Episode 5 Personalised Gaming Experience through AI

On this edition of Business & UX Story, Divanshu is joined by Jakub and Matej, the co-founders of Assetario. The pair discuss the origins of Assetario, and their partnership as a whole. Having met at MIT, Jakub and Matej bonded over mobile gaming and noticed major flaws in the monetization models of the increasingly popular free mobile game genre, with micro-transactions.
To learn more about the journey of Jakub and Matej, as well as Assetario, don’t miss this episode of Business & UX Story!

Episode Transcript

Divanshu Thakral 0.00

Hey guys, I hope you are enjoying listening to Business & UX Story. Do send in your comments for us to improve the podcast even further. Just before you start listening to today’s episode, please follow us on the platform you’re listening to us on. Be it Spotify, Apple Podcast, or Google Podcast. 

In today’s episode, we meet these two young entrepreneurs who recently graduated out of MIT in 2020 and they are building a disruptive platform to revolutionize the gaming space. They started doing it while they were in the university and I think the best stories that are created in the startup space actually started in a dorm room and I hope this turns into another one. They are trying to make gaming more personalised for the user and for the gaming studios to create more value. 

I have with me Matej Novak and Jakub Chudik who are founders of Assetario which is an AI driven solution for gaming studios to create value at both ends of the spectrum in this space. We will get deeper into the platform and deeper into this in this podcast. Welcome Matej and Jakub. I hope you are doing well.

Matej Novak 1:14

Thank you very much, Divanshu. Really appreciate the invites.

Jakub Chudik 1:18 

Hi, thank you very much. Pleasure to be here.

Divanshu 1:20

Great. How are you guys doing? How are things back home? 

Matej 1:25

So I am, I’m currently in Slovakia and luckily people have started getting vaccinated. It’s hopeful this whole piece is coming to an end. Summer is awaiting. Jakub, how are you in Boston? 

Jakub 1:42

Yes. I moved to Boston at the start of this year where our company’s headquarters is because things are still getting better and better by the day. Finally got our shots and life is restarting.

Divanshu 1:58

That’s good to hear, man. I hope we all can get out of it soon and probably catch up for a beer. Somewhere in Boston or Slovakia or India maybe. 

Matej 2.07 

That’s right. That’s right. That would be fantastic. 

Divanshu 2.10

Amazing. So guys, Assetario is fairly new and I got a chance to kind of interact with you guys recently. And I really got kicked with the whole idea. 

And being, I wouldn’t say a pro gamer, but an avid gamer who’s played a lot of games I’d be really excited in terms of understanding what you guys are doing. And I think so would be our audience to know a little bit more about the story of Assetario.

How it kind of occurred to you, how you thought that hey, this is what we want to build, and this is what this industry needs. So why don’t you kind of share some of that. 

Matej 2.49

Happy to. I can take off with a story. Our long-term vision for Assetario is Jakub and I were both passionate about making computers that understand people, right? This is something that we would love to achieve. It’s, in the end, what we’re trying to make smart algorithms that understand how to be most useful to people. It is a connection of our really, it started with our background in computer science, and then we converged into, using machine learning and gaming of which we’re huge fans. And so it is almost like a dream career where we can be doing all the cool machine learning that we liked and studied, and applying to gaming.

We started Assetario when I met at MIT with Jakub. I was there to finish up my masters. Jakub was the only undergraduate from Slovakia doing his computer science degree there. I definitely heard of him as the young, bright man who has made it to Boston for the undergrad.

Jakub has previously had experience in startups. While he was at MIT, he actually used to work on them. He co-founded a startup called Conquer X, which was dealing in the medical diagnostics space. Jakub has also had a lot of experience with personalization having worked, for example, in Expedia which is a big online travel booking company. [He has a] Background also in computer science. But then I was a consultant at McKinsey. But I have also worked as a cloud engineer at this gaming startup called Improbable in London. And so we decided to join forces and start this company.  

Divanshu 4.45

Amazing. I think all big products kind of start from a dorm room and I think that’s

your story, I guess. 

Matej 4.53

Exactly. It was definitely a lot of Saturday nights where we would be drinking. Jakub used to live in a fraternity and so we would go to his room. His room had a couch, mine didn’t. I had a smaller room. And we were just brainstorming what makes sense? And it just kind of occurred to us is we’re looking at the work that Jacob has done to Expedia, which is he was

working in the team, which was trying to understand, Hey, if me, Matej tries to look at a hotel in Barcelona, well there are maybe 2000 hotels that can be shown, which one should show this user, this person, and you don’t really know much about them. But you’re trying to make the best guess. Should it be a Hilton in the center or should it be maybe a hotel at the beach, which is a little cheaper, but then you can go swimming a lot more often. And so on. So this is the work that Jakub has been working on. There’s a lot of value there and there’s a lot of startups doing these so-called recommendation engines in e-commerce, but we found that gaming just knows so much more about their users and nobody’s doing these recommendation engines.

And we figured out that we think that we can really improve mobile games specifically by making sure that when you’re playing a game. The game feels like it understands you and it’s giving you the offers that you want. So this really started when Jakub and I were playing the same game and I just kept being shown these $20 offers, even though I have never bought anything. And I just thought, well, you know, with Jakub we thought, well, if I was shown a $3 offer with just very little amount of content, but just something that maybe I might, I might just buy it, you know, and give it a try. But $20 seemed Outrageous. And so that is how we started just understanding who should be given conversion offers, who should be getting these kinds of optimization.

And now we’ve branched into also understanding the content. You know, now is the time where in candy crush, you no longer hate all of the special effect except for one. And then you should be given that in the offers. There’s nothing that I think gamers hate more than having to buy a bundle with stuff that they don’t need, just because it has that one item that they absolutely need.

And so this is the stuff that we’re trying to optimize. We’re trying to improve gaming experience by really understanding this is the content that this user would love to buy. And then allowing in games who have a hundred different offers and give the perfect one for every user. 

Divanshu 7.27

I get it because I know I can relate.

While you were talking I could see screens in front of me and when those offers to buy coins or [00:08:00] gems like $10 or $15, they don’t actually make sense. But if I was given a kind of something to bite, which is like $2, $3, I would actually pick it up.

And I think that would kind of engage me more with the games. So that’s a great way of thinking and kind of building a product around it. 

Matej 8.00

We’re really trying to apply a lot of this knowledge that we have within the team in terms of understanding customers into creating a better game, right.

A game where you actually engage with the products and feel like the stuff that you’re buying is is exactly the stuff that can help you progress. And it’s working. Yeah. It’s really, really fun stuff. 

Divanshu 8.23

I understand. So are you both also pro gamers or very regular gamers?  

Jakub 8.30

I used to play so many games. Like I basically got my first computer. We had the first computer in our house when I was like six. So at the time it was probably like a Shrek game. Then I graduated to Civilization and basic layers, which is an amazing game. And, all the way to basically pulling all nighters in high school playing games with my friends instead of studying. So, I mean I had to dial it down a little bit when I seen, so it might have been him and I had to study. But I now play mostly games on my phone because that’s our target market. Right. We need to understand absolutely what’s happening in the games, what I’ve done, latest developments, but also just like, if we find a cool game and we like the gameplay the experience.

And we feel like there’s an opportunity to personalize it. We can reach out  to that as a potential customer. 

Divanshu 9.31

Right. Right. So guys, you know, who are you going after? Who’s your customer and what is it actual offering to them? 

Jakub 9.39 

Yeah. So, I was saying we have two SAAS products that we’re building

concurrently, that they work together in a symbiosis, so to speak. So one of them is Predictive Lifetime Value, where we look at the end game behavior, like how does the player, each individual person, how do they interact with the game? Are they the social type? Are they more like an achiever? And then when they get the best items? Or maybe they are an Explorer, do they want to try every part of the game and see how he works, how he feels and, you know, gets into the visuals and the sound effects, et cetera.

And, a lot of game design theory behind these different player personas. And so we were looking at how these players interact with the game. And then, uh, we use that information and our machine learning algorithms to set them on the best Pathway for really enjoying the game the most and, and monetizing in the best way possible.

We believe that if we are able to show the right content for each player they enjoy the game more. They engage with the game more and as a result, they also spend more on the game. So it’s like a win-win for both sides. So first is Predictive Lifetime Value we understand how much the player is going to spend throughout their lifetime in the game.

And then Personalized in-app Purchases. So those are the two products that we offer. 

Matej 11.07

Yeah. What this means is that we have a use case for marketing, where games generally their business model works in a way where let’s say they buy a user from a Facebook ad.

And for every user from that Facebook ad, they pay $2 to Facebook. And then it’s important to understand what are these users, that you just bought and you spend maybe 5 million a month on acquiring these users, are going to be the right kind. And so we make these predictions to say on average, the users that came in we’ll spend maybe $2.50.

And so you should double down on that marketing campaign, or maybe it’s a loss-making campaign and you should really stop it immediately. So we can save a lot of money and just make marketing budgets a lot more efficient. And then, uh, we move on to the product side where we can improve the game experience, either do in our purchase recommendation engine, or even through PLTV, Predictive LifeTime Value where, you know, a game designer can say, oh, assets are your things that this user is going to be a really high spender.

So we should treat them like Kings, you know, maybe show them fewer ads because we really think that this user is going to be valuable. Our go-to market is we need to show value to the biggest publishers. So, the kind of companies that we work with on average, our average customer has maybe 400 million in revenue.

And it’s because we really want to be the company that has the highest quality offering. We are the one where you’re a big publisher, you know what you’re doing, and then you can outsource one or two of the personalization to Assetario and we can help you deliver the best player understanding tools that is how we’re starting.

And we’re slowly trying to figure out how we can make this as scalable as possible for all the smaller games, which maybe only have 10,000 users a month and do not have large budgets. And we need to make sure that the cost is good for them. And the value is good for them as well. Even though it’s hard to be that personal in the service approach. 

Divanshu 13:21

Right. So what would be the business model like here? Like, would it be a complete SaaS model that you pay a fee for the amount of users that you onboard on the platform on this? Or what is it like? 

Matej 13:39

We need to get to a point where we are fully volume-based and most of our contracts are now structured in a way where there’s a fee per user. 

Let’s say a couple cents for every user. And then, however, some of the more long-term contracts that we have had earlier on last year are performance only. So we say, look, the users like the game so much more than they actually spend me 30% more money. we take a cut of the uplift that we generate, and it was a good strategy to get us the early deals right where you don’t pay us anything until we, we show you the value. 

Divanshu 14:22

Right. Right. That’s amazing. I think that’s a great way to enter the market and prove your concept. 

Matej 14:31 

It definitely says something about confidence that we have in the product.

Divanshu 14:37

Right, right. So, have you signed up some new, good customers or are you still focusing more on product right now?

Matej 14:49

Always focusing more on the product. but we were working with, and you know this is something that’s the remote work has helped us with is that we’re working with large companies, whether private or even public across US, Asia and so on. So,  it’s quite nice. It’s quite nice. The only thing that we have to, I think be better at is having a bit of a local customer success champion. So we’re hiring for that. 

Divanshu 15:20 

That’s amazing. So how big is the team now? 

Jakub 15:25

Yeah. Yeah, we’ve been super, we’ve been super focused actually. And that was a reason why at first, when you give them a hire, even like non-technical people, we didn’t put any effort into building a website because the challenge of creating

personalized monetisation is huge. He’s even in large established companies that have whole internal online ethics teams. And, you know that’s what we’re trying to. Those are the teams we’re trying to empower  with our tools and bring additional value. So, we ended up hiring 12 people myself and Matej counting who are engineers and data scientists.

And only then do we get our first non-technical person.

Divanshu 16:09

That’s great that you’re focusing first on the product. And then going out hunting for business because a lot of startups do the other way around. And, you know, whenever they’re kind of called out for POC, product showcase, they kind of fail.

So, I think product is more important than selling right in the first go. 

Matej 16:34

It’s very true. The thing that kills you is a turn, right? When you have. Well, I mean, one of the things is you’re, if you’re working with a big billion dollar studio and they say this isn’t working, then you have just killed 5% of your market, you know?

And so that cannot possibly happen. 

Jakub 16:55 

And on the other hand, I was just going to say that on the other hand, the MIT kind of startup methodology is very much about understanding that you have, that there’s a market needs and understanding that there are customers willing to pay for your solution before you arrived at the first line of code, and this is what we did. We spent almost all that they will use when we build it.

And we build it with a high quality. 

Divanshu 17:29

So this product, this platform is focused more towards casual gaming.

Matej 17:39

It depends. It depends. I suppose it’s casual in a way that it is mostly on mobile games. We’re trying to get a few deals actually in the console space, but currently everybody that we work with is just on the mobile. Mobile is the biggest market.

And you could say they’re casual.

However, if you really get into the terminology, you can be in a competitive game that is just a mobile. Any kind of game on mobile works with us. 

Divanshu 18:11

And basically the product gives you all the insight that you need, uh, in making better decisions and making the calls that you need to do in terms of what kind of user to go after and what kind of user to drop.

So. That platform is doing all of these things in a very beautiful manner.

Matej 18:32

We try to make it very end to end. So, the way we work is, Hey, let’s take a look at how your players are behaving. And you already have some kind of segmentation in place,, there’s some users that get to see a really early on, high discount conversion offer. So you may have some decision-making already in place. What to show it or not, or whether to show a really big bundle with a thousand diamonds or a really small bundle with two diamonds. However, we just try to make the decision, making the targeting a little better because that’s all we do. We just focus on the brain. 

Divanshu 19:09

Got it. Now I am pretty clear about the product now since you have kind of spoken about it in detail, I think it really helps us understand what it is actually.  And game tech as a space is also, you know, it’s a big industry, so I didn’t think this was true.

Matej 

Unity had an IPO, IronSources going public. Yeah. It’s a couple of unicorns out there already

Divanshu 19:37

Right. And I hope Assetario gets there very soon.  

Matej 19:41 

Hopefully, with the support of your designers. 

Divanshu 19:44

Absolutely. I’m glad you said that. So, though we worked on a very small assignment with you, did it help? A disclaimer that we worked with you on our presentation deck but just wanted to know that did it help in conveying the right messaging that you needed to.

Matej 20:04

Jakub actually spoke with. Jakub, can you say the phrase that you’ve heard? 

Jakub 20:10

Absolutely. The feedback on your deck was: It really brings clarity. And since we had this, let’s call it maybe a communication deck in the sense that we were so much focusing on the technical side of the product that your deck really helped us communicate better.

And so that’s one thing, but the other was it builds credibility and trust. Like the feedback was okay, this smells like a company that has money.which means that I can trust it because they’re not understaffed. They have enough resources to make sure that my game is going to be successful and that they’re not going to screw up my monetization, which is the most important thing to me.

Divanshu 20:57

[00:21:19] Well, that’s, that’s great. If you can capture trust in one presentation and especially when you send it over and all that, that’s a great insight for us as well. 

Matej 21:11

I really liked that, Divanshu, how when we started you kind of went through the process of defining what do we want to achieve with the look?

And we said, we need to show that we’re of high quality and very professional because we’re in the data business. Which is naturally a little more discreet and risk averse.  And you captured it perfectly, and that is what it does. The sales deck is fantastic. 

Divanshu 21:40

I am. I’m happy to hear that. 

Great. So guys, you’re right in that stage. I mean, you know, my earlier episodes, people I’ve spoken to before they’ve kind of acquired users, they’ve kind of reached the stage, slightly ahead in the stage of startup that they are in you are, the stage where this question actually makes sense and you must be going through it totally because it’s a very new thought up and all that.

So tell me more about the challenges that you face right now and mostly if you could share the emotional part of this journey. 

Jakub 22:21 

So it’s been, obviously everyone’s life has been disrupted and at the time we were starting the company, we were still finalizing our last exams and Matej was writing his thesis.

Well, we were just trying to figure out whether I was trying to figure out whether I can go home or if I have to stay in the US because of visa issues. And so it was super

difficult. And then it also made us stronger in a way. We were able to fundraise our first round of funding without ever meeting the investors in person and being in Eastern Europe, in Slovakia, there was, so that was a first we were able to close our first speed contracts without ever meeting with the people in person.

We were able to hire our full team without meeting most of them in person. I still haven’t met some of them in person because of just like working for them at home and all of that.

But at the same time, it’d been very difficult to take a break. Like it’s just you are running a company. You’re really excited about it. And you just want to dedicate all their time. But then at some point, you start to go crazy, especially if you’re locked inside the whole time.

So we’re trying to figure out a way to have a bit of work-life balance. And this is an ongoing theme.

Divanshu 23:48

Nice. I hope your exams went well and you scored well. 

Matej 24:00

Jakub actually is pushing on this really hard. This is something that I think when we started at least I was like, we need to work all the time, all the weekends as well.

And Jakub was like, look, let’s, let’s think about what kind of a company we want to build, what kind of happiness we want to have in the team and in ourselves and everybody very rightfully, Jakub helped me understand that this is a marathon almost.

And so if you, you can work on the weekends and work, you know, 13 hour days, six days a week, but you will not do that for longer than four months. However, if you’re running a company, you should do it for more than four years. Jakub is really good at this, I think.

And he has helped set this out very early on. 

Divanshu 24:50

I think that’s great. You know entrepreneurs and founders need to kind of balance each other. So one is crazy. One is, you know, one is balanced. So that’s great. That’s very similar to what we have at one thing. Like you’ve met Manik, I think once. So Manik is. We call him Buddha, you know, the monk. And I am the crazy one, you know always wanted to kind of work or party hard afterwards. So yeah, I think it kind of balances us out. Well, great stuff, guys.

We always wrap this whole episode up with a nice thing that you want our audience or listeners to know that if they’re building a company or building a startup a few things that they should definitely keep in mind so that they don’t have to repeat the same mistakes that usually one ends up doing while starting up a company.

So if you want to share something, we’ll be glad to hear that. 

Matej 26:07

For me the important thing is just to keep on working hard because in the end, it is about the amount of work that you put in making sure that you talk to as many people as possible and understanding that progress will simply come, and maybe you speak to 30 people and then for three months and nothing is coming out of it.

And then you follow up with them again after four months and all of a sudden they’re like, oh, the progress that you’ve made is amazing. Let’s do a pilot. And so this culture of following up and being on times where everything is working really well and making sure that the people in your team are phenomenal because that just makes everything so much easier.

Divanshu 26:53

True. True. I think that that’s a great point that you want. 

Jakub 27:00

I’m definitely going to echo all of that. I think we learn so much and especially in this space. Gaming space is all about having personal connections and knowing the other people. It’s a small industry in the sense that everyone knows each other and you just have to build that credibility and trust them.

And that’s all you can do through. talking to people. And we can always talk to someone from your industry, right? 

If you’re in India and it’s 8:00 PM, 9:00 PM, and you want to talk to someone who works nine to five, you can call someone in London or in the US. There are always people who can talk about it, so that you understand your market better.

And yeah, people get four to five hours of productive time per day. You just have to make sure that you spend those few hours on the most important things. 

Divanshu 28:00

Right point there Jakub because what is more important is that those productive hours and not how many hours you actually stretched yourself for.  and, uh, that actually.

Really matters that you stay focused and stay productive for that particular amount of hours that you, uh, that you can actually do. You know, otherwise it’s just I think you’re stretching yourself too much

Yeah. Good conversation, guys. I’m happy to have this chat. Uh, I think we spoke after a while and I’m happy that things are looking up for you guys and I’m hopeful we can work together sometime in the future. And I would wish you success and lots of new clients.

Matej and Jakub 28:53

Thank you very much. Thank you. And likewise Divanshu. Thank you.

And thank you again for inviting us here. 

Divanshu 29:00

That was such an insightful conversation. Businesses and products get impacted to design in ways more than what we can imagine. If you would like to listen to such conversations, stay tuned. Subscribe to business and UX Story till then stay safe and keep listening.

Thank you.

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