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Today I’m talking with Shaun Rutland, the Co-Founder and CEO of Hutch, a racing games company from London, UK. Their titles include games like Rebel Racing, F1 Manager and Top Drives. When founding Hutch, Shaun and his co-founders wanted to create a special company that would give the power and creativity to their staff.
- Learning from early gaming experiences
- First experience of crunch: Lionhead had over 100 people working on Fable
- 14-hour workdays but only getting 3 or 4 hours of productive work
- When starting Hutch in 2011
- Founders were attracted to mobile because they could apply learnings from working at Playstation: Make things simple. And you can get the masses to play it.
- Key to gaming success
- Find a value proposition for gamers. When you offer the right thing at the right time.
- Then tie it with performance marketing, you’re in complete control.
- On racing games
- We question how we could shape the future of automotive entertainment? The player base is quite varied. Kids love car games. Grown-ups love car games.
- How do you create a mobile game where players are willing to invest in the game and could lose on the first corner of a race?
- On racing, continued
- We need to get the game out quickly to a test in something like six to eight weeks.
- The great thing about that is you’re finding out, honestly, soon if the game works, rather than finding out in the last six months of your production
- Management support
- Trust the team. For them, it’s always hard to articulate a game’s vision early on.
- The biggest challenge is to be in the middle ground when it’s not apparent that a game is a failure.
- To kill, or to go ahead?
- On failure
- Startups always have limited shots to make it work.
- Get the game out as early as possible. Players will play a non-good looking game, but it needs to have solid mechanics.
- On culture and values
- It’s essential to write down what you aspire to be and then iterate on those over time.
- Values exist so that people can hold you accountable for them.
- Creative freedom
- The amazing thing about Supercell is they have a blank sheet of paper for each game.
- Our paper says racing games for racing fans. We can move quicker about yes or know where we stand in terms of prototypes.
- Shaun as CEO
- You need to do some bold things. You need to make decisions quickly and move forward.
- And, you need to keep evolving, and you keep learning.
- Seed-stage startup advice
- You’re about to launch the game, and should raise before it launches. Because if it fails, that’s quite hard to raise after it.
- What doesn’t get talked about in gaming?
- Lootboxes, we need to get over the stigma and talk.
- Mental health is a subject that is getting attention, and the more we make it normal to talk about the ups and downs, the better we are off.
- Favorite book
- A Dream With a Deadline: Turning Strategy Into Action
- The book inspired me about long-term strategic planning, how to communicate, and give clarity to people.
Joakim Achren 3:13
Hey Shaun! let’s kick it off and start talking about you and Hutch and the story there. But first off, how did you make your way into the game industry back in the day and eventually found Hutch.
Shaun Rutland 3:25
So yeah, I actually worked in eCommerce for about four or five years. I worked in a big sort of British retailer called Marks and Spencers to help build the eCommerce solution, which actually was pretty useful for understanding the cost to acquire customer, versus lifetime values for models and production. Then I got into, because I was really passionate about games, I got into Lionhead Studios as an assistant producer. And that was like my dream job working to Peter Molyneux working on Fable so it was like
Shaun Rutland 4:00
Wow, this is this is very exciting. There I was quite blown away by the sheer size of the productions. I think it was, like 110 people something crazy. Well, and how hard that was. And I joined when they had a really bad period of crunch. And I’d already had a bad few years of crunch. So I experienced that kind of firsthand. And I was quite disappointed by it and a lot of challenges with people’s health around working such long hours, and then realizing people weren’t actually that productive when they work 14 hour days, but that was, yeah, it was like, I’m getting to work at 10. But I’m going to be here from 10. So like, I might as well just chill out and talk to people and then I’ll crack on with some work. So I think I noticed very quickly, people were still doing probably three or four hours productive work for showing the bosses that we were working long hours. So that was a really interesting experience and then I turn PlayStation.
Shaun Rutland 4:58
What blew me away about PlayStation at the was they’d created… Really it was like the early signs to the casual games before Facebook really emerged as a, as a really interesting platform. And like PlayStation, were working on things like Singstar and eyetoy. And that really blew my mind because you could you have this really typical gaming audience of hardcore games. And then there was a studio that was really vibrant in the middle of like Soho London, just making games for a completely different audience. And it kind of opened my mind to a lot of a lot of new things. But what actually transpired at Sony was a was a was a really interesting experience, which was we, we worked on, I think about three big games, and they all got cancelled on the third final game that got cancelled was like, really painful experience for myself and the founders of Hutch. But that was actually looking back at it was probably one of the best sort of experiences we could have had. So we worked on a game called Until Dawn. So and we worked on it for about two years. That game was what we thought was cancelled, it was actually given to another studio to finish. And that was that was quite hurtful the way that was done. But actually, what it taught us was a lot about how you managed production and how you manage the team. And through the process of working on three different games that were cancelled, the eams went from like, five people to until 20, 30 people and then when the game was cancelled, we would let go of loads of staff. Yeah. And that for me was like, This is mad, because all the stuff that we’ve just hired in, we get to know and everyone knows, you know what people’s strengths and weaknesses are. That sort of glue that kind of holds the team together. All that value then gets thrown out the door and you’re like, oh, man, I’ve got to rebuild a team to rebuild a new production. And you’ve got a whole set of new people. You don’t know and you don’t know It takes ages to sort of build those sort of those teams. So it was really about teams that build games, not just individuals. Yeah. And then actually how you do it. So if you’ve got, you’ve got feedback to the team, you need to, you need to tell the team that PlayStation is such a big organisation, that we would literally get these sort of whispers about why the game wasn’t meeting standards and the sort of invisible hand that was guiding the project. And, and that’s at the time we came out of Sony really angry and really frustrated. We had all this energy, like, we just want to build a game. We want to build it as quickly as we can, we will learn from it as quickly as we can. And the five founders, we just we just did that and we did it. We did it in six months and made a million dollars and it allowed us to build a business but really the thing I hadn’t realised all that bad energy was actually quite good. It meant we created a culture where the game teams would be as close to the customer as possible, as close to the player as possible. And you could really, we would, we just felt very strongly that if you’re making something, and you’ve got a vision of what you’re trying to make, and if you can’t get in front of people to show them what you’re making and get them to buy into the vision, then you’re going to really struggle to get past greenlight meetings and things like that. So we wanted to very much create a place you didn’t have to do that. You can build the stuff you want to build, and you can build it very quickly. And you can get feedback from players very quickly. Now that was that was like a massive lesson. Because ultimately, it’s all about it’s all about people playing games, and I can come up with an idea. I don’t have any creative input into any of our games. And I’m quite proud of that. And I’m really proud of the fact that teams at Hutch can just make stuff, find out what works or not. And if it does, great, if it doesn’t, then then you move on. So it’s quite a it’s quite a liberating experience in terms of allowing teams to try stuff out and and figure out what’s right for the audience.
Joakim Achren 8:59
Yeah, that’s really interesting. So, in a sense, like you guys left PlayStation to found Hutch was that a moment where you were really like consciously thinking about like this is we know how we should be doing things. And this is like the way that we definitely don’t want to do it where the situation was so different, like they do really build on top of all of those experiences.
Joakim Achren 9:24
Yeah, I mean, that’s a really interesting point, if I’m super honest, we had no idea what we were doing. But we did know what we wanted to do, which is the build a game. And for me, personally, I needed to fix my CV, because I tried to get a job at a number of places. I said Man, you’d worked on three games in six years, and you’ve done nothing. And what I’m actually quite good at what I do, but like it was actually so Hutch was like, perhaps for me would have never thought Hutch would fail. Yeah, because my standards of what I was trying to achieve was to build a game that I loved and I hope that lots of people would play and the App Store provide an amazing ecosystem for getting content out to players. So that was the standard: make something, make it what makes them that we really believe in? Yeah. And there’s nobody, nobody in any way that can say, No, you’re not making this because it’s just up to us. So like, we completely took control of the journey. And from that point onwards, then we started to build a business because we’d made a game. We made some money, we can start hiring staff, we’ve never got an office. And someone asked me today, like: what point did you realize that wasn’t going to fail? And I was like, actually, I never thought it would fail because the mission was to build a game and to fix my CV. So there’s a really interesting question. I think, if you go into a business I Oh man, which files which you do as a human reaction. That’s why if you can look at it in terms of what am I trying to achieve here? Like even failure can be an amazing learning experience. Like, it should not even be labeled as a failure. I know it’s like an overused phrase from Silicon Valley. But it’s like I was trying to fix my CV, I was trying to prove to people that we can feel quality, great games, and we did it with our own money without any investment. So yeah, and then that really helped us get investment because investors Wow, what, we’ve actually done all this on your own.
Joakim Achren 11:23
Yeah. But did you feel any kind of fear related jumping into your own startup at that stage? Or was it like, there’s, you know, there was nothing to lose? Was that kind of the situation?
Shaun Rutland 11:36
Yeah, I think you’re, you’re in such a dark place when you lose your job. And there’s a lot of shame about it. It’s like our failed another game. It’s my third game that has failed at making it a big like PlayStation an amazing brand. I was really proud to work for them. But I felt like such a failure there. So I’m at such a low point. I actually whatever I do from this point is I can be proud of and I can say that’s what I did. And I didn’t really care about spending my redundancy on it and, you know, racking up some credit card debt to buy Unity licenses and is quite foolish. But I think if I think about all the things I’ve done in life, the most fullest things usually lead to something that’s quite, quite magical.
Joakim Achren 12:23
How do you do big mobile as the platform or because anyways, like, UK, is so traditionally like this console, PC? Yeah. Like, how did that come up?
Shaun Rutland 12:34
Well, actually in my experience working in ecommerce, so that was from 1999 to 2003. So I saw this huge boom, with the internet boom, and even in ’99 people kind of laughing: are people really gonna order online and I was like I think so. And then after that, I started selling furniture online, which people thought was a mad idea, like, Who’s gonna order a couch online and when I saw the first presentation from Steve Jobs about the iPhone in 2007, or eight, I think it was, I was like, wow, this is insane. This is like, and then the iPhone four came out, which had proper 3d capabilities. And that was a real wild moment. And Facebook was going massive. And then the platform’s opened up in app purchases, and it just felt like a great, a great place for five people to start it where you can build something that you really believed in, and what the development kit is a Mac computer. But to make a console game, you have to get a development kit, which is like tens of thousands of pounds. So mobile seemed quite natural. There was also so much opportunity in changing the way people play games and there still is. There’s so much you can do in terms of delighting people on a phone, because everyone’s so used to like, is really full-on controllers. That’s the other thing that PlayStation that they really showed me was like actually make things simple. And you can get the masses to play it. So that was what’s so attractive about mobile. And I was I was also really intrigued by Facebook and free to play. And first game was a paid game. But we were very keen to figure out how to move into free-to-play as well, which is a massive transition for us. When we got through that.
Joakim Achren 14:23
Do you think like, the shift towards free to play, like, breaking out of the traditions of being a developer and getting a publisher deal on a premium PC game? Maybe even now, it’s like, traditionally, you’d go down that route. People are now going to Steam as well with PC. Do you think like, in the UK, how has that been shifting now? And do you think there’s still kind of like friction there, because in in Finland, never really had a similar kind of footing of like, we’re gonna stick with PC because that’s what we know. And everybody went and tried free-to-play, at least.
Joakim Achren 15:04
I remember saying actually in the 90s, all the coolest graphics demos coming out of Finland. And you could really sense this, like there’s technical talent as well as artistic talent in Finland, or the Nordics as well, and, but for the UK, I think… this is a bit harsh. I think there was like a really open approach to freemium in the early days of say 2012 to 2015 and ’16. And a lot of people got burned and found it very hard. And instead of trying to learn from it, I think they ran away from it. And I think there’s still a lot of developers that hope, like this large scale DAU audience like Fortnite and and freemium is literally just skins and these economics of the game systems. I think people still hope that that’s that’s the only future for freemium. And they kind of talk about freemium like it’s like, like you’re swindling someone. And I’m really like quite tired of that attitude like, people are engaging your games because they enjoy it. And if you have the value proposition, if you offer players the right thing at the right time, that gives them something they see as valuable, then that’s a really fascinating business model. And then when you tie in, like, performance marketing into it, you’re in complete control. And it goes back to those early days of Hutch. We’re in complete control we don’t like we get featured on the App Store, but we don’t rely on it. You know, the volume of players coming into a game. It’s because of marketing. And seeing all the different parts of Hutch working together to get the biggest scale audience into a game as possible is super exciting. And it feels really liberating not to have to rely on a publisher not have to rely on an App Store to feature you with direct to consumer and I would love all developers to be in that position because you can then really start to make games for players, not just the game that you want to make for yourself.
Joakim Achren 17:08
Yeah, actually, I want to jump around to a question I wanted to ask later. But it’s really relevant to what we’re talking about now because, what I think often with mobile game developers that they don’t really have a really clear, you know, this is our player picture, that they’re more interested in the user acquisition algorithms, bringing them, the players to customers, but like, how do you see kind of like people at Hutch? And how do you approach like, talking about your player? And what kind of games should you create for your player?
Shaun Rutland 17:44
Well, that is thinking about this recently, there’s a lot of developers that are very genre focused, and like racing. So Hutch does racing games. Racing is a genre. But actually, we think of it differently. We think of Right, you’ve got 15 year olds that love cars, you’ve got eight year olds love cars. So there’s a huge group of people, what type of games would fit that audience? And what are their needs as an audience? So I would say we’re audience focused, not genre focused. And if you look at say, hyper casual, that’s this massive funnel, have as many players you can get into your game, monetize your ads, etc. Whereas we, obviously, we look at advertising and marketing and ways that we can get high value players and or valuable players and, but we’re always thinking about the need of that racing fan. So Top Drives is a literal conversion of the game Top Trumps where you compete with pictures of cars, and it’s been turned into a game. That audience is quite small, but it’s a really passionate audience. They love collecting quite high end cars, really old cars, and they love competing with each other. So we know that that’s the same segment. And then we’ve got the Formula One fans, who are different. And then we’ve got more casual games like Rebel Racing. So we literally looking at how can we, how can we shape the future of automotive entertainment? And that’s like that player base is quite varied. But it’s not just about cranking UA in terms of just using Facebook for it, and it’s very much like the creative process that at Hutch is, what will racing fans, what do they need? How can the games be different? And that’s the other that’s a really intriguing challenge with racing is typically it’s a, it’s a very skilled game. A typical racing game is and if you’re racing a car on a track, they come off the first corner. In a freemium sense. How do you create a game where a player is willing to invest in the game and they could lose, like on the very first corner of a race so we’re we are changing the way racing games are played on mobile in order to make the game more accessible for all sorts of players, that’s and that’s how we look at it. Yeah. So that was that was a complicated answer to a simple question.
Joakim Achren 20:11
Yeah. I want to, I want to actually go deep down here a bit like into a rabbit hole and one follow up, like, how, what do you think about this kind of like, the needs of the player? Is there a team who still can figure if the needs are being met before a prototype is built, you know, like, before it gets to be played?
Shaun Rutland 20:36
Well, we do have enough petrol heads in the company. That’s a influence that really, really early creative stage before the prototypes built, but and also like our head of product, Jonah’s passionate, no guarantees, just yeah, we’ve also got investors that a quite big and quite a few people in the team, but the whole point, I would say, The company is like 90%, non crazy about cars, and 10%, like passionate about cars. And there’s probably 1% and the other like, over the top passionate about cars as well. So that so we do have that sort of influence. But what we do do is if you have an idea, and we do regular game gems, if you have an idea, then we will test it very early, like within a bit of a hyper casual sort of approach, which is getting harder because their games are getting, like deeper meta games. So it’s hard to test quite rapidly, but we like to test their games within sort of six to eight weeks. And it’s from that point of the data. That’s good. And we’re about nine years of data. If the metrics engagement, players coming back for many races of the day, or whatever the game type is, because we can measure it against all the games that have gone through the cycle from very early to end of production. Then the team will get behind it. And it doesn’t mean there’s not a green light. It’s like oh, This metric is crazy. It’s really different than all these other games we’ve got. Yeah, the stickiness factor here is like, wow. So the games are really built from the creative point from the start, and then you prototype and then the prototypes get tested under a secret App Store account. So that’s, that’s our approach with it. And the great thing about that is you’re finding out really, honestly, quickly if the game works, rather than finding out in the last six months of your production that Oh, no one wants to play this game. It’s not retaining at all. And that’s really hard to fix.
Joakim Achren 22:33
yeah, that, that brings into mind like the moment when, when you can, like Supercell is, of course, like the most famous about like creating this independent teams who make all the decisions. Yeah, it’s just a model that I think is the best model to go after and have a permutation of your own from that. How do you think like, when you have a team who is sort of working on a game which they’re really passionate about one then the rest of the company’s not so like the biggest fans of the idea. What’s the right and wrong approach there?
Shaun Rutland 23:12
I think you have to support that team. Yeah, like, that is exactly what PlayStation was like for me. Like the team has this vision of what they’re trying to build. And it’s really hard to articulate that vision early on. And at previous jobs, we’ve spent so much money on presentational videos to sell the game in. And I remember looking at budgets and we’re spending millions on previous videos, to so off what the game could be in order to make senior managers happy that you’re spending their money wisely. But you’re spending all this money up front to impress that it’s like it’s kind of crazy, just get the game made and get it into people’s hands and test and see if it works. Right. So I’m fascinated by Supercell’s approach. In lots of ways we are inspired by we’re doing. You know, more and more going on more and more the road of empowerment. I think the biggest challenge of whether a game has killed or goes ahead is that middle ground of what I’m not sure of that I’m not, it’s not obvious it’s a failure. And it’s not obvious it’s a when it’s when you’re in the middle, that’s a really dark place and Hutch has found ourselves many times in that in that state. So and we are relying on a game directors who have this really tricky job of trying to please the customer or a player trying to please the business and then also trying to please their team. And I wouldn’t want that job. Like, I’m quite happy as a CEO but like managing a game is, in my opinion, a lot harder.
Joakim Achren 24:43
Yeah, when you’re kind of not there yet. And you don’t really know that the next update will actually fix the things that you’re trying to go after. I sort of think about it a lot about, like if you have a startup in gaming who’s still like early, trying things But it’s not working. It’s sort of like the the game team who has that game that isn’t yet working, you sort of like in a similar situation where it’s not easy.
Shaun Rutland 25:08
It’s really hard. And I feel really grateful to where Hutch has got to because I often… I talked to quite a few entrepreneurs and you realise how hard it is to get that funding in the first place. And then you’ve really got limited shots to make it work. So we’ve got that point where we can have lots of failures, and it’s fine. So the only only control you then have is the speed at which you get to prove your thesis, whether it works or not. And so many times I’ve seen people just not moving quick enough, and being too precious about what it looks like. And actually, like most players, you’d be surprised can play games, not that good looking but have a really strong mechanic. And then you can build the game outwards from there. And I really encourage that sort of behaviour in early stage startups.
Joakim Achren 25:10
Before we talk about leadership and your role at Hutch I want to talk about the culture a bit. They’re like, what’s the first steps that a games company should take on working on their culture? Like, from your experience? What do you see in as Hutch has grown?
Shaun Rutland 25:35
I think we’ve been a bit topsy turvy upside down and our approach so it’s quite amusing. Like we never wrote down our values at the start of the startup. But we had them. The values were to make sure our teams were in control and stuff that we’re building. There’s a lot of kindness there in terms of how we really look after our staff, people. But I think for anyone starting culturally, I think it is really important to write down the things you aspire to be and then iterate those over time. Because unless you have a plan for it you like we, I think we got lucky with Hutch in that respect that we inherently have these values that we understood a new it’s just when we got bigger, we needed to start to really hone those and and and write them down. But yeah, for In early stage company, it’s really important, I think, to be clear about what those values are. It’s quite a generic answer. Culture is such a weird thing. Because like we we wrote down our values and I still don’t think we’ve managed to capture the essence and the energy of the company. It is mysterious. It’s really weird. Like, how do you sum up Hutch? I don’t know what I live it breathe it every day in my life, but I still can’t put it in a sentence as to what it is like we’ve got this we’re nine years old but was still still like was six months old. We still got lots of energy. We still don’t like we’ve done successfully been really successful with revenue and downloads and stuff. We still don’t feel like we’re a success is got some really weird what exciting things that like, don’t, it’s precious. It’s like I wanna safeguarded by students. You know what it actually is? Yeah,
Joakim Achren 27:57
Think about the early stage. There was a blog post. From Ilkka, the Supercell CEO wrote that he would have liked to have all the values defined when they were still the founders only. And he started working on them, like two years after the founding.
Shaun Rutland 28:16
Oh, yeah, that conversation with the team. That’s so hard because you’ve got all these people pulling in different directions. So you kind of you want to go, yeah, I want to be collaborative about this approach. I want to build the values of the rest of the company. And it’s like, actually, I don’t want to go that direction. Because I, I’ve been there before. And I’ve had experiences that and you do you need to listen to everyone and, and people’s experience of Hutch says, you know, like, some people have a different experience than I have with it. And that’s really interesting. I remember walking, the values project started because I heard someone. We heard someone say, Oh, that’s not a Hutch way of doing things. That’s really interesting. What is the Hutch way? Wow. Yeah, yeah. And it’s quite dangerous, right? It’s like, Oh, actually, he’s right. That’s not Hutch of doing things. It was still, I remember thinking, who do we need to need to like, it’s not about putting your values in the wall. That’s cringy. But it’s just knowing that they’re there so that people can hold you account for them. Yeah. And like, I’ve had our CTO, I’ve been stressing about some build, it’s not not work, you’re still thinking, and the CTO is like, well, if you if you really care about our players, like you say, in the values, do you allow us to do this properly into this way? It’s like, Oh, cool. He’s actually using them holding me accountable the values, right. So yeah, that’s when it gets exciting.
Joakim Achren 29:39
Yeah, that is true. Yeah. But like, thinking about like measuring where the company culture is on a scale, like strong versus weak. My thoughts there is that usually those can only be revealed in the one on ones that people have with Yeah, like with the whole staff. Have you thought about this kind of scale of how strong is the culture versus weak? Yeah,
Shaun Rutland 30:06
we, we’ve definitely got weaknesses, we’ve got lots, you know, we’ve got lots of challenges and things that we need to do better at. We do use some online tools to measure the company every month about how we’re doing. And there’s some really nice tools out there, we use this thing called office five. And there’s some really clear trends. It’s not just, there’s not just a tool that that makes us proud that we get a certain score. And there’s a bunch of stuff that we’re working on because of those, those actionable metrics that come back from that. We look at turnover of staff, but the most, you’re right. The most important thing is to talk to people. And the the hardest to talk to people is actually allowing them to vent frustration and feel like it’s a safe place to actually do it because that’s where you can get the really juicy stuff and you can’t please everyone there are people that will never be they might not fit well. They might not work out or but allowing people to really be honest about who you are and where things are going is really key because otherwise you just start fooling yourself and you start sitting in your ivory tower saying yes, it’s great, isn’t it? Great. And one of the interesting things we found in our office five metrics was the most satisfied team isn’t the this recording system. The gods might hate me for saying this, but the most happy team and our metrics from all our teams is the leadership team. And that got me thinking, why is that? Is it because we have the most agency is that because we have the most clarity about what we’re doing? Is it because we have, you know, and it really has made us really sit up and go, we need to hand over a sense of control to the rest of the company. So they feel like they’re in control of their destiny, because I think that’s what that meant, because I I could be wrong. But it is a strong gut feeling that actually, people are at their best when they’ve got a sense of purpose and they’re empowered and you know, they can really do things make a difference to their game.
Joakim Achren 32:01
Yeah, that’s interesting. When you think about like games company as a better place to work versus other industries. What do you think really can make a games company, the best place?
Shaun Rutland 32:16
So when I worked in eCommerce, I was blown away about how these digital agencies treated their staff, they paid them while, they had great offices, they had really interesting and fascinating work. There was a lot of empowerment in terms of the problems you’re trying to solve for clients. And then I went to work from games were in a business park, which was out sort of like outside of some town in Guilford, where you could only go to one cafe and eat food. It was predominantly men. And it was like really going back inside. Like saying develop like game development looks so wrong. I felt like when like some What the hell’s happened here because the creative output is incredible. The gains line in studios making with just fantastic but environment though work in was was terrible. And that’s the other thing that mobile that is allowed you to reset the clock and say Actually, we can pay people well, we can we can work in central London, not work in a business park like some some farm of people working on a big game and the teams can be smaller, more empowered. So I’m not sure I answered the question. Yeah,
Joakim Achren 33:25
Yeah. I think that I was just contemplating about the, the differences between a startup in mobile versus PC and console. Like there’s Yeah, there is that efficiency, just, you know, starts to shine through that even though you have the passion for making games. The people in mobile, they’re sort of more prepared on like, having, having to actually like pay some salaries at some point, like, going after like quick launching of the game versus like an artistic you know, struggle.
Shaun Rutland 34:03
Yeah. Yeah. Which I can it does pay off right? You do see these tick, like, amazing Steam PC games that blow up. That’s that, like, Will and I, my co-founder we always is to get offended when we go to meetings and people call us an indie game studio. And it’s kind of a bit pretentious to say we’re offended. But we were like, we’re not an indie game studio like. Yes, you are. You’re independent and you’re small. But yeah, we’re independent was small, but we don’t. We’re making games for a racing audience. We’re commercial. We’ve got a purpose is to reshape automotive entertainment on mobile. We’re not building the games just for us. We’re building the games for the players. And that’s, I think that’s like a really important. I think that’s really important to figure out your values. What are you doing? Are you doing this just for you? That’s Yeah, you can have a shot at that. Yeah. Are you doing us to make a sustainable business that entertains millions of people?
Joakim Achren 35:05
Yeah. You basically pick an audience that is not you. And that’s, that’s the ultimate challenge for sure.
Shaun Rutland 35:12
Yeah, I mean, I think it really helps if you’re really passionate about that audience. I’m not a petrol head, but I’ve really grown to love, like cars and their artistic form and like the real detail and, and the sound and like going on a track day was like, really, really exciting for me. So, so you can really get into the subject matter. And then you realise we scratch underneath the surface of certain subjects. Right how much stuff there is underneath the surface of it. And you just may to the surface layer important versus this is what racing game should be. And then on top to petrolheads and you realise that Well, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
Joakim Achren 35:55
You guys are basically a company that focuses on racing So how do you balance the conversation in the company about what kind of games are making, and or giving more creative freedom for people to explore ideas. So
Shaun Rutland 36:13
the creative freedom, like game jams, we want to be as you want to be direct in terms of these are the things we’re trying to like. Like, this is a brief, this is what we’re trying to solve. And then sometimes we’re quite wide open, and we get some really crazy ideas, which are, some of them have been built and have had good success. But having a starting point of saying, and I think this is the this is the amazing thing about Supercell is they have a blank sheet of paper and they’re trying to entertain the world, right? We have a sheet of paper that says racing games or racing fans. And so that constraint is actually quite useful. For us, it means we can move quicker about yes or knows where they’re at with ourselves in terms of prototypes. And things do and allows us to move quite quickly. So I’m quite grateful of that focus. And I think it helps the teams. So
Joakim Achren 37:11
yeah, that is good. Yeah. Now I want to go into your role and talking about like, being a CEO. So what have been the biggest challenges in growing yourself to lead when building a company at the same time?
Shaun Rutland 37:27
Yeah, I think it’s a I, I feel really fortunate and lucky that I’ve had this this job. My job has changed every year. I think you’ve just Yeah, I know that I’m a super CEO now. And then suddenly, you’ve got this slight insane emergent problem of cultural issues or financial issues, or I don’t know, whatever it is, but you keep evolving and you keep learning. Yeah. So I don’t really I’m, I’m at pace when I’m constantly learning new things and embracing new things. I think the… at the start it was very, I was very heads down. And it was easy to be quite insular. But as you grow, I’m quite a collaborative person. But I don’t want the company to be seen just as me because it’s actually, it’s the game teams. And it’s the leadership team that help us kind of architects and allow these teams to work. So behind, you know, the leadership team that I have is just phenomenal. Just like, I know, I bring them too many crazy ideas about what we can do in the future. And they have to kind of moderate me and then they have some, some real value to add and those sorts of discussions about where we’re going, but I’d be quite happy for them to be a fly on the wall as they sit meetings for the team to see how we talk we don’t talk about the games in terms of this mechanic should be changed or that should be that we really talk about making the best place for people to work. And really, like if we get that right, then we will be successful because people will be able to make great stuff. Yeah, sorry. The question was, has my role changed? So yeah, it’s essentially. I mean, recently what’s been interesting is because I think we were profitable, what three years ago we’ve been profitable last three years and moving from loss making to profit making, I didn’t expect quite that change that happens to you. When you’re lost making it doesn’t kind of matter that you could continue to be lost making it obviously hurts. But you’ve got you’ve got nothing to lose because you’re already losing. So you’re taking big risks and you’re moving forward very quickly. And once you have money, then there’s there’s a potential challenge that money papers over the cracks of, of issues and you’re not moving as quick and the mindset becomes less risky. So that’s been a trying to try to keep the hungry early stage, vibe and energy when you’re when your profit making as has been my sort of the biggest challenge in the last two or three years. And that’s nothing, there’s no disrespect to anyone on the team. It’s just you become more conservative, you don’t want to go back to last, maybe you don’t want to take the risks that we used to take. But I think you do need to you do need to do some bold things. And you don’t need to “bet the farm”. But you do need to make decisions quickly and move forward.
Joakim Achren 40:23
Yeah. And then you can always go back and talk about like, Hey, this is our, our players, our customers. Yeah. How do we deliver the next, you know, interesting thing for them?
Shaun Rutland 40:33
Yeah. And one thing that was quite interesting recently, as we had the strategy to launch two games last year, and we got through that, but the actual afterwake of launching those two games was quite a long period of time because you’re managing an organisation that’s sort of fueling those games as well. And then COVID-19 comes in, so that was quite a big distraction as well. So actually resetting that strategy for the next two years and then sort of an emergant strategy continues after that. But that that’s taken quite a bit of energy. And to do it all remotely and look at, like, Oh, this is how we’ve done this is great, actually, we need to do something bolder for the next the next few years. So
Joakim Achren 41:15
if you think about the startup again, like, you know, just the founders, how should a CEO focus their time and effort? When you only like, you know, you’re the founders, you raised a seed round with lasts for 12 months? What are your advices and thoughts there?
Shaun Rutland 41:33
I am a big fan of seed. So whatever you’re doing, prove it as quickly as you can. And I would focus on that, if you’re hiring. Obviously, those early hires are really key. And culturally, they’ve got a stickler, they’ve got to love those and breed those values that you have. So so that’s important. And then the challenge with raising money is pretty quickly after you got a raise again, so My, my thing is always have a carrot on a stick in terms of like, you’ve just raised, you’re building something and there’s something hopeful to look forward to. So what you need to do is make sure that when you’ve proved out that thing you’ve raised money for, you’ve got to make sure there’s some more emergent hope around the corner so that you can raise again. So we’ve been, so when we launched MMX racing, we then went into fundraising with two games that were coming in like a year’s time. And those two games were the big kind of things that investors were like looking at in order, okay, these two games come out as two bits, this should do Okay, and then once you’ve got that, then you’ve got you’ve constantly got new things and horizon that people can get excited about. I think that’s really important. And it’s really hard. Especially when you’ve got no money or people. You have to kind of construct a narrative and a timeline that that’s going to work. It’s always better not to launch the game. You’re about to launch and raise before it launches. Because if it fails, that’s quite hard to raise after it. So yeah, but but if it succeeds, then founders get worried that it succeeds and they buy at a low valuation, I would actually actually say it’s better just to get the money and to get investors on board.
Joakim Achren 43:21
Yeah, that’s definitely the case. It’s the excitement is there about the launch, like you can see it and people externally can also do it. Yeah, that’s true. Then I want to ask some more startup phase questions like quick questions on AI First off, like winning games companies just starting, what do you think is the right way to utilise and bring on advisors?
Shaun Rutland 43:46
So we’re talking in the really formal setting of advisors on a board or just talking about people that you hang around with the company influence and help you
Joakim Achren 43:57
Yeah, the influence hang around who might have Get a share of the company.
Shaun Rutland 44:02
Get a share the company? Yes. So that’s more of a formal. I haven’t actually. But we’ve, we’ve got one investor advisor. But as Yes, we don’t actually have any advisors that have advised us that got shares. But I think if you’re in a really early stage and you need introductions, you need help shaping business plans, I think it’s actually really valuable at the start. And that person can be there for you in terms of supporting you through the emotional journey of starting a business. I think that’s, I think, if you can get someone that really gels with you and can add a lot of value then I think, I think from day one, if you find that one person I think is quite valuable.
Joakim Achren 44:45
Yeah, that’s good. What is the topic in gaming that doesn’t get talked about enough?
Shaun Rutland 44:52
So I mean, it gets talked about a lot, but it doesn’t really which is lootboxes. Cuz constantly in the press, everyone’s everyone’s, like, no one wants to really talk about them because they’re scared of saying the wrong thing. And I think we need to get over that and, and be honest with ourselves about them and really just probably talk about, like, really good mechanics and so games. So I think that’s I think that’s something the mental health is emerging as a subject. It’s getting talked about more and I’m really, I’m really big on the subject that the more we talk about it, the more we normalise, that’s okay to talk about your ups and downs. Yeah, the better everyone can be. It’s an amazing subject. Yeah, those are the things I can think of right now.
Joakim Achren 45:43
What is hard about your job?
Shaun Rutland 45:46
It’s quite, quite lonely at times. So you quite often don’t know if you’re doing the right job or not.Looking in the mirror in the morning, go, I’m I crazy. Am I doing? Am I doing the right thing? Yeah. So you have to have a lot of conviction. And you have to also dust yourself off a lot. We have a bad day, and there’s not really anyone to lean on about it. But um, yeah, I think I think that’s the, that’s the hardest. I mean, I am surrounded by people that are really supportive. Yeah, I really get what I get what I’m trying to do and understand, understand the complexities of it. I’m actually a really bad public speaker. And like, the thing I can’t stand doing the most is actually presenting to my team. I try to find it. I’ve been doing it for years. I’m now doing it every week. And I’m embracing it, and I’m enjoying it. But sometimes I come off those where I’m like, Oh, I’m not worthy. But I actually am. I am doing a good job of it. It’s just this internal sort of slight internal confidence thing that you can just really beat yourself up about that you want to do the best job for your team. Actually it’s quite hard to, it’s quite hard to talk to everyone about it. Now I’m talking to you about it.
Joakim Achren 47:05
Yeah, yeah, now it’s in the open, but it’s really good. I think it’s more like you know, how much hours you putting into the job versus how many hours of challenging work you’re putting in. It’s always interesting.
Shaun Rutland 47:18
And actually, I’m not one of those entrepreneur founders that has never takes holidays or work 16 hours a day, I realise I’ve had six weeks off once before, because I, you know, I really struggled at a certain point in my life, and I needed a massive break. And it was the best thing for me and for the business to get that massive kind of refresh. And it’s when you go on holidays and the business comes with you, but your best ideas come to you while you’re on holiday. Yeah, we kind of like write them down. I can’t wait to get back in the office and talk about them. So yeah,
Joakim Achren 47:55
yeah, it is like the brain needs its own rest time as well like a muscle. So Yeah, working again.
Shaun Rutland 48:05
Since COVID, I really miss my train journey, which is like an hour and 20 minutes into London. Because it was, it was a really nice time to sit there and scratch the table and look out the window and think and and now that’s gone. It’s really weird, even though I should be grateful that I don’t have to commute three hours a day. I’m actually missing it.
Joakim Achren 48:31
When do you dare? Where do you think you’re gonna dare go on the train again?
Shaun Rutland 48:34
Yeah. Like, well, I think, I’m not sure even this year, but it’s until something changes, like the testing and tracing in the fact that comes down and a vaccine potentially, which seems 18 months away? I don’t know. I don’t know.
Joakim Achren 48:54
Yeah, well, you can take your bike, go down.
Shaun Rutland 48:59
Five hours later!
Joakim Achren 49:00
I have some final questions for you. What’s Shaun, your favourite book and why?
Shaun Rutland 49:06
I got about three books I’m reading at the same time at the moment. I’m trying to choose which one I’m really enjoying. I eventually pick up the title of it. There’s a book, there’s a book I’ve been reading recently, which is Dreams with a Deadline, I think it’s called. And it’s, it’s, this is a really, this is a really business focus book. But I probably haven’t given you the right title, but I’ll find out the book talks about the opening chapters about JFK speech about going to the moon to Congress. And his speech quite made the hairs in the back of my neck stand up because it was a really powerful speech to Congress for budget. And he basically gives a really emotional why, because we got to beat the Russians. It’s America, like, you know, there’s all this kind of wrapped up sort of internal love for the USA in there. But then he also lays out that we’re going to spend 100bn in 1960, which must have been an insane amount of money. And he also gave a deadline by the end of the decade. So that’s a really powerful speech. I like to be a president and to be able to give the budget and the time when something needs to get done. And I was in a really empowering stage. So just blew me away. So I’ve been reading that book and getting really inspired about strategic long term planning and, and how you think about it, and how you can actually communicate it and give clarity to people. And I think that’s been quite quite influential for me in the last last couple months.
Joakim Achren 50:32
Yeah. Do you have a story that has shaped you and how you approach your work today?
Shaun Rutland 50:39
So I have a story? Yeah. Actually, this is what I used to work for. When I worked on marks and spencers.com. And I was constantly constantly the office manager that was the complete ballbreaker and people, people, like basically everyone was doing the work every day and I’d check their work. And quite often their work was broken. And I’ll just be this horrible kind of like, Come on man could have fixed the work. And then my boss said, like, you got to stop doing that. What do you mean? He said, like, they’re just waiting for you to find the broken work, let them let them upload the work and make a massive mistake, and they’ll take responsibility for it. And that’s actually shaped the way I think about giving people instead of telling people what to do, like give them a problem to solve, and let them solve it the way they want to solve it, and allowing them to own their own work rather than you as a manager or a leader. So I was quite early on and most management days then someone mid 20s, but it was quite a powerful statement, and everybody’s kind of let go of this thing. I stopped being a ballbreaker and everybody’s worked. It’s got so much better. And they started to enjoy the jobs that they so so that was a big influence.
Joakim Achren 51:51
Yeah that’s a good one. Hey, that’s the final question. What’s the best way for people to get in contact with you if you know entrepreneurs want to ask for tips and tricks?
Shaun Rutland 52:02
Yeah, I’m Shaun@hutchgames.com, just email me. I do actually check all my emails. If you’re an ad network, just go to email@example.com because I’m just gonna forward you to that.
Joakim Achren 52:18
It’s good idea. Yeah. Hey, thanks a lot Shaun. This is so so great.
Shaun Rutland 52:23
It was enjoyable. Yeah,
Joakim Achren 52:25
take care of there in in London and stay safe and see you when conferences get back.
Shaun Rutland 52:32
Yeah, hopefully soon. Thank you.
Joakim Achren 52:34
Yeah, see ya.