Deniz Gezgin is the Founder and CEO of 5X5 Gaming, a San Francisco-based, mobile-first cross-platform video game studio. Deniz is a 15-year veteran in the gaming and digital collectibles industries. Before founding 5X5 Gaming, Deniz led Topps Company’s — one of the world’s largest and oldest collectibles companies — digital division as its General Manager. As an expert in product growth, he’s held various executive roles for companies such as Epics Digital Collectibles, Gazillion Network, Idle Games, Zynga, Machine Zone, and FunPlus.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Deniz Gezgin discusses 5X5 Gaming and the inspiration to start it
- How did Deniz raise capital to finance the studio?
- The challenges of starting a video game company
- How Deniz integrated his past experiences into his company
- Managing a multicultural team
- Hiring best practices
- Advice for aspiring business owners
In this episode…
5X5 Gaming is a video game studio founded on the idea of combining NFTs and digital collectibles. Despite launching at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has been able to scale rapidly in its few short years. If you’re considering starting a video game company, there are various logistics that you should consider.
The foundation of any startup is a solid business plan that includes the company's mission, vision, goals, and a detailed product description. After establishing a course of action, Deniz Gezgin, a seasoned game developer and entrepreneur, recommends designing a prototype before securing funding. A prototype allows developers to present it to industry events and investors. However, it is crucial to avoid expanding the team too quickly, as the market could change or fundraising could decrease. You can also save on overhead by hiring a remote team of game developers, artists, designers, and marketers. Additionally, employing a virtual team increases productivity and retention levels. Starting a video game company is challenging and competitive. By planning accordingly, staying current with the latest trends and technologies, and building a diverse top-tier team, the chances of success significantly increase.
Join Lizzie Mintus in today’s episode of the Here’s Waldo Podcast, as she interviews Deniz Gezgin, Founder and CEO of 5X5 Gaming, about the process of launching a video game startup. Deniz shares advice on securing financing, the challenges of starting a company, and the benefits of managing a multicultural team.
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Here’s Waldo Recruiting
- Lizzie Mintus on LinkedIn
- Deniz Gezgin on LinkedIn
- 5X5 Gaming
- Battle of Kingdoms
Sponsor for this episode...
This episode is brought to you by Here’s Waldo Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm specializing in the video game industry that prioritizes quality over quantity and values transparency, communication, and diversity. We partner with companies, creatives, and programmers to understand the why behind their needs and provide a white-glove experience that ensures a win-win outcome.
The industry evolves. The market changes. But at Here’s Waldo Recruiting, our commitment to happy candidates and clients does not.
We understand that searching for the best and brightest talent can be overwhelming, so let our customer-first staff of professionals do the leg work for you by heading over to hereswaldorecruiting.com.
Welcome to the Here's Waldo podcast, where we sit down with top visionaries and creatives in the video game industry. Together, we'll unravel their journeys and learn more about the path they're forging ahead. Now, let's get started with the show.
Lizzie Mintus: Welcome to the Here's Waldo podcast. I'm Lizzie Mintus, founder and CEO of Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique video game recruitment firm. In every episode, we dive deep into conversations with creatives, founders, and executives about what it takes to make a successful video game. You can expect to hear valuable lessons from their journey and get a glimpse into the future of the video game industry.
This episode is brought to you by Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm for the video game industry. We value quality over quantity, transparency, communication, and diversity. We partner with companies, creatives, and programmers to understand the why behind their needs and provide a white-glove experience that ensures a win-win outcome.
Today we have Deniz Gezgin on the show. He is the CEO and founder of 5x5 Gaming. He has 15 years of experience in gaming and digital collectibles. He has been in product, growth, and executive roles in companies such as Zynga, Tops, Machine Zone, or MZ, and Funplus. Let's get started. Thanks for being here.
First of all, will you tell us a little bit about your studio?
Deniz Gezgin: Hi Lizzie. Thank you very much for the introduction. Yeah, I started a 5x5 Gaming about three years ago now. After realizing there's a huge opportunity between gaming, blockchain technology, specifically NFTs, and digital collectibles.
We are a small studio. We have about 10 people now. And then we have about six people part-time. Our first game is Battle of Kingdoms. It's an auto-chess game that allows users to collect heroes throughout history from different nations. And then players also have the ability to turn them into NFTs.
I started the company with a huge belief in digital collectibles and where we will be in about three to five years in terms of NFTs and digital collectibles. So we focus on making mid-core and core games with NFT collectibles. It's a very international company. We are fully remote.
We don't have that many employees in the United States. It's myself, a community manager, and a backend engineer in the US. The rest of the people are distributed between Mexico, India, and Vietnam.
Lizzie Mintus: Wow. I love that. That's the best part about COVID, just being able to hire anywhere.
Deniz Gezgin: Exactly. We started the company during COVID. So when I started the company, I think we were like six and a half months into COVID. And I bootstrapped the company myself. And it was initially like three people, plus myself, and everyone was remote and outside of the United States. And as we got an investment from angels and institutional VCs, we expanded the team within the same structure. So we didn't really set up an office or anything like that. So everybody remains fully remote and I'm hoping we can actually scale it that way.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, definitely. I'm remote too, and we did it in person. I don't know if you've done that, but it's so crazy to meet everyone in person when you've been working for years and years remote too. How tall everybody is, and just their mannerisms are a little bit different.
Deniz Gezgin: Yeah, I think eventually we're just about to launch our first game. We are currently live in 65 countries, and we're going to do our global launch in about two weeks. But as we build more titles, there is going to be a point, I'm sure we will have a physical office. But I think for now I will keep it remote.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, absolutely. Tell me about starting the company. What made you say, it's ready? It's time for me to start my own company. How did you come up with the idea? Walk me through the early days.
Deniz Gezgin: Yeah, so you mentioned, I've been in gaming for about 15, 16 years. Worked in some large unicorn companies like Zynga, MachineZone, FunPlus, and towards the end of the 13th, 14th, and 15th year, I started working at digital collectible companies. One of the biggest ones in the world is Tops. So I ran their digital business for about two years.
I'm a huge RTS, strategy, resource collecting, a gaming nerd, if you will. And I started to realize there's going to be the emergence of NFT and blockchain technology. I realized the digital collectibles will be much easier to maybe own and also transferred and traded and sold and bought. So before I started my company, six, seven months, I started doing some research during my free time. And I said, look, there's a lot of experience that I have between gaming and digital collectibles. And I think this new gaming company that I can put together, which focuses on making games with NFT collectibles, could be successful if you will.
And I also didn't want to build games like hyper-casual games or casual games, because I don't personally like to play them. So that's how it's all started. I wanted to build something that I enjoy and then also bring all my experience together. So that's how I started the company.
Lizzie Mintus: And how did you find your founding team?
Deniz Gezgin: So I worked with my founding team in multiple different places. Like I mentioned, I bootstrapped the company early. And the first engineer and the first creative person- I actually worked with them in other companies that I was working at like Tops. And then Epyx Digital Collectibles and a couple of other places, I worked with those people. And then I presented my idea to them and I said, hey, I have some money saved. And I'd like to start building a prototype with you guys. They were really excited and that's how it all started.
Lizzie Mintus: So you approached them with your idea, but you already had the idea formed.
Deniz Gezgin: Yeah. Exactly. I knew what type of game that I wanted to build. I'm a huge sucker for auto-chess games, strategy games like Civilization, or Rise of Nations or Age of Empires. I knew the theme, I knew the art style, and I also knew the mechanics that I wanted to have in the game that leads into card collecting and deck building and progression. And I started writing a spec doc. Once I had 35, 40 pages of a game spec doc, I approached the initial team and I said, 'Hey, I have an idea. I'd like to build this. And I saved this much money. Would you guys be interested?' They were positive. And that's how we kicked it off.
Lizzie Mintus: I love to hear the founding story. So you bootstrapped, but eventually you started fundraising. That is a hot topic right now. It's funny, I interviewed Ed and he's talking about how he has to have people take his money, but I feel like people who are raising money say the opposite thing. What was your fundraising experience and what did you learn? What do you wish you could tell yourself now? Or if someone else is fundraising, what can you tell them?
Deniz Gezgin: Great question. We kind of went there in small chunks, if you will. We didn't raise like 10 million. That's not really my story. What I've done is I bootstrapped it with my personal funds for about a year. It took us almost a year to be able to present a good enough prototype and then find the investors and then get the first check-in. We basically bootstrapped and then worked on the prototype. After we were done with the prototype, I started presenting, going into the shows, and meeting with the VCs and also angels. And then within my network, there were a couple of angels early on, really liked the idea and what we were trying to build. So they wrote me small checks, 20k-50k in that range. And then once I got those three four early checks a couple other bigger Institutional VCs or family funds got interested and they started writing bigger checks. So I got 150 here and 100K there, and then 1Up Ventures wrote much bigger checks. So that's our story.
What I would have done differently or what I would prefer to happen is if we could have raised a little bit more, because I was always very humble and I didn't really want to take too much money early on. And it's not because I didn't want to give up equity in the company. It has nothing to do with that. I just wanted to make sure that we can actually deliver with not limited, but an economical way, because that's one of the premises of the company as well. We are an international, fully remote team. And we believe we can deliver a similar quality, if not better, games that are costing people tens and 20 million dollars.
So that's another reason why I didn't raise as much. But now looking back, I wish I raised maybe another million. That's what I would have done differently.
Lizzie Mintus: But you liked how things transpired, how you started with smaller checks from angels and then moved up to players.
Deniz Gezgin: Absolutely, because as you get better with the game, I always believe that we could continue to raise. And that's what happened. We raised 2.2 million and if you look at our game versus some other games out there, quality-wise- I think we look like we spent about 10-15 million on the game. I'm very proud of that as well.
Lizzie Mintus: I think by the time this podcast airs, your game will be live. So everybody can check it out. Can you tell me some of the most significant challenges you faced? I feel like startup life is kind of firefighting and there's always ups and downs.
Deniz Gezgin: Yeah, I think the most of the challenges we face is... the markets turn. Probably a year and a half into our development, we were always planning. 'Hey, let's raise this pre seed round. And then, let's try to raise a seed round.' But then that became significantly harder as we were developing the game. So we needed to make changes in the team. We started all the way expanding to 22, 23 people. And then as the markets turned and the fundraising didn't really come through, we needed to cut back on all that stuff, right? So that's one challenge. The other is, we didn't really have that much challenge on the remote work structure. Some technical challenges because ours is almost like a real-time game. So we had some technical challenges that we needed to fix. And then we released our closed beta and also family and friends to a small group of people and got a lot of feedback. And then we moved our launch date based on some of the feedback we've gotten, we wanted to basically push it by six months. I don't see that as a negative or a challenge thing, but it's a totally different thing that you build something and until a customer or a player sees it, you're in love with what you built, right?
But the real feedback and real cycle begins when you actually put it in front of people that has almost zero emotional attachment. That was an interesting time because some people said, 'Hey, you should definitely have this.' And then we went back and looked at the game design and then we said, 'Oh, you know what? This is a really good idea. We should definitely have it. But, oh, by the way, it's going to cost us two months,' right? So those are the kind of things that I think are not challenges, but interesting findings that we experienced.
Lizzie Mintus: So the player feedback was really worth it, but more time. It ended up adding complexity.
Deniz Gezgin: Absolutely. Absolutely. We also ended up improving all our assets to 4K because people really liked the style, but they wanted to make sure that on a mobile device or an iPad, the images, the cards and the collectibles look to their maximum level. Player feedback was absolutely crucial and super helpful.
Lizzie Mintus: Did you have any aha moments throughout building your team or just your company when you think, you know that everything's going to work?
Deniz Gezgin: Not an aha moment. I'm a self, very driven person. I'm also very optimistic. So I think the aha moment was when I started the company, to be honest. I always knew that we would launch the game. I always knew what I wanted to build or what we wanted to build, we could build it eventually. But yeah, there wasn't that moment in between the last three years, after I started the company, I said, 'Oh, we'll do this.' Maybe when I got my bigger check, one of the biggest checks, I said, 'Oh, now we can actually do this. '
Lizzie Mintus: That was unlocking and you already knew that it was going to happen.
Deniz Gezgin: Exactly.
Lizzie Mintus: I like how solidified you are in your belief. And I really think that what you tell yourself is going to happen.
Deniz Gezgin: I also truly believe that. My background, so I'm originally from Istanbul, Turkey. I don't have a family here. I left Turkey when I was 18. I lived in London for two years. That kind of personal growth, if you will, is mirrored into the company and how I run things because I've done everything almost by myself for about 20 years or so. I have a huge belief that if you tell yourself positive things, positive things will happen. Sometimes people tell me you're, I'm too much of an optimist, but I like that actually.
Lizzie Mintus: I like that. I'm sure your team likes it too. I'm going to work for somebody like that. You've worked at Zynga, many larger companies. What do you want to take from those studios and in what ways do you want to make your own studio different?
Deniz Gezgin: Yeah, it's a great question. When I was working at Zynga or Machine Zone or even FunPlus, I realized that as the teams became more cultural or from more different backgrounds, the output, the product that they created got better.
That's why I don't just have employees from the United States. I don't have just employees from Mexico. I don't have just employees from one nation. Cause it's almost like my background, right? I left Turkey, lived in London, lived in Los Angeles. I went to school in Arkansas. So I got exposed to many different cultures. I've also seen in gaming companies when you get feedback and input from many different cultures and backgrounds, whatever the entertainment vehicle that you're creating, they actually end up being better. So that's what I'm trying to create with 5x5, like a longer-term vision. I would like to create an international team versus one team, 90 percent of the team in one location. That's very important.
And the other thing is data. How you analyze data, and how capable, and fast you can analyze and react to the data, making changes to your product is very important. We are working on that as we launch our game, start making more money. I think I'm going to actually start expanding the team so that we can actually react a lot better and release builds a lot better or fix things a lot faster. That's another thing I've learned. Capturing data fast enough and analyzing fast enough and reacting fast enough is very important.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. You mentioned you have a team from many different cultures and locations. That is incredible and also can pose communication difficulties because people come from different backgrounds and have different beliefs and what somebody thinks is a respectful way to communicate in one culture might be really disrespectful in another. How do you manage that and make sure everybody stays on the same page when you have a global organization?
Deniz Gezgin: Yeah, that's also a good question. So we kept things very flat. Usually what happens is that fully remote, multicultural companies, like the ones that I worked at, is when you add layers of management in between, like too many layers of management, that's when the drama starts. Because what happens is people consume information differently, and then they also communicate information differently. So if you have many layers of people and management. And if they all consume and communicate differently, that's how the drama starts. So for that reason, we kept the company very flat. We have one producer, myself, and we have employees. I would like to keep it as much as possible that way.
Obviously, we'll bring in some C-level executives as the game launches and all that stuff. But I think being able to be reachable by everybody because, at the end, the buck stops with me, right? So if you want to communicate something, and if you have the owner immediately accessible, I think that's very important.And that also makes the employees a lot more understanding and relaxed, if you will. Keep things flat. Respect everybody's opinion. We have daily standups where everybody joins. We found time zones that actually work for everybody. Communication and I think keeping things flat are important.
Lizzie Mintus: I like that you have the time zone overlap. My friend Julie started her company. When I started my company, she had a business called Curiosity Based and it's about getting curious why people are the way that they are. It's a course that you can take on your own, but I had my whole company go through it. And you explain what you think is respectful and what you think is disrespectful and why and how. For instance, I expect people to be on time for my meetings, but I don't think that I have to be on time for other people's meetings. And I expect people to be candid with me. And if people are passive-aggressive, I think that's disrespectful, but other people are completely on the flip side. So I feel like once you uncover that, then you can really figure it out.
Deniz Gezgin: Yeah, it's very interesting and challenging to run a multicultural company, right? You have to be really in tune or understanding of the cultures that you're onboarding to your company. I worked with the people that I actually hired or interacted with the people from Mexico, interacted with the people from Vietnam, people from India before. So for me, there is this understanding. As a founder, you have to have that understanding so that I can actually decide who the next level of management is that I can hire with the exact same understanding. Does that make sense? Like you cannot hire a person that has never been into international situations to run a company like mine. So yeah, that's key.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. How have you been able to launch with such a small team? What is the secret there?
Deniz Gezgin: Yes. Secret, I think, is you know, being on top of things. I think it's a benefit of keeping things flat, right? Because this is my baby and when people interact with me on a daily basis, they do feel that and understand that. So everything is moving at a pace that we like. But it's been challenging. I'm not going to sit here and lie. If I had another 10 people, of course, things will be much easier. But we basically were able to find the right people, I think. And find the right people with the right mindset. And you were able to come together and say, Hey, look, these are the things that we need to do in this time period and everybody bought into it and making sure that I am on the top of it on a daily basis. That's kind of how you launched it.
Lizzie Mintus: Tell me about your hiring beliefs and practices. It sounds like culture is pretty high up there and everybody screens for different things. So what do you really look for in people?
Deniz Gezgin: I've done all the interviews, aside from the engineering. I got help from our front-end and back-end lead. But personality-wise, I like people that are drama-free and very straightforward, because that's the type of person that I am. I don't really BS too much around stuff and because I don't have time. When you're on a startup that is small and also limited in funding, you have to have similar type of people. They're doers instead of talkers.
Instead of writing five pages of an email, like within the same time, you can actually code, get something done. So I looked for people that are very energetic, and optimistic during my first interview. I do all the screenings. I give 'em a couple of situational questions, and then you can actually tell. That's also one of my superpowers. Like I've interacted with so many different cultures in the last 20 years. I can actually tell a person, most of the time, if they're gonna be a decent employee with the qualities we are looking for or not. So, we are looking for straight shooters, doers, and people who don't like to sit in meetings for one hour.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. You have GSD. My friend Lia calls it GSD. Everyone gets shit done.
Deniz Gezgin: Exactly. Because also that's my experience. Everywhere I worked, this was the same at Zynga, same at Tops, a couple of places. Sometimes you end up with so many meetings and so many discussions and so much stuff. You literally don't get anything done. The upside for those teams, in the case of Zynga, they had 2000 employees. At Tops, we had 80 employees. Startups, you don't have that luxury. So you have to do things all the time. And I agree, you basically need to get shit done. You can't just keep talking about it. You know what I mean? So yeah.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. All businesses have a lot of similarities. How did you end up in the video game industry? How did you break in and did you know you wanted to be in?
Deniz Gezgin: Yeah, so like I said, I left Istanbul when I was 18. I used to run track in the Turkish national team. But even before that, I was a gamer. So I started playing games with my Commodore 64. I've gotten a Commodore 64 for my fourth-grade graduation present. After that, it's all history. I played all these old-school games. I used to run track at a club called Galatasaray. I saved some money. I bought myself an Amiga 500. So I grew up playing games. And I always like to play games around soccer management, RTS games like Civilization and Rise of Nations and Age of Empire. And then the thing was in Turkey that you could never make money from games, right? So that's what I found out after I graduated from my college, Arkansas state. I don't know if it's by luck or by destiny, I got a job offer from a company in Los Angeles, called Gamers First, as a customer support agent. And Gamers First or K2 Network, also known as, they had, aan MMORPC, MMORPG free to play game publishing company.
And I started there as a customer service agent. They said, Hey, Dennis, do you want to come and work for us? And I said, yes, sure. And they said, we can only pay you 27,000 dollars a year. And I said, well, I don't really care because I never thought that I could make money from gaming. So I moved from Arkansas to Los Angeles and the rest is history. That's how it's all started. And then I did my MBA. Also had a minor in applied research, went up really quick in my first company. I started customer support within six months. I got promoted to basically analyzing monetization patterns in users. So they promoted me to be a producer and I started basically analyzing large datasets. So this is like 2006, 2007. I don't think many companies were doing behavioral analysis and auto-targeting. I basically said, Hey, these users that we could target these guys, because we can actually score them and I think they can purchase. So those are the kinds of things that we've done. From that, I moved on into different roles.
Lizzie Mintus: So user acquisition is a theme. Was it the role that they offered you after customer support or was it intentional to go in that direction?
Deniz Gezgin: So for my first two years, I've stayed on the product design, monetization design, and the top-of-the-funnel analysis. As we analyzed the top of the funnel in large data sets, I realized the quality of users is actually a lot more reflective into how the rest of the top of the funnel metrics, BA if you will. So I moved to San Francisco at a company called Gazillion and I kept analyzing large data sets and they had a model IP at the time. So we analyzed how the users were behaving in terms of retention and monetization and trying to make sense of it. And I started helping the marketing team a lot more. From that job, I moved to a company called Idle Games. And at Idle Games, they said, Hey, Dennis, on the top of monetization, would you also like to run performance marketing? To me, it was, it is at the end analysis of data, right? You just basically say, okay, instead of user behavior, can I analyze the channels and also make adjustments based on the findings. That's how I tip my toes into user acquisition. And then, I was there at one year and then I moved to Zynga and MachineZone where I was fully involved in the decision-making -making, which channels to use, how channel is performing, why are they performing bad, can we raise the bids, decrease the bids... so that's how I moved into UA.
Funplus, it was a similar way. And then when I went to Tops, I went back to my product shops as well as the performance marketing. Start product, move to UA, go back to product. And now, obviously the company, I'm responsible for almost everything.
Lizzie Mintus: Tell me about user acquisition. What are some common misconceptions? Why do things work for certain games versus others?
Deniz Gezgin: I wouldn't want to call it like wrong ideas or misconceptions. It's just that every genre is different, right? A lot of people are investors, both investors and platform owners, and UA marketers are stuck with these day one, day seven, day 30 retention rates, and they think that it applies to every game. In a hyper-casual game, obviously, you're looking for 40 to 50 percent or even greater D1 retention. Well, in a mid-core game, that's never the case.
So I think understanding what type of game you have is very important. And then based on the game type that you have, what KPIs that you're shooting for, because those are very important, right? I'll get a little bit more technical, maybe on the payback period times, again, different types of games have different types of payback times. So make sure that your model and your actions and your adjustments reflect that payback model based on the type of game that you have because a lot of marketers actually pull the trigger a lot early for certain types of games. But yeah, it's understanding what game do you have? Do you have a mid-core game? Do you have a strategy game? Do you have a 4x game? Do you have a hyper-casual game? And then based on that, then setting up the correct KPIs is very important.
Lizzie Mintus: But how do you figure out even the KPIs that you should be shooting for? You understand your game and there are some fundamental KPIs for each genre?
Deniz Gezgin: It all combines with how much you're paying, right? It all comes down to ECPIs versus ELTDs. So those drive most of your KPIs. If your arbitrage is not there, or if your yield is not there, that means the KPIs that you're shooting for are not really working, right? If I'm paying a dollar and my ELTV is 80 cents, if I'm paying an ECPI a dollar and my ELTV is 80 cents. That means there's something wrong either with my retention or with my monetization. Without getting too technical, that's how you adjust things, right?
Lizzie Mintus: Interesting. So then you can just figure out what lever to pull.
Deniz Gezgin: Well, not what lever to pull also, is the problem on the monetization side? Let's say that you're actually saying, Hey, my game is going to make 15 cents off with a 5 percent conversion rate and some ratio of repeat purchases and my lifetime value for my paying user is 60 dollars. And you come up with some sort of an ELTV number, and you also have some sort of an ECPI number. So if all those numbers balance and you're profitable at the end, and it's actually paying you back in time to continue this flywheel, then you're in good shape, but if you're not, that means something is broken. A. you're either paying too much for your installs. B. they are not really monetizing at the ratio that you want. Or C. they're not paying you as much as you think they want or you planned. So, those are the levers. I don't know if you can control all of them, but you can make adjustments definitely on the bid side, and also on the offering side and the retargeting side to increase remonetization if you will.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. What is the most shocking thing about starting your own company? Then the biggest surprise.
Deniz Gezgin: A biggest surprise has been finding out that I'm actually a lot more creative than I thought. If you ask around about me, a lot of people will say, he's like a business growth-minded performance marketing top-of-the-funnel monetization guy. But I actually ended up surprising myself designing all our cards, the color palette, and all that. And I really enjoy getting this feedback now. Oh, it looks beautiful because 80 percent of the decision was made by me and our game designer. So that was surprising because I never thought I would like red over orange so passionately that I would actually say, Oh no, I don't like this. So, so, yeah, that's been surprising.
Lizzie Mintus: Self-discovery journey. How do you take care of yourself? Running a game is hard. How do you think that people can balance, especially if you have a family? We talked about that for the show a little bit.
Deniz Gezgin: Yeah, I have three boys and a beautiful wife. But I think it's tough to balance. To be honest, Lizzie, especially for an early startup like myself. A lot of people say, self-care and all this stuff, but to tell you the truth, you've got to really put a lot of hours into startups. And like I mentioned, the last year and a half has been challenging from the fundraising side. So it made things tougher. I wish I could sit here and tell you, I cut off everything after 6 PM and all this, that's none of that is happening. I have three, four different time zones. I usually work 12-13 hours a day. I also mentioned to you, I'm an optimist by my DNA. This is what I love. When you do a thing that you love, it doesn't really feel like work actually. Right? But I think at the same time, once we get out of the waters, once the global launch launches and, we are clear out of the waters. I'll definitely take some time, maybe a week or 10 days, which I haven't done in the last three years. I'm going to definitely plug off if you will.
In a startup, everybody talks these big words, right? You should not do that. and you should work less and spend more time on yourself and stuff. It depends on what you actually decided to do, right? I didn't decide to go work at Zynga, or I didn't decide to go work at Roblox, where it's a nine to six job, or whatever it is. I decided to launch my own company by borrowing 2.2 million dollars from people, right? So you need to really understand when you're starting a startup, what you signed up for.So in that sense, I'm healthy, knock on wood, but this is not an eight-hour job.
Lizzie Mintus: So do you have any more optimistic advice for anybody that's thinking about starting their own company? What are some things that they could think about?
Deniz Gezgin: Oh yeah. It's super fun. Like I said, if you love building games or whatever you're starting up, I think having your own company is the ultimate feeling right. So the reason I say that it's because you have the power basically to hold the shots and it's a really good feeling. You don't really go by the decisions of others and you're doing something you love. You can put in 10 hours today, 16 hours tomorrow, eight hours next day so you're flexible. But I think the most important feeling is, if you love doing something, owning that thing is the best feeling. So, a startup is owning it. For the startup founders or people who are thinking of being founders, I think that self-gratification is really good.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, it is. And you might work more, but at least you get to pick when you work. I like that. I had some misconceptions about myself when I started. But it's nice to not fully know, just like having a kid. You can never really know what you're getting into before you start until you're doing it and you're in it. But once you're in it, you've already jumped off the cliff and you're doing it.
Deniz Gezgin: Absolutely. Jumping off the cliff is a good idea, right? So a lot of the time, my company said, Dennis, we're giving you this 50 or 25K, but even if you like to come close to running out, just do your thing as you're excited now. Keep doing the way that you're feeling and everything will work out at the end. They said, sometimes had to jump off the cliff without knowing how deep it was. Yeah. I don't know if it's positive advice for the startup world. It's real. It's definitely real, right? It's like jumping off a cliff. I'm sure everybody had those nightmares or dreams. You immediately wake up, feeling this falling feeling, right? And startup is like that.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, it is absolutely like that. I have one question before I ask it I want to point people to your website at 5x5 gaming dot com. This question correlates for me, a support system has been how I've stayed sane, how I run my business, having people to talk to, answer my questions, just relate to me. Who have been your biggest supporters in your business or people that have given you the best advice.? What have they told you? How have they supported you?
Deniz Gezgin: Yeah, I think this is good. One piece of advice that I have for the startup, whether new founders or people planning to start their thing, they need to find two, three people that they can really rely on. They don't necessarily need to be your investors, but they need to be on your advisory board or you need to pick up people whenever you call them, they answer the phone.
Because there's a lot of ups and downs in a startup journey. So for me, it was Ed Lou. I work with Ed at Machine Zone. He's currently a CFO at Fandom. It's Stefan Panishiri. I work with Stefan at FunPlus. When I was at K 2. Gabby Dizon, who is the co-founder of YGG. He was one of the earliest checks, even though we don't talk that frequently, whenever I talk to him, he always gives sound advice.
Then Charlie is another investor from Lucid Blue Ventures. They've been super helpful. Like whenever I talk to them, very constructive, very positive. So you need those type of advisors that you can reach on a daily basis.
Lizzie Mintus: Yes, there's always questions that you just need to talk through with so many things that come up that you could never predict.
Deniz Gezgin: Exactly. Cause I've never founded a company before. This is my first startup. So by that fact, I don't know everything. Like any situation that a startup would face, I don't know all of them. I know from the product side, I know from the development side, but as a company, this is my first ride. So you definitely need some support group around you. Like I mentioned, they don't necessarily need to be your investors. They can be your advisors, your long-time business friends. That's kind of who Ed is for me, he's been a professional friend and a personal friend as well. Stefan is the same way. So those were the people that actually picked me up in a way when I was down. And they still do to this day.
Lizzie Mintus: Thank you. Thank you so much for being on the show. No problem. Thank you. This has been great.
Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. To capture the latest from Here's Waldo, you can follow us on LinkedIn. Be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes. We'll see you next time.
Share this story