20VC Eight Pieces of Startup Advice that are BS Why You Do Not Have to Love Your Space, It Is Ok To Do It For The Money, Focus Is Not Everything, Speed Is Not The Most Important Thing with Akin Babayigit, CoFounder @ Tripledot Studios

Summary Notes


In the 20VC podcast, host Harry Stebbings interviews Akin Baba Yigid, founder and CEO of Triple Dot Studios, a rapidly expanding mobile gaming company recently valued at over $1.4 billion. Akin shares his journey from a math-obsessed youth in Turkey to leading a billion-dollar company in the competitive gaming industry. He debunks common startup myths, emphasizing the importance of hunger and grit over domain expertise in hiring, and the fallacy of "passion for the domain" as a prerequisite for success. Akin also highlights the significance of operational focus, the iterative nature of innovation, and the misconceptions about the gaming industry's size and dynamics. He discusses the critical role of VCs in supporting founders through challenges rather than micromanaging operations. Akin's personal narrative intertwines with his professional insights, revealing a leader driven by the desire to win and the well-being of his family.

Summary Notes

VC's Role in Supporting Founders

  • VC firms are often considered as value-add, but their true value may not be in operational assistance to exceptional founders.
  • The most significant impact a VC can make is to support founders during challenging times and be a friend during the good times.

"The best founders talk about quote unquote value add VC firms and giggle because I don't think a VC can truly add operational value to a truly exceptional founder. The biggest value add I think that a VC can have on a company is really just to be there for the bad times and just be a friend in the good times."

The quote emphasizes the belief that while VCs are often touted to provide operational value, their most important role is to offer emotional and moral support, especially during tough periods.

Introduction to Akin Baba Yigid and Triple Dot Studios

  • Harry Stebings introduces Akin Baba Yigid, founder and CEO of Triple Dot Studios, as an extraordinary founder and human being.
  • Triple Dot Studios is a rapidly growing mobile gaming company with significant revenue and a large monthly user base.
  • The company was recently recognized as the fastest growing European company by the Financial Times.

"I welcome one of the greatest founders I've had the pleasure of meeting and working with an incredible human and father and really just very proud to call him a dear friend."

Harry Stebings expresses his admiration and personal connection with Akin Baba Yigid, highlighting his professional and personal qualities.

Productivity Tools: Coder and Tigas

  • Coder is an all-in-one platform that uses AI to assist with tedious tasks, allowing teams to focus on strategic work.
  • Tigas provides access to a vast number of transcripts and financial data for investment decisions.

"Now you can with Coder, the all in one platform that changes the way your team works together."

This quote describes Coder as a transformative tool for team collaboration and productivity.

Security and Compliance: Secureframe

  • Secureframe offers automated security and privacy compliance solutions.
  • It simplifies the process of achieving compliance with standards like SoC 2, helping businesses to close deals faster.

"Automate your security and privacy compliance with Secureframe."

The quote summarizes the core offering of Secureframe, emphasizing automation in security and privacy compliance.

Akin Baba Yigid's Journey and Philosophy

  • Akin's background includes moving from Turkey to the U.S., attending Yale, and working at McKinsey and Skype.
  • He discusses his experience at Skype, where he learned to prioritize ruthlessly and developed a distaste for fluff.
  • His interest in mobile gaming was piqued by Zynga's Farmville and its unique game design philosophy.
  • Akin's time at Facebook taught him that situations are never as bad or as good as they seem, a lesson he learned from observing Mark Zuckerberg's calmness during the company's challenging transition to mobile.

"The biggest thing I learned at Facebook actually, is things are never as bad as they seem and never as good as they seem."

Akin reflects on the lesson of maintaining perspective during highs and lows, which he learned during his tenure at Facebook.

The Myth of Passion in Entrepreneurship

  • Akin challenges the common advice that entrepreneurs must be passionate about their domain.
  • He argues that passion for winning is more important than passion for a specific domain.
  • Success can come from hard work and learning, not necessarily from being passionate about the subject matter of the business.

"I think it's absolute bullshit. Excuse my french. But why is that so? I have many friends that are successful entrepreneurs and some of them actually, one of them lives in Canada and he is in the insurance space, and I can guarantee you he's not passionate about the insurance space."

Akin debunks the notion that domain passion is essential for entrepreneurship, using examples from his network to illustrate that success can come from other motivations.

The Importance of a 'Why'

  • Having a 'why' or a reason for pursuing success is crucial to endure tough times.
  • This 'why' does not need to be related to the business domain; it could be for personal reasons such as family or personal achievements.

"As long as you have a why you can bear anyhow. So you just have to find your own why. That why does not have to be the domain that you're operating in."

Akin emphasizes the importance of having a personal motivation or 'why' to push through challenges, which is more important than passion for the business domain itself.

Real Problems and Innovation

  • Akin argues against the startup advice that a business must solve a "real" problem or be entirely innovative.
  • He believes true innovation often comes through iteration and improvement over time, not necessarily from creating something entirely new.

"The fact of the matter is true innovation happens through iteration. You start working on something and you iterate. You do this thing 1% different, this thing 1% different, and then the aggregate impact ends up being something completely innovative."

This quote captures Akin's perspective on innovation as a process of incremental improvements rather than the necessity of solving a brand-new problem.

Speed of Execution and Iteration

  • Speed is critical in business as it allows for more iterations.
  • However, speed must be balanced with caution, especially at critical junctures.
  • Excessive speed can lead to mistakes, akin to driving off a cliff on a curved road.
  • The principle "done is better than perfect" is widely accepted but must be applied with discretion, particularly in areas like finance.
  • The story of Igor and Dimitri exemplifies successful execution without prioritizing speed over everything else.

"But there are points that this is a road, and the road has curves. And you know what? When you're approaching those curves, sometimes you have to just slow down and actually think and take your time."

This quote emphasizes the importance of knowing when to slow down and be thoughtful, rather than rushing through every decision.

Importance of Details

  • Attention to detail is critical for success.
  • What matters should receive significant time and effort, while less important issues should be deprioritized.
  • This judgment is developed over time through experience.

"We pay attention to details. We make sure that what matters, we spend a lot of time on, and what doesn't matter, we don't spend."

The quote highlights the importance of focusing on details that matter, implying that success comes from prioritizing effectively.

Advising Founders on Articulating Problems

  • Founders with a track record can rely on their past successes to attract investment.
  • First-time founders or those without a notable background may need to play the game and articulate a problem to raise funds.
  • The approach to fundraising depends on the founder's background and experience.

"My advice to them was, you guys may not know how good you are, so you don't even need to tell people what you're going to build because it's going to change over time."

This advice suggests that founders with proven success can leverage their reputation rather than focusing on specific future plans.

Work-Life Balance and Personal Satisfaction

  • The notion that starting a startup makes life miserable is challenged.
  • Personal satisfaction and impact are more important than the number of hours worked.
  • Work-life balance is a misnomer if work is a passion rather than just a job.
  • Structuring personal time can lead to a fulfilling work and family life.

"So your life doesn't have to suck. You can manage your own time, you can manage your own schedule, and life doesn't have to suck."

This quote refutes the idea that entrepreneurship inevitably leads to an unhappy life, emphasizing the importance of time management and personal fulfillment.

Evening Routine and Work-Life Integration

  • Structuring evenings to balance work and family time is beneficial.
  • COVID-19 has shown that people have more control over their schedules than they think.
  • Dedicated family time and personal breaks are important for well-being.
  • Late-night hours can be productive for focused work without interruptions.

"And then from ten onwards I do work. And that's the work that I actually think is kind of my maker time."

This quote explains how the speaker structures their evening to include family, personal time, and productive work, demonstrating a balanced approach to work-life integration.

Does It Get Easier?

  • As a startup grows, the nature of challenges changes, but it can get easier.
  • Having more resources can lead to more freedom and less time spent on non-essential activities.
  • The analogy with parenting suggests that while problems may grow in magnitude, they become less frequent.

"It does get easier in that sense, because you have more freedom."

This quote suggests that with success comes greater freedom, which can make life easier for entrepreneurs.

Focus vs. Diversification

  • The startup mantra of focusing on a single thing is questioned.
  • Founders should be open to pivoting and exploring multiple avenues early on.
  • The story of Luna Labs demonstrates the success of diversifying beyond the core business.
  • Focus should be on execution, but with flexibility to pivot as needed.

"You need to have some breathing room to allow yourself to pivot."

This quote emphasizes the importance of being flexible and open to change, rather than rigidly focusing on a single path.

Mission and Vision Statements

  • Mission and vision statements are often viewed skeptically and can be considered fluff.
  • These statements should be honest and reflect the true purpose of the company.
  • The value of these statements depends on how well they resonate with employees and align with the company's goals.

"I think there's a time and place, but I do think why have statements when really most of your employees are going to think it's bullshit?"

This quote questions the value of mission and vision statements, suggesting they are often not meaningful to employees.

Hiring and Domain Expertise

  • Hiring people with domain expertise can be beneficial, but it's not always necessary.
  • It's important to have a strong team that can execute effectively, regardless of their background.
  • The marketing team at the speaker's company is cited as an example of success without relying solely on domain expertise.

"But the people who are really the kind of folks that are reporting to him that are running day to day, we probably have the strongest marketing team of any gaming company."

This quote illustrates the point that a strong team can be built without exclusively hiring individuals with domain expertise.

Domain Expertise and the Value of Hunger

  • Domain expertise can be rapidly acquired within several months.
  • Hunger, self-motivation, and drive are innate traits that are crucial for success and cannot be taught.
  • Hiring for hunger over expertise can be counterintuitive but is prioritized in the interview process.
  • Contextual differences in companies make domain expertise less transferable than traits like hunger.

"Any real relevant domain expertise you want to have, you can really learn it in a several month window, right? ... You cannot teach the hunger." "But the reason we actually prioritize hunger in the interview process is a very counterintuitive thing to do."

These quotes emphasize the belief that while specific skills can be learned relatively quickly, the innate trait of hunger is both crucial and unteachable. The speaker values hunger over domain expertise because it drives individuals to excel and adapt, which is particularly important in a startup environment where roles and challenges are fluid and dynamic.

The Role of Experts in Startups

  • There is a place for experts to teach within a company.
  • Knowledge transfer is possible through various resources and consultants.
  • Hiring and firing processes should be deliberate and swift, respectively.
  • Expertise is valued but should be balanced with adaptability and the willingness to learn.

"There's always room for someone who's an expert to teach. But you'd be surprised how easy it is for that knowledge to be gained, regardless of the field."

This quote suggests that while experts have a role in teaching within a company, the speaker believes in the accessibility of knowledge and the ability of motivated individuals to learn and acquire necessary skills.

Hiring Mistakes and Cultural Fit

  • Hiring based on past experience or reputation can lead to challenges if the new environment differs significantly.
  • Cultural differences between companies can lead to friction when new hires are accustomed to different ways of working.
  • The speaker has experienced hiring mistakes where previous seniority and success did not translate to their company's context.

"It has been those cases where we've hired for etiquette. So you hire someone who's worked at gaming company x, and you say, oh, wow, they're super senior. They've done this."

This quote reflects on a hiring mistake where relying too heavily on a candidate's past experience and seniority did not yield the expected results due to differences in company culture and context.

The Misleading Nature of Valuations

  • Valuations are often influenced by market sentiment and fear of missing out (FOMO).
  • High valuations can be misleading and do not equate to actual wealth.
  • Valuations should be considered as potential indicators of future cash flows, not as definitive measures of success.
  • Entrepreneurs can become overly focused on valuations, leading to a false sense of security and potential financial risks.

"Valuations do not matter in the long run and are dangerous. ... Truth of the matter is, you have nothing. It's just all paper money."

The speaker warns against the dangers of overvaluing financial valuations, arguing that they are not an accurate reflection of true wealth or success and can lead to a false sense of security and potential financial risks.

Attitudes Toward Equity in Europe

  • There is a cultural preference for cash compensation over equity in certain parts of Europe.
  • The speaker believes that technology is a significant enabler of wealth, and equity can be a crucial part of that.
  • The speaker has observed a reluctance to accept equity in favor of cash, which they consider short-sighted.

"Some of the conversations I've witnessed in parts of Europe is, I don't want equity, I want more cash."

This quote highlights the speaker's observation of a cultural difference in compensation preferences, where some individuals prioritize immediate cash over the potential long-term gains of equity.

The Role of Government in Business Success

  • The speaker has a positive view of pro-business government agendas.
  • The UK's talent and academic excellence are seen as assets for attracting businesses.
  • The speaker suggests that political capital should be leveraged to promote successful tech and business cases.

"I would try to create a lot more kind of political capital around that."

The speaker suggests that government recognition and support of successful businesses can help to create a positive narrative around business and tech success in the country.

Europe's Prospects and Quality of Life

  • The speaker does not believe Europe is in a dire situation, citing a high quality of life and good living standards.
  • Business competitiveness may be hindered by regulatory challenges, but the fundamental quality of life remains high.
  • Net migration trends are used as an indicator of opportunity and quality of life in different regions.

"But I just don't think fundamentally that matters in the grand scheme of things, because in the end, people here live high quality lives."

This quote reflects the speaker's belief that despite regulatory and bureaucratic challenges, the overall quality of life in Europe is high, which is a significant factor in the region's favor.

Gaming Industry Misconceptions

  • The gaming industry is often seen as hit-driven, but the speaker disagrees, viewing it as data-driven with a focus on live operations.
  • The size of the gaming market is frequently underestimated.
  • Gaming is not just about creativity; it involves significant analytical and data-driven work.
  • The industry continues to innovate and expand, defying assumptions that the market is saturated.

"I don't think it's a hit driven business, I think it's a data driven business."

This quote challenges the common misconception that success in gaming is random or solely based on creating hit games. The speaker views the industry as one that relies heavily on data and analytics to drive decisions and success.

Revenue Multiples and Gaming Valuations

  • Gaming companies are often undervalued in terms of revenue multiples compared to other sectors.
  • The speaker believes that the revenue generated by gaming companies is high-quality and sticky, warranting higher valuations.
  • Retention metrics are an important measure of a game's success and longevity.

"Gaming companies are valued three, four times revenues... But if you look at the gaming cohorts, if you look at behavior, these are really, really sticky games."

The speaker argues that the consistent engagement and long-term player retention seen in successful games justify higher revenue multiples for gaming companies compared to the lower multiples they typically receive.

AI's Impact on Gaming

  • AI is seen as transformative across all aspects of gaming, including creation, distribution, and consumption.
  • The speaker believes AI will change the entire landscape of industries and operations.

"I think AI changes everything about everything."

This quote succinctly captures the speaker's broad view on the potential impact of AI, indicating that it will have far-reaching effects on gaming and beyond.

AI-Driven Productivity Tools

  • AI tools have dramatically increased productivity by reducing the time required to create 3D models from days to minutes.
  • These tools impact various areas, including creation, operation, ideation, monetization, and marketing.
  • The company is still exploring how to better utilize AI tools in different aspects of their business.

"We use AI driven tools that enable us to increase our productivity dramatically. So we use tools that in the old days, it might have taken us x days to build a 3d model of character to be used in a game. And now we use tools that actually bring that down to a few minutes."

The quote emphasizes the significant impact of AI on productivity, especially in tasks like 3D modeling for games, and the potential for further application across business operations.

Investing in AI Tools Without Proprietary Data

  • The speaker believes that proprietary data is not necessary to create a valuable business.
  • AI tools and services can be valuable even without proprietary data.
  • The speaker uses a powerful AI tool without proprietary data, demonstrating the value of such tools.

"You can offer tools, you can offer services that really change people's lives. And we see this every day today, it's not a critical matter that they don't have proprietary data today doesn't mean they can't build an offering of something super valuable."

This quote suggests that the value of a business isn't solely dependent on proprietary data, but rather on the impact of the tools and services it provides.

Impactful Content

  • A book titled "The Easy Way to Quit Smoking" by Alan Carr profoundly impacted the speaker's life.
  • The book helped the speaker quit smoking cold turkey within three days.
  • The experience demonstrated the power of words and willpower in overcoming addiction.

"But the fundamental concept of reading words written on ink, on a piece of paper enabled me to develop this willpower to overcome an addiction so strong as smoking was a complete mind fuck. That definitely has to be the thing that changed my life."

The quote reflects the speaker's personal transformation through reading a book, highlighting the profound effect that content can have on an individual's behavior and life choices.

Biggest Fear

  • The speaker's biggest fear is failing as a father, influenced by his own father's failure.
  • Ensuring his children have a meaningful and safe life is of utmost importance.
  • The speaker's upbringing by his grandparents shaped his perspective on parenthood.

"My biggest fear revolves around my biggest why, which is my kids. So my fear is will I equip them with the right things in life for them to have a meaningful life, a safe life."

The quote addresses the speaker's concern about providing for his children's future and the personal responsibility he feels as a parent.

Approach to Fatherhood

  • The speaker's mother's multiple marriages and being raised by grandparents influenced his approach to fatherhood.
  • He does not hold anger towards his father and focuses on the positive responsibility of parenthood.
  • The speaker emphasizes the importance of being present for his children.

"But I could never understand how you can abandon a responsibility, and it's the most beautiful responsibility."

The quote highlights the speaker's commitment to being a responsible and present father, contrasting with his own father's absence.

Hiring the Best People

  • When hiring, prioritize hunger, grit, and a proactive approach over experience or education from prestigious institutions.
  • The speaker values candidates who ask for forgiveness rather than permission, indicating a bias for action.

"We want people who will do things, who will take initiative, bias for action, then ask for forgiveness."

This quote encapsulates the speaker's hiring philosophy, emphasizing the importance of initiative and the ability to act independently within a company's culture.

Early Indicators of Hunger in Potential Hires

  • Asking candidates about their first experience making money can reveal their drive and entrepreneurial spirit.
  • The speaker shares his own experience selling homework as a young entrepreneur.

"I remember buying and selling Nokia phones between different eBay sellers."

The quote from Harry Stebings provides an example of entrepreneurial drive, which is valued in potential hires.

Most Painful Lesson

  • The speaker's most painful experience was losing his grandmother, who was a significant figure in his life.
  • This loss taught him the insignificance of worldly concerns in the face of mortality.
  • It motivated him to pursue entrepreneurship and take risks, understanding that in the worst case, he could still support his family through other means.

"I did learn nothing. At the end of the day matters. We will all die."

The quote reflects the speaker's realization of life's impermanence and its influence on his decision-making and risk-taking in his career.

Venture Capital Industry Critique

  • The speaker criticizes venture capitalists (VCs) for sometimes giving advice without fully understanding a founder's daily challenges.
  • The best value a VC can add is to be supportive during tough times and a friend during good times.
  • Founders should be wary of VCs who claim they can add operational value, as the most successful founders understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

"I don't think a VC can truly add operational value to a truly exceptional founder."

This quote questions the traditional notion of VCs as operational advisors, suggesting that their role should be more supportive and less intrusive.

Founder-VC Misalignment

  • Misalignment between founders and VCs often occurs when a company is doing extremely well or poorly.
  • VCs have a different time horizon and liquidity needs compared to founders, which can lead to conflicts.
  • The best relationships are transparent, with both parties understanding each other's constraints and goals.

"The biggest misalignment is it happens when things are going exceptionally well or things are going exceptionally bad."

The quote highlights the moments when founder-VC alignment is most challenged, emphasizing the importance of understanding each other's perspectives.

Future Outlook

  • The speaker hopes to be alive and thriving in the next five years.
  • He aims to build a generational company with tripledot while enjoying the process.
  • Personal health, family well-being, and maintaining good relationships are prioritized over professional achievements.

"Hopefully alive, right? I have no idea. I'm just really enjoying it right now."

This quote conveys the speaker's focus on living in the present and building a lasting company while valuing personal and family well-being above all else.

Venture Capital and Founder Relationships

  • Harry Stebings expresses appreciation for the speaker's friendship and approach to venture capital.
  • The speaker values genuine relationships and giving advice without ulterior motives.
  • The speaker emphasizes the importance of working with people you respect and admire.

"Work with great people you respect and admire and good things will happen."

The quote from Harry Stebings underlines the significance of building respectful and sincere relationships in the venture capital industry.

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