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This article was published on January 19, 2018

Gaming startup FaceIt explains why the world’s next star athlete will be a gamer

Gaming startup FaceIt explains why the world’s next star athlete will be a gamer
Davide Banis
Story by

Davide Banis

Davide Banis is a former story editor for TNW X, our b2b label that matches startups, governments and large enterprises. Davide Banis is a former story editor for TNW X, our b2b label that matches startups, governments and large enterprises.

This interview is part of our series of Growth Stories. We interviewed the founders and CEOs of 20 of the fastest growing startups in Europe. We asked them about their companies, their companies’ culture, and their lives, trying to understand how these three factors played a role in the achievement of such impressive growth.

Esports are booming and we know itFaceIt is a leading esports platform that hosts online competitive tournaments. Contestants square off on video-games like Dota 2, CS: GO, and Rocket League.

The platform caters to any level of players, from amateur participants to professional heavyweights. The latter are the much-discussed people that pay the bills playing video-games and who – in the near future – might be the next Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo.

That’s one scenario Youtube believes in. Last March, the video-sharing behemoth signed a multi-year deal to stream FaceIt’s competitive gaming league, the Esports Championship Series (ECS).

FaceIt is one of the fastest-growing UK startups but the founder and CEO is the Italian Niccolo Maisto. To find out more about such staggering growth, I reached out to my fellow countryman.

“If you want to have a glimpse of the future, look at gaming. Usually, the industry tends to be a precursor of more mainstream trends”, starts Niccolo with an Italian accent as thick as mine. 

But before we get to the future, I want to have a look at the past and understand how FaceIt made its way to eight million users.

Niccolo Maisto

So, how did it all start?
It was back in 2011 when I realized that was the right moment to launch my long-dreamed gaming company. I started to see whether somebody in my network could help me out. That’s how I got in touch with my two co-founders Michele Attisani and Alessandro “Stermy” Avallone. Michele had a background in consulting and Alex is a professional gamer, but I was coming from finance. Very different backgrounds, very different points of view. That’s how innovation thrives.

Sometimes it seems that banking is just an extreme form of gaming but that might be another story. What’s your business model?
It’s a premium subscription model. Users pay to be part of one of the biggest and most prestigious communities in esports. Being a premium user guarantees commitment, competition, and visibility. In this sense, the business model is part of our product.

Can you name something that’s unique to FaceIt and that really impacted your growth?
When we began to grow seriously, we realized that to sustain such growth we needed to implement few structural changes. That’s when we started seeing our customers as our shareholders, or even more; as our board of directors. Pay attention: this is not a PR puff. We really started to communicate to them as they were the board of directors. Our community deeply appreciated it. And gamers are notoriously among the most demanding customers on Earth.

FaceIt’s interface

What’s the biggest lesson you learned while growing?
Always be ready to u-turn your strategy. Gaming is an ever-changing field. You need to adapt fast or you’re out. You need to strike the perfect balance between shaping the market and meeting its demands. And you actually don’t know where the boundaries of the two things lie. It’s almost a “chicken-or-the egg” kind-of dilemma.

Bloomon – the Netflix of flowers we interviewed earlier this year – dealt with the same issue. Koen Thijssen, one of the co-founders, told us that they relied on a “snowball effect”: early adopters drove expansion.
Early adopters were crucial for us as well. Gaming crawls with early adopters. And, as I said, they’re also extremely demanding. This is an industry that expects perfection.

Your headquarters are nestled in a lovely London neighborhood, a stone’s throw from St. James Park. What’s the importance of being based there?
It’s fundamental because it means that our operations run in the hearth of a premium tech hub. For four years, we’ve been based in the same building as Twitch. You can easily understand how this helped us tremendously. In general, we always strive to have offices close to the media district. You just increase the possibility of bumping into potential business partners on the street.

On the streets of CS:GO you can meet plenty of interesting fellas. Not so many potential business partners though.

Ok, let’s focus on the more personal side of entrepreneurship. What do you think are the key qualities needed to succeed in this field?
Attitude is essential. Do you really want to do it? Then, another key factor is the ability to learn. That’s also what defined my career: the wish to apprehend new things. For me, it has been like an inviolable, golden rule: every time I stop learning, I quit.

Well, you didn’t quit FaceIt yet – what are you learning at the moment?
I’m slowly assimilating the validity of a basic scientific fact: humans need to sleep. I can’t keep sleeping three hours per night! Anyway, in the remaining 21 hours, I’m learning a great deal of new stuff – from programming languages to management strategies. In general, FaceIt for me is like a second MBA.

What’s a question you’d like to ask the other founders in this series of Growth Stories?
Probably, what have been the most significant challenges in people management and whether they have any trick to share in this regard? It’s such a key component in any company.

Ola Sars (CEO, co-founder Soundtrack your Brand) asks: how do you see yourself in 10 years?
Personally, I will probably look much older than I should be in 10 years. Professionally, I don’t know. If I decide to retire, I might become a VC.

Raymond Klompsma (CEO, founder): What’s the advice you would give to your 19-years-old self?
No doubt about it: fail faster. The faster you fail, the faster you get to know the right answers.

In the lead-up to Tech5 2018 – the annual competition organized by TNW and Adyen which celebrates Europe’s fastest-growing tech companies in the Netherlands, UK, Germany, Spain, France, and Sweden – we’re launching a series of remarkable stories of businesses that experienced extreme growth. If you are a startup with an inspiring/remarkable/interesting story about finding your special metric that led to growth, please share it with [email protected]