Few companies can claim they are creating an industry: Homa Games is one of them.
It’s a complete tool stack that allows indie game creators to speed up development and compete with much larger studios. They provide intelligence, distribution, and monetization while game developers can focus on their creativity. 500 million game downloads and a $50M Series A round in, I sat down with co-founder and CEO Daniel Nathan to chat about company culture, painting as an antidote to emailing, and getting lost in the forest.
Let’s jump straight into it. Where does your itch to build come from?
My parents weren’t business people. But they would tell me stories about my grandfathers. One ran hardware stores. The other had a candy shop and a horse betting business on the side. I met them maybe 10 times in total in my life: They were in Morocco and the UK, we were in France. In my mind, I made up movies about what great entrepreneurs they were. My mom would tell me that I was like them, that I could achieve all I wanted. I was growing up as the internet was growing up: As soon as I discovered blogs, I would read any entrepreneurship post I could find. Loïc Le Meur, TechCrunch when Michael Harrington was the sole contributor. I got the entrepreneurial mindset from the stories of my grandfathers and the internet gave me tech role models.
How smoothly did things turn out? Why Paris via Berlin?
In France, the name of the school you attend matters. When I was young, people would call me ambitious, and I was like: Yeah, I am. I really wanted to get into the best school. I didn’t and felt extremely frustrated, I struggled a lot because of it. I told myself that I might not be the most qualified academically, but that I’d be the best in business. That was a defining moment for me. I left for Berlin, Germany to go where nobody knew me and start from scratch. Years later, I realized how hard it was to hire talent there. Paris was not hyped and had plenty of engineers, so I decided it’s where I’d build Homa Games.
In a way, Homa also comes from a certain frustration you felt…
My previous companies were in AdTech, with a focus on user acquisition for games. It’s a tough value proposition. You get compared all the time to the performance of Google and Facebook, two walled gardens that have access to all the data and all the content. Their pitch is easy and you cannot fight it. I knew they’d never let us work in a level playing field against them. It frustrated me immensely: We had to have “our” content. We knew about user acquisition and monetization, but nothing about building apps. So we thought we could partner with those who did. We were used to companies that would spend 12-18 months prototyping a game before putting it in front of their users. These indie developers would have users test their games after two days. We realized how “easy” it is to build games compared to the challenge of finding the right ideas and distributing them. We saw we could offer a support layer on top of game engines and do something entirely new.
What were you completely wrong about?
In hindsight, it’s crazy. But we originally thought we needed to offer game design support. We were absolutely wrong. We needed more data analysts, to look at the data and clearly show game creators what their users are doing, signal why they churn, and better support with distribution and monetization. Today Homa is all about providing better and better data, not about influencing design choices.
This is also the first time you raise venture capital. How does it feel?
I used to feel very alone in my job: I don’t anymore. I feel empowered, like if I had had a much bigger team. I had a few “bad” VC meetings. But I consider most of them our fault. I don’t think it’s the VC’s job to be as close to your business as you are. If you get misunderstood, you have to reconsider your approach and how you communicate. One VC, in particular, gave us very harsh feedback. Her points were all wrong, but they helped us rethink our communication tremendously. Any question, no matter how harsh or wrong, underlines something else in our character.
How do you “use” your investors in the most effective way?
First, you have to only onboard VCs whose values align with yours across all company stages. And you can’t expect to receive the same kind of support from each of them.
It’s akin to building a football team. You need to decide what everyone’s role in your cap table will be. Some will be strong in marketing. Others in customer intros. Everyone has different skills and it’s up to you how you use them. You wouldn’t ask your goalkeeper to strike the goals.
How did the fundraising affect you, personally?
I never thought in terms of work-life balance. If I tried to separate the two, things would feel miserable. I have one life and it’s my duty to do what I want with the time in it. And I’m always excited at the idea of working as if it was a hobby. But since I had a baby a year ago, my calendar is blocked every day 6-8 for her. I actively try to spend as much time together as possible.
What’s something people don’t tell you about being an entrepreneur?
There are lots of ups, lots of downs. A healthy life is the only way not to burn out. I do sports daily. I don’t meditate but pray as my form of meditation. I try to keep things simple at every level. I eat well. Venture building is like preparing for a UEFA Champions League final (an annual football competition). You can’t just go out. You train. You focus. You stay positive. You are like an athlete.
As of now, you have 4 office locations. How does that affect your culture?
It’s a written culture. So it’s crucial that everything is written well. Hiring people from a strategy consulting background had a huge impact in raising the bar on how to communicate internally. We create as many explanatory videos as possible and have a very detailed wiki everyone has access to. The goal is to completely onboard every new hire within 5 days. We actively try to foster in-person connection, but processes and written performance objectives are what set us apart.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I read philosophy, I paint a lot. And I am very bad at it. Years ago, I felt very tired and down. Running a tech business can make you forget your hands can do more things than typing and a posteriori, I think it was very important for my well-being. It’s crazy to think, but a lot of the value I create as a founder comes from writing emails. I started to paint without knowing what I was doing and it gave me so much joy and satisfaction. The act of creating something that was in my mind and is now there in the world. I started taking lessons. I go to museums, get inspired, and try to paint what I see in my style. I actually proposed to my wife through a surprise painting I did.
What artist is on your mind, currently?
Recently, I was shocked by art from XCOPY [an NFT artist]. You look at it, and it makes your body squirm. His composition and color are repulsive. As if he wanted you to feel bad. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the naivety of Basquiat’s painting is smashing. You feel good, you see lots of colors from your childhood. I respect any artist, regardless of their fame. I respect the idea of taking time to create something with no intrinsic value. The act of creating. Schopenhauer [a German philosopher] would say that only math and art matter in this world.
If you wrote a book, what would it be about?
Something to try to raise consciousness about life and the impact of peer pressure. Life is not dark, or pink, or blue. It is what it is. Everyone has the power to change it. And I am not talking about becoming a billionaire, just focusing on finding what you really care about. There is no reason to be brought down by peer pressure. I suck at painting and I care only about improving my skills so I can paint exactly what I have in mind. I don’t care about peer pressure. My biggest quality is that I don't fear failure. Most people don’t act because of fear of failure.
Give us an insider tip. Your favorite spot in Paris?
The most untouched parts of the Fontainebleu forest. It’s near Paris, but you feel it’s not near Paris at all. It's crazy, like a jungle. You get lost. You feel a bit insecure. I love to run there for hours and find my way back.
What’s next for Homa Games?
We will continue to show how we create a ton of value for every single developer working on Unity. We are bringing the intelligence while the game engines are bringing the tools. Without the former, the latter will not bring you very far. We are in the business of helping other people’s creativity succeed.