Meet Simonetta Lulli Gómez, CEO, GameHouse

Simonetta Lulli

Simonetta Lulli Gómez is an economist and is the current CEO of GameHouse.

In this piece, we talk about her career journey, what it’s like being part of the 7% female CEOs in gaming and what she believes companies should be doing to support women in technology.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am Simonetta Lulli Gómez, economist and current CEO of GameHouse, a videogame production company with one of the longest track records in the industry. Before joining GameHouse, I spent the last several years as head of Spin Master Studios in Los Angeles, leading digital games, connected mobile products and integrations at this global children’s entertainment company, where I collaborated with internal units as well as external partners such as Warner Bros. and DreamWorks. Also, I was president, CEO and chairwoman of the board of directors of Woozworld in Montreal, a virtual world and social network for tweens and teens, and senior vice president at Sulake, developers of Habbo Hotel for 10 years, the largest online virtual world for teens.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

To be honest, not really. I knew where I did not want to work and I was a super early adopter and fan of the internet – I knew it was going to be big and then I did risk a bit leaving a very comfortable job in a big TV company in Spain in finance to get into internet businesses in London in 2000. My dad was not very happy initially, I was leaving a super good job to pursue something he could not even understand, but I have done calculated risks in my career that in general have paid off.  I’m more a person that needs to be challenged  and I was guided more by instincts of what could become an opportunity and take the challenge than anything else.

I came into the video game industry almost by coincidence. I was working in England, in the online gambling business, and I wanted to return to Spain. So, when looking at offers I saw that they were looking for a country manager in Spain for Habbo Hotel and that’s how my career in this exciting world began.

Everything you do in life serves you in one way or another and then opportunities (if you are open to see them of course) arise. Sometimes we become obsessed with specialising in one field, especially when we are young, because we have a preconceived idea of what we want our career to be like. In tech more than anything, new technologies arise very quickly and you need to believe and jump. I have a rule, as an early adopter that I am, if I will invest my time or use that new tech, usually it is a good sign and I go for it.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I try to take challenges as opportunities and be positive, but sometimes things are out of your control and for those I learnt to try to prepare options and scenarios ahead of time, so that I’m ready, and for my role as CEO in GameHouse anticipating the future is important.

Being part of the 7% female CEOs in gaming is a challenge in itself, but a great honour, as it ties in with my values as a person, to fight stereotypes and inspire new generations. After many years I did realize it is all about believing in yourself and not overthinking too much. In my role I need to take decisions fast and sometimes, I fail on the decision, but I try to make them in a logic calculated way so I can back up the decision and accept the failure as part of the business and mitigate it with the scenarios plan.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date? 

I enjoy what I do a lot, and in every job I think there are achievements that I remember.

Being pioneer in win win partnerships is something I love because I always try to think out of the box.

There are a couple of them that I remember because they were big deals that changed the course of the business. One was a deal I did with M6 France TV for Habbo Hotel that lasted many years where we were partners and was the first big deal with a media company I did. I remember the agreement review took around 6-7 hours on the phone, it was crazy!

Then, another one with Habbo Hotel that I did was a partnership with Unicef, where they were coming to Habbo Hotel, a virtual world for teens, once a week to talk with the teens about important topics such as mental health or drugs. This was maybe 2006 and Unicef had a virtual bus where kids in their avatars were doing a line to get and talk with Unicef about those themes. To know that your game was helping teens was very rewarding.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Without knowing it, believing in myself. I do not have issues to make decisions if they are taken in a logical and supported way, and I have no doubt that it was a consequence of how much my family supported me always no matter what.

In my 20-year career, I have worked for several companies and, in general, I have always been one of the few women in the field. A situation that I never wanted to determine my way of acting or my career. And this never made me feel excluded, also because I refused to let it be part of who I was. I mean, I am the same as everyone else, a person’s gender is just that, I’ve never let that affect it, even though it’s something that may always be there.

I would say that this is the biggest factor that makes me where I am today, leading a team in an eminently male industry. We cannot forget that only 7% of the CEOs in gaming companies are women and minority % in programming or other fields, but I believe that soon the industry will naturally become more balanced.

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What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?  

Do not be scared of technology, tech is all around us. One problem I see is that we all assume that tech is programming, coding, engineering all of that is a stereotype that must change. Everyone  can work on what we call tech companies without needing to have a tech background. I’m an economist as an example, but it is true that you need to be interested in understanding the tech company you are working on and how the users behave with your products.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I do not see a real physical barrier but I believe the problem is educational first. We must teach the girls that technology is not difficult, is part of the opportunities to develop a career,  is super fun and rewarding and something they will engage with. There are not enough girls getting interested or at minimum not being scared of tech to create enough women workforce, because of this, we are already in minority from the beginning of the careers which makes it more difficult to catch up later in our careers.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

At GameHouse for example, we recruit with an inclusive strategy. Women when searching for jobs they only apply when they fullfill 90% of the job description, while male can apply with only 50%, so our job descriptions are drafted for inclusion.

On top, women in general need more flexibility for their families, and at GameHouse we have a flexible work policy. What does this mean? It means that we trust our people to work responsibly when they can, not when we force them to do it. Of course, with certain common agreements with their teams. This is of course not only for women, we are seeing a lot of men enjoying time with their families as well and we embrace flexibility as a value for everyone, but it helps women as well.

Another thing that helps is to offer part time jobs, we prefer to have 50% of the time of the best people than 100% of people who do not fit well with our values and us. With that, part time is embraced by women a lot, but again as an inclusive company, many of our male co-workers do work part time.

At the end of the day for me, it is all about having a transparent and fair process, where both men and women are treated as people and not based on their gender. Of course, the values and culture of the company must embrace that, and we must act by example, not theory only.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Those women who are in tech or interested in tech stay in tech, the real problem is to get more young blood interested in it. To not think ever it is not a women career.

I would impose new tech, STEM programs for kids as a mandatory subject for several years starting in elementary, make sure the girls engage with it in a fun way and before 12 years old when they decide the type of subjects they want to study.

I would as well do a lot of education & internships at college level to show how tech companies are like any other company, but more interesting because you must continuously learn, so you never have a boring moment and I think that suits very well women mindsets.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

As for Podcasts in my own gaming field I will recommend Rise & Play from Sophie Vo, she always interviews women on gaming and the information and angle is very interesting for women in general.

Lean Start Up is a book I read when I was creating a start up and the philosophy and the mentality made me think about how I approach projects of any type. I would recommend it not only for start ups but for people in general.

One other book that I read many years ago was about Time Management. I can not remember the actual title, but I think that any other time management books might help anyway,  as they teach you how to manage the really scarce and limited resources you have. For me it was crucial to shift the mentality about my own time management and even more when you have a family.

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