GamesBeat: A lot of it seems like it naturally happens. I wonder how you guys decided when somebody needs some help at this stage.
Lee: If you look at all those companies, the companies that have made the U.K. famous – Codemasters, Bullfrog, Bizarre Creations, Media Molecule, the Rares of this world – they’ve been predominantly content development. We are exceptional in the U.K. at art and design, production, execution.
What we haven’t necessarily learned as quickly as Finland or even the west coast is the nuances that come with owning the relationship with the consumer — actually becoming not just the publisher, but the retailer as well. When you talk about mobile and certainly when you talk about free-to-play, you’re hosting the servers, managing the economy, doing user acquisition, doing business intelligence, doing marketing, doing PR, doing the retailing in terms of navigating pricing and offerings and promotions and campaigns and live events. There’s a lot to do there. On the whole, it’s difficult to find the talent that does a lot of the things we’re not familiar with.
When I’ve met with startups to explore investment opportunities, what I’ve seen is that they have great design, great art, great engineering, some really great server engineering. But they haven’t thought too much about business intelligence. They haven’t thought about user acquisition. They haven’t thought about PR. They haven’t thought about how they’ll navigate the platform relationship. In many ways they haven’t even thought about cash flow or employee share options or how to raise finance or shareholders’ agreements. It makes them weaker and makes their life more difficult when suddenly these problems arise. We want to try to build them stronger from the beginning. That’s just about their networking with people who maybe they wouldn’t have met otherwise.
GamesBeat: What kind of people are you bringing in to help train or speak to them? Is it a weekly program where somebody is coming in —
Lee: There’s going to be three or four different types of things. We’re offering our own time to be mentoring. We also have some key figures within the industry who’ve committed time to be mentors. Each group that enters as a full-time member will receive a mentor.
Beyond that, every month we have what we call a master class. We’ve fixed for every month this year what those master classes will be. They could range from protecting your IP to trademarking to managing your cash flow to putting in a tax-efficient employee option pool, all the way through to raising finance. We could have Apple and Google coming in and talking about how they make decisions on editorial coverage. It’s a whole host of things. Those will be for full-time and part-time members.
Outside of that, we’ll have a lot of social events. Somerset House is great for that, because there’s bars and restaurants, a lot of life here. Those events aren’t structured. They’re not really designed with a specific goal, other than our members get a chance to meet people who they wouldn’t have ordinarily meant. It might be that someone from Sony or Microsoft or Facebook is there and it gives us an opportunity to say, “Hey, you should get to know some of our members. They have some interesting projects.” That’s a more organic environment, less defined, but we feel it’s very important for networking.
What we’re trying to do is encourage people, as they’re in London, to be here. You’re a good example. If someone is traveling through or here for meetings, we’d love to think they could spend time here. It gives them a good opportunity to meet our members, and at the same time the members get a chance to meet with them. We want to genuinely be a hub with lots of people just passing through.
GamesBeat: I wonder if some of these game companies have naturally come together, or do you think it’s kind of random, how they’re all sprouting up? Are people deliberately moving closer to each other?
Lee: There are certain areas of London that are naturally quite cool places to be. The reason that works is recruitment and retention of key staff. They want to work in those locations. They want to go to those bars and meet friends in those restaurants. The great thing about Soho – John and Space Ape are a testament to this – you’re two minutes from Apple, two minutes from Google, two minutes from Facebook. They can go to him rather than him necessarily going to them. It’s that level of connectivity.
That’s why we thought this would be a good location for us. We can reach people and they can reach us. So it’s partly finding those areas you know your staff will love, and also being right in the middle of the network that is important to you.
GamesBeat: How important is it to get an early success that might put Playhubs on the map?
Lee: It’s really important. We want and need to prove that the philosophy behind Playhubs works. Now, it’s interesting how we calibrate success. Is success finding the next Supercell? Clearly that would be wonderful. Is success certain businesses surviving where they maybe would have failed, because we’ve given them the tools to get through more difficult times, the network in order to secure finance they may not have secured?
There’s two levels of success I’m hoping for. One is we just build durable businesses that have more longevity and more shots on goal. But ultimately, yes, we want and expect to find a number of gems that will go on to be standout, well-known, successful studios. Because you can do that quite quickly, we should be able to do that in the next couple of years.
We already have members where we think there’s potential. We’re only taking on members we believe can build businesses. We’re not really interested in people who want to run a startup. That’s not what we do. Startups aren’t durable. Businesses are durable. We want to help people build businesses.
That’s a bit of a difference. There are other incubators and accelerators and co-working spaces where it’s just cool to hang out and run a startup. We’re not interested in that. We want to find talent that has the potential to be the next big thing.