We recently had the chance to interview Jan Beckers, the Co-Founder and CEO of the Berlin-based HitFox Group (Update – March 2023: The startup seems to be no longer in business under this website, and we therefore deactivated the original link).
The HitFox Group, which recently reported a rapid growth in revenue and market reach, is known as being one of the world’s first game-distribution company builders. Before co-founding the HitFox Group in May 2011, Jan Beckers successfully co-founded and managed companies like SponsorPay.com, Madvertise.com and Absolventa.de.
The HitFox Group describes itself as the world’s first game distribution company builder. Please could you give our readers a brief explanation of your business model and how you came up with it?
The HitFox Group is focused on building and acquiring synergetic businesses in the fields of game distribution and user acquisition. Our three current portfolio companies are ad2games (performance marketing/online games), AppLift (mobile games marketing) and Game Finder (game discovery/apps).
As entrepreneurs we were looking for a large entrepreneurial opportunity and the gaming market caught our attention – the market size is considerable and the growth figures are very promising for the future. Half of the value in this market is being captured in game distribution, hence we decided to focus on this area.
If done right, the structure of a company builder has the big advantage that the companies in the portfolio create synergies and can profit from each other. This helps in the very early phases of the development of these companies in particular.
HitFox was founded in 2011. How did you finance the startup-phase so far and who invested?
The founders invested a substantial seven-digit (euro) amount in the company themselves. Several well-known European VCs, such as Holtzbrinck Ventures, and angels, such as Heiko Hubertz (CEO of Bigpoint), contributed in addition to that.
What makes the HitFox Group unique or better than other game distribution companies out there?
We are fully convinced that startup success comes from the right setup. If you have the right team in the right market, success is mostly a question of execution and external influences have less impact.
That’s why our hiring process is very strict. Our current team of 85 professionals was selected from more than 2000 applications total. Around 75% of HitFox employees were among the best 10% of their universities (including LSE, ESCP, HHL, WHU, HEC, HSG,WU, IIT etc.), and more than a fifth had prior experience working with technology startups at various levels. We make no compromises in terms of excellence.
Another advantage is the synergetic business model I mentioned earlier. For instance, this was one of the main reasons for the rapid growth of AppLift. We already had established structures and client relations in place because of our existing startups. AppLift could benefit a lot from the affiliate and advertiser relations of our online game affiliate network ad2games in particular.
Only a few weeks after entering Asia Pacific with an office in Seoul (Korea), you recently extended the local presence of the HitFox Group to San Francisco and Paris. On which of the group’s subsidiaries are you focusing the most during this expansion and what milestones are you trying to achieve?
Each of our portfolio companies have rather significant growth opportunities. We already see that 80% of our revenues are generated through international customers outside our home market – with the US being the most important one. In consequence we will focus on the growth of our US presence in the next months. We are expanding our office in San Francisco and are looking to hire further highly-qualified staff there.
Could you give us a brief overview of your roadmap for the next 12 months and maybe a sense of where you’d like to see HitFox in about 3 years from now?
We are looking to double head count and increase revenues by 300% – 400% in the next 12 months. We also want to add up to two new companies to the portfolio. Three years from now we’ll have a global presence and employ 500+ people in 6 to 10 portfolio companies.
You recently announced plans to acquire or co-found at least 1-2 additional businesses in 2013. What kind of companies (or markets) interest you the most?
We expect the new companies to operate in the space of game distribution, user acquisition and marketing in order to benefit from and contribute to our synergetic business model. Furthermore, they need to provide a new angle to our existing portfolio companies.
Right now, there are about 85 people who work for the HitFox Group. How do you support the corporate culture?
The most important ingredient of a great corporate culture is great people and that is also reflected in our hiring process. New employees do not only need to be smart but also fit into the existing teams. We are very thoughtful about our working environment. We have flat hierarchies and our employees are encouraged to be entrepreneurial in their efforts. And we frequently host team events, as we believe that hard work should be rewarded with playing hard.
Is the HitFox Group hiring right now? And if so, what kind of talent are you looking for?
At the moment we have over 30 positions on all levels of the company and we are looking for the best international talent that thrives in an entrepreneurial environment. As we love games, the perfect candidate should also be passionate about gaming and the booming industry. Furthermore, we are looking for strong characters who love to be confronted with a good challenge and are eager to level up – professionally, personally and of course in gaming. We look if a person is smart and also evaluate if there is a cultural fit. Additionally, employees that perform above expectations have a chance to become a co-founder of one of the new startups.
Right now we are especially looking for new expert foxes in the fields of business development, tech/IT and mobile marketing.
In addition to HitFox, you also co-founded the Berlin-based startups Madvertise and Sponsorpay. How is your experience with Berlin as a location to start a company?
Startups succeed or fail mostly based on the quality of the teams they can attract and develop. And Berlin is probably the best place in the world to recruit talent right now. The most successful Berlin-based incubator so far, Rocket Internet, hired more than 10,000 people for their companies within the last 3 years. Rocke’s founders made billions and have done a good job in training IT developers, management consultants and investment bankers for startup environments. But they possibly have failed in offering their teams good working conditions, fair treatment and significant equity in the companies they are building. Incubators with a more relationship oriented approach towards their co-founders and employees can now draw from a huge pool of well-trained talent with strong backgrounds. Both costs of living and salaries are still much lower than in London or the Silicon Valley.
Could you recommend our readers one or two books that helped you during your entrepreneurial endeavours?
The autobiography of Warren Buffett is good for general business learnings. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is a great book on self-leadership.
By the way: If you’d like to stay up-to-date regarding startup news and interesting opportunities, make sure to subscribe to our free weekly EU-Startups Newsletter.