From pro gamer to CEO

August 18, 2023

Gaming content creation insights, the importance of team selection and dealing with contracts.

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From pro gamer to CEO

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In this episode, Nick Cuomo, co-founder and CEO of Allstar, shares his background as a former professional gamer and how creating and sharing video content propelled his career. He highlights the importance of video content in gaming and its role as a social tool. Nick's experience in design, marketing, and technology led him to start Allstar in 2019, with the goal of making it easier for gamers to share their gameplay. Tune in to learn more about Nick's journey and the mission of Allstar.

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The key moments in this podcast are:

[00:01:31] The importance of video content.

[00:04:23] Mark Cuban's investment journey.

[00:08:49] Starting a business challenges.

[00:11:36] The future of gaming.

[00:14:25] E-sports and pro gaming.

[00:18:16] Startup programs and free trials.

[00:22:54] Closing a deal is fun.

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Read the transcript

00:00 Charles Brecque Welcome to the Legislate podcast, a place to learn about the latest insights and trends in business, technology and startups. Today I'm excited to welcome Nick Cuomo on the show. Nick is the co-founder and CEO of Allstar, a company which makes great gaming content fun to make, easy to share and impressive to watch. Nick, thank you for taking the time. Would you like to please share a bit of background about yourself and Allstar?

00:26 Nick Cuomo Yeah, thanks Charles for having me and yeah, happy to tell you a little bit more about Allstar and my background. So I'm actually a former professional gamer. I played Counter-Strike in high school and college and I had my own sort of zero to hero experience by creating and sharing video content for my best moments and practically overnight that put me on the map. I had fans and teams recruiting me and it really taught me a very valuable lesson in terms of just how important video content is within gaming as sort of a social tool and a way to express and kind of convey things to other gamers. So it left a really big impression on me. It was a huge part of my life. I spent the next 12 years or so in my career in design, marketing and technology. I'm actually a designer by trade. I went to full sale. I did digital arts and design. I built my first website and sold it to my graphic design teacher in high school. So I've always been technical and creative, which gave me a leg up in creating and sharing my own video content. But most gamers don't have the free time, the expensive equipment, the know-how or the resources to really do that well or regularly. So we started Allstar in 2019 really to make it, you know, make sharing your gameplay as simple and as satisfying as posting a really great looking selfie. And I think we all know that selfies got to make you look good for you to want to share it. So that's really what we do for gamers. We build creator tools that help them, you know, generate and share really awesome short form media across their favorite networks so that they can connect with friends and kind of show off their great kind of gaming skills. And yeah, my career after that was really just in, you know, I spent some time in the ad world, did a digital agency called BlueFountain Media where I met my co-founder and I worked at a software as a service company, moveableink, that recently crowned Unicorn Valuation.

02:33 Charles Brecque But yeah, loving it, making a lot of progress with Allstar and excited to share more. That's great. And I guess as a former professional gamer, you know, what won't skills that sort of carry over to being a founder?

02:48 Nick Cuomo Well, I'm a very fast typist, very quick on computers. I can click around and send lots of emails very, very quickly, which is an underrated skill as a CEO. I think outside of that, it's a competitive, it's a very competitive world. You know, I think gaming helped me tap into my kind of competitive side. And I definitely have carried that through my career into, you know, Allstar and, you know, just kind of really be on your toes. Also, I think the pro gaming, I guess, like ecosystem or social sphere, you just get exposure to a lot of a wide range of personalities because, you know, the game just attracts people from all walks of life. So I think at a really early age, I got very comfortable being able to deal with any kind of person and any sort of attitude. And some people are very nice and some people are quite mean. And I think you kind of have to have a bit of a thick skin to really put yourself out there in that world. And I think that definitely carries carries forward into the startup realm. And then obviously, besides that, just, you know, we know a lot about what makes good gaming content. So that definitely finds its way into the product. That's great. And yeah, I think typing clickgames is underrated. It is for sure. It is for sure. And I guess since starting Allstar, what's been your favourite moment? My favourite moment? That's tough. But I think it is a lot. I think my all time favourite is just it was very surreal when Mark Cuban decided to invest in us. And there's a few kind of surreal moments. One was just like I was at the airport, I was at JFK airport getting ready to leave for an engagement vacation with my then girlfriend, now wife. And you know, one of our kind of company contacts reached out to me. It was like, hey, we sent your materials to Mark. He's interested. He has questions on my perfect timing. And we jumped on a call. We kind of hashed out our response. Barely made it onto the plane. So yeah, it was a long story short. She said yes. He said yes. I was lugging up, you know, eight pound gamer laptop around Florence, Italy, doing, you know, due diligence and trading emails. But it worked out. And then I can't I think it was a couple of weeks later. It might have been in like November, late November, early December. And I was up late doing what I do for writing emails and building stuff. I got an email from someone on Mark's team at like one in the morning. And it was just him asking to invest a lot more actually than we originally were seeking. And of course, the answer was hell yes. But it was I was I was very tired. So I actually woke my wife up and was like, can you like read like am I interpreting this correctly? And then I called my co-founder. And it was a very transformative moment. We had been building a company for a few months. We didn't have salary for the first 18 months, even after he invested. But it was like everyone kind of looked at us like that's a little crazy. You guys had really great careers like to just kind of walk away from that and jump into like gaming clips was I think a lot of people question that opportunity. And a lot of those questions turned into, oh, as soon as a billionaire from Shark Tank backs your vision. So that was yeah, that was a very special moment.

06:24 Charles Brecque I think, you know, over a course of a few weeks. Congratulations. And I think Mark is he has a reputation about answering every single email,

06:32 Nick Cuomo I think. And he's a superhuman. I don't know how he does it. Yeah. And I guess how has he been as an investor? He's great. Super friendly. Very, very motivated to help us get stuff done. He just ultimately, I don't know how he does it because obviously he has a lot of, you know, attention and people really think about him and reach out to him. Like he's a he's a big famous celebrity, but he's still the first guy to open our newsletters, our investor updates, which is really always super impressive. And yeah, I think, you know, we don't really ask a ton of Mark. I think obviously we know he's very busy. But when whenever we have he responds, he helps us out and, you know, he's he's great.

07:23 Charles Brecque But generally, I think, you know, he understands that it's our job to build the business. Absolutely. I think especially when you bring on such renowned investors, you think that it will transform your company and it will.

07:36 Nick Cuomo But ultimately, you still need to build it. Yeah. Yeah. I think I think that's I don't know where that misconception comes from. But I do think that a lot of people over index the idea that like, if I get the right investor, then like, you know, they're going to do this. It's like, no, no, no, they're investing in like a you, be your team, see like your product. So if you're not spearheading that, you know, the first thing they're putting in is money. Right. I mean, like, yes, you know, introductions, connections. But in my experience, I mean, I have continued to maintain relationships with investors that I really like that have passed on us three or four times, honestly. And they'll make any intro I ask. So a lot of that like value add of like, oh, you'll get my network. Like, you can get that before or after they do or they don't invest. So I think it is important to just really understand that, yeah, they're not. It's not going to change everything you do. It's going to give you credibility. It's going to give you obviously important things like capital and connections.

08:38 Charles Brecque But, you know, the work is is always on the founder and there's a lot more work than you think it's going to be. So nice segue to my next question, which is, you know, what do you wish you'd known before you started Allstar? I guess south from your out of work. What was this question again? Sorry. What do you wish you'd known before starting Allstar?

08:55 Nick Cuomo What do I wish? OK. So what do I wish I had known before I started Allstar? Hmm. Good question. I think probably that it's going to be a lot more work than you think it's going to be. There's like a great banner on Twitter. I think a lot of founders kind of relate to this because a lot of us are very successful or driven people in our careers. And they would say, you know, I really should just go off and do this on my own or I really just want to kind of be my own boss or master my own destiny or just, you know, really be able to go as fast as I can go. And there's this great banner on Twitter. It's a meme. And it's like, you know, we didn't we didn't do this because it's easy. We did this because we thought it would be easy. And by the time you figure it out, you're already very far into things and you start to develop this level of, again, like the thick skin, the grit. You're kind of just like, this is, you know, it's going to keep getting harder and tough. But one of my mentors gave me the best advice I think I've ever gotten, which is the only thing that can stop you is you. And I think in most cases, that is true, because, yes, of course, like you can just mismanage funds or like you can just totally like ram your community into the ground or just like not, you know, execute well. But even if you do all of those things properly, you're still going to hit those points where you're like, man, this is I didn't think it would be this tough. But that's that's where you have to be. Well, hold on. Like, you know, I don't need to also be another obstacle for my own success. That was really important. That's gotten me through some tough, tough things. So, yeah, I wish I wish I knew that before I went into it. And probably a lot of things, but that's that's probably the main one. I think I would have maybe approach this a little differently or maybe looked at, you know, time and team and some of the kind of, I guess, ingredients or building blocks that are going to help you through those challenges in the future, a little more thoughtfully or a little more tactically and a little less sort of

11:04 Charles Brecque optimistically, I think, because I think the better, you know, the earlier you make better decisions, like you're just doing yourself a favour in the future. Yeah, no, I agree. Being a founder is quite lonely at the end of the day, and it is very easy to just feel sorry for yourself. And yeah, exactly. It'd be like snap out of it. So, yeah, great, great piece of advice. And you've had this distraction.

11:30 Nick Cuomo What sort of goal and vision for the next five years? Goal, vision, next five years. So we want to be the number one place where Gen Z spends their time. Eighty percent of them play video games and one out of three want to create content. So the way that we look at it is in gaming today, if you're a gamer and you want to create content and you want to express yourself, you really only have two choices. You can be a live streamer or you can record your screen. Both have a bunch of drawbacks, including negatively impacting your game performance, being extremely time consuming, require a high threshold of technical or creative skills. And then you also have to be like cameras on and have to inject an element of personality and charisma in order for that content to stand out. And realistically, that's not really up to most gamers' interests. I think I would describe a lot of gamers as being like, cameras off. I want to play games. I don't want to be like stressed out. And then the sort of resource constraints of just how long it takes and how much money it takes to have good hardware, good content, it's not available to most people. So we sort of started Allstars as an alternative that really focuses on using technology and game data to make it really super simple, to make great content and make that process fun and accessible. So we think that's really the most important thing here. And I think long term, we sort of imagine this being like a TikTok for gamers. I think it oversimplifies things, a very different sort of, you know, products and approaches to markets. But I do think that gamers don't have that platform of record where they can casually hang out and connect and share and create. And I don't think they have enough outlets for creative self-expression or really just casual content creation. And that's really the void that we're looking to fill. And yeah, we're really trying to kind of pull that gaming community together through great moments. That's really exciting. And I guess what tips could you share to an aspiring gamer looking to build a brand with content? Yeah, I think first of all, you know, pick your game, right? I think, you know, if you're really passionate at a game or you find yourself drawn or just exceptionally good at something, keep going in that direction. You know, I think there is always a deeper, bigger world than you think. That was my experience with Counter-Strike. Played a lot of games. I loved a lot of games. I love StarCraft and strategy games and, you know, weird simulators like Theme Park and things like that. When I was growing up, I played console, I played PC. But when I downloaded Counter-Strike for Half-Life, it was a mod at the time. I was just I was like, I'm pretty good. I felt like the game kind of came to me naturally. So I kept playing and I kept playing and kind of just followed this path into what turned into e-sports and pro gaming. So I think once you've got like the skill component or you're more integrated into the community, like message boards and Discord servers, you start to meet all the other people that are really focused on it. And there's a whole life there. There's a whole community there. And that's where I think it becomes a lot easier to create content or to create kind of interesting content that is more appealing to a niche or subset of audience. Because you can't be everything for everybody. And, you know, I think the people that do that very successfully, you know, like Mr. Beast, right? Like he's creating content for everybody, you know, unless you've got a million dollars to give away, you know, every week in your videos, that's that's that's not going to be very accessible. So we think that that is probably the the gamer sort of strategy that I would recommend. And I think besides that, you know, it should be fun. I don't think you necessarily need to make content with the intent to like be a professional and build a brand. I think it's, you know, my, you know, experience when I started making content was it was just fun. It was fun to go and watch back like a cool moment you remember and then to share that and then have your friend also be like, well, yeah, that was cool. And like, you're pretty good at this. Or, you know, I didn't, you know, I didn't realize how crazy that, you know, shot was that you took. So I think it can just be a fun thing and you never know where it leads. I think you have fun and you do it a lot. Sometimes things will kind of come together on their own.

16:03 Charles Brecque It sounds like same tips and advice for being a founder almost. Pretty much. Yeah, it's I guess a bit of a pattern there. Yeah, for sure. Great. And as a busy CEO founder, I imagine you must come across quite a few contracts and legal documents. What are sort of the key ones?

16:23 Nick Cuomo Favorite part of the job. Nothing, nothing better than lawyers and contracts. No, no offence, Neil. Yeah, I think we deal with a lot of sass arrangements. A few as of late have been major distractions. One, which I won't name who was actually an extremely frustrating and disappointing renewal process. And we ended up leaving that company and going to a competitor. And I think, you know, they really mishandled it. And I think part of that was that, you know, we crammed a ton of negotiation and communication into like the last three days of this, you know, sort of contract term. And they were very aggressive in the approach they took. I do feel like I was being, you know, maybe paying a little karma because I spent many years in sass sales. And, you know, I started to kind of remember some of the tactics and strategies to, you know, try and increase the annual contract value. And being on the other side of it, you know, I think, granted, I was a lot more transparent and, you know, direct and trying to be a good partner to the customers I work with. I was, you know, we almost signed a document and I was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, this is double what we paid last year. And I explained, I was like, this, you know, we have budget for flat. And they were like, well, it is flat if you look at it, you know, through this lens with this, like, you know, tint of paint. And I was just like, no, I'm like, I remember this tactic. I was like, you're just as you're comparing this to like a made up pricing that we never agreed to. So, yeah, it can be a major distraction, major time suck. My co-founder, Gavin, our CTO, he's been managing a lot of these now. And we just learned, I think even in the last like two to four weeks that as an early stage startup, you are going to be very drawn to a number of platforms and a number of SAS providers that have startup programs and founder universities and free for a year, free for 18 months, you know, 25% of normal pricing for two years, whatever. And then they get you. And then, you know, if you survive and things start to work out, all of a sudden you're like, it's quicksand and you're stuck. And now you have to decide between, you know, ripping and replacing software during a time where you don't have the resources and there are bigger priorities and things are extremely tenuous and in a good way. And that's, and that's how they get you. So sometimes spending that extra two weeks that you'd rather be building a feature, just, you know, building your own plumbing instead of relying on some other platform can be, you know, you'll make yourself in the future. And yeah, so that was, that was kind of a hard, hard, hard fought lesson as of late.

19:27 Charles Brecque I'm sorry to hear that. I mean, maybe not the same scale, but we've definitely enrolled in various startup programs and you're given a 95% discount on the enterprise path that you don't need. Yeah. When you end up with a massive bill and yeah, we just ended up, luckily, I'm just referring to like the chat widgets, you know, they're a bit commoditised so it's easy to sort of find an alternative towards another startup program. Yeah. Yeah. Rob and I never come out and split.

19:57 Nick Cuomo And then the origins, there's always some overage metric somewhere. It's, yeah. They're like, Hey, you owe us double of your annual contract value because you went like two over this month. And it's like, come on.

20:10 Charles Brecque No, exactly. Well, I guess the lesson here is, is always read, read the fine print and, and the value issue when you need this contract.

20:18 Nick Cuomo Yeah. Yeah. And I think just, you know, being very thoughtful about how you manage the timelines and the terms and making sure that you're, you know, allocating the proper time at, you know, in advance to really strategise and negotiate it and kind of have these conversations with vendors and partners upfront.

20:39 Charles Brecque And unconscious, Nick, I've taken your time already. So if you were to give one piece of advice to a prospective founder, what would it be?

20:47 Nick Cuomo One piece of advice to a prospective sounder, make sure that the people you work with are people you really like, and do not undervalue how important that initial team is. Because I can tell you the farther you go, the longer you do it, the more successful you can become. And then as you become more successful, the higher those stakes get. And, and that's where those sort of relationships and fundamental characters and how aligned your principles are and just your ability to like, you know, deal with tough stuff with someone else really start to kind of come to the surface. So yeah, be very, very careful about that and look to people that, you know, look to people that you worked with before that you're friends with that have expertise. And that, you know, you've had highs and lows with, and you understand that. That would be my most practical advice. My more upbeat would be just do something you love, you know, because like, as we've joked about, it gets really, really hard. So the more fun and passionate you are about what you're doing, it just makes it easier because you're like, I got to spend eight hours like working on a spreadsheet. But it's like, but as I'm building the future of gaming content, so like, it's still kind of cool and it's fun to see those numbers change over years. That that sort of stuff, I think, is, you know, if you're doing something too boring, that stuff becomes a little too boring. I mean, I'm sure that contracts is boring, but yeah, for me, what interests me is the, you know, making that whole process a lot smoother because I'm so passionate about the pain when it's not smooth. But yeah, find something. Yeah, definitely read your contracts, be super careful about like a sign. And yeah, I think contracts can be boring. Red lines can be boring, but closing a deal is fun. And I really still, I love, and that excites me, whether you're hiring someone or signing a deal with a partner or closing a deal with a customer, you know, getting that signature and executing that agreement is, it still thrills me to this day. And, you know, I think that is such a huge part of business. It's all, you know, that is the bits and bytes of decision making and agreement. So cannot, cannot underweight the contract. Super important.

23:26 Charles Brecque And you know, you had a nice boost of adrenaline keep going. Exactly. At the end of quarter, chase those deals, get those closes. Great. Well, thanks a lot, Nick, for being on the show at Growing Allstar.

23:39 Nick Cuomo Yeah, appreciate it. It was really great to meet and chat and yeah, thanks. Thanks again for inviting me on.

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