A chat with… Niccolo Maisto (co-CEO ESL FACEIT)

Endeavor talks with...
4 min readMay 2, 2023

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Welcome back to Endeavor talks about…! This month we had a chat with Niccolo Maisto, Co-CEO of FACEIT the leading competitive gaming platform for online multiplayer games.

Tell us about yourself: where you come from and about your background.

I lived in Italy until I was in my early twenties, between Genoa and Milan, then I started working in investment banking in London and later did an NBA in New York, where I went into private equity. At that point, I had the choice to either continue on that path or start a career as an entrepreneur, which I later did. My first idea was to be an early-stage investor, but I thought I needed entrepreneurial experience first, so we founded FACEIT for that reason, half expecting to fail rather than succeed.

You come from the investment world. What convinced you to change your focus to gaming? Did anything in particular spark your interest?

As I began to consider the idea, I realized that not only was I having more fun, but I was also learning more. I would get to the end of the day feeling more accomplished compared to when I worked on a model or on an investment. My original idea then changed several times. I wouldn’t recommend the first plan to anyone (laughs).

If you don’t understand the mechanics of a field, it will be harder to hire someone who will do the job well.

What characteristics must an entrepreneur have?

I have met many entrepreneurs with very different personalities and entrepreneurial styles. Some can approach any topic, from development to finance to strategy. That is the style that I like. Other entrepreneurs are only experts in one topic, often sales, and others know everything there is to know about the products they sell. There is no right or wrong style, but personally, I would recommend learning a bit about everything. The reason for that is simple: if you don’t understand the mechanics of a field, it will be harder to hire someone who will do the job well.

What is the difference between a successful startup and a failing one?

I wanna say “luck” because I know that when I work a lot, I also tend to get lucky. But aside from that, one characteristic of successful companies is the ability to standardize their product.

Let’s talk about mistakes. Which ones did you make and what did you learn?

A big problem we had in the past was spending too much time on customer segments that we later found out were not so representative. If, for example, you focus too much on the Italian market, it is hard later on to start serving the rest of the world, making it hard to standardize your services.

And on a personal level?

I remember an early employee who stayed with us for almost two years, but after six months, there were already signals that it would have not worked out. Yet we put off dealing with the issue until the time came to sit down with him and tell him it wasn’t working. Doing this is bad for both the employee and the company, which is why prompt action should be taken. But it is easier said than done.

What were the complexities in managing a major merger like Faceit and Esl?

I would say mostly the people. Companies are made up of people, and everyone sees things in their own way. The complexity lies in using empathy, that is, making people feel part of the company and involved. Being able to understand the point of view of those on the other side is crucial. This translates into leadership and company culture.

Companies are made up of people, and everyone sees things in their own way. The complexity lies in using empathy, that is, making people feel part of the company and involved.

What has changed in the UK ecosystem from when you started?

Ten years ago, there were far fewer successful examples to follow, and fundraising was more difficult. Now we are talking about ten times the volume, and the same thing I feel is happening in Italy.

What about Italy?

A step behind England, but definitely much better positioned than 10 years ago. I’ve noticed that through Endeavor and, particularly, the Elevator program, where very high quality companies show up in numbers that would simply not have existed 10 years ago. What’s missing at the moment are the exits. That depends, I think, on the corporate ecosystem. Many people still think that they should either do business in foreign countries or take the company all the way to the end, which means waiting 20 years to have successful models anyway.

What was your experience as an Endeavor mentor?

It is super interesting. That is why I am devoting time to it. The quality of the entrepreneurs is super high, I learn a lot and it helps me train my brain.

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Endeavor talks with...

Endeavor Italy’s monthly column. We talk about the best Italian startups & scaleups, and amazing people.