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Inside View: MegaZebra

You've heard of Zynga, but did you know that MegaZebra is behind the most popular Mah-jong game on Facebook, and lots more? We catch up with Co-founder Henning Kosmack to find out about the firm.

By  Maria Ahmed

Thu Oct 18 2012

Another guest post on the German tech world by BusinessBecause member Christian Boas!
This week we talk to Henning Kosmack, Co-founder and CEO of Germany online gaming start-up MegaZebra.
MegaZebra develops browser-based free-to-play games for social networks like Facebook and now publishes games from other developers. The firm was one of the first to enter the social gaming space in Europe when it launched late 2008.
Their first game Mahjong Trails reached more than two million monthly players in January 2011.
The firm has received two rounds of venture capital funding, from Kizoo Technology Ventures, Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures and angel investor Markus Stolz.
As well as Kosmack, MegaZebra’s executive team includes Christian Meister as CPO, Steffen Rusitschka as CTO and Mark Gazeck as Chairman.  
Kosmack studied Business Administration in London and at Copenhagen Business School before setting up a private equity fund in Switzerland.
He earned his spurs at Germany’s largest cooperation, Siemens, doing M&A and venture deals. Kosmack spent seven years learning the ins and outs of M & A before moving to Nokia Siemens Networks focusing on Business Development for start-ups.
He drove several deals ranging from start-up investments and acquisitions to divestments and spin-offs.
How do you decide what games to produce? 
That is indeed a key question and there are two ways to do it. One is to go out and copy successful concepts, and try to push games using a lot of marketing muscle,
The other way is at firms like MegaZebra, which focus more on innovation. We look at what’s out there; we analyze trends and think about what is missing on the Facebook platform. 
This is how we were the first to bring out a Mah-jong game, now a huge category on Facebook, as well as Solitaire Castle, a genre which has since been taken up by other firms like EA/PopCap and!
We’re now working on two games that we think will move the industry forward. 
Of course, if you chose this strategy, you can also be wrong, or too early. In 2009, we launched a football manager on Facebook, which was too early, in hindsight. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
MegaZebra distracts housewives with Facebook Mah-jong
You’ve worked in Siemens, a large corporation. What are the differences between working at a big firm and at MegaZebra?
I worked at Siemens and later at Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), which I helped to set up. Though we had around 60,000 employees and roughly $20 billion in revenues, we tried to make Nokia Siemens Networks as lean and mean as possible. 
But no matter how well you set up processes in large firms, it’s never the same as in a start-up. 
At MegaZebra, we make decisions quickly. You don't have to ask 10 different managers before you decide on a strategy or a product. If it makes sense, you do it. That's it. 
And every employee is his or her own manager. We empower everybody as much as possible to drive the decisions needed to make the firm successful. 
Speed and productivity are the cornerstones of a start-up and this is why there will always be new ones coming, because no blue chip can ever provide all the innovation in a market and execute upon it. 
As I mentioned, if you make decisions quickly, you sometimes make the wrong ones, but I'd rather take a wrong turn and then reverse it, than wait for ages to decide and discover it’s too late.
When did you decide to quit your job and start your own business?
I co-founded a company straight out of business school, and after I sold it I continued to work with start-ups as a VC, in corporate development, and as advisor and director. So I never really left this world.
After working on the merger to form Nokia Siemens Network, I knew that I wanted to get back on the other side of the table. Creating such a huge player was fascinating, but the time was right to go back to my roots. I like to finish what I start, so it was a choice between staying for another couple of years or not. 
When I left in 2008 I had a couple of job offers to me, but while looking at them, we developed the idea for MegaZebra and that just felt much better. 
Did you invest a lot when you started? Did your co-founders invest?
We all invested a lot into the company: the actual cash we put in, and also the opportunity costs. I quit a very good job and the job offers I had would have paid nicely. Obviously, this is something you have to take into account when you do the math. 
Did the initial bootstrapping have an impact on your lifestyle? Would you have done it if you had kids, for example? 
Bootstrapping means less money so you should be in a position to be flexible about your lifestyle. Having huge fixed costs is not a good start, because it hinders you in making some decisions that could eventually create more value, but at lower initial returns. 
I probably would not have done it with kids, though I know people who have. 
The changes in lifestyle were less dramatic than I expected. Though I did enjoy spending money beforehand, I realized that I did not miss it when I couldn't. First of all, I had less spare time during which to spend money and second, I was getting so many thrills and excitement out of everyday work, there was no need to constantly look for new (expensive!) thrills elsewhere.
How do you apply for jobs at MegaZebra?
We're currently hiring developers, graphic designers, games designers and marketing managers.
Submit your CV; include prior work experience, work samples and your favourite computer game or games in any format, as long as it fits through an Ethernet cable! 
MegaZebra has a relaxed, fun and playful vibe. Our fridge is 80 per cent full of beer and we’ve worn out ten coffee machines since we started in 2008! 
Happy MegaZebra folks!