Interview by Lilly Drumeva-O’Reilly
The world is in turmoil. We don’t know how long the danger of contracting COVID-19 will last. We may have to live with the virus for a long time. The question is how to control it. One way is by collecting more data, conducting more research, which should ultimately lead to finding a vaccine or treatment. We must, of course, continue to keep hygiene and social distancing habits. Every day we ask ourselves the question to what extent to engage in usual activities and to what extent to be careful, to what extent to resume meeting relatives and friends. Many people have lost their jobs. Business is in crisis.
I decided to talk to about these matters with Deyan Vitanov, a young and very successful Bulgarian entrepreneur, who works in the gaming industry and lives in California. He is one of the mentors of the Bulgarian Entrepreneurship Center foundation and visited Bulgaria as a lecturer in 2019, teaching as part of a Master’s program.
Deyan, you currently live in San Francisco, how is the COVID-19 situation there?
San Francisco, I think, was the first major city in the USA to take action against the coronavirus. Our mayor made the difficult decision of closing the economy on March 17, when there were fewer than 50 confirmed cases in the city. Thanks to her determination, San Francisco avoided the catastrophic consequences which unfortunately affected places such as New York, Spain and Italy. We are currently starting to talk about reopening the economy and I hope that this process will be successful.
How do you protect yourself against the coronavirus?
I try to follow the experts’ recommendations. For example: I wear a facemask when I go out to the store. I am extremely careful not to touch my face, something that turns out to be surprisingly difficult! I wash my hands often and continuously. I regularly disinfect the surfaces at home.
How has isolation affected you? Have you reached any conclusions? Is there a silver lining to this whole situation?
In general, I like to spend time at home. But even for a person with such attitudes, isolation is a burden. That is why I find it extremely important for a person to take care of themself, both physically and psychologically. This is always true, but the coronavirus has brought the topic to the foreground for many people. And there are silver linings everywhere. In my case, the quarantine is an opportunity to spend more quality time with my wife and my new dog.
You recently sold your company, Сhobolabs, successfully. What are you doing now?
I work for the company that bought us, named Game Closure. I am head of the marketing department there and I also represent the company before major partners, such as Facebook and Snap.
How are gaming industry companies adapting in crisis conditions? What new things are being offered?
The gaming industry is one of the few industries that enjoys growth due to the fact that everyone is isolated at home and looking for a way to diversify their daily lives. That is why we have more work to do now than 3 months ago. But, of course, our daily lives have changed: all offices are closed and everyone works from home, which comes with a number of advantages and disadvantages.
Tell us your story in brief. How did you choose the gaming industry and how did you get to Silicon Valley?
I come from Burgas, where I studied at the High School of Mathematics. I then did a bachelor’s program in Bremen, Germany. Then I went to Silicon Valley, both to do my master’s degree at Stanford and because I was interested in entrepreneurship. Chobolabs is the third company I started, and with it we focused on the gaming industry and specifically on the e-sports sector. The reason was quite personal: I have competed in several racing video games for 4 years and I find them an extremely unique way to spend time. They are not only a source of entertainment, but develop strategic and teamwork skills as well.
You live where the newest research is conducted in all areas, not only in the IT field. What is the COVID-19 news, are they working on new medications, how far are we from a vaccine?
As in Silicon Valley, so in many other places, hard work is being done in all directions, including tests, vaccines and medications. Although I am not an expert, I am firmly convinced that we will find a way to deal with the coronavirus – both with drugs / vaccines and by changing our habits to reduce the chance of infection.
How do you think life will continue after COVID-19? What will the world be like?
COVID-19 has definitely changed the world at an extremely fast pace. Some changes are potentially positive, such as accelerated digitization. While others are simply catastrophic, I am referring specifically to the high unemployment caused by the impact on a number of industries, including tourism, airlines and trade. Some of these changes will be temporary, while others will be permanent. We are still at the beginning of this process of change and it is difficult to estimate exactly what the world will look like in a few weeks, let alone in a year. I am convinced of one thing: No matter how bad this crisis gets, it will eventually end. Collectively, we must show patience and understanding, which is not easy at all. But eventually we will all return to a far more normal way of life – albeit with many changes.