'The toys you play with in the army are incomparable' - Paul Sulyok, Green Man Gaming

20 QUESTIONS: The founder of the online gaming shop on the challenge of hanging onto tech expertise in London and why his beer fridge is 'magic'.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 14 Aug 2014

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I did a Myers Briggs [personality] test a little while ago that indicated there were two careers I should potentially consider: being an entrepreneur or being in the army. I managed to tick both those boxes [as an Army officer for six years] - I think I’ve pretty much exhausted my potential as a professional.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

Green Man Gaming (GMG) had a placeholder name and we actually bought the url. It was Games Mart or GameSmart, depending on where the emphasis lies. It was a little bit too corporate for my liking. You had Game on the high street and GameFly in the US - the Game name was a little bit over-exposed.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY WHERE WOULD IT BE?

In the UK, I’d want to be based in Brighton. There are a couple of real hubs in the games industry in the UK - one is London and the other one is Brighton of all places. Most importantly, it’s a nice place to be.

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

There have been a number of people who’ve been interested in getting involved in things I’ve done. And I picked up the phone to them and said, ‘I’ve got this great idea, I’ve got this chunk of cash, would you like to come on board as well?’ Before launching the platform we had 12 or 13 angel investors on board.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

Buying a company called Playfire. The reason Playfire is so fundamental to what we now do is it’s a gamer tracking community. Core gamers can come onto Playfire and register their Xbox, Playstion or PC gaming ID, and it gathers all the information about their gaming.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

To try and localise the website on the cheap. If something’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. We had a partner that translated the entire website into Czech and as soon as they did so they went bust and we couldn’t maintain it. Every time I look at our financial reports we still have Czech Kronors in there and I give myself a little mental kick. If you’re going to do it, do it properly.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

It would have been really, really good to have been around in the 90s on the west coast of the USA and have said, ‘You know this thing the internet? Wouldn’t it be good to have a smart search engine that tracks what you’re searching?’ I’d have called it the Green Man search engine rather than Google.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

I’ve always been a fairly physically active bloke, so I try and couple pressure on my brain and pressure on my spirit with physical activity. I’ve got two lovely children and just spending time with them is a great way to relax, because they don’t really care about all the things that are giving you a hard time in the office. All they care about is having a bit of rough and tumble in the garden with Daddy.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

My first job was in a wine bottling plant in Austria, where I was raised, just outside Vienna. It lasted a summer and then six months later there was a massive scandal in Austria over radiator fluid in wine. My boss who owned the plant was the 53rd person to be arrested. The foreman was this old wizened guy from Eastern Europe and when I left he said to me, ‘Don’t forget about us’. I’ll always remember that.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

I once held a summer job working for a property company when I was at university. It was just very, very middle of the road office life, very mundane. You felt nothing you did could made a difference. I found that environment very stifling.

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

The toys that you play with as a young fellow in the forces, the things that you see and do, the situations you’re involved in and the responsibility that you’re given are incomparable. Admittedly digging holes ain’t much fun, but aside from that you cannot compare it.

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE WHAT WOULD YOUR TEAM BE NAMED?

The Green Machine.

13. WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

Viewsy have got some really nice tech around tracking individuals and adapting the environment to match them. For instance, you walk past a billboard and it all of sudden becomes personalised. The other company, Pavegen Systems, has paving stones that generate energy when you walk on them.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

I bought myself a nice old motorcycle – a Moto Guzzi.

15. SUIT OR JEANS?

I’m wearing a pair of shorts right now. It’s really, really hot now, so everyone in GMG is wearing shorts.

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Everyone works flexible hours. We’re a 24-hour shop and I’ve got some very, very dedicated professional people. To be in GMG, in a tech company in London right now, you’ve got to want to be involved in it. Everyone’s got laptops, everyone’s continually plugging in to test code.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

At the end of a particularly successful period we bought ourselves a very nice double Nespresso machine, which we hammer every single morning. About a year ago our marketing director and a couple of guys were in the pub opposite our office - Mabel's Tavern, which is my third favourite thing. There was a major issue, so they moved back across the road and worked until half 11 to fix the problem. The bar staff were bringing them beer to keep them going. The marketing director made me promise to buy a magic beer fridge that would never go empty. Now it never gets empty.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

I live out of London and I take the train from Euston every day. The app that I continually use on a daily basis is my train time app.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

Richard Branson, because of his ability to turn his hand to any business. He’s proof you can apply strong business principles to any area and return a successful profit.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINSTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

Some of the regulations around being able to hire expertise, particularly tech, from outside the UK and the EU should be looked at. We’re lucky right now we can tap into the EU market - I’ve got guys from France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Portugal and they’re all excellent. The challenge is hanging onto them when they come to London. It’s a very, very hot market and by restricting the supply of guys in the marketplace all we’re doing is making companies like GMG struggle.

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