The Gaming Founders Podcast Episode 5: From Animation to Zynga to Baobab Studios - Maureen Fan on Building Interactive IP Across Platforms
Welcome to The Gaming Founders Podcast, where we interview founders that have shaped the gaming industry. You’ll hear origin stories, tactics that helped founders and companies survive and thrive, and key lessons for anyone building the next generation of gaming companies. Your hosts are Eden Chen, CEO of Pragma and Kevin Zhang, Partner at Upfront Ventures.
Today’s guest is Maureen Fan, CEO and co-founder of Baobab Studios, the 9x Emmy Award-winning Disney of the metaverse with a track record of creating franchisable IP and virtual worlds. Currently the leaders of IP development in VR, their universes are being turned into films (Disney), series on premium streamers (Disney+, HBO Max), books (Penguin Random House, MacMillan), and games (Oculus, Roblox, Web3). Their projects have attracted talent such as Oprah, John Legend, Ali Wong, and more. Named Fast Company's 2018 Most Innovative Company, Baobab's investors and board include Ed Catmull (Pixar co-founder and former President of Disney), Kevin Lin (Twitch co-founder), Disney, Comcast, and Shari Redstone (chairwoman of Viacom).
Previously, Maureen held leadership roles in gaming, film, and the consumer web. She rose to VP of games at Zynga, directly reporting to the CEO, where she built and oversaw three game studios including the "FarmVille's" (40% of the company's revenues,120 million MAU), birthing the casual social games revolution. Previous roles include production on Pixar's "Toy Story 3" film, the Oscar-nominated "The Dam Keeper," and at eBay in product management and UI design.
In this episode, you’ll hear Maureen’s story- starting as a child of Asian immigrant parents in New Jersey, how animation was an escape from some of the racism she experienced, paying her dues starting out in Hollywood, and her journey from eBay to Zynga to founding Baobab Studios, navigating fundraising, and Baobab’s dual focus on the gaming world as well as the film world.
Maureen’s origin story - racism, animation as escape, computer science classes
Immigrant parents forbade her dream jobs, so she started at Ebay
Looking for a start in Hollywood
Zynga & Harvard Business School taught Maureen a lot of what she needed to know about business
Petville, Farmville, and her various roles at Zynga
Motivation to start her own company - nights and weekends working with Pixar friends, and the advent of VR
Structuring an entertainment media company and fundraising
Early networking connections were fruitful later in Maureen’s career
Selecting strategic investors - aligned long-term for the industry
Maureen’s view of the VR industry, and gaming vs. film
Details on some upcoming properties and NOT being a web3 company
Founder’s challenges - having co-founders and entrepreneur friends is the best way to build a business
Advice for founders - it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and you are the energy source for the company, keep your light bright and strong
The Gaming Founders Podcast is brought to you by Pragma, a venture-backed backend game engine founded by the engineering leaders who built the platforms for some of the largest live service games including League of Legends, Fortnight, Destiny 2, and Plants vs. Zombies 2. Pragma powers services like accounts, matchmaking, and player data for the world’s most ambitious live service games. CEO of Pragma Eden Chen was also the founder of Fisherman Labs and Lightmark Capital and was previously an investment banker at Citigroup and Lehman Brothers. Kevin Zhang leads the healthcare and gaming practices at Upfront Ventures. Upfront has backed standout teams across all technology sectors with a current focus in healthcare, fintech, consumerization of enterprise software, gaming, computer vision, and AgTech/ sustainability.
Pragma is a venture-backed backend game engine founded by the engineering leaders who built the platforms for some of the largest live service games including League of Legends, Fortnite, Destiny 2, and Plants vs. Zombies 2. Pragma powers services like accounts, matchmaking and player data for the world’s most ambitious live service games. Eden Chen is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Pragma, Fishermen Labs and Lightmark Capital, and started his career in investment banking at Citigroup and Lehman Brothers.
Founded in 1996 in Los Angeles with investing professionals based in LA and SF, Upfront Ventures has backed startup teams across all technology sectors, with about half in Southern California, and the rest across the US and Europe. Kevin Zhang is an avid gamer and former neurobiology researcher who leads gaming and healthcare investments at Upfront Ventures, including Pragma.