Interview: Veronica Tegan Founder of Team Robot
What does Team Robot do?
Team Robot was founded by myself, Eric Coley and Peter Coley. We help people play games better, including ourselves. We develop applications that provide real-time strategy for use in-game. The applications do some pretty complex math on the backend, so gamers can spend more time playing games instead solving math riddles. Our first suite of tools support World of Warcraft players, suggesting the best gear, gems, enchants and reforges. We’re launching support for League of Legends later this year, and continuing our expansion to Star Wars The Old Republic, Diablo 3, and more.
What was your job at Xfire?
I started at Xfire as the first person to support the sales team, which was 2 people at that time. This included handling contract details, testing ads, creating new advertising programs, implementing ad server technology, and of course, tracking revenue. I basically did everything that wasn’t involved in the actual selling of the ads. Once we were acquired by MTV, I helped grow the team and integrate with their systems. I have to give a lot of credit for my personal career success to the people at Xfire. I had a fantastic boss and a great CEO, who’ve both given me some very useful advice for Team Robot.
Are there game titles which you have worked on that our readers would recognize?
Sort of! Xfire supported pretty much every game on the market. We didn’t make games, we supported them… which is similar to Team Robot’s approach. I also worked at Slide, the makers of SuperPoke Pets on Facebook.
What types of courses have you taught to kids about building websites?
The first course I taught was at the University of Illinois, about online advertising. They didn’t have an online advertising course at the time, even though they were the top advertising program in the country. So I paired up with a seasoned professor and we designed and taught the course together. I wish I kept the course plan… we reviewed the revenue models of weatherbug, search engines, and punch-the-monkey banner ads. It’s old news now! I also taught a web course at an after school program for high school students. The kids were fantastic! And several of them ran circles around me when it came to CSS and so on, so I learned a few things from them!
What does “monetize” mean?
It’s a fancy way of saying, “let’s make money.” It seems simple, but I’ve seen too many startups focus solely on their users, with no revenue model in mind. By the time they figure out how to make money years later, it’s often too late. I also run into a lot of individuals and small teams running modest websites that just don’t know where to begin when it comes to making money. Since they’ve often never been exposed to that side of the business, they struggle to identify various options to make money, how much revenue they should expect or what levers to pull to increase revenue. I enjoy helping those small website owners learn the ropes.
Do you think that ads should appear in games?
Yes, but not in the traditional sense that most people think about. First, we need to get one thing straight… advertisers provide a service. In exchange for your attention, they give you something at a lower cost, or even free. This is how network TV and websites operate… it’s a very valuable and fair service. However, the lines are getting blurry and I think that’s a mistake. For example, product placements in movies and the ads before movies are fine, as long as I receive some value for that. Is my ticket price at the box office lower because I watched the previews? It should be. Now back to answering your question… advertisers can provide a lot of value and have fun with it in games. Give me 10 gold in Warcraft for every day that I wear a Mountain Dew tabard. Let me tweet about Nike to earn rewards for in-game pets. League of Legends sells skins for your favorite heroes, what if I could get an 80’s skin, for free, to promote the upcoming Footloose remake? This type of value-trade is the direction I think the advertising and game industry should go. It helps the brands, and it gives users get something fun in return, for free.
Were you always planning to work in the games industry?
I actually always wanted to be in the advertising industry… which was well before Mad Men made it seem so fun and sexy. I realized the ad agencies were pretty far behind the times when it came to online advertising, just like every corporation and even the Universities. So, I moved to silicon valley, where the innovation happens, and set my sights on Xfire. I got the job, and the rest is history.
You have said that you love helping geeks figure out how to make money on the web, so give us your top three tips?
1. Step 1: Make a short list of viable revenue options. Start by jotting down every creative way you can make money with your web project. Advertising, pay for premium services, subscriptions, etc, then narrow it down. To help with this exercise, have a beer, then make a list of websites you’ve given money to and those who’ve had a pay-service that make you scoff in disbelief. Then identify what made you take those actions, and apply the same logic to options on your list.
2. Step 2: Focus on the customer. Don’t stress about making a lot of money yet, instead build out the web project so your customers have a great experience and keep coming back. You won’t make any money if your customers don’t like your site. Test out your top revenue idea on the customer base, even if it’s small, and measure conversion.
3. Step 3: Iterate. Iterate. Iterate. Keep your site fresh with new ideas, always testing features to grow your customer base and their satisfaction. And continue to iterate on your revenue model. Changing things up doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it’s quite the opposite. It shows a level of flexibility that most people don’t have, and that flexibility often leads to success. Team Robot started out with 1 revenue model and we’re testing an alternate model later this year, and I expect several more iterations.
And above all else, always practice fair business. You’ll find people along the way that will suggest things like once you get subscribers, make it hard for them to cancel. Sure, if you mislead people on purpose, you will get extra revenue, but only in the short-term. If you let them cancel, it will hurt, but you’ll start to learn why they want to cancel. Knowing that piece of information is incredibly important for iterating on your product and eventually making it successful. You’ll find a lot of people strongly disagree with this advice, but you will always find me running my businesses this way. The decision is up to you.