How This Startup Founder Turned a Love of Video Games Into a $100 Million Business


24 June 2014

Editor’s Note: Vote for your top pick among Inc.’s 35 Under 35 Coolest Entrepreneurs of 2014. Inc. com announces the Readers’ Choice winner Thursday, June 26.
For Alisa Chumachenko, founder and chief executive of Game Insight, life has always been about games and doing what she loves, which is playing games and creating them for others to enjoy.
Born in the 1980s, when the Soviet Union was collapsing, Chumachenko started playing video games as a young girl. In those days, it was all about Nintendo and Gameboy on a TV set. (Chumachenko turned 35 after the deadline for the “35 Under 35” application had passed.)
“I started when I was 5 years old, all the time I played games,” Chumachenko says. “All the time, different games, with my brothers, on the TV console.”
Eventually, she shifted to online games, and soon found herself in a community of gamers. A group of 10 friends decided to launch an online game startup in a Moscow kitchen in 2004, and Chumachenko played secretary. A few years later, she wound up as a marketing executive at Astrum Online Entertainment, a big public gaming consortium. Then, in 2010, she left to start Game Insight, which today has offices in Vilnius, Lithuania and San Francisco.
“We started to develop gaming apps for Facebook and other social networks in 2011, and we continued to move toward mobile applications, and now we are a social and mobile company,” Chumachenko says.
With revenue of more than $100 million in 2013, and 150 million people around the globe who play Game Insight’s games, Chumachenko is onto something. Part of her strategy—besides building games that are “addictive,” as many die-hard fans describe the company’s products—is being at the right place at the right time.
In 2011, when Game Insight launched its first iPhone game, Paradise Island, Chumachenko also set to work on a version for Android OS phones, which at the time did not allow for payments within a game—a deal breaker for consumers in the gaming world. So Game Insight literally cornered the market when Google announced an in-game payment application later in 2011, allowing Game Insight to rake in $700,000 its first month and $1.2 million in its second month.
“It was being at the right time and right place and bringing very good content on this platform at a time when there was no money in Google [games],” Chumachenko says.
Still, the game industry is notoriously fickle, and fortunes can rise and fall on a single hit. Venture capitalists such as Andrew Braccia, a partner at Accel Partners, which invests in Angry Birds-maker Rovio, says the game industry is a tricky steed to ride, because there is a lot of competition from horizontal providers. “How much room is there to run where Facebook and ad exchanges and Apple and Android are bringing a lot of [game] distribution?” Braccia asks. “My question is, what is unique about this vertical network?”
Chumachenko is not worried. “The most challenging thing is to see what time to enter any market,” she says.
In 2013, Game Insight pulled in a Series A round of $25 million from In Mobile Investment, a venture capital firm in Moscow. That round financed research and development, marketing, and further expansion into international markets.
“If you do games, just play games,” Chumachenko says. “If you are making cookies, eat cookies. You need to understand what you do very well, and have it on the fingertips every day.”