On 26 March 2012 a new post on lemnaru.com, George Lemnaru’s personal blog, announced the 30 years old CTO’s resignation from his executive position with eRepublik Labs Limited. The company was founded in 2006 by Lemnaru and Alexis Bonte, entrepreneur and angel investor, and had offices in Dublin, Bucharest and Madrid. By March 2012 it was rated among the most promising European startups. In five and a half years it had secured investment worth more than 2.5 million euros, had won several industry awards and had been ranked among the top 25 companies in TechCrunch Europe Top 100 startups list. eRepublik, the startup’s core product and freemium strategy game that engages millions of users from all over the globe in political, business and military decisions of the New World, counted more than 3,000,000 users. Thereof 200,000 were active every month. In spite of the bright business prospects, George Lemnaru decided to step down.
One business at a time
The blog entry was titled “It was epic” and it hinted towards a friendly breakup between the co-founder and eRepublik. It also made it clear that Lemnaru had already set his mind on building a new company.
The news somehow came natural, as George Lemnaru had been founding companies ever since he was 21 and still enrolled at the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies. He always thought he needed to focus on one project at a time in order to achieve extraordinary results and he constantly tried tocreate innovative products that challenged the established status quo. His initial focus lay in the online health segment and in 2003 he launched NaturaPlant.ro, the first online health shop in Romania. Later on he registered Tevin Solutions, a trademark used by the young entrepreneur to test a few business ideas, and in 2006 he made the switch to social gaming with eRepublik. After getting a first round of angel investment from Alexis Bonte, George Lemnaru has seen what he describes as an amazing team develop a product that became internationally popular.
In July 2012, only four months after resigning from eRepublik Labs Limited, George Lemnaru in partnership with Alex Stroe founded another social gaming company, Green Horse Games.
Putting experience to good use
You need to find out, if there’s anybody else out there who appreciates the product you’re thinking of producing.”
The founder and seven of the eight team members are nowadays permanent residents at Tech Hub Bucharest. A normal day for them starts around 10:00 a.m. with a cup of coffee, some casual chatting, a few jokes here and there, and a bunch of laughs that sometimes disturb other members sitting nearby. They have a quick five-minute standup meeting to discuss the focus of the day, and then everyone gets to work. After lunch they play Fifa together and at the end of the day they have another standup meeting to discuss their progress. Sooner or later everyone plays Liga Ultras, the startup’s latest social game project. The atmosphere is relaxed and joyful, however at times tempers surface when things get out of track. With ages ranging from 20 to 32, the Green Horse Games team members are people that George Lemnaru enjoys spending his time with. He appreciates their fun side, their passion for what they do and their results, and trusts that they had a really good start as a team.
It would have been unlikely for it to be any other way considering Lemnaru’s acquired understanding of the team’s role in a company’s success and his focus on creating a pleasant working environment for himself and his colleagues. “A good product will be conceived by a good team. And a good team requires expertise, shared values and chemistry between people.” In terms of values the young founder goes for empowerment, a problem solver mindset and a mistakes-are-ok philosophy. Of course only as long as the mistakes get fixed and people learn not to repeat them. The entrepreneur believes that it’s important to surround himself with people sharing these values. Not only will it help him avoid micromanagement, but “It will get me to stick to them. […] And later on, as the company grows, it will help preserve those values at all levels of the company”.
The more experienced you get, the better you understand that your initial assumptions might be unrealistic.”
The team’s importance is not the only lesson George Lemnaru has internaliszed in his eleven years of founding and managing companies. Perhaps the most important learning has to do with the value of iteration. “The more experienced you get, the better you understand that your initial assumptions might be unrealistic. […] That’s why you should always test your ideas before engaging in a project for a long period of time. You need to find out, if there’s anybody else out there who appreciates the product you’re thinking of producing.” George had understood the role that user focus plays for a business’s success back in 2010 when eRepublik’s sales were collapsing, and made a case out for monitoring user behaviour and conducting regular user tests at Green Horse Games.
George and the Green Horse Game-team; Photo credit: George Lemnaru
However, experience, a great team and even an angel investment from EEU Software general manager Malin-Iulian Stefanescu, were not enough to guarantee a great success for Cars Cup, Green Horse Games’s first project launched in spring 2013. By analyszing user behaviour, acquisition and retention rates, and also relying on their intuition, George and his team got to the conclusion that the game’s growth potential was limited to a few tens of thousands players a day. But their goal was to reach many more people with their product.
Lemnaru believes that passions count for the development and success of a game. His interest for politics, business and history made a difference at eRepublik and his explanation for this is not far fetched at all. Being passionate about what happens in the game “makes you think like the user does, it makes you understand what her experience is like”, explains the entrepreneur. Perhaps this is why Green Horse Games gave up Cars Cup in July 2013 and brought to market a game about football, sport that whole team is very fond of.
Liga Ultras is a freemium online game where football supporters manage their clubs democratically and get on the field to play some virtual ball. It’s the first project of its kind on the market, which makes it both a great opportunity and a real challenge. It currently engages 100,000 users per month mainly coming from Greece, Romania and Turkey, but also reaches people in countries such as the US, the Netherlands, Australia or Brazil. With a 20 per cent monthly growth in user numbers, Lemnaru sees huge potential for this project. He expects more users to join the platform in the upcoming months and together with his team he’s working on welcoming them with new features and securing a second round of investment in the company. Equipped with an innovative business concept and enthusiastic about the large market available to them, the Green Horse Games team aims to prove that a Romania-based company can make it big on an international level.