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Last year I founded Genvid Technologies, a company that builds esports broadcasting tools, along with my incredible co-founders and early employees. Having spent years working for CEOs of Square Enix Holdings, before starting this company my background was in game publishing and development. I wanted to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned since founding Genvid for other entrepreneurs in this space to benefit from, specifically on decision-making, managing investors and priority setting.
When we started Genvid, I identified three areas where we could focus our initial efforts. As we we founded the company in spring 2016, the virtual reality field loomed large. Another area that was of great interest was esports, particularly improvements to spectating games for Twitch and YouTube professional broadcasts. And finally there was cloud gaming, which had hit a low point in terms of investor and consumer interest but was where my team had the most experience.
While VR was big, we thought that the HMD market would take a while to grow. Similarly, for cloud gaming, we knew that it would be a few years before 5G arrived and improved latency problems that plagued us in the past.
Talking with my game industry network we confirmed that the publisher market was not being served for esports broadcasts, that publishers were clearly hungry to participate in that market, and that we had both the industry network and the technical skills to make something impressive for publishers and game developers.
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Putting on my ex-publisher hat, I want to note how critically important the industry network is for B2B companies like ours; it doesn’t matter how amazing your technology if you can’t get to your potential customers. Furthermore, if you aren’t fulfilling a need, or you can’t manage the risk and costs of the game developer, you’re still going to be out of luck. And if you don’t have the connections and respect within the industry, publishers won’t trust you enough to take you seriously.
As may be expected by our analysis, we set our sails for esports and put together a list of functionalities we thought game developers would need for their broadcasts. The technology we planned to develop were also suitable for mobile and VR games broadcasting to streaming platforms, but we opted not to invest into 360 video or HMD streaming tech unless we saw developer demand, and also opted not to work on ultra low-latency cloud gaming without developer demand. We focused our technology stack on what we could uniquely deliver, 2D esports broadcasts.
Why chart this course and not try to compete on multiple fronts? It’s hard to build developer-grade tools that are flexible enough to be used by both mega publishers and small indies, while simultaneously ensuring that the technology is scalable and secure. Enterprise-grade tool development requires concentration, and with many use cases that you need to anticipate.
I believe our decision to focus on esports was the right one seeing how the market has unfolded in the last 18 months, While streamer tools and consumer platforms for esports have expanded, we remain one of the few companies building the needs of game publishers.
When we were first fundraising there were a number of investors who were only interested in streaming platforms that were consumer-facing. In fact, we considered both B2B, and B2C options, but based on our read of the market, decided that a B2B approach was the most viable option, notably selling interactive streaming technology to game publishers. We declined to pursue further conversations with investors who tried to push our company toward a direction we disagreed with.
The developer market for streaming tools we are aiming for is nascent, and the opportunity size reminds me of game engines over a decade ago. It used to be that every game developer made their own game engine in house. This was matter-of-fact, making an engine for your game was part of the process of building the product. As hardware grew in variety and complexity from 2007 onward (think of the hundreds of different Android phones, not to mention iPhone SKUs and of course PC builds, consoles, etc.) you can tack the simultaneous growth of Unreal Engine and Unity.
I see the streaming platforms (Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Mixer, etc.) as the future gaming platforms, with interactive streaming being a new form of entertainment. In the same way that developers wanted write-once, deploy anywhere engines to develop on phones and consoles, they would also want write-once, deploy anywhere streaming technology integrated into their games for the purpose of monetizing this new entertainment.
It was very important to me that I work with partners who understood this vision. I raised capital only from investors who I trusted and who had theses on the industry which synchronized with our own. It’s important to compete where you believe you can make the most difference and find investors who have have been looking for a company that fits their existing thesis for market trajectory rather than you trying to convince them of it; you’ll ensure alignment.
Every delivery is a critical delivery in these early years of building a new software stack, which makes it important to set and keep priorities. Our tech team have a monthly release schedule with bug fixes and also need to upkeep demos that we use for sales. Since we talk with lots of companies who offer the latest and greatest cool tech, it’s tempting for a business person to want to tack on every myriad flashy object that comes by, but as anyone who has managed engineers knows, if you throw a new task every day and set no priorities, you’ll end up with nothing but crabby engineers.
Recently we had a series of opportunities come our way and so I’ll illustrate priority setting by discussing real examples. One is with Twitch Extensions. Another is the work we are doing on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Yet another is with a Japanese mobile developer. And even more come from opportunities in media, sports, etc.
Opportunities which are long term, like projects we are evaluating with media companies (e.g. apply our technology to live sports broadcasts) don’t have immediate impact on our tech stack’s development. Their priority effects only my sales’ team’s time, limiting company exposure.
Short-term priorities, however, often have an effect on our development processes. Earlier this year we were given access to the Twitch Extensions program. Many developers had been asking us for an ability to deploy Genvid data streams on platforms directly, and we in turn had made this request to the large platform holders. Twitch Extensions is a great opportunity for us to enable our customer’s existing requests, but requires some work on our part to enable.
Simultaneously we have been working on support for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive which was a long-requested title by partners. Our primary business is licensing of our technology to game developers, but in the case of CS:GO, platforms and leagues requested support from us. Such resource reallocation of course has an impact on SDK deliveries.
Finally, a Japanese mobile developer is building a new piece of content from the ground up on our technology. They have staff dedicated to our integration, and they’re using us to stream mobile content into mobile apps, in a way which has never been done before. The game is very cool, but they have aspects of their implementation outside our normal parameters and are launching soon, which means we also need to dedicate resources to support them.
Because of the timely nature of the Japanese mobile product’s launch, and the size of the opportunity given the names behind it, I set their support as the top priority with Twitch Extensions and CSGO coming quickly after. We discussed impact to our deliverable timeline and made adjustments. While we accepted some delays to roadmap features, one of the benefits of building a technology stack the way we are doing so is that each priority’s additional functionality requirements will be added to our core SDK.
Esports is a very exciting field, particularly these days as more publishers and developers take esports seriously as a business opportunity rather than as simple promotion. At Genvid, we see esports as the first wave in a transformation of the game industry from products purely for players into offering new “interactive entertainment” for all manners of spectating participants. It can be daunting managing a startup in this sea of change, and for others navigating their own startup in this space, I hope the above lessons have been useful.
Jacob Navok is CEO of Genvid Technologies, building revolutionary broadcast tools for game developers.
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