As planned in our last fundraising, we decide to accelerate by recruiting a small crew of interns to develop as many games as possible. This includes developers, graphic designers, game designers and sound designers, some full time, some part-time and some interns. Everything is in place to grow the team and accelerate quickly. What’s really great in France is that it is possible to find high quality profiles as interns. We then set up a very simple recruiting process:
– For developers, Tibo interviews them to see if the candidate has the right way of thinking and opening the right doors that will apply well to our game engine and our work methods. For this, before the interview he asks each candidate to come with a mini project made with construct 2.
– For graphic designers, a simple test with a pencil, a blank sheet of paper and an eraser. “Draw me a turtle, a car, and a small house in perspective. You have 30 minutes”. The important thing for us is to “spot” talented people. If the candidate is talented in drawing, then we will be able to help her/him to improve their skills in the digitalization of their work (Photoshop, colorization, animations, etc.)
– Last but not least, we try to evaluate the candidate’s attitude. We are not necessarily looking for the most talented people, nor the fanciest resumes, but really people who have a great attitude, who love what they do, who like to share with a team, who wish to progress and who like to listen. For us, those with the right attitude are bound to add a lot to Playtouch, much more than pure talents without the right frame of mind. We believe that when you have the right attitude, everything else follows more easily and more quickly, and that is why we put a great deal of emphasis on that.
The team is growing very quickly and Bruno and Tibo manage the new talents with a masterful hand. They manage to achieve incredible production goals. Each week, one pair made up of a developer and a graphic designer creates a mini-game from A to Z. The team starts on Monday morning and has to deliver the game by Friday afternoon. It’s intense, not always beautiful, not always fun, but most of the games are still cool. What is really interesting for the team, and especially for the interns is being able to work on lots of different mini-projects rather than focusing on just one game during a 6-month internship.
Playtouch then starts releasing games almost as quickly as flipping burgers: 4 to 5 games per week, 20 to 25 games per month. There are games for everyone: Solitaire, Doner Kebab, Pony dress up, Stickman Fighter, The Wisp. Some are big flops, and others will exceed 10 million downloads. In less than 1 year, we exceed 100 games (“Honestly Mr. Hervé, you’re completely stupid, it’s impossible to develop 100 games. Where did you see that? You are ridiculous “)…
We signed a few additional contracts in the last months of 2014. The income from these new partners is not huge, but it helps ensure our survival. We are starting to offer some interns to continue the adventure with us as freelancers. Most of them accept; “Seems like it is not so unpleasant to work at Playtouch after all”.
Having freelancers is really good news for me, a good sign of the general state of mind, and a great opportunity for Playtouch to capitalize on resources in the longer term. We’re slowly but clearly moving up the ladder of competence.
Despite the growing number of our games, our revenue is struggling to really take off and our limited growth is not via app stores as we had imagined, but rather through new HTML5 partners.
I am therefore delighted once again to have chosen HTML5 for our games, because it gives us the ubiquity to seize any opportunity on any platform, device or partner. Moreover, HTML5 web standards are now more and more followed by web browsers and make the development of our games much easier.
In March 2014, during a trip to Singapore, I meet Gonzague, VP Business at Gameloft, whom I’ve known since Ludiwap (Gameloft’s first name in 2000). We have a coffee and I show him what we do at Playtouch, and our revenue model with ads. Gonzague finds our approach very interesting and less than a month later, we sign a partnership contract. Gameloft works a lot with mobile manufacturers to embed their games in mobile devices before they are shipped and sold to end users. But these games take up memory, require tests from the manufacturers, etc. Many drawbacks can be avoided with Playtouch by embedding a simple icon with a web link to our online game service with 100 games. Gameloft likes it and starts to send us tons of players on a white label website we are running and monetizing with ads.
I travelled 10,000 km away from France to sign a major partnership with a company that is actually a few minutes by metro from our new office…
The new contract with Gameloft is starting to get our sales off the ground. The revenue share is not really in favor of Playtouch but the volume is there, so we’re happy. It gives us a bit of cash flow and allows us to settle down a bit to consider the strategy for the rest of the journey.
We still have several interns, but above all, we now have 6 full-time freelancers. That is a concern for me, because in France, it is not possible to have full-time freelancers for too long because there is a risk that the labor administration will reclassify these contracts as “employees”, which would force us to pay much higher payroll charges. But we are clearly not yet able to bear these extra costs without putting Playtouch in great danger again.
I therefore consider 2 options: either to raise new funds to finance these additional payroll, or find a solution to keep our costs at the same level.
I’m thinking that it’s going to be very difficult to convince investors because I’m not sure that our model of making hundreds of games with advertising revenue really excites them. Therefore, I consider that the second option is obvious, but here in France it’s clearly not possible to keep our current cost structure without having a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. The solution would be to relocate the whole team to a country where we could keep reasonable expenses. I discuss this option with Bruno and Tibo (I can’t imagine setting up a new structure elsewhere without them). They are not against it but they are married and the choice is not only theirs to make.
I then start to investigate which countries we could settle in. Countries where we could develop our skills, recruit locally, while maintaining a pleasant quality of life for our employees. I take North America and Europe out of the equation right away (too expensive, or too small of a difference that wouldn’t justify so much hassle). I’m rather focusing on Asia but it seems very complicated. It’s either very difficult to get visas for foreign workers, or there’s a language barrier as locals do not speak English well. Also, shareholding is a problem because you need a local partner, so there are many issues that push you to take the plunge.
Malaysia seems to be the only serious option for Playtouch. And that’s when I started talking about this project to Eric, a web entrepreneur that I had met during our stay at JCDecaux in Neuilly 2 years ago. He has been living in Mauritius for the past year and I ask him if he thinks this could be an option for Playtouch. He is not very confident about the possibility of recruiting the needed profiles locally. On the other hand, he is very positive about the quality of life and about the country that is very “entrepreneur friendly”. I decide to further investigate and I travel to Mauritius in November 2014 to spend a few days, take the pulse of local life and gather as much information as possible.
My stay is really fruitful. Mauritius is superb with magnificent landscapes, and the sea and the lagoon are sublime. The country is in full economic development and seems to ease establishment of companies like Playtouch. French and English are the two official languages, (in addition to Creole, which is spoken by locals), which will ease the integration of French employees if we come. There are some very good French schools, and the country is very safe.
I come back to France with a very good picture of Mauritius that I share with Ariane. We make up our minds very quickly to jump into this new and very exciting exotic adventure while imagining that Mauritius will also be a very pleasant living environment for our 3 boys, now aged 2, 7 and 9.
Ok, well this is all great on paper, but now I have to convince the team to follow me, 12,000 km away from Paris … it’s all up to them.
Mid-December 2014, I organize a team meeting with all the staff. The objective is to explain precisely and in a completely transparent way how Playtouch works today (I share my salary, the turnover of the company, our costs, our customers, etc.) and what is the strategic vision for the future. I explain the need to change the status of our freelancers in France and therefore my desire to create a subsidiary abroad. I start by presenting countries in which I hadn’t planned to go anyway, such as the United States, Russia or China and their very unflattering portraits. The lack of objectivity is obvious, but it is to better serve my diabolical drawings for the end of my presentation. The option I have chosen is Mauritius and I now show magnificent photos, infrastructures in full development, beaches, food (for Bruno …), culture, music…
The team is at the top, smiles on their faces, they’re totally hallucinating! “What? Are we going to move there? Wow, that’s awesome!!! When do we leave? “. I am surprised by such spontaneous enthusiasm, and even if the bet is not yet won, it’s already a good sign. We all go to celebrate this at the Indian restaurant around the corner (Many Mauritians have Indian origins …).