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This is a short list of what I learned from running GameTako for 2 years. its not full by far, but they are just the high level thoughts I was having while writing this. I hope you like them. Of course, the things I learned are from running Tako as business and not as a community.
1. Don’t get stuck in a chicken or egg situation
We had a problem where we didn’t have a game development community to start with. I tried as much as possible to build the community with the help of my team using charisma, and events. It was really hard to squeeze the developers to make new games when we had no traffic, and it was hard to get traffic without games. We couldn’t focus on one problem and solve it one by one. I was told this on the first year of running the company, but I still had hope that there would be a breakthrough throughout the journey.
2. If it depends on SEO and Ads, STOP
SEO is a slow process and revenue from Ads is peanuts. It won’t make or break a business in Arabia just yet. They are no way to scale an ad revenue based company, and the Effort you will have to put into business development with each country advertisers to maximize profit is way higher than the income. This will of course change as I heard great things from NetAd to solve the presales problem for websites. Of course Majalati and TG Media and Hawaa are solving this by going offline and doing events and print media. But this is not an online business in my opinion. It has become a hybrid where the online part is not as profitable.
3. Have control over your business
Games are hard things to make, and not many developers make them. Developers were also low on experience and the quality was terrible. Being at the mercy of low supply was very frustrating. We couldn’t compete on delivering unique experiences since we didn’t have control over content. We also have our business under the mercy of search engines.
4. Know your users and Target Audience
We get too fascinated by the numbers that other portals were making, their traffic and money they were making, that we didn’t think too much about the kind of audience that they have. Arabic portals got massive traffic from kids in low income families. The higher income families or more advanced users who are much more willing to Pay for services were not there to visit our site, they had alternatives like Tablets. That target audience is only good for Ad revenue which I think won’t scale as well as other businesses.
5. If you can’t change the game, don’t try to mimic others
We were experimenting with publishing non-arabic games on our site to increase quality and force the community to compete with them and develop better games. Before we knew it, we were publishing more and more of those games, as people loved them, more and more. This has made us on an SEO chase with people who were in the portal business for over 12 years. It was humbling experience, as well as a frustrating one.
The fun is in the Creation, the adventure, the unknown. If you are mimicking people, all of this is gone, it becomes a money chase, and you can never build an awesome team with money alone.
I like to think that what makes an entrepreneur is a deep desire to change the world. if you lose that then you are just a hack. ( I will explain what Hack means in a later email)
6. Its all about The Team
It doesn’t matter how good you are, it doesn’t matter how much you know about an industry, if you don’t have a team of A players that can Execute and have chemistry with them on a deep level, its all over before it starts. One of the hardest things I ever had to do was building a team. After taking 2 years to build a team I am proud of, we started realizing that we cannot reach our goals by being “for profit”.
Invest in your team, and invest in A players, especially developers. 1 great developer is worth over 50 mediocre developers; they are also VERY rare to find in Arabia. So REALLY appreciate them if you have them in your team. Engineering is not an afterthought to business. Steve Jobs was worth Nothing without Steve Wozniak and the rest of the crew.
Entrepreneurs usually feel like they can always hire talent and get them on board and that everything about management and business development and how you direct the team and direct the focus. As there is some truth to that, it means NOTHING without a good core team that could actually execute with minimum management. If you have no execution power, you are just a hack. Look at Valve and how they manage their team and how they hire people.
Build your Team before your project even starts and get them all on board early.
7. If it doesn’t Fit, Get out
This is an actual advice from 2 people. The first is our own Imad Al-Masoudi, where he told me that if your business model doesn’t fit right away, it’s probably not going to work. This is also another advice from Derek Sivers, the founder of CDBaby.com, in his book, “anything you want”. He mentioned that if running the company was not fun anymore, then get out. Of course he means that Working is not fun. With GameTako running it as a business and trying to force business models that are not scalable started getting really frustrating, not rewarding and just didn’t fit. That’s when I started noticing the warning signs. I would have much more fun sticking to our main goal, and I think the Tako team felt the same way. We are still aiming to build the best pan arabian game development community and we will stay focused on that.
thanks for reading this and I hope it may help you guys on your own adventures. I might realize some of these things i learned are wrong along the way, who knows. I just felt like i needed to share.