The global gaming and esports industry has been observing a rapid growth over the last decade due to the increase in the utilization of advanced technologies for the aggregation of games and videos on a global scale. Furthermore, proper alignment of various business models and platforms is also supporting the growth of the gaming industry across the globe. Raiford Cockfield, CEO and Co-founder of Yup.gg saw an opportunity to advance the gaming entertainment and esports industry in Asia-Pacific. Platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch, were the primary sources of income for content creators in video game live-streaming and video content. There was so much opportunity for Creatives in gaming to diversify their income streams, so they were less reliant on singular platforms or individual sponsors to make a living. According to Raiford, there were no single sources of data, information, or organization, and this limited the ability of the industry to grow and monetize. “This is especially important because it helps the ecosystem, not just the folks making the gaming content we know and love,” asserts Raiford.
In just over a year, Yup.gg’s BETA has generated over $1 million in new revenue for Gaming Creatives in Asia-Pacific and Latin America. Yup.gg is a network-based marketplace where businesses can connect with people who create gaming content to sell products and brand image. Yup.gg provides a one-stop-shop where all gaming and gaming-related entertainers and esports organizations can create professional profiles and lists of their inventory making it easy for brands or other users to advertise, buy, sponsor or create collaborative marketing campaigns. Yup.gg and gaming creatives in Asia and Latin America are partnering with major brands like Intel, Monster Energy Drinks, Mountain Dew (Pepsi), Garena (SEA Limited), Singtel, Globe Telecom, and Logitech. “By creating this marketplace, we believe that we can be the underlying infrastructure, or ‘pipes,’ supporting the gaming entertainment ecosystem,” affirms Raiford.
Growing up in Connecticut outside New York City, Raiford’s family has always been independent and free-thinking. He credits his accomplishments to his parents for always pushing the boundaries for him to approach problems and advancing his life. “My Dad always hammered home learning the fundamentals of anything I did and ‘finish what you start’,” expresses Raiford. This shaped Raiford’s drive, process, and determination.
After a career in finance, Investment Banking, and Private Equity in New York and Hong Kong, Raiford attended Stanford University for his MBA. It was from his experiences at Stanford and the final days of Lehman Brothers in Hong Kong that Raiford decided to found his first startup, Altruistic. Although he decided to close Altruistic after 4 years, valuable lessons came from the experience. The toughest decision for any entrepreneur is when to fight and when to fold (even when the company is steady, but not growing). Raiford learned to be flexible and kept that business alive through perseverance and determination, things that allow him to face crisis calmly today. After Altruistic, eBay recruited him to run their Cross-Border Trade project, where he sharpened his tech chops from a business angle working with some of the best people in Silicon Valley, learning important methods for developing products and growing tech clients’ businesses. “Later, at Twitch, I was given the opportunity to learn the esports and gaming industry from the people who created it. Being exposed and learning from gaming luminaries Kevin Lin and Jonathan Shipman, the founding team of Twitch was an incredible honor.” Today, Raiford tries to stay humble, speak confidently, and keep growing as he takes on any new challenge.
According to Raiford, Trust, communication, and commitment are the most important things in a relationship. Keeping an open line of communication with his employees, business partners, and key service providers, while allowing people room to grow and explore are important to keeping the team nimble. He goes on to say that commitment to the cause is core to keep spirits high and allow a team to not get too distracted when there is a lot of uncertainty about the outcome or success of a project or product.
Raiford’s Insights on Esports
The esports industry is new, and even live-game streaming is still in its infancy, but its growth has been crazy. According to Raiford, esports is the first professional sports league that was born-in and has developed completely online from a viewership standpoint. Traditional sports are now playing catch up, attempting to get close to the engagement and interaction that is normal to esports fans and organizers. He believes that this is where the business opportunity lies for esports. Esports is interactive where it lives on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch, the fan base is global and they’re used to interacting with each other while enjoying their favorite leagues, teams, and tournaments.
“You can think of the esports fan base as a series of communities, all congregating around a common topic. These communities are passionate, engaged, and backup that loves for the community with spending. If businesses learn the languages of the communities, understand how to interact with them (in their language), it’s an amazing opportunity to gain evangelists for your company and products,” experts Raiford.
Raiford believes that gaming and esports are now ‘normal’ with more brands investing to reach this rapidly growing market (like Louis Vuitton and Mercedes Benz sponsoring the League of Legends World Championships this year). That gives him a lot of hope for a future where more kids grow up feeling that the choices that they have for a career are endless. In the future, Raiford aspires to create a business that employs a diverse set of people comfortably, allows ideas to flow, be tested, and flourish.
“I hope in the future that yup.gg is one of the main tools gaming creatives use to secure a comfortable living, allowing them to follow their own path while creating great, collaborative, and interesting content. I also hope that I’m able to help shape the next set of entrepreneurs by sharing my experiences and helping them develop a path that creates the best environment for their success,” concludes Raiford.
Advising Budding Entrepreneurs
“Listening is the best tool you have as an entrepreneur, so listen to your advisors, investors, but most of all, your customers. If you don’t listen, the likelihood of building a company people need is pretty low.”
“Flexibility is important because the environment around you changes so often. The toughest part of being an entrepreneur is dealing with uncertainty and still moving forward with your plan. It takes a certain fearlessness and stubbornness, but this must be balanced with flexibility. Perseverance is necessary when you’re starting a business.”