In this episode, Caro Krenzer – co-founder and CEO of Trailmix – joins Naavik co-founder Aaron Bush to discuss:
- Caro’s games industry origin story and what led her to found Trailmix;
- How Love & Pies pivoted away from a failed game mechanic and turned into a hit;
- Lessons in inclusive game design, including how to build a great company culture that supports it;
- What Caro learned from working at King, how Supercell supports Trailmix as an investor, and what she’s excited about next.
Caro’s Background: [00:01:10]
[Aaron]: What got you into the gaming industry and what were you up to before Trailmix?
[Caro]: I arrived in the gaming industry in a quite accidental way, my background is in finance, I went to business school, worked for banks, worked for Accenture as a management consultant before I met someone serendipitously who worked in London for Playfish and told me about her amazing job as a product manager.
Growing up, games were definitely in our households more a boy-thing and not for myself, so I quite stumbled into the gaming industry in a surprising way. Playfish hired me as a product manager in 2010, I moved to London and never looked back! What drove us to leave King - me and my co-founder - is because we wanted to create a place where people can truly be the version of themselves, and we saw that over the years, the best people in the wrong place can’t be the best version of themselves.
Trailmix Story [00:04:40]
[Aaron]: Could you tell me a bit more about Trailmix? You mentioned building a workplace where people can be themselves but what really is Trailmix’ mission?
[Caro]: The purpose of Trailmix is sort of nourishing spaces for millions of people that does include the team, does include the audience.. It's really quite a purpose and mission to have a positive impact on the gaming industry - and ideally in the whole world. We found Trailmix in December 2017 and now we’re 47 people, we’re based in London, we’re in the office 3 days a week.
In terms of the games we wanted to create, for us we always envision Trailmix’ games to be sneakable yet nourishing - that’s actually why we call the company Trailmix - and what does that mean is that snackability of a really good match 3 game is so incredibly delightful. The nourishing for us is really about creating worlds that are safe for people, that are fun for people, that give people more than maybe what they get on other mobile games - especially on story driven games.
Pivoting Love & Pies [00:12:45]
[Aaron]: I’d love for you to unpack the story of the Love & Pies pivot. At what points did you know that change was needed, how did you actually go about making this massive change to be so successful?
[Caro]: Love & Pies really is basically five different games at this point, because we obviously have the core, the meta, the story, and we sort of mixed and match all of these elements quite a few times over the years, really understanding what works for our audience, what resonates the most and drives good KPIs.
We did actually test various cores that had variations of sort of the merge with gravity - as we called it - and we were quite married with the idea because of the failed state gameplay. The biggest mistake is that we spent too much time focusing on retention, trying to over the years with all of the different variations and mixing and matching, trying to figure it out, we did neglect the long-term retention impact of what our mechanics would be, and we found out relatively late and really what helped us to make the decision in the end to pivot was that when we saw the long-term retention numbers and the long-term monetization number we realized that we were not there yet, so we released this amazing live ops and events update and it had absolutely no impact whatsoever - I think at that point it was obviously frustrating, but also it really helped us to make the decision that this was not going to work.
Foundation Values of Trailmix [00:18:25]
[Aaron]: I'd love you to comment on what were the seeds that you set in the beginning that made change for your team easier than it would have been otherwise.
[Caro]: I guess it shows again that teams are the most important thing, really building a team that wants to work together, that’s in it for the long-term but I guess it's also sort of setting and living the culture of the company, defining what’s important to you as people.
I think it’s also important to add to this that we’ve been so incredibly selective when it came to our investors, Supercell was our seed investor so when we went through all of this we not only had an incredibly supportive team but we had incredibly supportive investors who didn’t put unnecessarily pressure on us.
Lessons at King’s London Studio [00:26:55]
[Aaron]: I’d love to hear about what lessons and studio building you learned in being a founder of King’s London studio that you were able to apply to getting Trailmix off the ground?
[Caro]: There’s so many good things! What King did really really well in their earlier days was to focus on a very inclusive culture - King is obviously a Swedish company and when we first set up the London studio we had the opportunity to actually get two Swedish developers as part of our core team and that really helped us to make sure our own studio would also reflect more of the Swedish King culture.
Supercell as an Investor [00:38:50]
[Aaron]: What does it really look like to have Supercell as an investor?
[Caro]: I think it has changed quite a bit over the years. When they first invested as a seed investor, I think we were one the second minority invested company, and that meant we just did whatever we wanted to do - which we obviously very much appreciated as a new company. At the same time though, as we got to know each other better, I think Supercell started investing more, we’ve been getting more and more support of them, they make available a lot of resources which we’d just not have access to, so I think they’d a really amazing job between finding a balance between being incredible hands-off and just letting the teams pretty much get on with things but also having a support system that really allows us to be incredibly successful having them on board as our investor - e.g. getting advice on PR, getting advice on recruiting, marketing.. They’ve such excellent teams in so many different areas that you just actually can’t really build yourself that easily as a small company.