Lina Chen—Innovator and “Strategic Hedonist”12 Jan 2015, Posted by Advice for Aspiring Producers, casual games, Expert Interviews, Game Design, interactive games, Mobile App Development, women in technology in
Lina Chen—Innovator and “Strategic Hedonist”
Lina Chen is the Co-founder & CEO of Nix Hydra, which makes mobile games and applications for young women aged 13-28. The company has more than $5.6M in funding and made the hit virtual pet game, Egg Baby, which has about 11 million downloads. Lina was recently named one of the top 50 People to watch in Southern California’s tech industry.
Lina manages company strategy, people, and money. Previously, Lina negotiated international mobile deals for Grooveshark, a streaming music startup, worked at the William Morris Agency, one of the largest entertainment agencies in the world, and graduated from Yale University.
- 1. Most of the people I have interviewed for this blog have been in the business for a long time. Your entry seems relatively recent (less than 4 years). Can you tell us what motivated you to get into gaming?
A few reasons:
1) I love creating fun things that large numbers of people can get excited about.
2) Both Naomi (my cofounder) and I played games growing up and we love games.
3) Since the gaming industry is very heavily male dominated, there aren’t many good games being made for our demographic and we’d really like for those to exist.
- 2. Your company is about two years old and has over $5MM in funding, though you apparently had no gaming track record. Can you tell us how you found your investors and convinced them to invest in you?
The first round of funding, which was a few hundred thousand of angel investment, came about from sheer perseverance. I just schmoozed and pitched and knocked on doors until I found investors willing to take a chance on us. The most recent $5MM was much easier because we already had traction with our game Egg Baby, which at the time had over 8 million downloads without any marketing.
- 3. Your games are aimed at a female demographic. Besides the obvious—you are a woman after all—what made you decide to focus on females?
We love and know this demographic! I find products for other demographics less interesting. Of course given the state of the gaming industry today, this also happens to be a market we can dominate most easily.
- 4. Your mobile game, Egg Baby, has over 10 million downloads. How did you come up with the idea for Egg Baby? What do you see as its appeal?
Naomi and I both really love pet games. Naomi is the Chief Creative Officer and she came up with the idea for Egg Baby. It’s based on the real life egg babies you take care of in health class.
Most of our fans gush about how cute the eggs are, so there’s that. It also has a lot of unexpected personality and depth. If you read the texts in the game, they are pretty hilarious and even dark sometimes. Each action also has consequences, which is pretty rare in a pet game – you shape your egg’s personality and ultimately what creature it hatches into based on the sum of all your interactions with the egg.
- 5. Getting noticed in a crowded market is no easy challenge. What did you do to market EggBaby? How did you get the word out?
We’ve never done any marketing for it! Most of our fans are teen girls and they happen to be a very viral demographic in that they are constantly talking to their friends and very active on social media. If they like something, they will share it.
- 6. You have another app called Hot Guy Alarm Clock. Can you describe it for our readers? How is it doing? Are you cross promoting it in Egg Baby? Is it the first of a line of “Hot Guy” apps?
Hot Guy Alarm Clock is an app in which hot sounding guys say hilarious and flattering things to wake you up. You can pick your favorite scenario to wake up to, ranging from ‘Enchanted Castle’ to ‘Chateau in France (But You’re Spies)’ to ‘Clumsy Boyfriend.’ Hot Guy Alarm Clock didn’t have the download numbers that Egg Baby did, but culturally it has been very defining for our company. Quite a few hires have come our way because of that app, believe it or not.
We do not cross promote HGAC in Egg Baby. There is a future product being planned that has some pieces reminiscent of HGAC, but that’s all I can say.
- 7. People often imagine that working in a game company must be the most fun job imaginable. Being the “boss” of course has extra challenges. What do you enjoy most about your work? Least? What tasks are the most challenging?
I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing and things are going well, so that of course makes me happy. I love how ridiculous every day is. The fact that we get to take super cute eggs with eyes extremely seriously is very satisfying to me. My least favorite part of the job involves legal documents and governmental forms. Most challenging tasks involve hiring great talent quickly and generally constantly learning how to be a better CEO.
- 8. We often hear that talent in this industry is in short supply. Do you have trouble finding qualified employees? How do you go about finding team members? Do you feel that women employees might be more attuned to your mission?
Yes! That’s our number one challenge right now. We rely on referrals from our network, job postings and actively contacting potential candidates.
We are trying to find people who are interested in making products for young women, so it’s not that they have to be women, but they must be interested, respectful and most likely resonate with the demographic.
- 9. We call this blog, Influences and Influencers, who are the people who have influenced you? Have you ever had a mentor? Can you tell us about him or her? Whose work or input has impacted you the most in your career and how?
My parents obviously had a great influence on me, since they raised me. I think I’m also generally influenced by every person I encounter who seems better than me at something I care about – I try to learn what I can from them. Bing Gordon came to speak at Yale when I was there and he said something like one of his biggest regrets for his 20s was not having a mentor, so I went a little overboard and actually started collecting mentors from then on. I have quite a few people I would consider mentors by now – they each teach me different things and connect me to different people.
It’s tough to pick someone who was most impactful – so many people contributed to my career and it’s the sum of small events and actions that eventually adds up to a big result. Each step of the way I’ve usually had someone different do or say something impactful to get me to the next step. I’ll highlight just a few below:
Brandon Beck of Riot Games was extremely supportive in the early formation of this company. He was helpful in many ways, connecting me to high level contacts and such, but one of the biggest ways was believing in me even during my darkest times. We were on the cusp of failure quite a few times, but oddly enough, he always took me seriously despite my lack of initial results and reacted to all my bad news with a calm and unwavering faith that I’d eventually find my way.
My cofounder is hugely impactful on me and my career of course. We are very different people with very different strengths and weaknesses, so I can learn a lot from her. We know each other so well at this point, she can be very honest with me, which means she is able to give great feedback to help me improve.
Finally, Matt Britton of MRY was the person who connected me to our VC investors, Foundry Group. Matt is an extremely convincing and likeable person, so his enthusiasm for Egg Baby and this company really helped set the right tone with Foundry.
- 10. What product or service have you seen lately that really excites you?
We are most excited about our own upcoming products of course! Aside from that, there’s a particular wearable device that not many people know about and that we are keeping secret for now, that has fascinated Naomi and me.
- 11.What are you working on now?
We are working on a reinvention of Egg Baby as well as a brand new IP that’s related to room escapes.
- 12. Many people go to college without an idea of what they ultimately want to “be when they grow up” You have a degree in psychology. Is there any connection between what you studied in college and your career direction? Did you ever consider psychology as a career?
Psychology happened to be the most fun and probably easiest major at Yale. I’m a strategic hedonist. Being a Psychology major meant I had more time to do other things, like start a fashion company (it failed) or create a campus-wide TV show. I’ve never considered being a psychologist though – that’s too straight and narrow of a career path for me.
- 13. What advice would you give an aspiring game producer or media executive? If someone wanted to get into this field, how would you advise them to start?
It depends on their personality. Some people thrive in a more structured environment in which case they should get their foot in the door any way they can then work up from there. Others thrive in chaos, they can take a risk and try to start their own thing similar to what I did. If you succeed, it can be a shortcut. The failure rate is significantly higher than the structured route though so you have to be honest with yourself before starting.
I started by talking to a lot of people who were in the industry to get their assessment and advice, so that’s probably a good way to go. Try to be as open as possible to feedback and opportunities when you are just starting to find your path.