Hadean is the tech startup that a successful 14,000 player deathmatch, live at San Francisco’s GDC global gaming expo this year, using their Aether Engine, which also has applications in biomedical cancer simulations. CEO Craig Beddis has learnt some crucial startup lessons along the way to this success, and a recent $10 million funding round, not least how to grow fast.
So what can he tell RSNG about how to find and retain talent, how to recognise and fix things when you’ve got it wrong, and the benefits of including different perspectives?
RSNG What has been the signature success so far?
CRAIG BEDDIS, ENTREPRENEUR ‘EVE Aether Wars, where we delivered 3,852 real players in a single multiplayer match live at GDC, the global gaming expo in San Francisco. In hosting that amount of players in a single game, we demonstrated that our technology can do something that no-one else outside of CCP Games has been able to deliver.’
‘We were able to boost the game with an additional 10,000 players, using intelligent AI bots that sat outside of the Azure network after we ran out of real players… this gave us an incredible total of 14,274 players! This was hugely impactful for as a company because we had the courage and confidence to do EVE Aether Wars live at GDC, the biggest games development event on the planet.’
RSNG How did you go about finding and then securing talent in a competitive market?
CB ‘It’s about getting the right people in the right roles for the right stage of the company. It’s about ensuring that everyone we hire maps to our core criteria around three culture pillars for people at Hadean. Firstly, there’s DNA, which is character. Secondly, there’s knowledge, which is their education, their work experience, their domain knowledge and what they know. Finally, there’s skill, which is the proof points of what they’ve done and their ability to take their character and knowledge and do something with it.’
‘We believe in diversity and not just in diversity in the typical sense of creed, colour, sex and so on. We embrace different perspectives and different points of view. We very much understand the collective is better than the individual. Hadean is a group of very diverse thinkers and we share the core understanding that working and engaging collectively makes us all better. We have a mantra – ‘people like us’. It’s not one person, one way of thinking.’
‘You can see things, hear things and know things but it’s actually doing things that teaches you’
RSNG You hear a lot about ‘developer hell’ in the game industry these days and the mess surrounding Anthem and other launch games shows that public failure is a real danger – how do you guard against that in a fast-moving startup?
CB ‘You have to have the courage to embrace partnerships and test your technology and game ideas prior to launch. You only learn by doing. You can see things, hear things and know things but it’s actually doing things that really teaches you.’
‘So you need courage to test your hypothesis and your ideas with partners that can see things differently to you before you launch a game. EVE Aether Wars was a huge success for us but it only worked because we were able to relentlessly test our technology and game ideas prior to launch. And even so, there are still lessons from that launch that we’re taking forward to make EVE Aether Wars: Phase Two even better.’
‘You need partners that are as brave as you and pioneers in their own world. With CCP Games and their CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, we had the perfect partner who shared our vision and approach to breaking things to make better things for us both!’
RSNG What about dysfunction that can creep in, even within management?
CB ‘It’s also vital to build a culture of continuous and never-ending improvement. You embrace divergent thinking built on trust that ensures any dysfunction, which can be a natural occurrence when growing a company, is quickly removed and eliminated. As your company grows, your people have to grow in parallel.’
RSNG What’s the biggest lesson you have learned so far about keeping talent and enabling it to fully blossom?
CB ‘Keeping people and enabling their talent is about helping them identify, embrace and expand their own personal genius zone. I believe that everyone has a genius zone. The hardest part as the leader of a company is to help people find that genius zone and flourish within it.’
‘That doesn’t mean letting people do what they want to do or even being nice and telling them what they want to hear. It’s about challenging them to be the best person they can be. It’s about focusing on their strengths while ensuring you have a plan and a support network of people and process to mitigate their weaknesses. It’s about getting the right people in the right roles.’
‘I am always keeping my eyes and ears open to ensure we see things as they are, not as we are’
RSNG Have you had any chastening moments?
CB ‘No matter how much experience you have as a leader and in building companies, products and people, there’s always the reality of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Learning is constant. It never ends. It never stops. There’s nothing more enlightening than seeing something for the first time that you couldn’t see before, and then getting better as a result of making the change needed.’
‘Some of the most chastening moments are when you have the realisation that you may have got it wrong. Having the ability to accept that and then make the changes needed, not just for yourself but also so the company can grow, is chastening, but it can also be enlightening.’
‘Cognitive dissonance in people is common; in entrepreneurs it is like a disease. So, I’m always trying to keep my eyes and ears open to ensure we see things as they are, not as we are. There are a lot of people that say as an entrepreneur you need to believe in yourself and be stubborn, that you have to stick to your beliefs and your vision, but ego can blind you. You have to believe in yourself and your vision but that doesn’t mean you have to be stupid.’
RSNG What has been your biggest surprise so far?
CB ‘People always amaze me in their capacity to grow and develop. Not just themselves but also their ability to impact people around them. I’ve always been amazed by the complexity around human nature and the impact of technology.’
‘The most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction but craving for more. We really embrace and encourage this thinking at Hadean. If you look for the good in people, you find great things can happen. I’m always amazed by the potential of the human spirit.’
RSNG What are your three top tips for start-ups?
CB ‘The three things: people, innovation and execution. Building companies and building products needs a continuous and never-ending focus on innovation and execution as a discipline across the company.’
‘It starts with knowing they are typically very different skill-sets and usually very different people, so you have to build a team of people who understand and see the value in the need for both, so that they work together not against each other. This comes back to the Hadean DNA we talked about earlier – you need a collective right and left brain with the right people in the right roles for innovation and execution.’
‘If you’re trying to build a company and you’re trying to build game-changing products, then it’s all about building game-changing people who can support each other to innovate and execute. Great people build great products and great products will help build a great company.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch the summary of Hadean’s Aether-engine powered EVE: Aether Wars 14,000 player deathmatch.