Welcome to our Trailblazers in Technology series, in partnership with Samsung. Here we'll profile six powerhouse women dominating not just the technology world, but their chosen area of profession. Together with Samsung, IMAGE is serious about championing female entrepreneurs, businesswomen and those who take risks everyday to reap the benefits of success. Buckle up as we introduce you to six leading professional women who are doing it not just for themselves, but for women everywhere. This week we profile Nikki Lannen, co-founder and CEO of gaming studio WarDucks.
Leaving a secure job to strike out on your own is hard. Leaving a secure job in Facebook — with all of its perks and benefits — is even harder.
Nikki Lannen spent almost five years working for the social media giant, where she was a founding member of the games department. It was a great experience, she says, but she had an “itch” to set up her own games studio, and in 2014 she did just that.
Nikki, from Dublin, has always enjoyed gaming, in particular ‘match-three’ games like Candy Crush. This casual interest became a consuming passion when she started working in Facebook.
“I got hired on the sales team,” she explains, “but one of my first incoming queries was from a games company called Playtika and I became very involved in them at the time because they were an extremely fast-growing games company.
“And through that I became very interested in the analytics side of games and understanding how games work and basically how games companies scale.”
Over time, Nikki began to get to grips with the metrics that matter in the gaming industry. “For a successful game, one of the first metrics they look at is retention — retaining people is really important. If you think about people downloading an app on the App Store, a lot of people download an app and they don't go back into it again.
“So you’re trying to get people coming back to that app over and over again and you’re trying to make sure your content is solid and that there’s enough there to keep them coming back.”
After spotting a business opportunity — and floating her idea with anyone who would listen — Nikki left Facebook and set up WarDucks with two games developers.
Their first game, a hidden object adventure called Global Agent, was downloaded 600,000 times. They followed it up with virtual reality game Sneaky Bears and a further four titles that increased their fan base and showed investors that they meant business.
The Dublin-based company, which employs 18 people, is now busy working on an ambitious location-based augmented reality game that will have been two years in the making when it's launched in 2020.
Global phenomenon Pokémon GO proved just how successful this genre of game can become, and the investors who helped raised €3.3m for WarDuck’s venture are clearly hoping that lightning can strike twice.
Before working for Facebook, Nikki sold advertising space for IMAGE magazine. Does she think her background in sales helped when attracting investors?
“I don’t think so,” she says. “When you raise money people get to know you and predominately they get to know your team so it’s really about showcasing what you're doing and developing trust so you’ve proven yourself to a certain extent — and communicating what you do and what your plan is for the coming years.
"Our investors are coming through that journey with us and are really excited to see the mobile game come to market next year.”
It helps too that Ireland is developing an international reputation as a gaming industry hub. “There’s been a lot of success here,” says Nikki, before listing off companies like DIGIT Game Studios and Romero Games. “We’re starting to see a lot of movement in the games space here in Ireland which is a great thing for the country on a whole, and great for such a small country.”
There’s also a lot more women at the helm of gaming companies in Ireland, compared to other countries, she adds. “There’s good female presence in the games space here. It’s definitely not near 50/50 but there are a few female CEOS, which is not common in a global sense so it’s good to see that within the Irish community.
“And there is a lot of support out there. I guess I don't know what it’s like to go through the process as a male but it’s all been pretty positive for me on my little journey.”
Of course, that ‘little journey’ is only just beginning as WarDucks gets set to launch their biggest game yet. “It’s been a tough few years,” says Nikki, “but it’s also so enjoyable. And if it’s something you love, you’re willing to make those sacrifices in the early days."
Leaving a high-paid job for a high-risk start-up was a bold move, she admits, but the biggest risk of all would be living with regret. “Starting a company is very risky so a lot of people like to play it safe. But if you really have an itch to do something you really should do it because you don't want to be at a stage where you regret it.
"You just need to go for it."
Follow the Trailblazers in Technology series, in partnership with Samsung, on social with #IMAGETrailblazers. IMAGE has long been a champion of women in business, as seen in our Businesswoman of the Year, Business Summit and Beauty of Business pillars. In Samsung, we found the perfect partner to champion women in tech. For the last two years, we've ran the hugely successful The Pitch competition, where a small enterprise has the opportunity to win €100,000 worth of high-tech Samsung products to propel their business to the next level. For more on The Pitch read here.