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An Interview On Game Startups with Yetizen CEO Sana Choudary

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During my time in California this past summer, I had an opportunity to explore the inspiring tech scene and startup life culture in full. I also was fortunate enough to attend several gaming meetups and conferences related specifically to the industry and embracing up and coming talent. One of the most notable events that I attended was the popular conference GamesBeat, An extension of the annual Venturebeat Conference. After being enlightened by insightful panels from key industry executives, I had a chance to watch a gaming startup competition by an accelerator program called Yetizen.

Once I had the opportunity to experience various works from several dynamic indie game development teams, I felt compelled to learn more about the Yetizen and share the knowledge with anyone that might be interested in starting up their own gaming studio. It’s no secret that in the current economic times, many people are exploring their passions in life over relying on the security of a regular 9 to 5 job that’s no longer guaranteed. If you’re a passionate gamer and you find yourself wanting to learn the ins and out of starting up a studio, then this article is just for you. Below is a detailed interview with Yetizen CEO Sana Choudary in which she describes more about the program and the benefits to entrepreneurship within the gaming realm. Feel free to check it out and leave any feedback in the comments section below.

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What is the Yetizen Accelerator and how does it help startup game companies prosper?

YetiZen is the only games focused Accelerator program focused on helping game startups gain investment, optimize their business, marketing, and revenue strategies to get a successful exit. Over a 3 month period entrepreneurs are

  1. Exposed to 150 mentors–cream of the crop from all walks of the game space to help companies address their risk areas and inspire innovative thinking on ways to win in todays marketplace
  2. Pitch to 7 venture capitalists and 50 angel investors for investment in an intimate small group setting
  3. Benefit from YetiZen’s special partnerships that include both revenue share based funds and lower than market distribution rates.
  4. Opportunity to network with US and global acquirers both in the game space as well as non-game acquirers interested in game companies

From an Entrepreneurial point of view, How did Yetizen first get started?

The seeds of YetiZen began at the SF Game Developer’s workshop, our monthly 400 person workshop and mixer series. We repeatedly noticed brilliant game developers stuck in the cycle of wanting to make one hit after the other without a strategy to build a repeatable scalable business that exits. At best these companies became lifestyle businesses until they were killed by changes in the ecosystem (recent examples were the lifestyle Facebook game developers who had to close shop with the virality clampdowns). At worse the founders got exhausted, closed shop and looked for jobs.

Given that exit strategy is a key component of your business, would you turn away a company that has potential but doesn’t want to be acquired?

Yes since YetiZen’s return is based on an equity stake in the business which can only be returned once the company exits we do not work with companies that have no desire to exit–either by acquisition or IPO.

What stage does a game startup have to be in for you to show interest?

If the company is a game studio we are primarily interested in companies who have already built their games. If the company is a tool and platform provider we would need to see a working prototype. This allows us to assess how the team thinks, see what areas we can help with and most importantly allow the teams to obtain maximum benefit from our three month program. In rare cases where there is something else exceptional about the team and company we will look at pre-product game companies. We also look at pre-product companies when we are 2+ months away from the next accelerator round as we give conditional acceptance to pre-product companies that we feel might be a fit. One of the conditions of course is completion of the product. Our two rounds for 2012 are March 2012 and August 2012.

What would you say is the most successful game studio to come out of the Yetizen accelerator?

It is a little early to say as we are in the middle of our second round and several conversations are currently confidential. One company I can mention is Shinobi Labs whose game Mobile Adventure Walks has been made the official US Surgeon General walk for the Health 2.0 conference. Watch out for how they develop over the next two months.

What advice would you give to any artists or developers who are thinking about about going the independent route with their game concepts?

Think about how you can make your game successes repeatable and scalable, for many this has been figuring out best ways to aggregate and repeatedly utilize distribution. Also think about revenue early and often. Perhaps games are the auxillary activity that allow you to collect some data or users that are your real money making asset. Think about ways your business can do this.

When it comes to games, What Do you think handheld devices like Nintendo 3ds or Playstation Vita have to do to survive in a world where 99 cent and premium titles sell better on iphone and android devices?

Invest in developer programs and resources that increase developer support and reduce cost of development that must be born by indie developers. Innovation will come from indies so support and incentivize them.

Between Social/Mobile & Console games, which market do you feel has the highest growth potential and why? 

Without a doubt Social/Mobile. Simple reason is that the higher device penetration and lower cost point allows a larger universe for game developers.

What are the benefits and pitfalls to starting up a gaming studio?

This is a very broad question. Not sure how best to answer. If you love games, believe in the market, and are open to changing your business based on new learnings (even those you may not realize when you first start) than go full on for game development. Don’t look back!

What do you see as the long term goals for the accelerator? 

Recruit more game teams coming from all walks of life and give them the best mentorship and funding opportunities under the sun to help them become profitable winning game companies!

Interested in learning more about Yetizen? Feel free to visit their website: http://yetizen.com/

About The Author
Richard Bailey Jr. Editor-In-Chief
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