Starting a Female-led Gaming Company
Updated: May 18, 2021
This session of Female Founders was double the fun with two amazing presenters from the gaming industry. Allie Young, CEO of Axis Replay, and Annie Eaton, CEO of Futurus.
Allie is a gamer. “Virtual works, but I remember the first time I got together in the same room with other gamers. Being able to give each other high fives and yell at each other brought it to life. That’s when we knew we had something special. That is why Axis was created.”
Annie founded Futurus when she was unhappy at work, “It was a bad environment for women.” She started a virtual reality meetup group with a friend and from there, companies started to ask how they could use virtual reality. It was being unhappy, realizing there is something better, and falling in love with a new technology that led to the start of Futurus. “It all started with a community,” according to Annie. Last year they started a second company, game studio Amebous Labs, which is a spinoff of Futurus. The game they are producing, Loam, will launch on Oculus later this year.
Prior to Axis Replay, Allie owned her own company and already had experience bringing half a million people to a festival. “Getting people to spend money is my jam!” When she first started thinking about Axis Replay, she started to look at the numbers. She looked at how many gamers there are and what the market looks like. She knew that location would be key and also knew that she didn’t want it to be in a strip mall; Allie wanted the location to be inviting and inclusive. Allie did research and understood that the average gamer is 33 years old and has the income to engage at a place like Axis Replay.
In creating the offerings and products at Axis Replay, it was focused on men and women. She did a deep dive and was intentional when thinking about the space, not wanting to be another spot in a strip mall. Allie created Axis Replay to be a communal gaming space with a lot of natural light and a prime location across from Krog Street Market and on the Beltline in Atlanta.
Futurus started out as consulting in 2014, when people weren’t doing virtual reality on their own. They took any opportunity to educate people and advise companies. Then they leveraged that to get publicity for their business. Futurus was a slow roll to start and was then able to cross the million dollar threshold in the first three years.
Futurus has 3-5 clients each year. That may sound scary to have so few clients, but each contract is six-figures at minimum. While Axis Replay is one to many, Futurus relies on more of an agency model. It can be a little scary to think if one of the clients doesn’t renew a contract; Annie said, “We have a small staff and customers would start asking for things out of our scope. We learned to say no, which was challenging to learn to say, and was good for the business.”
Futurus hasn’t taken any funding yet and Annie said it, “comes down to asking.” What she means is that it comes down to asking for other options. Knowing they wanted to keep ownership and control, they asked companies to pay for a year up front for a 3% discount. While they didn’t expect companies to do this, companies did - and they did receive a $250,000 check within 30 days. There was the funding they needed to keep Futurus going in the beginning.
Allie, on the other hand, started meeting and connecting to experts as she went to different panels. She became an expert at a time when nobody else was talking about women in gaming. She met with an investor and they were going through a brutal negotiation. He kept telling her what he wanted and then she kept saying, “No, I won’t give you that.” At the end he accepted her terms and opened his checkbook.
Things have progressed to Allie being at a $50M pitch in LA last week. She knew the money is crucial because they grew their business by 106% last year, during a pandemic. Axis Replay is for gamers what Top Golf is for golfers and she is confident in what they have. “Don’t ask for what you don’t need and don’t give up what you want.” Allie has only given up 7% of the business for $1.5M. “I started with the end in mind with the investing process; I know how much percent of ownership I’m willing to give by the time I exit.” Allie also doesn’t count on getting money and budget and forecast on revenue only. Investments go in a segment of funds that apply to new equipment, expansion, customer acquisition, etc.
Annie’s advice to future entrepreneurs is to not give up. She’s made mistakes along the way, and says, “I’m still here.”
Allie’s advice was similar, “You never know how close you are, so don’t quit. (Success) can be right around the corner.” Also she’s encountered overcoming stereotypes as a female founder. People will ask her if her husband is part of the business, which is a question that men do not receive about their wives.
Both these CEOs show that starting your own successful business can take many different shapes. What is important is that you do customer discovery, really understand your market, identify your values, and that you keep moving forward despite what obstacles come your way.