Paxton Galvanek is the CEO of Studio Hermitage, a transmedia company that develops original IP for production across various formats. He has over 20 years of leadership experience as a serial entrepreneur, having founded and managed several companies, including The Chatham Group, a recruiting and talent acquisition firm; G&W Advertising Agency, a full-service creative and advertising agency; and Funcom, an interactive gaming center. Beyond his entrepreneurial endeavors, Paxton volunteers at Activate Good, a nonprofit volunteer center, and guest lectures at the East Coast Gaming Conference.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- What is Studio Hermitage?
- Paxton Galvanek shares his inspiration for starting his studio
- How to acquire startup funding
- Paxton explains his transition into the video game industry
- Branding yourself for a career in game development
- How a video game gave Paxton the skills and confidence to save real lives
- Hiring best practices
- Overcoming adversity — and learning from your mistakes
- The importance of a work-life balance
In this episode…
Building a business entails research, a business plan, and fundraising. Once the logistical aspects are complete, it’s time to build a team and create a company culture. Company culture is a defining characteristic of an organization, as it influences employee satisfaction, productivity, and brand reputation. So, how can a leader cultivate a positive work culture?
Recruiting is essential when assembling a dynamic work environment. However, hiring managers should be transparent about job expectations and compensation. While small to mid-size businesses may be unable to compete with larger, more established corporations in terms of salary, entrepreneur Paxton Galvanek suggests a healthy work-life balance as a suitable alternative. A healthy work-life balance reduces stress, improves mental and physical health, and increases productivity. It also attracts candidates who value family, flexibility, and personal interests. Additionally, leaders promote a robust company culture by guiding and nurturing talent with the resources they need to succeed.
In today’s Here’s Waldo Podcast episode, Lizzie Mintus interviews Paxton Galvanek, Co-founder and CEO at Studio Hermitage, on leading a team and company culture. Paxton discusses the importance of branding oneself for a career in the video game industry, hiring best practices, and work-life balance.
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Here’s Waldo Recruiting
- Lizzie Mintus on LinkedIn
- Paxton Galvanek on LinkedIn
- Studio Hermitage
- Justin Achilli on LinkedIn
- Andy Foltz on LinkedIn
- Radical Candor: Fully Revised & Updated Edition: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott
- Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success by John C. Maxwell
- John Romero on LinkedIn
- Gen Con
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: I'm Lizzie Mintus, founder and CEO of Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique video game recruitment firm. This is the Here's Waldo podcast. 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 industry.
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.
Today we have Paxton Galvanek with us. He is currently the CEO and co-founder of Studio Hermitage. Did I get it right? An amplifier embracer group company working on a new IP across various mediums. Paxton has more than 20 years of management experience. He was the general manager at Funcom for over five years, a partner and business development director at a consulting group working in the video game development industry, and owned an advertisement and marketing firm in New York and New Jersey for over 10 years and several other companies. He is a serial entrepreneur. He's based in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wonderful partner, four boys, three cats, including two kittens, Onks and Cole that were rescued from a gutter lately. He is passionate about his family and work. Let's get started. Thanks for being here, Paxton.
Thank you. You are CEO of a new studio, which I correctly pronounced.
Paxton: You did. Great job.
Lizzie Mintus: Thank you. I remember we had a conversation about it.
Paxton: You can call it Studio Hermitage, but we like to be fancy and call it Studio Hermitage.
Lizzie Mintus: Tell us about it.
Paxton: We've been in business now for about seven months. We are an Embracer Group Studio, it's. It's through the funding arm called Amplifier Game Invest. They fund us and there's about 14 or 15 other studios, small to mid-sized studios in that group, but it's under that funding arm, but we are part of the Embracer Group. Currently, there are 7 of us on the team. We kept the team small in the beginning because we're developing an intellectual property. We had a lot of contractors working over the past couple of months. We've been developing an intellectual property that we're going to then translate across multiple mediums. And I'll go through that a little bit. The founders and I have 2 co-founders. The 1st is Justin Achille. He is our chief creative officer and he comes from. He's been all over the place. He was recently at Paradox, but he was the original creator of the World of Darkness IP, which is vampires, masquerade, werewolves. There's been a lot of games from that, but he's worked at Paradox and CCPA was originally at White Wolf.
He also was at Ubisoft and Red Storm. He worked on Assassin's Creed and Star Trek and all these games, but he's got 30 years of experience doing game design and creative. And then my other co-founder is Andy Foltz. He is the studio art director, and he was at Red Storm for most of his career working on the same type of games. He worked on in the Star Trek bridge crew, Assassin's Creed. He also worked on that mythic quest apple plus TV show. He was an art director on that for a little while, but now he's one of our co-founders. So we are the three co-founders of Studio Hermitage and we're working on some really exciting projects, so we're excited.
Lizzie Mintus: Do you have a little bit? What can you say? I know your website is pretty bare bones.
Paxton: And we do that on purpose because we were developing an intellectual property, but a lot of us came from the video game industry. So at the core, our company is a video game development company, but we are a transmedia company. So we're taking intellectual property and working on some prequel projects. I'll mention a few of them. With the Embracer group, there's a lot of companies involved there, so it's Gearbox, THQ, Nordic. Lord of the Rings is owned. The Middle Earth company is owned by Embracers, so we get to partner with a lot of these companies and reach out to them. We are currently partnered with Dark Horse Comics, doing a comic book series for our IP, which is really exciting. We are working with Asmodee, who does board games and tabletop games. Working on a tabletop role -playing game with them. We are in talks with a couple of the other studios, but our company has a couple of projects lined up for year one. And that does include the comic book TTRPG, an audio drama - so several episodes with actors we're working on right now, telling a story on Spotify or YouTube. And then we are building our video game as well, so we're going to start prototyping a video game very soon, and we have some game types in mind, and we're going to be building that over the next two years or so. Those are the first couple of projects. We have a lot of other ones lined up, but that's what we're announcing now.
Lizzie Mintus: So you have a lot going on.
Paxton: We do. Thank goodness for my project manager, Leigh, who was a marketing director at a limited run and a producer, which is also another in Brickster Studio, but she was at Ubisoft for years. She knows how to manage multiple projects. So she does a good job handling all the fine details of all these different projects.
Lizzie Mintus: Really important, especially when you have people. Love that. What inspired you to start the studio?
Paxton: Well, honestly, I was happy at Funcom. I was the General Manager. They still are working on the Dune Awakening Survival game, which is where you and I met because I was doing hiring there. Charge of hiring and operations for Funcom. But I didn't wanna leave. I wasn't expecting to leave. The Amplifier and Embracer Group actually came to me and my partner, Justin, because we worked together on Dune and said, "We want to start building intellectual properties.We need somebody that can run a company. And we have somebody that knows how to make intellectual properties. If we pair the two of you, would you be interested in starting your own company? And I said, that sounds like a dream opportunity. Somebody saying “here's some money, here's an opportunity. You get to build a team. Are you interested? And I said, yeah, that sounds exciting to me. It was sad leaving Funcom cause I built that over five years. I think we went from 225 employees. I think there's 450 now. I was working globally on hiring and it was a lot of work and I love that company and I still do. So it was sad leaving that, but I was excited about this opportunity to create something new, something that I'm passionate about. Video games, media in general, comic books, board games. It's all exciting. So I could not turn down the opportunity. And Justin and I worked together before, so I knew I could work well with him. We pitched a couple of creative ideas to the Amplifier team and they loved everything we were talking about. And they said, all right, January 1st, let's take off this new company. You guys could run it and do your own thing. Justin, make your IP, Paxton, you run the company and staff up and let's do this. It was exciting.
Lizzie Mintus: That's wild. I've never really heard about people getting poached to start a company.
Paxton: It never happens. Normally you have to pitch. Most of the studios in Embracer are a team of people that have created a cool concept, like a vertical slice of a game, and have shown it to them and said, Hey, listen, we need additional funding. What do you think about this? So in Amplifier, we'll then say, okay, this is a market that we want to tap into. This is a cool team. We vibe with them. We're going to give them the funding to do this over the next couple of years. This is a very different case. This was them saying there's an opportunity here with people that we've worked with. And one of the key people at Amplifier, his name is Lawrence Poe. He was the president of Funcom. He was one of the C level people, but he worked with me and worked with Justin. So he was the one that said, I know these two guys, Justin makes worlds, Paxton runs companies. If I could partner the two of them, we might be able to come up with something amazing here. So he brought us all together and aligned the stars for us to do this. It's different and it's exciting. It's a different way of getting it. I feel blessed because this doesn't happen to a lot of people. I've had to fight for my companies to get funding. And, over the years, I've owned a lot of different companies. I fought for, taking out home equity lines to keep my companies afloat for certain months. That's what I've done over the years. So this was very different.
Lizzie Mintus: I was going to ask you about your funding deal and how you got funding, because I know it's such a point where people are struggling today. Although it seems like there's more of the Embracer situation where a larger company is spinning up all of these new studios, but just on your business history and what you've seen from people in the industry. Do you have any fundraising?
Paxton: It's tough out there. I'm actually part of a couple CEO groups. We have discord servers and chats and all that. And a lot of them are looking for additional publishing money and VC money. It's very hard right now. The market's been tough on people lately. And so a lot of investors aren't as open as they were in the past. So people have been fighting to get funding when prior to that, they'd be able to walk into a meeting with an easy vertical slice of their game and get a big chunk of money. Now it's a lot of milestones and toll gates and smaller amounts of money. The terms aren't that good. So right now the market's a little tough for people that want to get money for their game ideas. Again, I feel really blessed because it is part of the Embracer group, which did have some tough news lately, a couple months ago with a deal that got lost. But the company and all, it's a huge organization. There's a lot of money involved. They have a plan to help grow IPs, which is why they purchased the Lord of the Rings. They have Borderlands. They have a lot of really well-known IP’s and they're trying to get more of them.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. Seems like a unique situation. I read about our history and are very inspired by entrepreneurship.
Paxton: He's a good guy.
Lizzie Mintus: So you founded an inflatable rental company and a game studio. I'd like to hear more about that. Yeah. Marketing agency. Tell us about it.
Paxton: Oh my goodness. Okay. So my crazy history is, I graduated from college in 2001, I think it was. And I started working in the video and film production world. I became a producer, director, and editor. I was doing TV commercials in the New York, New Jersey area. I realized that I could form my own LLC and put some of my projects through the company. It's better to run a business than it is to do it through your social security number. So I started a company to work on some freelance stuff. I actually turned that company, that freelancing company into a full-blown ad agency. I started picking up clients here and there over the years. So I owned the core of a marketing and advertising firm in New York and New Jersey. We did websites and logos and brands. And I worked with Verizon Wireless and the Bank of New York and Bristol Myers Squibb, like I was working with some pretty high-profile clients, a lot of law firms, who needed marketing and advertising help. So I did that for several years. Then honestly, I got sick of the New York, New Jersey area. I got sick of the road tolls, the taxes, the harsh mentality of people. A lot of my family was moving down to North Carolina. So I said let me move down there. I love the triangle, North Carolina, Durham, Raleigh area, because a lot of people from the Northeast and from all over, I've come here and I feel like it's some of the best people, because there's a great mentality with people, they're very positive. There's a lot of very intelligent people here. There's a tech hub here, there's a lot of video game companies here. If you look at Epic and Insomniac, and Ubisoft, there's studios all over the Raleigh area. And I liked that because I was always a gamer at heart. So I have this ad agency and I kept it down here in North Carolina. But then I started saying, well, I want to start some other companies. I started doing event marketing. So I started a bounce house company. I bought these inflatables because I want to do some events and promote some of my clients. Maybe having these inflatables for these realtors might be something cool. So I bought like 15 of these huge vinyl inflatables, and I started a company called Jump and Laugh, and I had that running. I ended up selling that to somebody who was really interested in it, so I started it, ran it for about two years, sold it, after that, I started a video game lounge. It was like, let's say, a 3,000-4,000 square foot space that had booths and video game systems and a stage and all this stuff where people can come in and have parties and do tournaments like we would host. Epic Games would come in all the time, and we'd do Gears of War tournaments, we'd do Call of Duty tournaments, and we had Magic the Gathering booster draft events on Friday nights, and we did Pokemon cards, and I just had this brick and mortar game centered lounge for people to hang out in. So I owned that for about two and a half years while I owned the ad agency, while I had the bounce house company. And then a guy from Cisco said, 'I love this thing. I want to buy it.' So I ended up selling that to him. I've done this a couple of times where I've started companies, branded it, got it up and running, got it profitable, and sold it. So those are those two companies. It was a lot of fun doing that, but there were some tough times too. Running a couple of companies at the same time was very difficult, and it was nice when you got to school.
Lizzie Mintus: And then what was your transition into game recruiting? You worked for a game recruitment agency, which is funny. How did recruiting find you? I always love the story.
Paxton: Yeah, so the story actually is with me in 2007, where I was on the news for using a video game to save some people's lives. That was years ago. I thought to myself, this whole game industry, there's something more than corporate America. There's something better in the game industry. There's so much passion and excitement. I want to be part of that. So at the core, I always thought, how can I break myself into this industry? I've owned companies. I've done advertising and marketing. I started this video game lounge, and I started getting connections with Epic and Ubisoft. And I started to get friends and became friends with the people at the universities that a lot of students were graduating with these degrees in game development. I said, how can I get in there? My father actually owned a consulting company, and he said, 'listen, I can give you this arm of it, and you could run your own, started from scratch. Video game development, would you want to do this?' And we'll give you all the tools and, all the applicant tracking system, get everything going. Would you want to break into the industry that way? And I ended up becoming a partner at the Chatham group and ended up getting consulting agreements and recruitment agreements with a lot of big studios. Like I was working with Activision. I had Take-Two Interactive contracts. I was working with Tripwire and Firaxis and a lot of mobile studios. And I worked with 20 or so studios over five or six years and just built up these great relationships and helped build some pretty cool teams over the years. I just said, how can I get into this industry? And that was a really, not an easy way, but it was an avenue that I could take. So I took it, and it's funny how I ended up at Funcom because I was actually building the Destiny 2 team with Activision. And I ended up trying to recruit the executive producer from Funcom, and he flipped the script on me and said, 'Hey, we need somebody to head up operations, HR, everything, and here at Funcom, you want to talk to me?' So we totally flipped the script on me, and I said I might want to go into the game development industry itself instead of being an external. So I ended up then joining Funcom and was there for over 5 years doing general management, HR, operations, admins. Kind of how I did it.
Lizzie Mintus: Hiring is rewarding when you find the right person and it works. Can you talk about your most heartwarming hire throughout the years? Is there anything that sticks out?
Paxton: I have hired so many, like hundreds and hundreds of people at all these studios. It's there's so many stories about the people that put in the effort and the people that try. I have one story of a guy that was working Trendy on a game called Dungeon Defenders. The studio wasn't doing very well at the time. I think they just got Dungeon Defenders out and it was ramping down. He was an Unreal Engine designer. And he was just like, I want to get into more AAA games. I got him a job at Firaxis, working on XCOM 2. And this guy tried so hard in the sense that he gray box levels. He went above and beyond because I knew how passionate he was. And I just aligned the stars for him and got him the right interviews with the art directors and got him in the process and helped him along the way. That this guy took his career from a double A studio to a triple A studio. He is now shining. I think he's a leader, a director there over there now. It was very fulfilling taking somebody that really wanted something and was passionate about something. They weren't able to get their foot in the door. So I was able to help facilitate that and help build a great team of passionate people. So there's just one story, but there's so many people that I hired at Funcom over the years that worked on Conan and Dune and Runes of Madness and all these games. I love all these people, and I'm happy to have given them stability because it can be an unstable industry. There's a lot of studios that only have funding for a short period of time and they have to get their game out. I was working with Boss Key, which is Cliff Buzinski's company in Raleigh. I was helping them with their Lawbreakers game, and they only had a certain amount of time with their funding from Nexon. And I felt bad because these people were the best of the best people. All those people there, they're Tom Nox, they're all over now at Epic and Insomniac and at Sony, they're all over the place, but they had a short period of time that they had to get their game out and do it. I felt bad for that. So I always want to build great teams and give people stability and feel like they can work towards something and not have to worry. Are they going to be paid, day to day? Is there some kind of stability there? So I try to work with clients that have stability and offer something more than just super high salaries.
Lizzie Mintus: Yes. And I think that is important. And as recruiters, you see that people less in games, more in tech, but sometimes people are so caught up in the salary and the fact that this company is paying them this much more. And I always feel like a jaded recruiter when I tell them, but this is 10,000. And it depends, of course, on what scale of life you're in after you hit the, I have enough money to live.
Paxton: Right. There's that one point where it's nice, but I'm fine. I can live my life fine with this amount of money. So yeah.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. The first person I ever hired told me, "Lizzie, sometimes I think about how much money I make compared to teachers and people in life and in the grand scheme of things, this is incredible” It's so refreshing because you never hear that.
Paxton: I am in the same boat because my partner, Toni, works at Duke Hospital and she does radiology. And she doesn't get paid. She gets paid a fraction of what I get and I feel horrible in the sense that, you're saving people's lives doing radiology and I'm making entertainment like video games and comic books. I feel like you should be paid so much more for what you do.
And I should be paid less. I feel that I honestly feel that way sometimes. But, she wanted to help people. She chose that career path for a reason and she loves what she does. There's different salaries for different roles.
Lizzie Mintus: It doesn't always make sense. And sometimes I know we've talked about this one on one, but sometimes you have more junior candidates who graduated into this booming market and let's say, graduated into Amazon games and then they're there for a few years. 200,000 and they have three years of experience that you talk to them and this is their reality, right? Hey, this is where I'm at currently. So it's always interesting.
Paxton: Those are some crazy stories that they're few and far between because there's a lot of people that want those jobs. So you have to be good at what you do. And I actually speak at a lot of conventions about breaking into the industry and how to position yourself and having passion and figuring out what you want to do. It's important for people to love what they do and it shines through their work. If they love what they do, they're going to get a job. If they keep pushing and pushing. There's a lot of people that won't get jobs and that is sad, but the ones that do, they're at least passionate about it.
Lizzie Mintus: I know you speak at a ton of conferences and you've done seminars. What would you say your most impactful talk or talks are? Where can people get them? And can you give me a quick high point summary?
Paxton: I normally talk about how to brand yourself because I take my marketing and advertising experience and I take that into my HR recruiting world and people don't know how to properly brand themselves. And a brand is, it's not just like my name. It's what you bring to the table. It's your personality. It's your experience. It's who you are. It's more than just like this piece of paper. So I talk to people about how to brand yourself, how to position yourself to get a job, how to showcase yourself. Ultimately, how to get your foot in the door. I give people tips and tricks on that. So normally the type of people that have ever seen me speak are people that are just about to graduate or are juniors that really have worked at an indie studio and don't know how to break into a AA or AAA studio that are just like, what can I do differently?
How can I redo my portfolio? Why is my resume not getting any hits? Why is nobody talking to me? So I will put these talks and presentations together to try to help focus people and give them tips and tricks, and it's normally pretty popular. I think taking my marketing and advertising background with that HR recruiting experience, then with owning companies, I've hired so many people at different companies that I know what mobile studios look for, what AAA studios look for, what I looked for when I was building teams. Sometimes it's not about the perfect piece of paper. Do you have exact criteria for the job? Sometimes it's about personality, passion, drive, cultural fit, like these things. So you have to make sure that you convey that you have a personality and you're not just like a drone. I always look for personalities whenever I interview anybody. It's important to build a team to have a great personality and have a team that's cohesive and knows how to work together, and that's important to it. You can find my talks if you just search my name. I've talked at the East Coast Gaming Conference, at game summits, and talked at universities before. If you just look up Paxton Galvanic on Google, I'm sure you can find some talks. Or see me on Fox News from when I saved those people from the video game stuff in 2007. There's videos there on that too.
Lizzie Mintus: Can you elaborate on that for everybody?
Paxton: I was running a video game clan and I was playing games like Battlefield and America's Army and World of Warcraft and I ran a clan called the Wraiths and I ended up playing a lot of this game called America's Army. It was a free to play shooter put out by the U.S. Army. There's this whole section in the game where you have to sit through medic training to actually get the medic class within the game. It was pretty interesting. So I sat through this and I actually used the information that I learned in the game in real life when I saw a car flip over a bunch of times. It was on fire. There were people in it. I was on the other side of the road, stopped my car, ran across the road, pulled these two guys out, and then administered saving techniques where I raised the guy's hand above his head because he lost some fingers, and I bandaged the guy's head that was bleeding, and I got him to safety. I had confidence because of what I learned in that game, because it talked all about triage and how to do that, and I ended up messaging the people at America's Army and saying, I just want to thank you for putting that stuff in the game.
I was actually able to use it. It gave me the confidence in a real life situation to help people where there was nobody to help. They were like, Oh my gosh, this is amazing. You use the video game to save somebody. So they put me up on Fox News and on the Adam Carolla show. They put me all over the place and said, video games can be used for something good.
It's not just horrible things. There are good uses for video games. I got in the news because of that.
Lizzie: What a touching story, and even if many people who had the training, I don't think are gonna run across the road and administer.
Paxton: I just thought to myself, if this ever happened to me, and I was with my little son at the time, and my wife, and I thought to myself, if I ever flipped over in a car, I hope that somebody would come in and pull me out. That's what I thought to myself. I'm just hoping that somebody would be like, I have to save this person. Maybe someday it'll get paid for it. I don't know. I just figure if there's people out there that do this kind of stuff, then we'll all be in a better place as a society.
Lizzie Mintus: That's very true. And I feel like when you put good into the world like that. This is a little woo woo, but I really believe it. It comes back to you somehow, some way, unexplainable, of course. My life philosophy. You've worked at a recruiting agency. You've worked internally hiring. Now you're the CEO of your own company. Talk to everybody about best practices around hiring, because I know sometimes it's great, but often there are some bumps on the road, right?
Paxton: Best practices. Wow. So there's a lot that comes in with that. I've learned that getting your hiring team involved early on is really important. And even being a recruiter and even being internal at a company, like getting people involved early on, whether it be a lead, a manager, just people that are going to be making the decision is super important. I'm getting them to sign off on this. The role that they're looking for, even the candidates being part of the interview process early on as possible. I like to get most of my team involved with people that are going to either be working with these people or definitely the lead managers and director level people getting everybody to understand what we're looking for, and then be part of that process is extremely important in hiring the right people.Just understanding what you want for that role across the board. So everybody's on the same page, because if you have people that aren't looking for the same thing, it's going to cause confusion in any hiring process. So making sure things are clearly defined, whether it's with what you're looking for in the candidate, the role experience level. We all know that you're going to get candidates from all walks of life with ranges of experience and different salaries and different locations. Just making sure you are aligned with: okay, this is the most important thing we want for this role. Are we all on the same page here? Making sure that we don't have anybody toxic. Making sure that, just diving into finding the right person. Make sure everybody's aligned with that. It's probably 1 of the most important things. That's yeah, that's one. What else did we got? I would say that compensation, understanding compensation and benefits. I have been blessed by having a company with funcom in my current company that understands work life balance, taking care of employees. So they're Scandinavian companies and with Scandinavian companies come with this great work life balance, taking care of employees. And understanding that you can offer more than just a salary to a candidate has been amazing saying, listen, we don't have a crunch culture. We have a work life balance. We offer great salaries and benefits. You'll get fully paid medical dental vision. All these things are great selling points when talking to candidates. So making sure that you have a good, robust package when you talk to candidates and making sure candidates understand that it's not just about a salary or it's not just about a job title. It's the bigger picture. It's what the team looks like. It's what you're offered. It's that work life balance. Are you excited about the project? So those kind of things are really important. Putting together that package. Make sure everybody in the company is aligned. But what are we offering? What kind of culture do we have? Kind of people do we want to fit in those roles? That's another best practice. I would say.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, absolutely. But I think it's also an educational piece about getting people to see the bigger picture because people do compare offers on a spreadsheet. Well, what game do you like? And also really important, where is this game going to take your career? Potentially, what is the upwards move? Are you just going to be a cog in the wheel? Do you want that brand name on your resume? Is it a project you love where you get to have a lot of ownership?
There's so many considerations that sometimes can't always be worked out on a spreadsheet.
Paxton: Absolutely. When you get those analytical people that really just like to put things on a spreadsheet, it's like, okay, have you looked at all the pieces of the puzzle here? There's so many factors that come into a role and understanding all those before you make a decision is important. That's why it's good to talk to recruiters and talk to HR professionals, because they'll sit down with you normally and explain all those aspects of this is what it can do. And what this is what you were looking for in your career. This is how this would help in this. Talking out salary, maybe taking 5,000 less or whatever per year, maybe a better cultural fit for you and give you a better work life balance so you could spend time with your family. That was important as opposed to this company, which is known to have a crunch culture. You'll be working 70, 80 hours a week and you may not see your kids. Is that worth 5,000 to you? Let's talk that out. It's just important to know all the details.
Lizzie Mintus: Amount per hour worked is key there, right? What is your hourly rate? The salary might be more, but if you're working double, are you really more? Where are you in your life? Do you have a family? Is it just you and you love to work?
Paxton: Because that's fine then if you love to work, then that's perfectly fine. But if you value family and life, or you have a hobby, if you like hiking. Know that if you go into a job that has a crunch culture, you may be paid more money, but you may not be able to hike as much as you want.
Lizzie Mintus: So you worked in all these different industries that all seem to correlate perfectly into what you're doing today. But how did you make that transition? Because I think people struggle a lot with doing slightly different things.
Paxton: I feel like I am a jack of all trades, but not a master of one. That's always been me where I can understand many aspects about a business. You could put me into a meeting with a bunch of lawyers, and I could understand enough about the legal world to talk about contracts and laws itself. You could put me into a production environment for game development. I know enough about scrum and agile and planning and reviews. I know enough about it to be dangerous, but I am not going to be your producer. I know enough about hiring to hire the right people and get best practices in place. But, maybe I'm not the HR director. I just know a lot about a lot of different things, which makes me suited to be a CEO of a small to mid -sized company. I don't think I'll ever be the CEO of an Activision or a Take Two, like that's not me. I am more suited to a smaller company where I always try to find the best people to do the jobs and I enable them. That's always been my philosophy. I'll hire the best people that I think could fit these roles. And I know that I'm not a great designer and I know I'm not a great project manager, but you are. And my job here is to make sure that you can flourish in your role. And I think that's important for any CEOs to understand, like building the right team is important. And then getting out of their way and giving them the resources, let them do their thing. I hire people because I trust them and I know that they know what they're doing and I am only going to inhibit them. My job is honestly to unblock roads, make sure we have funding, make sure that we're aligned with our schedule, and make sure all of our software is in place. I just make the runway clear for everybody. That's my job and keeps people on the right path.
Some of the best books I've ever read are about management and leadership, one. One of them is Radical Candor and that's all, I don't know if you've ever heard of the book. So being radically candid with your team and being open and honest with them about the situation, about the project, whatever it may be, you build trust and rapport with them. And then in turn, you just everything flourishes. So being radically candid with people is super important.
Another book. I read John Maxwell's Failing Forward. It's all about like, you're going to fail. I tell this to my employees. It's going to be okay to fail. As long as you learn from that and you move forward and don't do it again, we're good. Everybody doesn't do things right the first time. And even us in our company, we're a transmedia company, we're trying so many new things. Like with our company, we're developing intellectual property first. And then doing a video game. Most people are like, hey, let's make a video game. And if it does well, then maybe we can do a comic book and a board game. So we're taking a different approach to it. So I tell my team, listen, we're trying this new thing. Let's just pivot if things don't work. We're not going to put all of our eggs in one basket and say, This is the one project we're putting millions of dollars into. I said, let's try audio dramas. Let's try comic books. Let's see what these markets look like. We're going to touch it, feel it, see if it's right for us, and then we'll move forward, pivot if it's not working. So we have that mentality in my company. If you fail, which you normally will, learn from it, move forward, don't do it again.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. But try the new thing, even when it's scary.
Paxton: Yeah, and it is scary to try new things. And getting outside your comfort zone is extremely scary, but I want people to try new things. I feel like that's how we're going to be successful if we try to be different and try new things. Even the games we're making, like this tabletop role-playing game that we're currently developing right now, we're putting new game mechanics in that aren't really seen in like the Dungeon and Dragons world or these other tabletop games. It's gonna be a little bit different. We hope that it'll catch on. Justin's great with tabletops and so is my writer designer, Rachel. So I hope that it'll do great things, but you never know. We're going to try something new.
Lizzie Mintus: But all the really successful people are the ones that are crazy enough to say, I'm going to do something a little bit different. And I'm going to try. All right, you have to have some level, maybe it's thick skin to be doing what you're doing and mess up and try something else. Do you have a story about a time where something went awry, but you learned a lot? I'm sure.
Paxton: So I have always had really thick skin. I honestly don't let anything bother me. And my partner. She's like, how do you do that? How do you not let, how do you not care about this stuff? And I said, you know what, in the grand scheme of life, some of this stuff just doesn't matter. The fact that somebody doesn't like what I said, or doesn't like how I'm doing something or has a problem with it, like I'm just going to move on and do something new. It's okay. And I honestly think, I think a career in recruiting helps thicken up the skin. Like no joke, if you're an external recruiter and you get turned down left and right, whether it's trying to get new business, whether you think you're going to get a placement and all of a sudden they decide to go someplace else. It hurts and you have to be like, okay, I'm just going to move on. So you thicken your skin up and be like, not going to let it bother me. Because if I let things bother me, I'll get down in the dumps and I'll just never get out of it. So you always try to be positive. Keep moving forward. Just keep swimming. I have a very specific example. There was a time when I was first trying to get into gaming where I tried to talk to Epic Games. I tried to work with them. And I had a connection there where I knew this guy really well and I said to him, listen, can you get me into Epic? I know you've worked there for years and also you have a great background. Can I tell some of my other clients? I talked to this caliber of people that I talked to this director level person over at Epic. He's the type of person that I talked to on a regular basis. He ended up forwarding my message to the Director of Human Resources at Epic. And in the email, you can get the fact that this Director level person thought that I was trying to poach his person. He's like, you're trying to showcase this person to other people. I never want to talk to you again. He blacklisted me from Epic Games, and even though I have lots of friends over there, he's like, 'we'll never work with Pax' and he's trying to take our people. At that point, I realized I said, 'okay, I'm not going to let this get me down.' Like I'm just going to continue to talk to people and still build relationships. 'Cause I think in this industry, it's all about relationship building. It's a very small industry. So you will know people over the years that go work at all these different companies because people change places. So I said to myself, 'I'm not going to let this one get me down.' I'm going to keep moving forward. Even though I can't work with Epic, who was honestly 10 minutes down the road for me, I'm going to work with other people and just learn from that mistake. And just never put in an email. Can you connect me with this person? I'll always send two different emails at that point. Lessons learned.
Lizzie Mintus: You learned something and tried something else, and on your way. I love that. That's all you have to do. And recruiting does give you thick skin because people do all kinds of different things and that's okay. They're going to do their thing.
Paxton: Yeah, your product is something that could walk off the shelf as horrible as that sounds. But I know there are people, but like you're selling something that could change its mind, walk off the shelf, like just do whatever they want to do. So it's very difficult to handle that sometimes. You have to do your best in controlling those types of situations, or at least having a good relationship with somebody. Again, it goes back to relationship building. If you have a good relationship, maybe you won't get surprised when something like that happens. You'll know.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, I think I don't. I don't even really work with candidates, but people can do what they want. I think you can let them know. Here's some rationale. And if you go somewhere else, I hope that it's the right thing for you. And if not, you can reconnect on the road. That's okay.
Paxton: Relationship building is hugely important.
Lizzie Mintus: You will connect on the road, though, if they had a good experience with you. It's fun. What do you think in your career has gotten you to where you are today.
Paxton: I think that I try new things. Early on, I started a company when I was 22, 23 years old.
Not a lot of 22, 23 year olds will start their own company, understand the difference between LLC and an Inc and a C Corp and an S Corp. People are like, I need to get a job. I need to focus. So I think I am a risk taker. And I think that comes with any entrepreneur. You're willing to take those risks to see the reward. That's why I've started so many companies because I said, you know what? I know that I'm good at branding things. I know that I'm good at starting things. I understand things. If I get this profit, I could sell it and move on to the next thing or grow something. So I think a lot of it has to do with being able to handle risk. And being able to multitask, being able to understand all those different things, like I talked about before, whether it's operations, human resources, production, creative. You can sit me in front of Photoshop and I can design a logo for you. I could also get in a project management software and move tasks around. Like I said, I know enough about a lot of different things to be dangerous. So multitasking, broad understanding of things, and risk taking are the 3 most important aspects.
Not all my companies were successful. I had a scavenger hunt tour in the Outer Banks of North Carolina called Experience OVX. I tried to create this big festival in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Didn't go the way I wanted. I said, let me turn this into a scavenger hunt tour where people can buy scavenger hunts and go around the Outer Banks. Didn't catch, didn't do very well. I shelved the project but I learned. This needs a lot more hand holding. And I probably need to be close to that location to be able to effectively do a scavenger hunt or I just love the beach in the Outer Banks. I was trying to do something cool there, but I learned from that.
And I think that buying new things, realizing that not everything's going to be a success and learning from it as well.
Lizzie Mintus: That's okay. Love it. Who do you admire the most in the industry? Who's really inspired your career?
Paxton: In the game industry. I like John Romero. He comes with a personality.
John Romero created the software and doom. I like the fact that this is a guy that created something out of a garage with a bunch of his friends and turned it into a genre of games and then turned that into multiple companies. I actually was working with 1 of his companies years ago, helping them build it in California. I think John Romero is a cool example of just somebody like that just had a cool idea and went with it and created something new and fun and exciting.
So other than that, I would say my father, as corny as that sounds, my father's also a great example. He's owned consulting firms. He's owned a lot of things over the years, and I learned a lot from him. I guess entrepreneurship runs in my blood because he's always owned companies and I saw that in him. He worked very hard. And I said, listen, owning a company. It was hard work. I see that dad. And he said, yeah I made a lot of sacrifices owning my own company. There are certain things I do again and certain things I didn't. I learned from him that he was off on business trips three, three weeks at a time. I didn't see him. He ran an office in France and in London and all over the place. And he said, if I had to do it again, I'd find a business that I could still run and still be part of my family. So I said, whatever business I have, I want to still be part of my kids' life. And I have 4 kids right now. So I want to be part of my kids' life. I want to coach their soccer team, but still run companies. No matter what business I run and I start, I want to be able to have that work-life balance. And I think that's important for most people nowadays is work-life balance, being able to have something outside of just the job that you have.
I learned that from my father and I learned from his mistakes. And we're really close now. He lives in North Carolina, like 30 minutes from me, so I saw him this past weekend. Lovely guy to death. He still works to this day in the 70s.
Lizzie Mintus: That's sweet. I have a similar family. Yeah, and it inspires you. And I also wanted to start my business when I was pregnant, and I thought I would just do it myself. And it ended up exploding, but I did start it so I could have that balance because I knew I couldn't where I was previously working. And I hired people in the pandemic who are doing school for their kids and needed that flexibility. But I think that's one of the best things as a small business that you can offer to other people.
Paxton: The flexibility. Yeah, absolutely. We're 100% remote. We have that work-life balance. You could offer that. We're 100% remote now as a company. It's okay that my project manager goes off and takes half a day to sign their loan agreements, and that's okay, because I know that they're going to come back the next day and work hard, and it's that work-life balance that is important. That's great that you do that for your team as well.
Lizzie Mintus: So important and life stuff happens and you do need to do things in the middle of the day. And especially if you have kids, you have kid-related obligations that just come up. I watched somebody I worked with who was a single mom with two small children in my past office, and her kid would be sick from daycare, so she would have to go pick him up. That's what you have to do. But you can still do your work, and I think you're even more motivated. Where you only have a short time that's available.
Paxton: Absolutely, very laser focused during those times, and I'm in the same boat where I pick my kids up from football and soccer during the day. I find those time slots where I'm super laser focused, and sometimes I'll pick up some work at night after my kids go to sleep, just because I know that during the day, I went here and did that. I want to finish this project today. So I have that work-life balance, that flexibility to move things around in my schedule. And I offer that to my team as well.
Lizzie Mintus: That's important. I know I always work late too, but it's my quiet time. Everybody's asleep. Nobody's pinging me on Slack. I love it.
Paxton: We're in the same boat. We're in the same boat. It's quiet. I'm like, am I a vampire? I love the nighttime where I'm alone and like I focus and during the day, everybody wants something from me. So my nighttime is my time. It's funny because everyone's like, you only get six, seven hours of sleep. I'm like, but I cannot lose my time at night. The ten to twelve period, that's my golden time. I'll watch Soka last night while sitting on the couch looking over some messages, but that's my time to just decompress, but also catch up on things. Yeah, I think you and I are very similar.
Lizzie Mintus: Yes, we have exchanged 11 PM emails for sure. I work out at night too. I work out. This is my quiet time again. Like you said, nobody needs me. I get done my to-do list and then I feel so much better coming into the next day. Having these little ends tied up.
Paxton: Work-life balance. Super important.
Lizzie Mintus: It's my work-life balance though. It's not everybody's balance. What does work-life balance really mean? Like, do you want to work some?
Paxton: It's what you want. It's giving the flexibility to do what makes sense for your life and your situation. So, having a company that's flexible like that.
Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, and I think people go through different stages in their life based on family and personal needs. It's obvious, too. That's okay. Okay. I want to hear a little bit more about your CEO group too. Did you join that when you started this most recent studio or is that something you've been a part of for a while?
Paxton: It's a video game CEO group. I want to say there's 70 from a bunch of video companies that are all part of the same group. And these aren't the big AAA studios. These are small to midsize studios that we all kind of share best practices and talk about some funding options and issues going on with our studios and we give positive praises when people are shipping games. We just share best practices and we help each other out. People that are similar. It's on Discord. And actually another CEO that's local to me, he set it up and it's been really nice being part of this. And I've added some people from the Amplifier Embracer Group to this as well. There was one point where there were like four or five of us coming in and they're like, "Oh, the invasion of the Amplifier team." Cause there's a lot of decent studios. There's one local to me here in town, Zapper Games, which has about 25 employees. I knew all of them from Funcom. They joined the group and all different shapes and size companies, there's some people that have five employees. There's some that have 40 employees, but we all have different ways of doing things. And we share that with each other and bounce ideas off each other. It's nice.
Lizzie Mintus: The most valuable of all.
Paxton: It's been great. It's like my 2nd discord server that I'm on. I have my company 1 and then that's the next 1 down. Then I have all these other ones. So I'm constantly jumping into that 1 talking about things. And a lot of those people are over at Gamescom right now networking and showcasing their games. That's happening this week.
Lizzie Mintus: But you'll be there.
Paxton: I will not actually. I'll be there next year. I'm not going to go this year. I was at GenCon in Indianapolis talking with a lot of board game and tabletop companies for some of the projects we're working on. But Gamescom, since we're not going to be doing our game for another year and a half, I didn't want to go to Gamescom just yet. I cart before the horse kind of thing. So we'll be out there. I want to just focus on getting everything, the strategy in place and getting everything set up properly. And then I'll be, I'll be heading out there next year.
Lizzie Mintus: Maybe I'll see you.
Paxton: Cool. That'll be great. Yeah, you'll probably see me at GDC. I'll be going to that this year if you end up going to GDC.
Lizzie Mintus: I'll definitely be there, and I just tried to book my hotel, and they're mostly sold out. A lot of places already. So book your hotel.
Paxton: So it always is with these conventions, like they fill up so quickly, or they block them out for vendors, or so there's not a lot of options. So you have to look for that.
Lizzie Mintus: I booked pretty last minute last year, but it was fun. You just bump into people, and it's fun to see people in real life too after so many years.
Paxton: Absolutely. Doing digital or over cameras or get emails.
Lizzie Mintus: Best. Okay, I have one final question. And before I ask, I want to point people to your website. So it's studio dash H. E. R. M. I. T. A. G. E. dot com. -h-e-r-m-i-t-a-g-e-dot-com. The last question, what is something that most people wouldn't know about you?
Paxton: What would people not know about me? Went to the Junior Olympics for track and field. I was a pole vaulter, and I did running. Or maybe I was in a punk rock band, and I had long hair to right about here. I had it in braids for a little while, but I was in a punk rock band. I actually have my guitar still back there. In the high school time period, I had some longer hair. I played the Green Day, and Sex Pistols, and Ramones, and that kind of stuff. And I did a lot of pump punk rock music with the long hair. And then I ended up shaving. I got serious and took my business classes. I was a punk rocker for a little while playing the guitar.
Lizzie Mintus: Need pictures. Pictures or didn't happen.
Paxton: Yeah, absolutely. I'm sure I could find some, but I had the haircut where you gave the size, but the top was super long, and then I had this one girl one time, let me braid it all. So I had that like top braided, and I was like, what am I doing with my life? But it was fun. It was a fun period.
Lizzie Mintus: That's an experience. That's not what I thought you would say. So I love it. You're full of surprises. We've been talking to Paxton Galvanak, who's the founder and CEO of Studio Hermitage. Paxton, where can people go to contact you or learn more about you?
Paxton: I'm always on LinkedIn. Just look me up on LinkedIn. I'll connect with you if you want to connect with me. It's a great platform to just have connections and reach out. You could DM me on LinkedIn. Our website - it's kind of bare bones, but we're about to launch our new website probably in a month, which will have a lot more information and a career portal. As we kind of ramp up our hiring at the end of this year, early next year, we wanted to have a nice website. So that'll be up in about a month. So maybe by the time you see this podcast, it will be up and running. We'll see. But LinkedIn is probably the best way to reach out to me.
Lizzie Mintus: Perfect. Thanks so much.
Paxton: All right. Thank you.
Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. To catch all the latest from His 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