We talked to Abhinav Chokhavatia about how Zatun turns fun into business, and this is what he had to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Abhinav Chokhavatia: Thanks for asking. We are doing well now. My Dad and my youngest son got COVID, but they were OK and had no significant complications.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Zatun?
Abhinav Chokhavatia: Zatun started in June 2007, but the idea for it started in 2006. I was working with a friend at Ubisoft Montreal in Canada, and there was a lot of hype about India and outsourcing.
I always knew that one day I would come back to India and start my own. I talked about the idea with my friend, and he too wanted to start his own company. So we both decided to leave our jobs and come to India and start Zatun. I came to India in June 2006 while my friend came in October 2006. However, within the first month, he could not adjust to the climate and the red tape and headed back. I decided to stay back and build the company. We were officially launched in June 2007, and it’s been 13 years but a fun ride.
How does Zatun innovate?
Abhinav Chokhavatia: The video game industry is very dynamic, and we have to innovate or be redundant. We do both – services and products.
On the services side, we try to keep track of the latest software and industry trends. We try to keep finding processes that make our work easier and faster. On the products side, we have missed quite a few waves. We missed the Facebook Games wave, the first Apple App Store wave, the Android store wave, and others. However, after being in the industry for this much time, we were able to figure out the platforms where we felt we could have a chance at grabbing the maximum eyeballs and revenue.
We started working with VR way back in late 2016, early 2017 and launched our first VR game in 2018. We also identified different VR devices and industry areas where VR can be a potential gamechanger. We make sure the people who work with us are smarter than us, are passionate, and don’t give up.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Abhinav Chokhavatia: We had a sudden lockdown announced and had to take our entire process and projects to the cloud. We got the team set up on the cloud within a day and had all processes and submission in place within a week.
It was hard initially as a simple task that could be attended by talking to the colleague in the next room would now take a 10-minute call. WFH (Work from Home) works well if you are working on a stand-alone task or a part of the code. However, if you are working on an asset or code that requires other people’s constant feedback and inputs, it becomes problematic. Managing deadlines is another matter. Luckily, we reopened our offices after a lockdown following strict safety and sanitized the office regularly. We still have a few members WFH but with most team members back on-site, keeping track of projects and easier. We had quite a few team members diagnosed with COVID or had family members test COVID positive. We understood these are challenging times which you can’t control and just went with the flow.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Abhinav Chokhavatia: There is a constant bombardment of ideas, and we have close to 50+ game design documents ready.
With so many ideas on paper, the hardest part is which game to make. Developing this game could take a year, so we have to make sure it is exciting enough to have the teamwork on it for that time. At times we have picked ideas based on the latest game trends or either hot selling genres.
Lesson: We pick the idea that is the most fun to play with and exciting. Some studios on the work-for-hire side we wanted to work with and finally got a chance. But they were hard to work with professionally. The client blamed us for the delay on their side and put a penalty on the payment.
Lesson: Do background checks before working with big clients and check on their NET payments. On the team side, Just because an artist or a developer does a good job on the test (during the interview) does not mean they will excel at work. We had developers who were brilliant but very difficult to work with and had attitude problems. We had to let them go even though it meant our work suffered.
Lesson: We now have a one-month period where the candidate joins but is on contract. We make sure the candidates are good team players.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Abhinav Chokhavatia: My family is my biggest support. I travel whenever I have time and take at least 1-weekend trips (lasting 2-3 days) every two months and one big break (or more if possible) a year. Travel helps me forget my work, and I enjoy the quality time with the family and friends and return much more energized. After a very long week, I listen to music and watch web series (even if it’s 1 episode). I work out/exercise 4-5 times a week, which is my best stress buster. I try NOT to take work home and only take it if it’s very urgent.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Abhinav Chokhavatia: We have a lot of competitors both on the services and products side. We can’t compete with all in all areas. We try to do excel and do better than what we did yesterday. We look at their work or games and see which areas we can improve on if we had a chance to work on them.
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