Mario Baumann is an entrepreneur, marketer and investor. He has had a front row seat on how the gaming industry has exploded in the last 15 years, working for the iconic World of Tanks game as the first overseas employee. He has a deep expertise in licensing deals for the gaming industry, ecommerce, entertainment, FinTech and Adtech. Over the last few years, Mario has focused on more venture building advisory, an entrepreneurs, boutique M&A and investment deals, and helping startups expand from Europe to Latam and Asia.
In this episode Slash CEO Andries De Vos and Mario Baumann discuss the success of World of Tanks, future of e-commerce, strategies for launching a gaming studio.
Website URL: https://www.baasingapore.com
Mario’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mariobaumann
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Mario, tell a bit about the type of work you’ve done in the last two decades as an entrepreneur and an investor.
My initial background is market research and marketing consulting. I had my first startup in my mid-20s, which didn’t succeed at all, but it was great for learning. I returned then to licensing deals in the gaming industry and started more on the global side of things there. I was the first non-Belorussian employee at the World of Tanks. After that, I tried fintech, focusing on margin markets, which then led me to open the first smart consulting agency in Southern Europe. The idea was to help companies in Latin America and Europe to complement each other. We worked with companies in New Zealand and Korea too, and that is how I reached Southeast Asia, where I work now.
Did you know back then that the World of Tanks would be such a global success? If so, what were the telltale signs?
When I first met the founders, they had been looking for a publisher for a year and only convinced one to publish the game. Plus, when the game entered the beta phase, the servers in Russia crashed. So, I did not expect that scale of success. What made the game so successful was that the founders worked very closely with the community – they met with focus groups, had moderators in place, got enthusiasts from outside interested, and they maintained contacts with the community. They realized back then that the community is the king. The creators worked a lot with experts to make good tanks and maps, and many of those experts actually tried the game. The average player of these games was not the same age as with other war games, but much older, hence they would be able to invest much more money.
If you set up a game studio today, what would be your winning strategy?
First, I would look at what kind of game scenarios are attractive to players nowadays. I would go for PC as the platform because there you can create a deep player experience. It’s crucial to involve the community. Another part is having a good PR department in place, making sure that you not only create content continuously but also engage with the community, in the offline world as well (e.g. via NFTs).
Can playing to earn be fun? Doesn’t adding money as an extra layer dilute the purpose of the game?
If you look at the trends and reports of the end of last year, playing to earn is the next big thing to come. You don’t want to have a high-flying game for a year, and then see the users just disappear because they can’t earn money from the game. Ideally, you don’t create a game just for people to earn through it, but you can look in the direction of creating a skill game where people can solely participate in tournaments and have prize spots. There is definitely potential in this field. Big audiences online (and offline) can enjoy big tournaments such as we had in Singapore recently. I haven’t seen really good concepts yet, but I think we should give it a little bit of time.
Let’s switch to venture building. In your Latin DV startup, you were more focused on helping companies commercialize and enter new markets. What was the founding philosophy?
Companies want to do business on a global scale. The philosophy behind this is that a lot of people are a bit afraid to enter new markets because of legislation and language differences. We had experience on both sides, Europe and Latin America, and that knowledge of how to set up a business was the main driver of our success, and it led us to invest in a fair number of startups.
You’ve been looking more and more at e-commerce and sustainability. What opportunities really excite you in the market, especially in Southeast Asia?
Sustainability here is a decade behind what I’ve seen in Europe, but something must be done here as soon as possible, considering the number of people who live in this part of the world. That is one of the reasons I invested in a company that operates in this field – taking care of overproduced goods from companies like L’Oreal and Unilever. That startup finds buyers for those goods through a marketplace, while waiting for the goods to be recycled. I was very attracted to that idea.
When it comes to sustainability, and looking at what exists at the market, there are many opportunities, especially in e-commerce. We’re talking about phenomenal movement, where PC isn’t required.
You’re also getting more involved in deals sourcing and acquisition. That process seems very time-consuming and relationship driven. How would you envision the improvement of that process in Southeast Asia?
It would be fantastic to have a marketplace, where requirements and offers come together, specifically funding in smaller brackets. We have a group for that in place, which solely functions through a WhatsApp chat. There isn’t even a proper company, it’s only based on trust. A portal could bring more light into the shade. This is something I would like to change in the near future.
What are the trends and opportunities you see currently in venture building? What strategies do you find exciting?
What excites me the most would be a pilot idea, a play-to-earn idea that engages people offline as well. Bringing kids, teenagers from the streets, them being able to play in groups with others and being able to create money or value they can later redeem to buy food. The idea fascinates me a lot, especially the older I get, of how we can extend our life experience. One is gaming-related, and the other is health-related.
The appetite is very high, the transparency is missing. I’m quite certain that once markets stabilize again, the appetite of European funds will become bigger. Potentially, there might be accelerated growth in our region. It is possible also to bring Southeast Asian startups and businesses into Europe.