Pavel Kacerle founded Live Penalty in 2018 with some eventual help from STRV. Since then, the project has gone through many iterations, made its way to the leAD 2019 accelerator and has taken advantage of revolutionary tech. A lot more about Live Penalty here.
But back to Pavel. Throughout our interview, he remained in the zone, visibly digging for the most sincere answers. He then asked if he’d been too negative. (Spoiler: Not at all. Just real.) We’d like to thank him for upholding the Straight Up mindset of absolute honesty.
Pavel began our chat with a disclaimer: “I'm not a big fan of giving advice because we all come from different backgrounds, we have different experiences and are starting from different levels.”
Noted, appreciated and agreed. Having said that, we’re grateful he was kind enough to sit down with us anyway. Here are some bits of Pavel’s founder journey. Not a guidebook, just lessons learned by a guy who’s “hit the wall” time and time again, coming out on the other side.
Your life can be characterized as “going for it,” consistently leaving your comfort zone. What advice would you give to people looking for the courage and focus to do the same?
My advice would be to just do anything. At the very beginning, you're starting with only an idea. You're looking for people that are going to build it with you. Don't be afraid to lose a part of the company, to make bold decisions. Just start executing because that will quickly guide you.
I have lots of friends who are thinking about great concepts, and I’ve heard so many great pitches. The problem is that they never execute. They never go for the first one because they always feel like they don't have the perfect idea yet, they want to master it first and then build it — but in the end, they never execute because they feel like it's never perfect.
In terms of the startup life, Live Penalty has left a lot of scars. Be ready to run into the wall so many times. You'll crack your head, you'll have to take a couple of steps back, rethink a lot of things and try again.
Although Live Penalty is heavy on technology (your field), it is a part of the sports industry. How did you find the confidence to enter a market you were relatively new to?
Yeah, I still have no confidence there. I am just trying. But I never see the blockers.
I spent over eight years working as a visual effects artist for Hollywood movies — that was my background. And then, out of the blue, we came up with this idea that we're going to build a mobile game for a market we didn’t know. But this was never a blocker for me because, even with the visual effects, I had to start with step one.
There's this moment where you have to learn the very first thing and then, over time, you become more and more experienced. So, again, I still feel like I know basically nothing about the world of sports. I'm trying, hitting the wall again, learning and slowly becoming more experienced. We're still at the beginning of our journey.
In 2019, Live Penalty was chosen for the leAD accelerator. What’s something to keep in mind for those considering taking part in an accelerator?
First of all, I would never do an accelerator again. And I don't mean that in a bad way.
In the beginning, they really helped us, advising us on how to build the first deck, how to see the company differently, how to become more professional. But at the same time, with this extra layer, we lost quite a lot of equity in the company. That's why I wouldn't do it again.
There are a lot of great accelerators that are not going to take the equity from a young company. I would advise to base your choice on who you are, how much experience you have.
Accelerators bring a lot of interesting advisors from the market, so they help you to hit the wall faster. But are accelerators a good thing at the very early stage of your company? Personally, I would probably say no. Burn a little more time and try to figure things out on your own.
Do you think a certain type of founder may benefit from an accelerator more than others?
What accelerators do is validate the idea. For us, they transformed the idea into a startup, validated us in front of the other investors. So if you need to accelerate in this specific aspect, then maybe an accelerator is a good move. It really depends on what kind of character you are and how you deal with stuff.
If you’re somebody like me who, when I see an open window, I just jump — then you'll see it differently than somebody who needs validation. But if you need the validation, maybe even for yourself, then accelerators could be great. That's the place to go because they'll give you the confidence, guide you and help you figure out how to make the first step.
Live Penalty has had to evolve and adapt quite a lot based on the players’ feedback. How do you navigate your product continuously changing?
The way I see this whole “building a company” thing is a tunnel. In the end, you have a bright light — that's where you're trying to get — and you have so many things affecting how you're progressing through that tunnel. And, again, you’re hitting that wall.
I believe that you can't build a product without sharing it with your market, your customers, certain test groups. Something I’ve learned that was a really hard lesson: I know nothing about what other people want.
You build something, show it to a couple of people, they come back — and they always surprise you. They always tell you they want something different. This is where you have to use your skill and experience, and maybe you need to be a little foolish. Your responsibility is to take the heat.
What should founders prepare for when opening up their products for feedback?
In the beginning, I thought that success was somewhere around the North Pole. Now we're heading towards the south. And that's because of people, the feedback. Because we hear a lot of voices.
What's really hard is to select the good ones from the bad ones. People who interact with your product for five minutes have a very different opinion than the people who have been interacting with it for two months. You need to work with and understand the different groups. It's a messy world, but it’s worth it. That’s why we’re doing it.
It's a constant balance between what people want, what the market wants, what marketing and investors need and what your vision is. If you only follow your vision, the chances that you’ll become successful are lower than when you combine it. But all this is just my experience, maybe people won’t agree.
What do you think is an especially difficult period in the product-building journey? And how did you get through it?
One of the biggest challenges is looking for your first investors if you can't finance your vision with your own money. And if you want to build a product based on heavy technologies — which is our case — it's quite hard to convince people that you'll be capable of executing in their field.
The beginning is always the toughest. It’s where I’ve seen some friends and people fail. Because you'll feel that you're down so many times on a daily basis. The key is to be extremely flexible and be able to remove everything from your table and start over and over. You just have to keep going, close your eyes, cover your ears. You’ll hit that famous wall so many times. People will be telling you that whatever you're doing is nonsense — I've heard this again and again.
There’s a very thin line between being a genius and a total idiot. So, it's hard.
How are you able to trust yourself enough to keep going, no matter what?
I was really lucky that I learned how this works very early on. This is a funny one. I started my DJ career when I was 14–15 and, by the time I was 18, I was already playing at the [renowned nightclub] Roxy Prague, also in Slovakia... This experience showed me that even from a small hidden village, I can do something bigger than just stay there. It was a great lesson on execution.
If you produce things for other people, interact with people, if you just generate, things will come eventually. But you have to keep generating. That's the beauty. When you look around, everything we see right now — chairs, TV, building — everything is built by people. Once you understand that, your life will never be the same.
Is there a belief that has significantly changed from the time before you started building your product to now, post-release, with all the new knowledge you’ve gained?
You have to be extremely flexible. You have to be able to burn all the bridges that you previously built. And this is a tough one.
Right now, we’ve finally learned where we are strong and where we are weak, and we accept that we need to bring some new people into the team that will help us with the things where we originally thought we were stronger. But new people come with new ideas — and right now, they're asking us to burn so much that we previously built.
When 3D movies came, I was one of the first ones who started learning the technology. It was the reason why Disney hired me. Whenever there’s been a new technology, I started learning it. And I'm doing that right now, on a larger scale. New people, new inputs… understanding that I have to basically burn everything that was built. It's extremely tough the further you go. But being open to change is extremely important, especially in the beginning.
It’s what I was saying about the end of the tunnel. You think it’s north but, in reality, it's probably somewhere south. Learning that quickly is going to help you a lot. But you have to go for a long time until you understand why you have to go south.