Here are the Elite Game Developers podcast highlights from 2022. This year, 36 podcast episodes went live, and I spoke to founders and investors from all over the globe, who all are working to build great gaming companies. Now, I want to end this year with my favorite highlights.

Transcript

1 Eitan Reisel

The first clip is from the episode with Eitan Reisel from VGames, on how he picks companies to invest in.

Starting at 09:47

Joakim: How do you make investment decisions at the earliest stage when you sorted, there is no numbers, maybe even often, not really a good prototype even.

Yeah. So I think, you know, the, the trivial answer would be a forced team.

But let me double click on that for a second. Cause I think, you know, I think it’s, it’s it’s value knowledge. So when we look at teams, One, it doesn’t have to be experienced in games. And I think that’s an important factor. Like a lot of our very successful founders haven’t worked in, played the government one active before, and they’re still amazing.

So this may sound silly, but it’s important to me that their folks would play a lot. Gamers on, especially in the genres that they want to build. I think, you know, this better than I do. You know, it’s hard to build good products today and you have to explore an experience, right? So one, that’s an important factor.

I think the second factor is that they have, you know, I don’t like the word aggressive, but it’s a little bit aggressive. It’s an aggressive world. You have to be. You know, you have to chase the opportunities you have to fight, you know, because that’s, you know, we’re in a very crowded world, you know, we’re marketing is very expensive.

You have to be very unique. So that’s the second pillar, the third pillar, you know, if they, if they did take a product to the world, if it’s a game or not, I think that’s an important factor. For me, taking a product from zero to something is more important than taking it from $10 million to $500 million in revenue.

I think. Skillset or talents, the third and the fourth, and maybe the most important component. You know, if you asked me four years ago, or when I was more than an angel investor, you know, a lot of the phones, especially in Gainesville, we were looking at us like folks have bigger, you have strong products today.

Marketing is not less important. You can build amazing products and you won’t be able to deliver them because if you don’t understand the landscape of marketing, So the combination of marketing and product today is, is significantly more important even to when I started Wii games, like it increased, you know, literally every month, like IDFA changes and stuff like that.

And like, it doesn’t mean that you have to be the number one market tier, but I want you to see how they think marketing. Like they think about the product and the technology behind it. And for me, that’s super critical. You know, so it’s team and then the last day, or is it. Even if it’s a very, very early stage, I want to understand what category they’re chasing.

Is it big enough? Do I believe that there’s a big opportunity? We have a component where we said we want to invest in game companies that we believe with one or two products that can reach a million dollars in revenue. See, I know they’re not too niche or, you know, really a blend of, of, of big opportunities are not overcrowded.

Like we haven’t done a hyper casual investor. Not because I don’t think it’s a big industry. I just don’t understand how you can revisit missionize it in a way where you have lean on these giants, dominating the buy and sell side. It’s funny to say we’re the land of social casino. We haven’t done social casino investments, average CPI study.

I think there’s $25. You know, you have to really build something unique in that angle. So, yeah, yeah, yeah, of course. But, but yeah, but, but categories number two, right? It’s of course. ‘ cause, you know, it doesn’t mean that the first game that they’re working on is going to be the last game that’s going to be, you know, the giant and we’re privileged that we’ve really backed amazing entrepreneurs.

Joakim: Yeah, actually I have a follow-up question for that. How do you support the fonder when there’s. Okay. An idea that the head is we need to pivot. We need to get out of the business that where we were before. Like, have you, have you been in those situations that have, have you thought about like how they aggressiveness about doing the pivot, like plays in and things like that?

Yeah, I think it’s a very important, good question for the gaming industries facility. So I think there are two components is game investors that will not August. When we’re building games, especially, you know, game studios, we’re building content. At the end of the day, our drive is content that people will love.

And with all due respect, that’s all we’re building, right? Because you can build a good monetization, but you know, all these funny words, but they have to build, you know, if you’re seeing a Netflix series and you’re seeing episode one and you want to move on, that has to be good content. Right. And it takes time.

So one, there has to be patients. You can, you know, there aren’t any, okay. 1, 2, 3, boom. We’re out. Any patients you want to go to the court, excuse need patients to see retention over time. You know, you do an updates to see the 30 and 60 day impact. That’s going to take two months and there’s no way to shorten that.

So I think on one hand, it’s important to have patients on the contrary of that, we have to be brave enough to say. We haven’t hit here. Let’s make sure we don’t run out of capital and we try other things. Right. And We’re not going to push our founders to do that.

We’ll challenge them. Why they still believe in what they’re building. Right. We’ll challenge with difficult questions. Sometimes we may be aligned on the answer sometimes. And then of course we find, you know, of course it happened to me and I don’t think there’s a game investor. Who’s going to be transcending the world that didn’t say it happened to him 10 times because that’s the world we’re living in.

2 Carolin Krenzer

With Carolin, the co-founder and CEO of Trailmix, we talked about the ups and downs from working on their hit game Love & Pies and what changes they needed to make in order to make the game a success.

Transcript

Caro: (17:20) We pushed the prototype actually pretty far until. Actually, put it into quantitative testing and we did a lot of college stuff testing throughout you know, like the sort of like the prototype. Period. And everything was really positive. And people around us told us that, you know, it’s great, it’s super fun.

And then we put it into a contest and it completely bombed. We were very confused by that because we really expected that, you know, like the first thing that we put out after a year into the company’s life is gonna take off immediately, which I didn’t even know why he thought this, but but it didn’t.

And so I think that that caused us to kind of like, whoa, step back a little bit and just really, you know, look at the way we’re doing things and sort of like, you know, check our assumptions. And. Also remind ourselves that actually you do need to use a feedback as quickly as possible, because that is the only way to understand if your game is going to work or not.

And so we then effectively moved into a process of. Pivoting and iterating and constantly changing things. And we kind of said love and pies is actually really five games in one game because you know, like the, because we had just so many different changes in so many different iterations and like somebody, we, we did completely change the meta how to meta structure and how to manage.

We changed the storylines three times until we found something that really works and resonates with the audience, be tested for different core mechanics to really find a one that, that, that the best. And so so yeah, we just, we tried out so many things and I guess the biggest downs, I guess we experienced, but really when we saw it, that the change that we made.

Was amazing and a major change to the game. So den only realized that it had no impact whatsoever. It just didn’t move to needles And so I guess like, you know, then kind of like picking yourself up again and say, okay, it just didn’t. Let’s try something different. Like something is going to work.

We just have to keep sort of like the motivation and to try of high and just keep trying until we find something that works.

Joakim: That’s actually a very interesting idea of how far can you actually push things? Like having that belief that, you know, eventually you will find the thing that works is it, you’re not pivoting, you’re sort of keeping part of the existing things that you’ve already built, but making major changes, how scary was that, that how sure are you aware actually that you’re doing the right things there?

Caro: It’s a good question. I think some part of we were very sure about others, not so much, but I guess we did feel there were a few elements of it that we felt we understood why they don’t work, if that makes sense. Right. So I think as as long as you’re not clueless about, you know, like.

W, you know, why, why did this not work? And we were a hundred percent sure it works as long as you kind of see sort of, you know, and even if it’s after you get the data, when did the realization comes, you know, as long as you see sort of the next steps that you can wake and really truly have an impact And you see a glimmer of something that does work then it’s worth moving forward.

For example, what, what was quite interesting for us is that our belief was always that a really strong storyline is gonna ha it’s going in itself is going to have a major impact on retention. Right. But we didn’t actually know that, right. It was just a strong belief and a feeling that we, that. Had and so we had to rate it on a story is three times completely rewrote it.

And the third time when we, when we tested it again, it actually did increase our retention by 10 percentage points. And we could, we could feel as a team. We had more fun creating the story because that’s a story that we haven’t again now which is kind of like we call it cozy. Telanovela very much about, you know, like mystery trauma, Romans, but just creating a storyline.

So much fun for us. We just had a feeling of we’re onto something and then seeing that it has such a trusting impact on retention. I think that, you know, like we use those little steps to sort of like verify our assumptions. And then once we had figured that out and that works, then we could focus on other areas of the game that we iterated on and changed.

And so it’s kind of, it’s like taking the friend, you know, like puzzle pieces and you just tried to put them all together in different variations. And once, you know, one puzzle piece fits, you’re just trying out sort of like the next puzzle piece, if that makes sense.

3 Andrew Sheppard

This mindblown episode with Andew Sheppard is the one I still go back to most often, to hear the insights from my discussion with Andrew. Here’s a bit were we discuss about the patterns of seeing more big games companies emerge. If you haven’t listened to the full episode, I do recommend you listen to it.

Transcript

16:16

Joakim: I wanna see more big companies actually turn up versus like, not too much M and a at the early stage, in Finland, for instance, there’s been in the last decade, I would say like 10 different, big acquisitions, but it’s been really hard. We only have ARA that is independent in Finland, out of the big companies. Most of them been acquired versus going public. what are your thoughts on like evolving that or does it need to evolve? Does it matter?

Andrew: I think it does. I actually just published a, a piece on this still little while back on LinkedIn and our blog. when sh and I were working together, agree as operators, I was pushing across form strategy.

This was 2015. It was before Fortnite. And I remember a lot of people just didn’t see it. They didn’t believe in it. it was perhaps too early, but my thought process around it was, you know, the audience for games, specifically younger millennials and gen Z. They don’t view platforms the way that gen X does and what, what I mean there is, they.

Want to play a game like Fortnite and they will use whatever devices it’s closest to them to get to it, right? It’s not like they’re gonna move down the hall to load their Xbox on their PlayStation or go to their bedroom to launch their PC. They’re going to play it if the phone is right next to ’em. And they won’t have a discernible impact on their game because they’re device agnostic.

And that core understanding around the audience, which was informed by market research led me to conclude that franchises that were cross platform would become incredibly valuable. Right. And since then that thought process has evolved to realizing that. In the land grab for franchises, there are really kind of three levels of competition in what I kinda call Kaari Roy.

So for those of you that aren’t familiar with the, the, the hybrid franchise that I’m kind of composing there. It’s Kaari doey, which is a really fun, kind of very Japanesey game from Neco. Bandi where you’re a little ball and you roll up stuff in the world and you complete a level when you’ve rolled everything up.

And, and hit a certain score if I remember correctly. And then the other one of course, is any of the battle Royal games. Let’s say Fortnite and gaming right now is going through its um, Kaari process. There’s consolidation happening and it’s happening at a publisher level, you know, to draw a European influence or a point Tor, I think done an incredible job using their, their very successful IPO and a number of different sources of capital to bring a number of different companies together.

You know, there’s still a lot of work to do on the integration and operations side of things, but the ambition is, is correct. Then there’s the platform level where I think Microsoft might have a slight lead right now, the division blizzard announcement. And then before that the Bethesda announcement, you know, there, the platform level is just consolidating IP, bringing studios internal.

Really to power subscription offerings, right? Like game pass. And then there’s an ecosystem level, which is even above that, which I think speaks to business models and devices. And you know, it’s perhaps the closest thing we can, we could say would be metaverse we, we prefer to refer to the metaverse more of a multiverse, but there it’s really battle between centralization and decentralization and which all of which is to say giving back to your question that there’s just incredible push for consolidation right now.

But you know, I think just to kind of frame things a little bit on your founders should have more hope more ambition. You know, the, the private markets have more capital than they’ve ever had before. There’s more, more support for innovation than ever, but most importantly, the audience is bigger than it’s ever been, right?

Like gaming for gen Z is an activity that 75 to 80% of them do, right. For gen X, it’s closer to like 30 to 40%. and that’s really just Western countries, right? Like Europe, north America, if you zoom out on the world and you start to think about emerging markets, Philippines, Indonesia Vietnam, India China, like there are enormous countries that are moving down this so quickly.

And also, you know, I kinda stumbled trying to. You know, 30% of the world today was born before gaming was invented, which is to say that like members of the sounding generation are not playing, you know, the new PlayStation five. So just by working through the changes in demographics right over the next 20 years, gaming is gonna grow three to five X.

So I share, I share your passion. Like I think this category is enormous. It is only getting bigger and on a demographics basis alone, we’re talking huge, huge growth. Yeah. That’s not even taking into account innovation. I think founders should be hungry. They should be passionate. They should be fearless.

I think consolidation is gonna happen. Uh, It’s happening at those three levels. I think any chance that people have. I think one of your subpoints, your question had a lot of nuance to it. Hopefully I’m not going too deep, too long, but right now a lot of the, the drivers of consolidation do not reflect the global diversity of game development and talent.

But more specifically the audiences themselves. And I, I, I do think we need to see more on that. I would love to see more European companies operating at, at the, the scale that we’re talking about. I, I, I think the talent is certainly there. I’d love to see more companies rise in Africa, you know, as well, India, I think that’s starting to happen.

So I think there’s great potential on all of his friends.

Joakim. Yeah, for sure. this isn’t like something that happened in the recent years, but at least for me, when thinking about market size and like gaming audience who are playing games, I think the definition of consuming a game is changing so much to encompass all of video format gaming where you’re just watching gameplay on YouTube and that that’s the, the generation that we are we’re moving towards, who are gonna be the consumers of this IP, that games industry is creating. So it’s, it is definitely amazing times.

Andrew: Yeah, indeed. outta curiosity, you know, there are, it does feel like there are these regional differences on um, on how big companies push to grow before they have an exit or I guess how much they fundraise, things like that.

Are you starting to see that change you in the areas that you’re focused on?

Joakim: I’m not seeing founders come to me and pitch Embracer. like, that’s, that doesn’t come in. Like, I I’d, I’d really love to hear more like that. Cuz I think they’re onto something different at least that doesn’t come up that often.

Just, you know, thinking about like, Hey that’s, that’s actually massive. Out of the, like out of the, Hey, this is where we’re gunning for versus like, oh yeah, we have this game in soft launch, this casual mobile title. I think there’s a vast difference in pitching those. And I’m, I’m kind of fascinated in like, if, if somebody would come and pitch me the Embracer, like what is behind their thought pattern there? Could they make it work? They’re not gonna be building the Embracer that is existing now it’s gonna look different. Right. So like very fascinating stuff.

Andrew: Yeah. I agree beyond that. There, there is a difference between pitching a project and pitching it a company, I would say. Yeah, that’s one thing I’ve definitely seen manifest in, in, in the pitches we’ve received.

It’s different than being an operator where you. More explicitly or implicitly articulate what good looks like for a green light pitch. Right. But with venture, there’s definitely a lot of pro appeals for project financing. And I don’t know how you feel about this, but in my mind, project financing is very important.

It is one of the key drivers of innovation in gaming, but it, it has very different success criteria than venture investing.

4 Alexander Bergendahl

And on to the next one. This was a very interesting clip from my discussion with Alexander Bergendahl, co-founder and CEO of Lootlocker. We talked about both of us having entrepreneurial backgrounds when growing up.

Transcript

Starting at 03:09

Joakim: I wanted to actually ask about punting there because like, we should really relates to my background as well. It’s just kind of entrepreneurial family. Like from my mother’s side, like there was everybody was an entrepreneur uh, when I was growing up. So I basically was like growing up, like between people who are just, you know, doing, doing what they love building businesses.

So there was like a this kind of like glass. I would say cutting industry in where I grew up in Vaasa. Where, where the family business was booming until the nineties, when it all crashed with the Soviet market. So I’m sort of going away. But I, I still, you know, go back to kind of that heritage of thinking about like how they operated, how’s the, the mindset then how much they love.

That thing. How do you think Why does it matter that the family had the entrepreneurial background?

Alexander: I think you need to see someone do it to want to, to see that as possible. I think it’s, like you said, as a mindset, you need to be able to. Take that risk and have that in your, in your mind that like you can figure these things out and that not everything has to go to plan and that there has to have, you know, the set blocks to do something it’s very much about like, oh yeah, I can do this myself.

And The, if you, if you have that, then you’re more likely for me to see a problem and be like, wait, can I fix this, my problem myself? Or could I do this myself? You know, I, I didn’t have like decades, years, decades of experience in the games industry. But I was like, I see an opportunity here. I know this space, which is winter sports.

Um, Really well kind of. Build this game. Can I meet, find the people to do it? And I just, you know, slowly piece it together. And and then obviously being able to talk to my brother who was an entrepreneur and get his advice and stuff like that, that also helps as well.

Joakim. Yeah. I like, I’ve been thinking that. There’s a form of comfort that comes from being surrounded by entrepreneurs. And I cannot, I’m doing the Elliot can developers. It’s sort of like the, their surroundings. I grew up with like that comfort of being around those kinds of people.

Alexander: Yeah. Yep. No, for sure. And then once you do it once it’s, I think it’s, I find it very hard not to want to continue to do it.

And every time I’ve got an idea and be like, want to find a way to, to, to see it through, I had an idea of like a children’s classical music poster and I was like, it just, I get obsessed with that idea. And I’m just like, thinking about it all the time until I’m like, all right, let me just find an artist and have them like, pay them to make this thing for me, because I’m not an artist, but I want this thing to exist.

And so I just go out and find someone.

5 Mika Tammenkoski

In this next clip I talk with Mika Tammenkoski, the co-founder and CEO of Metacore, the makers of Merge Mansion. Here’s what he had to say as advice for new game entrepreneurs.

Transcript

Starting at 33:13

Joakim: What is your advice for a team who is just getting started in making games? Let’s say in mobile,

Mika: that’s a really good question and I’m not sure if I’m the right person to give uh, give anyone advice. But if I think if I were to start this again, I would start from asking the team, what are our goals?

What are we going to achieve? And making sure that we are aligned, aligned with those. And then I think you have to find as a team, you have to find your own ways on voice, and way how to do things. It doesn’t make sense. There’s a lot of uh, copying going on in the, in the games industry. We, we not only copy each other’s game ideas, but we also copy.

And that, that doesn’t make any sense. If you look at any other areas of like entertainment industry that is more mature, that’s not, that’s not the dynamics in play. So, so how do you, how do you like compete in that space? Like I said earlier, competition is good. It’s like, if you’re a professional athlete, you don’t think what is my pros and try to say, oh, how I apply disruptive innovation, but you see what are my strengths and how do I compete against these other.

That’s the approach that we should also be taking more and more of as the market is maturing.

6 Are Growen Mack

This next one is from one of the best episodes of the year, where I discuss with the genious Are Growen Mack, general partner at London Venture Partners. With Are, we discussed the roll-up model Embracer and Stillfront have followed.

Transcript

Starting at 12:49

Joakim: I wanted to ask you because you’ve had experience of going through these big companies, when you look at the way that the Embracer / Stillfront, give this autonomy and independence to the studios that they have, what are your thoughts on that model working?

Are: I think it’s very, very difficult. I don’t envy any of the people working with any of those models, because I just don’t see that there’s any perfect model. There’s no like really good one. So for example, EA always gets a lot of heat for heavy-handed integration of team. And I mean, I have been part of a team that was integrated by EA and I’ve seen the advice they gave us when they bought the company.

And it was really solid advice. It was really good. I saw how they supported me to go to Japan, how they signed off the budgets and how they supported what I was doing there. And it was really good. It was really whatever I want. Just looking for ways to support me, ready to send people down, to help me and so on.

And my team to use that as an example, stayed very sort of Playfish for my, my team. It was very important that we remain the Playfish team that we were employed by Playfish that we were, you know, our name cards were played fish that we used our Playfish email and so on. And EA accepted most of that.

And it wasn’t really a problem. But then over time, I also recognize that as I expanded that team, I think a lot of people expect that to come to EA to learn they expected to come to a university because EA is kind of normal to be a university. And they were expecting to come in and be shown, you know, frameworks systems, tools that were more advanced than what you would find in definitely in startups, but also in most Japanese companies.

So they were kind of expecting to be supported in that way. And when. In the last sort of big phase of my work at EA I was really transitioning the team into EA because Playfish had been closed in most locations. And we were starting to be one of the few remaining teams and mobile had reorg. And we had certain challenges in our studio with a game, we had that where we ended up doing too much crunch and we missed our targets.

So we were also asking for help. And, and, you know, I was able to connect with EA sports and they started sending down people based on what I was requesting. So they sent down a development director. They sent down a technical director and, you know, very slowly, very carefully started to figure out what we were doing, where they thought there was room for improvement.

Slowly started introducing some of their tools and so on. And it was a process that my team really enjoyed. And they really felt, I think many of them felt that finally we were delivering on the promise. I’ve seen something similar to, in my job at Boomi when I took over, you know, 11 studios in Europe and north America, where you had all these teams that have been spun up at the same time and they were all sort of scrambling and wondering why there wasn’t more support, why there wasn’t more templates, more systems, more set process for doing things, basically stuff they could lean on.

And that was one of my big challenges was that there wasn’t any support like that. And I had to try to build it as we were running. So I’ve kind of seen that side. You know, I’ve seen the side where teams and people expect a large company to offer you a lot of tools and things so that you can lean on things and yeah.

Lean on things to, to make your life a little bit easier. And then on the other side, you know, you can also definitely see when all that goes a little bit wrong. It gets more difficult to be visionary in a large company. Also, you know, it becomes all very numbers driven, very, very budget driven, which is hard to be sort of religious about and the way you can be in a startup.

And it definitely gets, you know, political much quicker, you know, because the size is much bigger and you need to spend a lot more time selling to, to the headquarter. You know, of course, as an, as a, as a founder, you’re also spending a lot of time selling to investors. So There’s not ultimately all that different, but yeah.

So, so I see that side and I, I see inside, I see the desire also on the other side to leave it very lean, not integrate, just let the teams do what they want to do. But I guess, you know, the question is when you start struggling in that structure, what is the expectation of the holding company and what is the expectation of the teams?

Will there be a lot of understanding if you just close down teams that you didn’t sort of try to help? So I, I don’t know. I just don’t think there’s any one perfect model.

7 Asbjoern Malte Soendergaard

With Asbjoern Malte Soendergaard, we talk about how they make games at Tactile. How teams make decisions and how new games are made.

Transcript

Starting at 20:11

Joakim: do you ever think about like that there could be a way to actually like have more. Like frameworks decision for decisions or is it very much like the teams can make their own call? And you basically give them that freedom. How much do you think about that, that independent team model? Is it like defacto for you?

So one, one thing that I think is often neglected when you talk about when teams and independent decisions and so on is there’s a huge difference between , doing a new project, developing a new IP and a new game versus being in dive ops on an existing games and the people that My two extremely well in one context might not do so well in the other contexts.

So that, that is one of the things, especially when we grow as a company, seeing like, okay, moving this person, which is freaking awesome in, in a live setting, then moving them in in, in, in, in a setting where. You know, we built and then we test and then if it doesn’t work before everything away, again, it can be, it’s a very different psychological profile you have to have as an individual to, to embrace that process.

So that’s, that’s one thing to be aware of when, when you have these self managing teams that, that, that you need to you need to set the team that’s appreciate the process that. And then also, I think there needs to be a clear vision of the product. And in our case, it’s it’s been more or less the same team that’s been doing all our games me, myself being part of it.

My co-founder being part of it and a couple other key people being part of it. We have grown that team you know, a bit, of course, since we started the. But it’s basically been the same team that’s been doing the project inception. Especially in the current markets.

It’s very hard to expect. People to come up with something that’s both fun and hits the perfect slot in, in the market mix and can be also has, has good. CPIs and whatnot. It’s a not to put on, on, on a small team. So I think there needs to be some high level, at least in our case, some high-level direction of this is what we’re going to try.

This is, this is the model we want to go after. And this is like the concept high level we want to go for. Yeah, but that makes sense. Yeah, it does.

That’s like just double-clicking on this idea. If there are. Game concepts that are, originating from inside the organization that people are excited about.

Do you ever think about like these kind of game jams, does it make sense for a company like tactile to. Th to set up small themes at all. Or like if you have the centralized new initiative team, great. The Haley, our thoughts on that.

That’s not how I think about it. I think about us as doing a very relatively limited Shanghai of things and you can do that and we’re going to do that extremely well.

And then it actually, when you locked up. This, this is our, this time space, and this is a lot of creativity you can put on top of that. I think one of the so one way to answer this question is also back in the days when we were a small company and especially, that’s also one thing that people don’t talk about that much, but when you are bootstrapping a company maybe not paying.

And market salaries, then it’s also, you can just recruit anyone you want, so you kind of have to make compromises. And one of the compromises, I think we did early on was that some of the people we hired, especially on, on, on the programming side, they didn’t really care much for the type of games we’re doing.

Wes and eventually these people has left the company to other things. So that’s, that’s awesome for them. But if you joined, let’s say out five years ago with pretty clear what we were going to be doing. So if you didn’t want to do a casual parcel, then probably we’re not the company for you.

So that also takes away some of that expectations that some employees might have of, you know, we work on this project, but then the next project is going to be this awesome adventure RPG. That’s that’s not going to happen because it doesn’t make sense from. From a high-level business or creative perspective, we want to be the best at what we do.

We need to continue focusing on that one thing. And then there’s still multiple iterations of how, how we keep better different angles of how we can be better, what we already doing.

8 Sophie Vo

I had Sophie Vo on the podcast and we talked about feedback sharing in startups. I wanted to hear Sophie’s thoughts on making sure that feedback is well received and acted upon.

Transcript

Starting at 22:59

Joakim: I actually think one of the components for me, which is interesting. Like if you, get to the point where feedback giving is flowing and it’s happening and people are taking in the feedback, but how to follow through with reacting and making changes when you are receiving feedback, what are the things that you’ve seen work really well there

Sophie: For example, positive feedback, everyone will take it well, right. true. We are talking here about, I think particularly the negative feedback, which is first never easy to deliver and never easy to receive them. So first, I think it’s about again, creating habits. So it, it’s not something awkward that you receive once every six months and become so painful that you don’t wanna think of it ever again, but it’s like, like, I dunno, eating your breakfast in the mornings.

Like, okay, you get feedback is part of my life. And it’s improvement feedback right in the end is to help me get better. Anyone in a position to give feedback, make it regular, make it consistent, make it frequent and don’t make it a big deal of it. So I think, I believe a lot in creating rituals.

What, what helps psychologically when first time, because there’s also people coming with history and legacy we’re they receive negative feedback in. Not so elegant way, right? It came unexpected not delivered in a very I would say comfortable way because many managers are very uncomfortable giving negative feedback.

So you feel uncomfortable receiving it as well. So first repair of the past negative experiences by recreating new experiences. So it, it starts for like deliver in a proper way, a negative feedback, announce it. So in the next one, on one, I’ll start to give feedback. So the person has one week. So before you start to do it and announced, announce how you wanna give feedback to the person survey, know that when you have one on one with their manager, They are expected to receive feedback positive or negative feedback that’s and then also create the, you know, the routine around it.

And the other thing is I found for the hardest feedback, especially when I had it with my leads. It was very hard conversation. It was conversation at the level. Are you still motivated to do the work we’re doing here? Should we continue? And I didn’t feel that doing it over an online zoom call, like the typical meeting would be appropriate.

So I said like a. I like to talk about important things that are quite kinda hard questions. I would like to go for a walk on that day and we will talk about this topic. I’m not announcing of course the depth of, of the conversation, but the themes. So then we go in a different setting, but it’s a bit more relaxed.

You know, we walk, we are in nature, it feels like a casual conversation. And then I can bring up things that are difficult. We are in a different setting where you react differently to things. So that, that has been helpful. And we can look at each other, I, you know, eye to eye and, and really go deep.

It’s like, what, what is at stake? So again, delivering a negative feedback is like when especially was conversation, like, should we continue together? I share my level of stress. I share like really looking at the person in the eyes and say, I feel. Lonely in this position where I have so much to do, I, I don’t feel supported and I feel, I need to convince you to even work with me and, and do the work.

I just can’t do this alone. I, I need people who will help me lead whatever problem we have at the moment. I, I, I can’t do this. And so they understand the, the level of pressure that is on my shorter. Do they wanna help or do they wanna. Be being the burden as well. And so for some people, it was really a game changer where they completely switched my mindset and it has resolved actually a lot of the situation.

So. Again, to summarize back to this question, because there are several layers of how to give and receive feedback. I think for regular feedback, create the routine around it, announce it that it’s a place that you will give a receive feedback and make it a habit where it’s no big deal. Right. It’s not something that will be heavy or horrible.

Second I think rule that has worked quite well for me is. Always remember to give us many and, and even more positive feedback when you give us so negative feedback, I’m not talking here about the sandwich feedback sandwich, but really remember to compliment and earn knowledge, the good work of people when you also give negative feedback.

So they don’t just remember that they only have things to improve and feel, you know, bad about themselves. And and at last, when it comes to really hard conversation, like to the level, like deal breaker conversation, I would be creative in finding a different setting to have a conversation and talk things really open heart.

9 Touko Tahkokallio

I had Touko Tahkokallio on my podcast and we talked about creating great games and discovering those games as you are developing them in a team.

Transcript

Starting at 08:16

Joakim: Thinking about like a concept of, Hey, is there a game? That you specifically want to build that you know really well or that you know what needs to be built next versus something that is iterative from something that is already out there.

do you have thoughts about like, which one of those approaches Can it be iterate if, can it be, or should it more be about like this, Hey, we start from zero and we come up with a cool, totally innovative thing.

What are your thoughts on that?

Touko: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think there’s like two, at least generally speaking, there’s like two, two, at least two different ways to think about it. Like one is to seeing opportunity and seeing a lot of reference games and somehow like perfecting what’s already there.

And I think that type of team structure probably can be very different than from a more like an in innovation team that is start trying to do something else. And I think the approach is to develop. In those two, two different extreme versions probably should be very different as well. So if I kind of talk more about the exploration explorative development side I think there you need some guts, like in a sense to really feel like.

This in my head, it plays out nicely. You can prototype in your head and feel like this could be working, and then you need some boldness to push forward and test it out and be brutal about it. And I think that is harder to have, like if, if you are more like exploring a new, new stuff, I think it is more important as like maybe if you vision holders that are, are really sharing the vision of the, of the product and willing.

Make those bits and, and push it forward and see if this, this idea that’s kind of only in your head, only on a paper, would it, will it work out? And but if you’re more like doing an established change and just perfect in what out there, I think the development pipeline and all the team structure and everything can be quite different.

And then it’s more about Building, Building already what? You know, and then it writing on top of that and like making perfect perfecting it. But like, if you’re truly doing something new, I think you can’t just get it by iteration. You need to have this kind of bold, gutsy bits and Try them out.

And of course, like usually what I’ve seen, like what happens, I, I had this reference or conversation to, to being in a channel like you’re adventuring and you have like a vague idea where to go and you have kind vision what you wanna do there. But in practice, like once you start the journey, usually like you, you notice that certain things that you were.

Thinking about they didn’t work as you wanted or you were thinking, and then you need to take that input and revisit the whole, whole path to the kind of whatever your goal is and. But kind of keep at the same time, open mind in terms of, is this actually working what I’m thinking? But like also being gutsy on the fact that it is something new and we need to push a bit farther because there’s no like a clear reference out there that we can compare to or iterate.

So kind of combination of open mindness and then this convention conv, this pushing forward mentality that it’ll work out in the end. Let’s just make it, make it work. .

Yeah. Do, do you think that. You know, you’re, you’re in the jungle and you see these paths where you’re going down a path, which will lead you to maybe some answers on like if this path will lead to, to a great place or not.

Do you think that, before you start that path, how much can you do the work in inside your head Yeah. About these pathways? Like do you think that like people who are better. Knowing early on, to not jump on the path are gonna be more successful, or is there always like a prototype being faced, which you need to go through to reveal things?

Yeah, yeah. I would definitely think there needs to be a prototyping faced to prove it, but I think you can be in a lot and save a lot of these dead ends and all kind of about the dead ends if you. Good plan. And uh, so yeah, I think good designers in my mind, they can kill already a lot of bad ideas in their head, like prototype already in their head so that they know, okay, this, this stuff, we shouldn’t do this, this, They’re sort of already problems here, but I think even the best designers.

I don’t think they can see everything. And, and every designer, I feel like there needs to have a question marks in their head that they want to get validated by their prototype and kind prioritizing those question marks and building a prototype that will validate their concerns or kind of prove If the starting point and if the vision can it work, Like you need to prove those certain steps.

And that’s a very, I think, important and valuable. But definitely you can kill a lot of ideas and try to find the best, best path already in your mind. And I think that’s very important in avoiding those mistakes and wasting time.

10 Jenny Xu

I had Jenny Xu on the podcast and we talked about how, as a first time founder, she learned to hire people and manage people.

Transcript

Starting at 33:16

Joakim: How did you start picking up hiring skills and team-building skills? Like besides knowing like values are now very effective, like, cause you had earlier projects where you were like in your career. Where you had the opportunity to pick up skills like you know, Google and Network how did those help you in becoming manager?

Jenny: I think that being on my own , working on games for a long time definitely didn’t help me learn how to be on a team much. So it was like being at those bigger companies where I saw the team building aspects come into play. And honestly, I stole a lot of things that I saw on my various teams where, yeah, my Google team would have a Friday show and tell, or like a Friday.

Like shout out moments. I took that and I was like, Let’s use that. And I’ve also like had a lot of, I’ve learned a lot from even sitting in on my friend’s company’s meetings where I’d be on a fly on the wall and see how they run their companies. So I had the privilege of doing that with my friend Sam at Butter Scotch.

They made level Head and Crash lands and I just sat in on their. I think weekly Scrum. So I sat there and watched us, Sam, like ran the meetings. So that’s where I, I learned to imitate a lot of things that he did and figured out what was working. So that helped. And then working on these teams, like at Network, for example, like I was a gameplay engineer on an engineering team, so it was very different from being a CEO and also very different.

Managing, but I saw how my, like the questions that I’d get asked for one-on-ones, like I’d write them down like, Oh, this seems like a good question. And I learned a lot from that experience in terms of like, what did I find that made me feel heard and what did they do to like really empower me? And I used a lot of those in terms of my the way I run my team.

Like for example, my manager at Google was very, He was like my friend, like he asked me about like, my personal life, asked me like what I like to do, and asked to like do things together. So even outside of work. So I saw that you can actually be friends with your manager, obviously with some, some boundaries.

But I liked the, the feeling of. Ease that I had with him. And that’s where I wanted to be like that more servant leadership style. Like, I’m here to help you. Like we’re on the same side. So yeah, I’d say between like sitting in people’s actual meetings, like having experience working on bigger companies and also just like over time my mentors also help me cuz they’ll like nitpick at stuff that I do now.

But yeah, those really helped cuz you don’t know, I didn’t know what it meant to be a good leader when I started. Yeah.

Joakim: I haven’t heard of this like that you actually go and sit down and watch somebody else run their company. That’s really amazing idea. Very cool. Yeah. And you can do it sort of like the other way, that 10 day comment. And see how you operate. And you’re learning from both.

Jenny: Yeah, it’s just an external appraisal in a way. Like having somebody come in I think is just as helpful as somebody you going into somewhere else. Cuz if somebody comes in and you change your behavior to like be more. There’s probably something wrong, like confident or more transparent or something.

But if you’re just like running the company as you usually do, even if somebody is there and they can give you feedback, then I think you’ll just see a lot more of your blind spots.

Wrap up

That’s it for 2022, I want to thank all the people who have been listening to and supporting the podcast this year. I’m going to take a break for a few months and the podcast will return in March 2023, with new spring episodes. In the meantime, happy holidays everyone, and I’ll see you at the conferences. Bye bye!