The Entrepreneur: Paul Sulyok, Green Man Gaming

The founder of the Future Fifty-listed games retailer on joining David Cameron on his recent trade mission and the importance of taking on outside investment...

Founder: Paul Sulyok
Company: Green Man Gaming
Website: http://www.greenmangaming.com
Description in one line: The world’s fastest growing multi-platform digital retailer, officially approved by 350 publishers and millions of gamers worldwide.
Previous companies: prizefight.com, FinScope, Capco, Citibank, GE Capital and HM Forces
Turnover: £17.1m
12 month target: £30m

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique

  • Digital distribution of games globally with no stores and low overheads
  • Use gameplay data to drive effective targeting, partnerships and margins
  • Network of 700+ global affiliates that act as local sales forces for our offers

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Being named as a member of the Future Fifty which recognises us as one of the hottest tech companies that the UK government are supporting to IPO. This led to being part of David Cameron’s delegation to China where I was proud to represent the UK games industry on a global scale.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

We study website traffic, referral data for traffic, revenue, COGS (on an individual game sale basis!)

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

Based in the heart of London, we sell games in over 185 territories, with over 90% of our revenue coming from overseas. Long term, our plans are to fully localise our site and make the customer’s experience on Green Man Gaming the very best it can be no matter where they are in the world.

Describe your growth funding path

Green Man Gaming is backed by London venture capital firm Eden Ventures, and before launch had a dozen angel investors on board.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

The 1000 technological features we have added to Playfire, our in-game tracking service where we reward gamers for playing their games, has transformed our business and helped us become a dominant social commerce retailer within the industry. The level of data we harness and use is unrivalled by any other digital gamer.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

Our projected growth forecast for the next three years is above £100m in net revenue.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

I co-founded a company that was a hybrid of computer games and gambling, and despite angel and institutional backing for what I thought was a great idea, there wasn’t a market for it. It was a painful learning curve, and it made no money. Though at the time it was hard to admit it hadn’t worked, it meant I could focus on starting again, building Green Man Gaming into a huge success.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Early on in the life of Green Man Gaming, we tried to cheaply localise the website with a Czech partner. They went bust and we couldn’t maintain it. I learnt the hard way that if something looks like it can be done quickly and cheaply, it’s probably too good to be true, and that anything we do needs to be done properly with care, attention and the proper investment.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

The UK games industry has been hampered by lack of funding for many years, and this does have a knock-on impact for our business. We welcome the government’s plans for tax breaks for our industry and hope to be able to support many more UK developers and games studios which will help us grow our catalogue and further improve our offer to millions of gamers worldwide.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Entrepreneurs that keep their ideas to themselves is always a mistake. Build a team around you that you can trust to bounce ideas off, that can advise and feedback to you as this will help refine and strengthen your business. Tell everyone about what you are doing – family, friends, taxi drivers, colleagues, and learn to listen. Remain inventive, and follow your passion, but make sure that there is a market and demand for what you want to do.

How will your market look in three years?

The sector, deemed to be the number one entertainment industry, will be worth $87bn (£52bn) by 2017, according to accountancy firm PwC. To give that some context, Hollywood is currently worth around £12.5bn. I also firmly believe that within the next three years, digital downloads will become the dominant and preferred way that gamers will access games.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Make it a priority to take on outside investment, regardless of whether your business is making money or if you have cash in the bank. Raising as much money as you can will make you stronger when competitors who are fully funded and at an advantage inevitably enter your market.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury?

My Moto Guzzi motorcycle.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

A mix! As a former Infantry Officer, I learnt much of my leadership skills crawling through Bosnia on the job! I’ve successfully combined these skills with my economical and business education to bring success to Green Man Gaming.

What would make you a better leader?

I confess that my core expertise lies not in technology but in management and leadership. I wish I had time to learn more and get my hands dirtier behind the scenes, but then I am very happy to have an incredible, talented, flexible and dedicated team to work with which are a pleasure to lead.

Business book:

The Lean StartUp by Eric Ries.

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