EGD News #50 — Startup closes down. Then what?
Here’s what I did when my first company failed in 2011 and how I proceeded to pick what I’d do next.
As we’d ran out of money, and all the employees had been laid off, I agreed with my investors to be the person who winds down all the operations. This was June 2011.
I sold off all the office equipment and furniture and said farewell to the company I’d been building for six years.
During the summer of 2011, I contemplated what I wanted to do next. The one option I didn’t even want to consider was starting a new company right away. I was emotionally and spiritually so knocked down that I couldn’t see the glamour of putting a new company together and starting all over again.
I decided to pursue a job at one of the startups in Helsinki, who’d recently raised enough funding so that I wouldn’t need to worry about finances, which had been the top worry for my six-year founder journey.
Out of the three options that I had, Supercell was the first one to offer me a job. The company was building Gunshine at the time and had just recently raised $12m from Accel Partners, so it was in a good position for the near future.
I wasn’t excited about the game, but I knew that if anything, I would learn so much from Ilkka and the others that it was a wise enough choice to go with Supercell.
Why it was good to work for someone else between startups
Some 18 months later, in the spring of 2013, I had left Supercell to found Next Games with my co-founders. Here’s what I learned from the experience as an entrepreneur from working for someone else.
The entrepreneurial bug will come back
I’m an entrepreneur by heart. I couldn’t have stayed at Supercell for long. I’m a person who wants to build stuff, to build businesses, so after I’d gotten over my previous company’s emotional hardship, I got the bug back and felt I could start another company.
Pick the right kind of company for your entrepreneurial hiatus
I think I got lucky in so many ways when I got the offer with Supercell. Here are the ways: 1) Even if the company wouldn’t have found success with Clash of Clans and Hay Day, the people at the company were the top class in the world. 2) Supercell was on the next level as a startup, from where I’d operated before. They’d raised a $12m round, they’d scaled to 30 people, and they had to make it or break it moments in immense pressure. And they did. Learning from the decisions they made, observing those moments on a day-to-day basis, was the best learning experience for an entrepreneurial hiatus.
🎮 IGDA Keynote Q&A
I wanted to pull up the topics that Teemu Haila (former co-founder of Playraven) and I talked about after my IGDA keynote.
Teemu: Do you have any advice on promoting fun and games if the entire team is burnt out? And doesn’t want to join in on any online activities during remote work?”
Joakim: Communication is the best fix for angst and anxiety in any group. Communicate the reality, [lay out] the likelihoods of different scenarios. That helps a lot with stressful situations. But you should do this preemptively before things go bad. So creating a cadence of a lot of communication happening early on, when it is still fun. Don’t wait for the trouble to start and then try to fix things. Instead, create a cadence from day zero.
Teemu: If something terrible happens and you aren’t prepared, is there any emergency maneuver for that point?
Joakim: Then, at that immediate moment, you start including everybody on what’s going on. Honesty pays off. Talk about the situation. [Explain] what kind of action you’re taking. And don’t play any blame games. That never works. Instead, figure out actions that are being taken to improve the situation and take control of the situation as a leader. I think that can pay off the most.
Teemu: You had a lot of experience, hands-on being a leader through your previous companies. Then you started doing EGD. What do you feel yourself that you’ve picked up during this time [with EGD] that you didn’t know or internalize before?
Joakim: I’m continually learning new things. And when I’m interacting with many startups, it gives me much perspective on things I didn’t have from when I was doing one company.
I’m involved in at least half a dozen companies. Not day-to-day, but being pulled in [often]. And that’s been beneficial. I think that’s an excellent way for any leader to learn, to be active with other leaders. Hear what they’re doing, what things they’re going through. You learn so much from that, versus just keeping yourself in a silo in your own company.
Teemu: What kind of differences do you see in the young leaders versus some of the more experienced ones?
Joakim: Gaming is such a passion industry; it’s an art-driven industry. But eventually, you notice that somebody needs to be the “Shackleton” of the game team when the game doesn’t work. How many projects do you need to go through before finding something that makes money, enough to pay salaries? It’s often not that easy to make games.
[Young entrepreneurs] focus so much on the game, not so much on the company’s culture. I would suggest to young leaders to begin experimenting with being leaders. There’s no one way of doing it. Try to find something that fits well with your character.
Teemu: What would be something that experienced leaders then miss? What is the next problem that people typically have?
Joakim: The next problem is that you grow past your area of expertise. You go from being a startup CEO of 10 people to a CEO of 30, 50, to a hundred people. And there’s an exponential amount of problems that come. Having more clear ideas on how you approach all these issues helps. But, that’s where the more experienced people get in trouble: they don’t know all the things that they need to take into consideration when a company is growing [exponentially] fast.
Teemu: [In the tech industry], it’s not uncommon for companies to switch CEOs as the company grows. I haven’t seen that happen so much in games. Would that apply as a solution?
Joakim: We don’t have that many experienced professional CEOs in gaming. I would suggest that people take time to learn from the “greats” and improve their skills, and not just replacing themselves. If you feel that you’re not the person for running a 200 person company, you should figure it out early on, versus making changes quickly. Try to find mentors. People who could help you in the future.
I would like to see more people grow into leaders who can run a hundred person company. That would take the industry forward. Usually game companies get bought when they’re at 50 people. How do we stay independent? How do we learn as leaders to take the next step?
📄 New blog post: Reading List
I’ve been collecting interesting articles that I read, which some have gotten shared on EGD News. I’ve decided to make the list of articles public on EGD. I’ll do my best to update this list regularly. The ones with the stars are my favorites ⭐️
🎙 Podcast: Raising a seed round in gaming
In September of 2020, I did a webinar with Julia Palatovska, the Co-founder and CEO of Dorian on the topic of how to raise a seed round from VCs in gaming. Previously, Julia was an investor at London Venture Partners, and before LVP, Julia was Head of Biz Dev at G5 Games. In August, Julia announced Dorian’s seed round of $3.35m.
Listen to the full episode by going here.
🗓 Last week
If you missed out on the EGD news last week, I talked about what to do with your old mid-core game where you have lots of players stuck in the end game? Find out this and more on last week’s EGD News.
— EGD News #49 — Problems with old mid-core games
📃 Articles worth reading
+ How Fall Guys used Social Media & Community Planning as a Catalyst to Success — “If there’s one thing that creates a community, it has got to be a shared sense of belonging. By encouraging your community to engage and be creative, and actively promoting the outcome of that process, you not only empower its members, but you instill an even deeper sense of belonging and appreciation.”
+ Seeing Like an Algorithm — “Understanding how the algorithm achieves its accuracy matters even if you’re not interested in TikTok or the short video space because more and more, companies in all industries will be running up against a competitor whose advantage centers around a machine learning algorithm.”
+ Game funding Tips: How to Impress a Game Investor — “First of all, you must ensure you know who you will pitch your company or game to. Be it a publisher or a traditional equity investor, ensure you check which projects they have backed already and/or which companies they have invested in so far. Your pitch will get instantly rejected by investors who solely do equity funding if you come seeking project financing and vice versa.”
💬 Quote that I’m thinking about
”The trouble with market research is that people don’t think what they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.”
— David Ogilvy
Sponsored by ironSource
We all know that developing a great game is one thing, but developing a great game business can be something else entirely. That’s why some of the top game developers in the industry use ironSource’s game growth platform, which takes care of both sides of the business, helping you monetize to fuel user acquisition, and vice versa.
From their ROAS Optimizer, the only product on the market built to optimize UA campaigns towards ROAS according to both IAP and ad revenue data, to LevelPlay, their in-app bidding solution, they offer everything you need to supercharge your growth. See for yourself at ironsrc.com
Sponsored by Opera Event
Looking for some great new authentic video creative? Try something totally new with Influencer Generated Content (IGC) by Opera Event. Influencers or actors will make specific creative content for your games and Opera Event will deliver you high-quality video ads that highlight the best parts of your game.
Go to www.getigc.com to see some examples and get more information.
That’s all for this week. Take care and stay safe!