We sat down with Luke Alvarez, founding managing partner at Hiro Capital, to find out what made 2020 such a successful year for them and what role gaming has in their vision of the future.
Q: Tell us a bit about Hiro Capital and your role there?
A: At Hiro, we are investors in the future. We invest in games and the Metaverse: entrepreneurs at series A/B making technology and content for videogames, e-sports, streaming, and digital sports. We are looking to find the next generation of studios like Epic and Supercell, platforms like Twitch, TikTok, Discord, and fitness service games like Peloton and Zwift.
We believe that games and digital sports are where the tech for next-generation human societies is being built. Games like Fortnite and Roblox, platforms like Oculus, Google Stadia, Huya, and Unreal Engine are the beginnings of next-generation social networks that are immersive, social, user-generated, and visual. These environments are becoming a new core computing platform for social communication. These ecosystems' growth is as big a change, and investment opportunity for 2020-2040 as the emergence of the internet and mobile phones was for 1990-2020. As a sector-focused early-stage investor, this is incredibly exciting.
I’m the Founder and GP at Hiro Capital. I oversee our investment strategy and portfolio and lead the team. I built a couple of games and tech companies and led them to exits and to London and Nasdaq IPO’s. My co-founders at Hiro are Ian Livingstone, CBE, who is a video games living legend - he’s the founder of two games unicorns (Games Workshop Warhammer) and Eidos (Lara Croft: Tombraider) as well as the Chairman of
Tencent-backed Sumo plc - and Cherry Freeman, rated ‘Britain’s Coolest Female Founder’ by Business Insider. Cherry is the co-founder of social e-commerce brand LoveCrafts and is a serial investor in tech winners such as Mimecast and femtech leader Elvie.
The full Hiro team is 11 specialists with 140 years in games and tech. We are a very diverse team, from 19 years old to 70, white, black and other, straight and gay, entrepreneurs and investors, and mostly gamers, techies, hackers, and sci-fi and sports nerds. We all love games, stories, and deep technology, and it’s a nice group of honorable people who are all smart. We have a robust set of sector-specific ESG filters we live by and which we apply formally to every investment.
Q: 2020 was obviously a huge year for the space that Hiro plays in – tell us a little bit about your experience as investors?
A: 2020 was a year of massive acceleration for video games and digital sports. It was a story of super-strong growth in every dimension and in every geography - in user numbers, games sales, revenues, and profits, console sales, VR headsets, streamer views, visits to In-Game live events, etc. People fell in love and got married in games, did school classes and university graduations in games, and came out of lockdown fitter and stronger thanks to home and VR fitness training than they had ever been before. As an investor, it was extremely rewarding to see our sector macro-thesis so emphatically confirmed. Most importantly, our portfolio investments all grew strongly, and the macro tailwinds were and are great. The public markets in these sectors are now well-valued, but there remain great opportunities in private markets.
It also changed our discussions with LP’s - people now really understand how significant these sectors are ($250bn+) and how important they will be to all our futures. Where Hiro invests is where media, communication, and society is going. Investors now understand this more widely.
Q: How do you see things changing as we move forward? What are the hottest areas that are coming down the track?
A: As specialist investors, we see over 2000 games and games tech opportunities a year, and we invest in less than 1% of what we see, so we are incredibly selective. We also get a really good sense of emerging trends, and we have a strong view of where things are going. Last year we were (and we remain) bullish on VR and AR. In 2020, we invested in three great companies in this space - Polyarc, LIV.tv, and FitXR - and the market was generally down on VR, so we got into these companies at sensible valuations and they are all performing really well, and VR is accelerating fast. Facebook Oculus Quest 2 has driven huge adoption, and now rumors are accelerating about Apple VR/AR, Facebook AR, Sony PSVR2, and others. So we remain keen on that space. Other themes include MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) games using new cloud technologies, Open World Metaverse platforms, and many fascinating businesses emerging around Gen Z Influencers, Synthetic Humans, Avatars, etc.
However, 50% of our portfolio focus is content-driven games studios, so we remain very focused on finding the next great studio teams, ideally making cross-platform games that can scale virally, are social, and are fun. These can create extraordinary returns as they are capex-lite and can go global fast. In this space, we have already invested in Lightfox Games and Flavourworks, and we will be announcing five new studio deals very soon.
Q: What advice would you give GPs right now?
A: Keep focused, keep investing, believe in the future and in growth, stay price disciplined whilst optimistic. Obviously, there is a lot of pandemic-driven distress in the economy, in people’s real lives, and the world right now. Still, there are also great things happening - it’s important to stay resolute and focused on backing creators and investing in the future. At Hiro, the entrepreneurs we back are our heroes - it’s amazing the ideas and companies we see that people are building right now from Seattle to London to Stockholm to Prague to Mumbai.
Q: Working from home has become the norm these days. If you could work from “home” anywhere in the world, where would you be?
A: I would be where I am right now, with my family, but I'd be free to meet with more friends and loved ones IRL!
Q: Any final message?
A: Yes! Games are good, and play is deep!
Games used to be a niche, nerdy product, just for young guys in Western markets and Japan. Now it is a vast global sector, the largest sector of entertainment, serving players from every demographic worldwide. Play is a fundamental human behavior that all humans do as children for the evolutionary purposes of building strategy, planning, and social skills. As children and as adults, we take pleasure from play, and games in 2021 are a global
digital platform for bringing humans together in play, as well as a great place to allocate capital.
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