Machine Zone CEO was on employment benefits before founding the company behind Game of War

There’s a mythology to successful startup leaders, and part of it is that they can’t fail. We lionize successful entrepreneurs, and elevate those with multiple major successes to the status of minor deity: an Elon Musk, a Steve Jobs.

Above: Kate Upton in Game of War: Fire Age commercial.

Image Credit: Machine Zone

But before the rise, there’s reality. For Gabe Leydon, that was unemployment.

“I didn’t come from money,” he told me yesterday at VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit. “I started Machine Zone while I was on unemployment benefits.”

Machine Zone is, of course, one of the shining stars of the new mobile economy. The company perennially has two of the top five grossing games in the world: Game of War and Mobile Strike. Game of War alone could be grossing in excess of $ 1 billion annually, and VB founder Matt Marshall estimated the company’s annual advertising spend not too far from that sum. The company just announced a new cloud platform that will enable, according to Leydon, 100 million concurrent many-to-many connections. And Machine Zone, which is rebranding as MZ, is rumored to be valued in the $ 3-$ 5 billion range.

In other words: pretty successful.

But it all started from unemployment benefits. Leydon had run a startup before Machine Zone, but said he “didn’t really get any money” out of it. So he began his second startup essentially penniless.

Above: Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in the new ad for Mobile Strike from Machine Zone.

Image Credit: Machine Zone

Success has a cost, of course. Leydon’s eight-year journey since founding Machine Zone has taken a bit of a toll on him.

In a conversation after his conference session, Leydon said that people perennially overestimate his age, thanks perhaps to his graying hair and perpetual two-day beard. While he’s in his mid-30s, people typically think he’s in his 40s, Leydon said.

Matt Marshall, who was present for much of the conversation, asked if it was the stress of running such a fast-moving, high-flying company. Leydon first said no, then appeared to agree.

“No … I don’t think so,” he said at first.

Then he added something that reminded me of research on top athletes. Fifty percent of them would take a drug, the research said, if it guaranteed an Olympic gold medal — even if it came with the guarantee of death within five years.

“I mean, it’s stressful,” Leydon admitted. “It may kill me but I don’t care. I’m having the time of my life. Look at what we’ve been able to do!”

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Yahoo CFO doesn’t understand intense scrutiny of his company

It’s hard to find a company as iconic as Yahoo is in tech. Not surprisingly, Yahoo’s been one of the most closely watched tech companies over the past two decades.

But Yahoo CFO Ken Goldman, who’s been in the position for the last four years, doesn’t seem too excited about it. Rather, he’s flabbergasted by the staggering amount of attention his company’s been attracting from the press.

“I’ve never seen anything like the amount of attention we get given our size. You get papers in New York that — I’m not quite sure why they think we are so interesting as a company. It’s amazing to me,” Goldman said at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference on Thursday.

Goldman may have a point. The level of public scrutiny Yahoo faces from moment-to-moment seems almost unprecedented, especially given its relatively small size compared to other tech giants, like Google or Apple — each worth nearly six-times more than Yahoo.

Part of Goldman’s frustration also comes from the fact that there is often inaccurate information about the company in the news. In its most recent earnings call, for example, Yahoo had to publicly dispute some of the claims made about its holiday spending.

“It’s amazing to me how much information is out there, much of which is not correct,” he said.

But a closer look at Yahoo’s past history and its current situation gives a clue to why everyone seems to be so intrigued by its every move. Here are a few reasons why:

Yahoo’s brand: Yahoo’s one of the oldest web companies around, and one of the first dot-com-era companies to go public. It’s almost impossible to find someone who hasn’t crossed paths with Yahoo at some point in their careers in Silicon Valley. It’s probably why so many people seem to be pulling for Yahoo to make a comeback.

Unlocked value: As Goldman pointed out, Yahoo’s one of the three web companies that have more than 1 billion visitors (alongside Google and Facebook). But despite having a strong brand and a huge user base, Yahoo’s management seems to be struggling to convince investors that it has a bright future. Its revenue has been stagnant at best and its share price has been in decline for months.

Perennial hotbed of drama: Perhaps more than any other tech company, Yahoo seems to find itself continually involved in some kind of controversy. From management dysfunction to missed opportunities, Yahoo keeps inspiring stories that draw the attention of readers interested in business drama.



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This Batshit Crazy Company Wants to Build Mobile Private Islands

Yachts are for chumps. People who really know how to spend their money get submersible yachts from Migaloo, a mysterious company that offers five different models of underwater palaces. But true evil villains just go for the Migaloo’s crown jewel: Kokomo Ailand.

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Report: BMW X3 diesel emissions exceed EU regulations, company stock falls

The reverberation of the Volkswagen tailpipe emissions scandal is still being felt across the industry, pulling other brands under the harsh light of scrutiny.

According to a report out from Germany’s Auto Bild, the Nitrous Oxide (NOx) tailpipe emissions of BMW’s X3 diesel compact crossover exceed European regulations. In fact, the car’s respiratory-harming NOx emissions exceeded future Euro 6 emissions levels — set to go into effect in 2017 — by as much as 11 times.

The report is based upon tests performed in October, 2014, by the International Council on Clean Transport (ICCT), the independent nonprofit focused on clean energy that originally discovered VW’s emissions cheating. Read more…

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