Jussi Tähtinen is an experienced gaming executive. Having played games his whole life and with 20 years of experience in making them, he has worked in various roles inside the industry, giving him a broad understanding of both game development & publishing. Jussi is a co-founder of Nitro Games, a Finnish mobile games company focusing on making free to play games for global distribution.
In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, Jussi says:
I look into the mirror in the morning and remind myself that I’m a fortunate guy and privileged enough to be doing the job I love. That’s all I need.
Making mistakes and “wrong decisions” is part of life, and even if the consequences are bad, they’re still part of your life and your story. Stories with no drama are boring.
Don’t stress about the things you can’t affect, but focus on the things you actually can affect. Being an entrepreneur can burn you out if you don’t have a pragmatic approach to your work. Startup companies have tons of problems before they “lift-off”, and it’s essential to identify the ones that you can and should affect and also those that you should just accept as “realities of life that are the same for everyone.” COVID-19 is a good example of this, you do what you can do to mitigate the risk and to protect your employees, but in the big picture, the whole thing is not something you can affect and avoid too much.
Read on to know more about Jussi Tähtinen and his journey.
Please tell me about your personal background, and What motivated you to get started with your company?
Jussi Tähtinen: I’ve been a gamer my whole life and started making games as a hobby when I was a teenager. After working in telecommunications and digital marketing for a few years, we had the opportunity to start a gaming company. We decided to make our dream come true.
What is your current main product, and can you share any previous product pivot story to the current product?
Jussi Tähtinen: We do mobile games. We have a portfolio strategy, so we don’t have the main product in that sense. Over the years, we’ve produced + 30 games for the global games market. Our method is to take advantage of the re-usable tech, so in a way, new games are somewhat based on the previous games we’ve done.
How much money have you raised in total so far? When was the recent funding round?
Jussi Tähtinen: Nitro Games was founded back in 2007, and we’ve done several funding rounds over the years. The recent biggest funding-related news was our IPO in Nasdaq First North Growth Market in Stockholm in June 2017, and now in 2020, when Nordisk Film Games joined us, the largest shareholder with an investment of 45 million SEK.
How have you attracted users, and with what strategy have you grown your company from the start to now?
Jussi Tähtinen: We’ve been focusing exclusively on mobile games since 2014. On mobile games, you have 3 ways of attracting users;
- Virality is about players telling other players about your game, either in real life or in social media like Youtube, for example
- Marketing, which in our case is often performance-based targeted marketing in various channels such as Facebook
- Store visibility, where we sometimes get featured in the app stores and gain new customers for our games
Which has been the best marketing software tool for the growth of your startup, and why?
Jussi Tähtinen: We use a variety of different ad networks to promote our games, but if I had to pick one, I’d say Facebook. We do Facebook advertising for our games pretty much, which gives us good data on the ROI of the marketing campaigns.
What do most startups get wrong about marketing in general?
Jussi Tähtinen: In general, I think many companies out there ignore the power of marketing in general and are relying too heavily on being discovered. Marketing should be one of your biggest, if not the biggest, expense in your company at the growth stage. Of course, you need to have a product first.
What were the internal decision processes in determining when to begin fund-raising, and what were the logistics for this? And how many investors have you met so far, and how did you meet these investors and which channels worked best for you?
Jussi Tähtinen: We’ve done quite a few fund-raisers during our +10 years of existence, and used various different types of funding instruments. In general, it all begins with the need. Why you need the money and how much, that should then determine whether you should consider debt funding, project funding, equity investment, etc. Of course, in real life, several startups don’t have the luxury of choosing, so they need to explore various avenues to get the funding they need. In terms of how many investors we’ve met, I’d say +1000 so far. In my opinion, raising funding is like sales: you have your shortlist of ideal best case scenario targets, and you should focus on those. But in addition to that, you should just meet & pitch to as many as possible. This will increase your chances of getting the investment and help you learn through the feedback you’ll get, and of course, it’s good PR for your company in the “investor scene.” It’s a small world, so someone who says no today might be the right investor for you on your next round.
What are the biggest challenges and obstacles that you have faced in the process of fund-raising? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Jussi Tähtinen: The biggest issue in fund-raising overall is that when you do it “too late,” it’s always difficult. Ideally, you should raise funds before you need to. I know this sounds somewhat stupid, but that’s just the way it is. When you need money, you’re very easily seen as “desperate,” and in my understanding, investors don’t want to invest in “desperate ones” but in the “strong ones.” So approach the investors when you’re strong.
What are your milestones for the next round? And what are your goals for the future?
Jussi Tähtinen: We haven’t planned any upcoming funding round.
How do you plan to expand globally?
Jussi Tähtinen: We are already operating globally, but we do have certain focus markets where we invest more in marketing. Our business is completely digital, so for us, it’s relatively straightforward.
What are the most common mistakes companies make with global expansion?
Jussi Tähtinen: Ignoring cultural differences. This applies to not just the product, but the distribution and marketing as well. A key in any business is to understand and know your customer.
How do you handle this COVID-19 outbreak situation for your company’s survival in the future?
Jussi Tähtinen: We set clear priorities, which were the health & wellbeing of our employees and the business continuity. Based on this, our action plan was somewhat straightforward; We ceased all traveling, and everyone’s working in remote mode. Our HR has ensured with the healthcare officials that everyone has access to treatment should they need it. So far, we’ve done well, and no one has gotten sick.
What are the most common mistakes founders make when they start a company?
Jussi Tähtinen: Too much optimism. As an entrepreneur, you need to optimist to survive, but I’ve often seen plans that are way too optimistic (and also done plans like that myself). Things always take more time and money than you anticipate.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And What advice do you have for someone who is interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?
Jussi Tähtinen: Don’t stress about the things you can’t affect, but focus on the things you actually can affect. Being an entrepreneur can burn you out if you don’t have a pragmatic approach to your work. Startup companies have tons of problems before they “lift-off”, and it’s essential to identify the ones that you can and should affect and also those that you should just accept as “realities of life that are the same for everyone.” COVID-19 is a good example of this, you do what you can do to mitigate the risk and to protect your employees, but in the big picture, the whole thing is not something you can affect and avoid too much.
What are the top-three books or movies (TV series) that changed your life and why?
Jussi Tähtinen: I’m not the type of guy where a book or a movie would change my life. My favorite TV series is the HBO series, which is usually done with good quality.
How do you keep yourself motivated every day?
Jussi Tähtinen: I look into the mirror in the morning and remind myself that I’m a fortunate guy and privileged enough to be doing the job I love. That’s all I need.
What are the one or two things that you would do differently to improve your life if you could go back to 10 years ago?
Jussi Tähtinen: I’d say nothing. Making mistakes and “wrong decisions” is part of life, and even if the consequences are bad, they’re still part of your life and your story. Stories with no drama are boring.
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