Trev Keane, co-founder and MD of Epic Global Agency, shares his life and business lessons learned from working in esports, gaming and sports conferences.
Epic Global Agency, established in 2020, is a youth culture first dedicated esports, web3 and gaming agency.
The agency works with brands, connecting them to the hard to reach gen Z demographic.
“I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship, my father ran his own business. I loved the control he had over his life”
They also work with elite footballers and rights holders bringing them into the world of competitive video gaming, aka esports.
Keane also recently became a director of One-Zero, a dedicated sports business conference.
“While esports has grown quickly in some regions, Ireland has been slow to adapt. Our role is really to educate brands as to the opportunities in this space”
Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?
I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship, my father ran his own business. I loved the control he had over his life. He was there for us when we needed him, building a successful business around the needs of my sister and I.
That being said, it took me a while to find my own journey. I originally worked for 14 years in the world of financial services, working for multinational companies in Ireland, Australia and Scotland. I was fortunate enough to be able to use my knowledge and skills to earn money while I traveled.
Life really changed in 2010. I wrote a book, called Gaffers. It was published by Mercier Press and while it did moderately well, I didn’t get to retire from it, it introduced me to new worlds and new platforms. Social media was not the behemoth it is now, it was an emerging tool, one I used to promote the book. I was fascinated by it. I studied digital marketing and also communication. I co-authored another book called Running through Walls and in 2012 I left the world of finance. I traveled to conferences, visited key marketing and commercial people in football clubs and decided to forge my own path in the world of sport marketing.
Numerous starts-up, accelerator programmes and consultancy roles followed, some successes and some failures. I was fortunate to work with some incredible people in the early days, Colm O’Mealoid and Geoff Wilson, two that stand out as real mentors for me. It was all part of the journey that has led to Epic Global Agency.
“Brands need to go where their audience is and for some brands, this is TikTok, for others it is the GAA and for a growing number of brands, it’s gaming and esports”
Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?
The world of gaming and esports is a relatively new area, I mean the first esports tournament was only held in 1972 in Stanford College. It has come a long way since but while it has grown quickly in some regions, Ireland has been slow to adapt. Our role is really to educate brands as to the opportunities in this space.
Brands need to go where their audience is and for some brands, this is TikTok, for others it is the GAA and for a growing number of brands, it’s gaming and esports. This audience, at its core, is 16-34. Our aim is to show brands how they can enter this world, whether it is working with gaming influencers, advertising in-games, partnering with esports teams or creating their own Intellectual property (IP) in the space, we guide them on that journey. We do the same with rights holders and elite athletes who want to connect with younger audiences and spread their IP to new verticals.
I am fortunate to work with incredible people with a similar passion. Sinead Hosey, my co-founder, is one of the best youth marketers around. She gets it, as does the rest of the team, Suzie Dickinson, Ben Finnegan, Craig Winfield and Michael Stafford. We are gamers at heart with experience across most games. My own gaming journey started with the very first EA FIFA game – I remember my Dad returning from Hong Kong with a copy of it. I was so excited. Asian Cartridges were bigger than European ones at the time, so I had to take the chip out and insert it into the Megadrive. I have been hooked ever since. I am currently getting beaten quite regularly in FIFA 23 by my sons Sean and Eoghan.
“We are extremely ambitious but are very strategic with who we work with. It has to be a right fit”
How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?
We’ve been in a fortunate position in having a shareholder in the background who believed in Sinead and I and the dream for Epic Global Agency. As I said I’ve an entrepreneurial spirit and I knew this space was the perfect opportunity for us. We are extremely ambitious but are very strategic with who we work with. It has to be a right fit. For example, we work alongside Rehab, and their vision for how gaming can help people with disabilities is incredible and one of the reasons we exist. The majority of our work is in the UK with Tundra esports, Jesse Lingard and Norwich but we are starting to do more in Ireland. We recently worked with Mooju and count Munster Rugby Gaming, part of Munster Rugby, as a key client.
In terms of One-Zero. It was great to see the event return last July in Indianapolis. One-Zero is fortunate to have Indiana Sports Corp as an investor but is also backed by the Irish state as sponsors. The work Ross O’Dwyer and John Bourke have done to keep One-Zero going is incredible. It is an in-person event that thrives on the connectivity that face to face interactions bring so the two years of Covid were difficult, as you can imagine. But it’s back now and rest assured the content this year is going to be amazing.
“My core aim is to make Epic Global one of the biggest esports and gaming agencies in the world, to ensure One-Zero is a success and becomes a leading destination for sports professionals and that my kids are proud of what I do”
What are your key skills and qualities that set you apart?
I work hard but that’s not really a superpower is it, most people do. I have no idea really, I am a jack of all trades but a master of none. I am good at building relationships I guess. I like to go above and beyond – so much so I am nearly always available to clients, from 5am calls to midnight emails I am constantly in contact. I like to help people where I can. I’ve mentored a number of start-ups over the years and always try and do right, sometimes it’s not possible, but I try. I listen to people and take their advice. I am fortunate to have a brilliant wife who is a great sounding board. She is an artist in own right but comes from the world of marketing so bounce a lot of things off her.
My core aim is to make Epic Global one of the biggest esports and gaming agencies in the world, to ensure One-Zero is a success and becomes a leading destination for sports professionals and that my kids are proud of what I do.
“My family are brilliant when it comes to business – while I am probably the Chandler Bing of the family, they support me”
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your great mentor/inspiration?
That’s a great question. Oonagh, my wife, has always been a shining light. She was the one who really pushed me into this world and believed in me, more than I did to be honest. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some incredible people. It happens less and less but I’ve always loved listening to Geoff Wilson, Colm O’Mealoid was a great person to work alongside, and Sinead. My family are brilliant when it comes to business – while I am probably the Chandler Bing of the family, they support me. I love speaking with Ross, we are two men who love big ideas. Tim Hayden from Stadia Ventures is one of the most passionate people I have ever spoken with. Michael Munro is an incredible supporter. When it comes to the world of esports, I am lucky to be able to call on the minds of some of the best around. That’s the value of having a strong network, there is always something to be learned from driven incredibly intelligent people. You learn from them and pay it forward.
What was the greatest piece of business advice you have ever received?
It was to believe in myself and use my skill set effectively. I remember being outside Soccerex in Manchester in 2014. It was my first time at a sports business conference. I was, or felt I was, out of my depth. I couldn’t go in the door. I wasn’t speaking, I was there to learn and meet, but I had what some call, imposter syndrome. I spoke to my wife and she asked, what was the worst that could happen? I got over it.
“While I think hard work and graft pays off, there is an element of luck too”
What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?
There are so many aspects to make a business a success – product market fit, timing, the right people around you and time (or access to funding). These are all hugely important and can be difference makers. While I think hard work and graft pays off, there is an element of luck too. I know the one thing you can’t really control, but the right chat with someone, that accidental meeting or the person you took a chance on all amount to luck (or good decision making to be in those positions or to follow your gut).
“The easiest way to avoid constant investment rounds is to grow and for that you need sales and good sales management”
What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?
The biggest challenges I have come across are access to capital, managing those funds and credit controllers. The easiest way to avoid constant investment rounds is to grow and for that you need sales and good sales management. I’ve come across payment terms of 60 and 90 days, and while they may work for bigger agencies, it is hard for smaller ones to manage cash flows on those terms.
“Digital innovation needs to come from the top down too. The CEO and MD of the company have to be part of the change”
How has digital transformation been a factor in your scaling journey and do you believe Irish firms are utilising digital technologies sufficiently?
We are a digital-first company. We work remotely so having the right tools is important for us. Tracking our client time, managing the sales and invoicing process, ensuring constant effective communication and social media channels are hugely important aspects to our business we manage with apps and tools.
With regards to the second question, I think it’s hard to apply one coat of paint to Irish companies, some are good and some need some more education. If it’s relevant to your business then digital technologies can be amazing but you need to invest the time and money to get the right tools and to use them effectively.
Digital innovation needs to come from the top down too. The CEO and MD of the company have to be part of the change. I’ve come across companies investing in digital technologies where the leader of the organisation is not fully behind the change. That filters down and can lead to adoption challenges.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Nothing to be honest. You have to live and learn, making mistakes and having experiences are all part of the growing journey.
Who inspires you in business today?
I admire Steven Bartlett and his approach to business, but most of my inspiration comes from thought leaders in the esports space. I think sometimes I live in a bubble as I don’t read too much outside of industry trends and news relevant to my space. The speakers coming to One-Zero are incredible to be fair and their business experience is amazing. Tom Ryan from the NBA is a passionate business leader I have spoken to and his love for the technology space is infectious.
What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?
I tell them to speak to Sinead. She is a real people person and fantastic at working with people to understand their motivations and ambitions. At Epic Global we want people to grow with us and that has been important for us. People are treated as adults and can manage their own time and area.
What business books do you read or would recommend?
I actually don’t read business books. When I am working I follow all the trends relative to our business needs but once I’m finished work I concentrate on family life – coaching, playing games (video and other), running and listening to music. I find music and running more thought provoking than business books. That being said, whatever works for you.
What technologies/tools do you use personally to keep you on track?
We use Toggl to track client time. It’s a very useful tool for managing the time spent on projects, emails and business development. Sponsor United and LinkedIn are great for building funnels and driving sales while Hubspot is our tool of choice for managing those funnels.
“If you feel you can go for it, go for it. Back yourself, build a good community around you, listen and learn”
What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
I love LinkedIn. It is a fantastic platform, one that has given me wonderful business opportunities, life opportunities and company revenue. If you are in business and want to position yourself as a thought leader, use LinkedIn. You need to engage and post to make it work. I don’t use Facebook or Instagram and I made the decision at the start of 2023 to delete Twitter and discord to concentrate more on a big year three in business.
Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?
If you feel you can go for it, go for it. Back yourself, build a good community around you, listen and learn. Be a sponge, but also continue to enjoy life and experience new cultures. There is no rush.