🎧🍌 Growing Medal to Tens of Millions of Users | Pim de Witte (Co-founder and CEO, Medal)
$1.5 million in revenue at 13 years old, why consumer platforms need social inflection points, Medal’s unique approach to in-person / remote work, and why rapid iteration is everything for startups
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My latest guest on The Peel was Pim de Witte, the Co-founder and CEO of Medal.
Medal enables millions of gamers to capture and share their favorite gaming moments with friends. Pim started the company in 2015 and has since grown the business to millions of Daily Active Users and raised over $72 million, supported by investors like OMERS Ventures, Makers Fund, Dune Ventures, and Horizon Ventures.
Pim built one of the few consumer companies that grew both during and after COVID. I really enjoyed our conversation talking all things gaming, social networks, and company building.
Why people play video games, and why 200 million gamers play Roblox
Learning to code at 13 years old to build a private Runescape server that did $1.5 million in revenue
Why paid acquisition is so important in mobile gaming
Why consumer platforms need a social inflection point
How Medal blew up during COVID
Why multiplayer platforms die when network effects unravel
Why Medal’s Seed round was so hard to raise
Pim’s biggest mistakes building Medal
His three favorite interview questions
Why it’s a mistake to focus on competitors instead of customers
Medal’s unique hybrid in-person / remote work environment
Why rapid iteration is everything
How Medal acquired six other startups
Why building product is the ultimate game
How Elon’s changes at Twitter caused a great reset in tech
🙏 Thanks to Zac and Xavier at Supermix helping with production and distribution!
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Find transcripts of all prior episodes here.
Overview of the Gaming Market
Turner: So I thought we could kick things off - can you really quickly give us kind of a high level crash course on gaming as a market, how big it is, and why it’s interesting?
Pim: When you're a kid, you can choose between spending time playing out any scenario you can imagine with your friends in a digital world versus scrolling a feed that's going to give you entertainment. And I think most people pick the first one because it's more fun and more interactive, and friendships are made.
It's kind of ironic that there are social networks that are claiming to be “social,” but it's actually way more social to drop in and do something with your friends inside a video game than it is to scroll a feed in isolation. And so what we try to do is enable people to capture, edit, and share the memories they create with friends while they're playing video games.
Turner: A way to think about it then would be: 20 years ago, someone might play outside at the park and today, they might still play outside at the park, but they also might play with a friend who lives across the city or across the country or the world online, together.
Pim: Exactly. I would say it doesn't necessarily replace it, but it does give people the ability to do that regardless of where they're located. Our mission at Medal, or one of the things we say is, we think that Medal is inherently good because it creates a more connected world where you can have friends all over the planet.
I think it creates a level of understanding that people have about each other, that transcends beliefs and things like that. And so I don't think it replaces playing outside. I think inherently it just removes the location element from doing things with your friends.
Why Playing Video Gaming is a Social Activity
Turner: And I remember too, even when I was growing up in high school, I probably met just as many friends in class and at school as I did first playing a game like Call of Duty or Halo with them and then hanging out at school or in-person.
Pim: In my case, it was very similar. So I have Tourette’s, so for me, it was tough to make friends at school. I have a lot of good friends that I have from that period, but for me I was always kind of like the oddball. You can still kind of see it, like I twitch my eyes sometimes.
With games, there were no barriers. I was just like everyone else. And so I think, for you it's an adjacent place; for me, it was the place. It was where I didn't feel different.
Turner: I would actually say for me it was probably the place too. I played a lot of Halo, Call of Duty, Gears of War - those kinds of games growing up. And yeah, I made a lot of friends in high school, like I said, through gaming. And what would you say is the big title for that right now? Is it Roblox? That's kind of what I hear?
Turner: Can you explain to us what Roblox is and how big it is?
Pim: Roblox is essentially like a virtual sandbox that lets you create any type of game you want and invite your friends to come play it. But that can be five friends or 50,000 friends. And it allows you to monetize as these experiences get to scale.
I think the reason why it's doing so well compared to the rest of the market is – one, it’s cross-platform. So if you study network effects, one of the predominant factors that determine whether something is successful or not is the K-factor. And if you look at the K-factor of Roblox versus other games, the fact that Roblox is literally everywhere makes it so that they are able to capture a much wider audience than most other games, primarily mobile, I would say.
They are really one of the only companies that have really nailed that mobile to PC loop. And I think a lot of companies just haven't done that yet. And if you have both mobile and PC, you have a lot of the most social gamers. And so I think the loop that drives Roblox just runs faster than most other games.
The other thing that's going on with Roblox, which is really interesting, is that COVID drove a really, really large slowdown of content production across the games industry. That didn't happen with Roblox because it's just people making these games.
And so, if you think about it, with content becoming increasingly stale, the largest multiplayer games release that got more than 10% market share on Medal was Valorant. Realistically, content is delayed because of COVID and as a result that's where the freshness is at now. Roblox and GTA 5.
Turner: Most of the people “creating content” on Roblox, or creating games that you play, and it's mostly kids, right?
Turner: What's an example of a game like? I'm just trying to give somebody an idea of playing a game on Roblox.
Pim: Yeah, so it can range from Neopets where you basically raise pets with your kids or with your friends. Or there's FPSs, they're kind of like CS:GO, most popular games have a version of them in Roblox.
One of the more recent trends is this game called Only Up, which essentially is like a nearly infinite game. And this is a game that goes mainstream regularly as a standalone, and then Roblox users catch on and they make their own versions of it. Also very popular on Fortnite Creative now.
So you're kind of seeing this shift into games being these trends that fade in and fade out. And, I think in a way, Roblox is like the TikTok-ification of games where attention spans – the amount of time that people are actually willing to invest in a specific game loop before they're sold – is pretty low.
And so they play on Roblox and then, if they're not into it, they'll go play something else. And if they are into it – soccer for example is a popular Roblox game – you might have some friends there and transition into professional FIFA or whatever.
I look at Roblox as kind of like TikTok for games because the retention, like on the tail end of these games, is pretty low.
 First person shooter games are ones in which the player takes on the role of shooter and experiences the action through the eyes of a main character
Turner: But there are always new ones coming out.
Pim: Yeah, there's always new stuff. I mean, it definitely moves quicker than the traditional games industry, but people still flock to like the main ones. But the tail-end retention is single digits percentage, people who come back on Day 30 versus Day 1.
And so what you see is that these games are like TikTok. There are pieces of content that people consume and then once they're done with it, they're done with it. And I'm sure there are exceptions, but that's really what's happening in Roblox and I think most industries haven't really caught up with that yet.
Turner: So it's almost like – a way to think about Roblox is that it's sort of its own game engine. In a way, it’s a game, but it's almost its own platform that other people build games on top of.
Pim: It absolutely is.
Turner: Yeah. And how many people use it now? Is it 40, 50, 60 million?
Pim: Don’t quote me on this. I believe they have a hundred million daily active users, or in that range, give or take. It's like somewhere between 50 and a hundred million at the moment, I’d have to check.
Daily active users (DAU) of Roblox games worldwide from 4th quarter 2018 to 1st quarter 2023. Source.
Turner: And then you talked about Roblox having a really good loop. What exactly does that mean?
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