotiations with at least three parties and kind of that would be the finance one of the build. Then the game would have some, tech would have some, admin would have some and so forth.
Matias: So we really break it down to 90 day chunks and we have a rolling roadmap that goes forward. We have the bigger picture of where we want to be when we grow up in five years, but that’s more aspirational. But the three months is super accurate and the gear is still fairly accurate. So that’s of how we roll it and obviously things will change, but if they change then you kind of once again realize that you’re changing course. So cut be okay. Ours really came from a book measure what matters and we just put them into place and it seems to be really good because it’s the same system that we use for ourselves. We share with the board, we share with the team, so it’s a great way of kind of keeping track. I’m not a huge believer in writing massive business plans. It just feels like they get outdated before you print them. So I think the OKR is or lightweight way of doing it.
Joakim: Yeah, that sounds cool. Really need to study up on that as well and tried to tear that two other founders as a process. How do you manage stress from running a big games company, a growing company? Let’s think about early remedy days and Redhill now.
Matias: The actual work itself doesn’t really stress me out as if there’s uncertainty or kind of a conflict or something like that. Those are moments where you need to kind of take a step back and kind of make sure that you’re in charge of your emotions. So kind of being emotionally intelligent. The first part is understanding and reading your own emotions and then obviously understanding the emotions of others. And I think the key thing there is to actively listen and actively also listen to yourself. So kind of realize that let’s say you yell at your kid at the dinner table when they’re misbehaving, often the reason is not what the kid’s doing. It’s probably that phone call that happened at noon that really annoyed you around you up. So I think it’s just being able to kind of step back and realize what’s happening is super important and that oftentimes just means slowing things down and slowing the cycle speed down and then going forward with that.
Matias: In terms of stress, I find lately more and more if I can go out and I can walk in nature, that seems to be kind of like the best you are for anything. Just being there present is great. If I can do that, then at least doing some exercise, believe it or not. And that really does help and kind of things come into focus afterwards and kind of have clarity on a lot of it.
Matias: And then not least of all, being able to bounce ideas and talk to others is super important. So talking to your co-founders, talking to your friends, that usually helps a lot. But I also have to say that I think I’m much calmer than I was maybe in the start of my career. But on the other hand, in some ways maybe the stakes were smaller in the beginning. If you’re a 20 something year old, I mean we had moments there at remedy where we had like six weeks money in the bank account. But on the other hand you’re 20 something, you don’t have a family to support. Those things are kind of, the price of failure was probably less. But on the other hand, I think I’m much calmer now and really what are the things that you should be sad about or whatever. They’re seldom work matters. I think people’s health and happiness and that is much more important than anything we do. So kind of just maintaining a sense of perspective.
Joakim: Totally agree on the finding death kind of perspective in life, like reflecting a bit like what’s going on around you. It’s not easy to kind of remove yourself from your body and just observe from the outside.
Matias: We don’t really have the choice about how we feel because our lizard brain usually kicks in, but we do have a choice of how we react to those emotions. And I think oftentimes you just kind of stop and say, “Okay, we’re here. This is where we are. What’s the next best step forward?” I mean basically just acknowledging, “Okay, this has happened. What is the right choice now?” Rather than spending too much time about being upset or sad that something didn’t work or somebody upset you or somebody who’s done something.
Joakim: Yeah, I’m actually myself trying to figure out like where I could find some soil in a garden to put my hands into kind of really like garden soil. I’ve heard that really helps.
Matias: Yup. I think it’s exempting. Whatever you’re exempting is for some it’s fishing. For some it’s gardening and kind of just zoning out a little bit and doing something different. Usually physical activity of some kind. That’s good. But I also find, I mean just spending time with friends and family, when you’re watching your kid play sports, it’s very hard to be focused on something else. I mean, but at least for me, I mean it’s just going to your mind just takes you 100%.
Joakim: Definitely. Do you have any advice for first time founders, specifically CEOs on improving their leadership skills? What is the practice they should go after?
Matias: Reading works for me, I try to read about things that interest me. Definitely, leadership. Then also things related to that, whether it’s emotional, intelligence or something else that’s relevant. So I find that, that works for me. And then also combination. I was realizing that I was spending more time in a car in traffic than I wanted to, and then I started to become more active on audible and just take audio books as well. And that kind of takes the hour of my life. That was basically wasted every day to actually have that be meaningful. So, that’s been good. But I think also at some point in time, and I did this kind of a couple of times first when I started as CEO in 2008 and I remedy just having a coach, like a professional coach and kind of having helped from them reflecting usually have the answers yourself, but they’re really there to come spar you.
Matias: So that was helpful. Definitely. And then also I was lucky with some of the board members we had, they were super helpful and super good. So it was very lucky to have kind of support from there and mentorship as well back in the day. I think now you kind of find your own style, but the day may come where some coaching or mentorship might be needed again. But right now it feels more or kind of very much in the comfort zone where we kind of know the size of operation, how it’s going to grow, how it’s going to be built and how it should be built. And also starting from a blank slate, you basically have nobody else to blame except yourself if it doesn’t work.
Matias: That’s one of the cool things about a startup is you actually get to take some of the things that you really liked from the companies that you work for and some practices and ways of working or whatever. And then you can also leave behind the things that you didn’t like and kind of get rid of some of the process or structure that you didn’t want. Kind of set it up from the get go. And I think companies form character very early, so they’re almost like human beings that character develops in the first two years or something and usually the character doesn’t really change. It’s like personality. It just is what it is. And I think it’s super important that you get the right character at the start
Joakim: Totally agree on those points. What do you love the most about being a founder of a games company?
Matias: I really like seeing people come together and working collaboratively, super relaxed, but still super professional and being able to kind of be a part of that is super cool. I mean, we’ve come from I think eight different nationalities already and seeing very different kinds of personalities and interests, but they have a kind of common sense of purpose is really cool. It’s something that is very hard to articulate or to define, but you kind of just know. So kind of if you visit a team that just has a clear sense of purpose and mutual respect and there’s a good vibe of integrity and safety and all that, you feel the positive vibes. And that’s probably the number one thing for me. I really like games, but I do love the developers.
Joakim: That’s a good segue into our final questions about what is your favorite book and why?
Matias: That’s a tough one. I’d have to say probably Master and Margarita. We’ve got a book and got great piece of work. It’s a book I read when I was much younger and I reread it maybe 10 years ago and it stands the test of time, I think the way in brace different genres or kind of like different layers and it’s just well constructed and I think kind of its insights into the human psyche are just so well potent and so cool. And plus, I mean the book has a very interesting birth story of being censored for a long time and pages missing and being brought back and then finally being published, I think in the 1960s in Germany where this was clear, but I mean this was written during the reign of Stalin and Moscow. So it’s a great book.
Joakim: Why specifically that book? Do you have any points that-
Matias: There’s something interesting about doing social criticism through metaphors and then still deliver on a kind of fantastical plot. Maybe the element of being anti-authoritarian and still delivering on artists is really cool. And then not being no blindingly obvious about everything. So I think that that was interesting.
Joakim: That’s a good combo for sure. Do you have any stories that have shaped you in how you approach your work?
Matias: If we’d start with a kind of the writers side and definitely when we had children and you know kind of they were younger, I really changed the way I worked. I had basically put in kind of very long days usually. And then efficiency became more important. So hanging out the office and playing, half-life mods in the evening kind of wasn’t the thing that you would do.
Matias: But I built kind of what I called my Microsoft sandwich at that point in time because there’s a 10 hour time difference between Helsinki and Seattle and the calls would start in the evening, my time. So if it’s 9:00 AM in Seattle, it’s seven o’clock in Finland. So what I actually did was ask them to delay the calls a little bit. So I would basically go home at a decent hour, let’s call it 5:00 or 6:00, have dinner with their families, spend time with the kids, put them to bed. And then I would take the calls and I found that I was a lot happier. I mean the cost still needed to happen, but at least I had that kind of time between that was uninterrupted with family and I was much happier in the family was much happier. So kind of managing that time and really taking control of it was super important for me.
Matias: And I think it wasn’t something that I thought I needed as much as I do, but that’s pretty much the same way that I like to work now as well even though there are no evening calls. So like I like to make sure that there’s some family time thereafter work and then once the kids are in bed and I can do something if I want to or have to, but that time is just kind of there to kind of maintain a balance in contact with the people that we love and live with.
Matias: I think that’s maybe was my biggest single thing that led to more happiness and frankly a lot more energy. And then also realizing that sometimes if you have some daunting big task than just getting started is the best motivator because it will help him. How do you eat an elephant, piece by piece.
Matias: So if you start today, maybe there’s just 99% left to eat and so forth. So I just find that getting started and get cracking on it and set kind of a realistic pace that takes you a long way. I think Stephen King just heard recently, he writes 10 pages every day. Every day he’ll write 10 pages and he’s very productive and just fall into a routine like that and then kind of gets you going.
Joakim: Didn’t use settled in notice that you’re done and you can move on to the next thing.
Joakim: That’s good. Thanks Matias so much for coming onto the podcast. Where can people find more about you and Redhill games?
Matias: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure to be here. So definitely follow us on LinkedIn. We’ll be putting more updates there. Our website is pretty spares, but obviously redhillgames.com follow us on LinkedIn. That’s the best way to kind of get updates from us as well. Thank you.
Joakim: Great. Thanks Matias. Have a good day.
Joakim: That’s it for this week’s episode. Before you move on, please hit subscribe or follow to the podcast so that you’ll get notified when next week’s episode is available. Also, check out the Elite Game Developers website at elitegamedevelopers.com and sign up for our weekly newsletter. See you next week. Bye-Bye.