To Win in the Billion-Dollar eSports Industry, This Innovator Turned to Tech Used by Navy SEALs
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what's your business?
My name is Ozhan "Oz" Maker, I've been in gaming hardware product development for 17 years and currently, I'm the General Manager of Victrix Pro, a premium esports hardware brand, engineering/development outfit based in San Diego. Victrix is a company within a company, the larger being PDP (Performance Designed Products). Our first product, Victrix Pro AF ANC, is an aviation-grade noise-canceling gaming headset that's developed for the tournament pro's needs. After three years in development, it's about to debut on June 9 with additional esports products coming later this year, and more lined up in the next 2-3 years.
What inspired you to create this product?
The growth of esports and absence of high-end equipment that's optimized for the specific needs of the tournament player. We started with a research phase that involved us visiting numerous esports events in 2015 and asking the pro players about their gear, what worked, what didn't, what would they improve? There was clearly a gap for an esports product actually line built for professionals.
How is it different from others like it?
We are based in San Diego, a military town, and we know a lot of pilots, aviators and other personnel who use communication equipment as part of their daily duty. The communication needs of an esports team and a Navy SEAL unit or a pilot is pretty similar. They want comfortable gear that can be worn for long hours and they want crystal-clear comms. We were very much inspired by military tech in our design approach. Take our mic filter design, for example. It's based on a Cobra attack helicopter microphone, optimized to work in a 120dB loud unpressurized cockpit. It is overkill for most esports venues but it still works better than anything eSports pros are used to.
For the hardcore gamers, what will that level of performance mean?
LAN tournament open bracket floor noise levels reach 80-85dB levels, and our ANC technology is perfect to kill nearly 70% of that noise, providing the players with a quiet, comfortable zone where they can purely focus on audio clues that in return improves their game. We also noticed the pro players move and shift their headset earcups between matches, so we invented a cooling mechanism that allows mechanical ventilation of the earcups and reduced the humidity levels instantly.
What does the word "entrepreneur" mean to you?
Taking risks. Victrix is an experiment and could very well fail as it aims to bring high-tech, high-end equipment to a niche crowd. It's very expensive to develop and manufacture such products, therefore the cost of development reflects in the final price tag (around $199). Even though we tried our best to price them to market dynamics we still need to convince a decent population of consumers that this gear are absolutely worth it so we can see returns on our astronomical investments in R&D and manufacturing. The bet we are making here is that this category is going to grow multiple folds very soon.
What was your toughest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Finding a suitable name for our brand. This sounds weird but it's been the most grueling challenge we had to overcome. Partially due to every pronounce-able letter combination being trademarked already and our desire to find a name that resonated and impacted someone at first sight without infringing on any other name. We must have reviewed 20,000 potential names, settled on a handful, watch them wither and die due to one reason or another over a year-long period. We hired a company, experts in naming stuff and they also choked like none other. We finally settled on Victrix. It's our name and it's the best brand name in the world. That's it.
What trait do you depend on most when making decisions and why is that useful for you?
I'd say we rely on pure gut feeling a lot of times also. It's always an interesting meeting when you put engineers and artists in one room to make a decision. So far it has created very vibrant discussions but more importantly sound decisions and outcomes for us.
How has your leadership style evolved?
I've been in corporate business all my career working in management positions at large and medium-sized companies. With Victrix we have a very small business, startup mindset and I had to make adjustments in management tactics to be able to fit our business needs. Bit of a clich? but I feel like I've been managing in the trenches a lot more -- I'm there at the esports events with the marketing crew, setting up boot camps for pro teams. We are a small team and a lot of us wear many hats and we have the best results when we roll up our sleeves and directly interact with our target demographics. Victrix staff average age is 27, I try to empower these idealistic recent grads working for me so they do have a meaningful impact on our business.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
Not a quote but the book Innovator's Dilemma had a particular impact on me because I lived this dilemma all my career where I tried to innovate within well-established company settings but the customers of those companies are often allergic to the new or niche ideas. They wanted the same old things we've been selling to them but for cheaper instead. The author, Professor Clayton M. Cristensen, describes a potential remedy which is setting up a small operation for innovation within a company and make them independent, give them room to innovate and room for failure. This is exactly what we're trying to do with Victrix.