Paul Thelan didn’t mean to become a CEO. But after an illness brought his life into sharp focus, he decided to quit the job he thought he “should” have and build the career he knew he wanted to have. From that pursuit of passion, Big Fish Games was born.
Now, Paul runs a 10-year-old company of over 400 and is hoping to keep growing his team and breaking down barriers in the video game industry. What’s up next? A video game launched directly into the cloud, where it can be played by any user on any device. (Not too shabby.) Driven by a love for his product and intense focus on his customer, Paul says the sky’s the limit in terms of what he and his team at Big Fish Games can do.
(1:56) “I never considered myself an entrepreneur,” Paul says. In spite of that initial doubt, though, Paul is still running his “accidental company” several years later, and couldn’t be happier to have finally chosen to pursue his passion. A lifelong gamer and programmer, Paul explains, “You’re handicapping yourself for success” when you make your passion your job.
(4:35) Paul’s secret to Big Fish’s success is a finely tuned understanding of his customer and his data. You’ve got to “balance analytics with true understanding of what customer needs are,” he says, explaining that you can’t ignore the real world in favor of data. Understanding your customer’s motivations should be your top priority at all times.
(5:38) Culture is another thing Paul keeps intense focus on at his growing company. “I have a lot of ideas,” Paul says. “I’m an idea guy.” And he leaves it up to his team to decide which ones are good. “I encourage my team to keep me honest,” he says, adding he encourages them to “prove my ideas wrong.”
(12:22) Paul credits his whip-smart team with helping the company achieve so much success. “What made us successful versus a lot of our competitors in the same space is that we had a very, very intense focus on doing one thing and doing it very well.” He adds that product and customer are king: “Intense focus on the product, and intense focus on what the customers are saying about the products.”
(13:08) Paul’s advice to other startups? “Work hard but have fun while you’re doing it.” Oh, and maybe invest in tougher phones. Citing the struggles and frustrations common in a young startup, Paul mentions that more than one phone met a violent end in the early days of Big Fish Games. These days the office phones can rest easy, though. Big Fish Games isn’t going anywhere.
“passionate gamer, programmer, game developer, hobbyist since I was nine”
2:00 “never considered myself an entrepreneur” “little bit of a mid-life crisis” finding out what my passion is and pursuing it “the accidental company” had enough money to start, and “two years in realized it was a real company”
5:00 “balance analytics with true understanding of what customer needs are” understand customer motivations – real world + what the analytics are telling you
6:00 encourage my team to keep me honest, prove my ideas wrong (I have a lot of ideas)
9:10 “realizing that being stressed out and doing what you think you should be doing is not a great way to live” – “handicapping yourself for success” by doing what you love 10:00 “I didn’t mean to start a company”
12:45 “what made us successful vs a lot of our competitors in the same space is that we had a very very intense focus on doing one thing and doing it very well” “intense focus on the product, intense focus on what the customers are saying about the products”
13:25 “work hard but have fun while you’re doing it” 14:25 “being able to build a game and get it on any platform anywhere in the world” – launching a cloud gaming service – “we can launch a game in the cloud and stream it to any advice anywhere in the world” phone, pause, pc, play Big Fish Unlimited
15:45 relying on another startup for your revenue – build tougher phones story